Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
Day after day, from the early breakfast shifts through the dinner shift, all over the United States, Tribunals have been organized in the dining rooms of urban McDonald's restaurants. These tribunals are made up of older African-American men, who put everything on trial.
In the McDonald's in which I frequent most often, on the corner of Upper Falls Blvd and North Clinton in Rochester, the tribunal takes up the eastern side of the dining room. Filled with lively discussion, boisterous claims, passionate denouncements, and carefully worded arguments, these informal tribunals discuss life, politics, relationships, current events, neighborhood issues, religion, and occasionally, the food. Voices are raised loudly in passionate attempts to persuade, laughing is raucous and contagious, and the anger displayed is sometimes biting. It is a forum where the realities of life and the frustrations of lives are displayed.
It was the same dynamic, with a different crowd at the McDonald's on Lee Ave, just south of Harvard in the southeast part of Cleveland, OH. Different people, with different names, but the tribunal was still the same. Not sure why there is an affinity for McDonald's versus Burger King, but the same processes occur in our cities all over.
Yesterday, I watched my local tribunal and in particularly, I was struck by how passionately they argued various points, but were largely ignored by most people who came for lunch. They were background noise. They were furniture that takes up space and just a part of the scenary to most. I noticed that as the place filled with the ambient sounds of a crowded restaurant, that the arguments regarding the apparent conspiracy of the Fire Department against hiring African Americans and Latino men got louder and louder. There was a need to be heard. I lamented that most of these men are not seen or heard, and subconsciously and even despairingly, these men understood this.
I looked at the eyes of many of men in my tribunal and saw deep sadness. Although there was laughter, it was always in the tragic-comedy framework. Regrets, discrimination, missed opportunities, poor choices, isolation, and unfulfilled dreams take their toll on the souls of men. They have a need for legacy. They want to impart wisdom that comes from their lives, but unfortunately no forum to do so.
In the Biblical era, there were often councils of Elders (identified by age, not titles) who sat near the city gates to give counsel. This movement to local sage was a transition that we honored and celebrated. In the urban context of America, we have nothing similar to this, yet many men and women feel the need to make a difference by sharing their experiences.
I am committing to get to know the individuals in my local tribunal and to hear their stories. While I am sure that I will not agree with some of the arguments presented, I am open to the wonderful opportunity to learn! My point is to honor elders and let them know, that they are seen and that I can hear them.
I want to encourage you today to open your eyes to see those who may seem to be background noise. If you are located close to an urban McDonalds (only in urban and suburban, I have never seen this phenomena is rural McDonalds, but I am sure its possible) take time to notice if you have a tribunal present. If you do, you would be a blessing to them if you simply acknowledged their standing.
God bless you all,
Pastor M Traylor