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Cariol Horne, Former Buffalo
Police Officer

Cariol Horne is my newest social justice hero.  A Black Buffalo, New York police officer in 2006, she forcibly intervened when her fellow officer Gregory Kwiatkowski was viciously beating Neal Mack, a Black man.


Cariol Horne reaffirms my conviction that no matter the obstacles, if we hold fast to a vision of justice and keep moving toward it, we will indeed overcome.She heard Mack gasp, "I can't breathe" after Kwiatkowski put him in a chokehold, with a knee to the neck.


"Let him go!" she screamed.


But Kwiatkowski didn't move.


"Neal Mack looked like he was about to die," Horne reported. Desperate, she jumped on Kwiatkowski's back, trying to move him. He punched her face, damaging teeth, but she kept fighting until she was able to wrench him off. And Mack survived.


Yet instead of commendation, she got fired for "obstructing" a fellow officer who, far from being punished, was soon promoted to lieutenant. Because Horne had been vocal in her complaint, he sued her for defamation and won, with an award of $65,000.


She, a mother of five now without income, lived in her car.


Horne sued the Buffalo Police Department, determined to get her job back. She lost, but kept on appealing for thirteen years until finally, just last month (April, 2021), Judge Dennis Ward of New York Superior Court ruled in her favor. "While the Eric Garners and the George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a 'do over,' at least here the correction can be done," he said, reinstating all her back benefits.


Courage triumphed, and also showed us what true police protection could look like. Her intervention led to the Buffalo Common Council passing "Cariol's Law," imposing a legal duty on police to intervene. "Officers will no longer be able to stand by and watch or participate in police brutality," Horne said.


Simply "put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels ... upon the levers," Mario Savio famously said during Berkeley's 1964 Free Speech Movement, urging listeners to act whenever they saw injustice. That ethic, learned from my parents, was the core of our family values. A white woman who's often taken unpopular stands, I married a Black man when it was still illegal in half the states, worked full-time for racial justice, then married the woman I've now been with forty years.


But Cariol Horne inspires me to do more. I love how she jumped on her fellow officer, in one stride leaping over the blue wall as if it were nonexistent. And then her equity vision expanded so broadly she wrote a landmark law to benefit others as well as herself, and spent four years lobbying Buffalo to pass it.


"Cariol's Law" is now a model to every city grappling with police complicity in murder.


Her persistence reminds me of the impact one determined person can make. She never gave up her fight, even when it looked hopeless, and saw her faith ultimately rewarded. Cariol Horne reaffirms my conviction that no matter the obstacles, if we hold fast to a vision of justice and keep moving toward it, we will indeed overcome.

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Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving




After three years of marriage, my writer husband Julius Lester and I had worked out a good arrangement: He wrote in our grimy New York apartment, taught a few guitar students and cared for baby Rosa while I attended City College graduate school. My fellowship funded it all.


But late one January night he stood in our kitchen, stirring diapers boiling on the stove, and told me he'd decided to move South. He wanted to be a cultural worker for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. I looked at him in disbelief.

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Next to my driveway, aka Black Lives Matter Plaza 
Photo by Tim Wagstaffe.


I used to think I was among the wokest of the woke.  Naturally I wouldn't have said so aloud, but after all, I, a white woman, had married a Black man before that was even legal, nationally. Raised our biracial children. Trained anti-racist leaders. Published pro-equity books and op-eds. Marched and chanted.


But after May 25, 2020, when George Floyd screamed for his mama and people poured out of lockdown, something new broke open inside me. As well as inside everyone I know.


Black friends grew bolder. Scorched by racism all their lives they'd adapted, these successful women had perhaps grown a bit cautious. Now I'm watching folks I've known for decades become fervently political. They're expressing rage, loudly, plus their fierce pride. Read More 

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Cover of my 6th book, a memoir



When people ask me what do you do, for the last twenty-five years I've answered, "I'm a writer." Sometimes I add, "An author." 


If the questioner still looks blank, I'll say, with authority, "I'm a professional writer."


I've learned to define myself in a powerful tone because so many people have odd assumptions about a woman writer. Several years ago, for instance, a chipper young teller at the bank window asked me, "What are you doing today?" 


Eager to get moving, I replied somewhat crisply, "I'm writing. Like I do every day. I'm a writer."


"Oh, how nice," she said, with syrup in her voice. "It gives you something to fill your time." Read More 

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Zee Lewis, Oakland, sent this lovely photo


 I, who love words so much, am surprised to find myself newly enchanted with the sentence as a unit of language. Sentences in all their delicious variety, some with many clauses, dipping in and out, amplifying a theme before it brings itself, sharply, to a halt.


Or long sentences that make you think, having to puzzle out their meaning, like digging into a pomegranate to get the sweet, juicy seeds. Laborious, but usually worth it. Then there are the short, declarative sentences that command attention. Look up! they say.


The lowly sentence, which all of us use every day, is the building block of prose.  Read More 

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Julius Lester and Joan at a march in

Washington, D.C., demanding the Federal

government protect civil rights workers

in Mississippi. 1964



If I had a nickel for each time a stranger has told me, "I know my life would be a bestseller!" I'd be wealthy. Sometimes they even offer their story, asking me to simply write it down. "My life has been so amazing, the book would write itself."


Well, not really. Books do not write themselves, and the record of lives is not laid out like a script, awaiting only transcription. A memoir, like any other book, is a deliberately created piece of art, using, in this case, one's life as the clay. But there are endless possibilities for shaping the raw material. What is the theme? The voice? Which events to include, which to highlight, how to connect them all? And why now? Read More 

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Joan Signing at Diesel Books, Oakland
Photo by Rob Shiefer


What is the difference between being a writer and an author? I am sometimes asked. The process of writing a book (I have completed eight and sold seven) is so lengthy, so all-consuming, that it merits the separate designation. Author: a person who has completed a grueling, rewarding activity, composing a coherent narrative of some length—generally at least 60,000 words. Keeping track of all the threads over many years and tying them together, while maintaining some linguistic elegance, is quite different from the week-long task of writing an essay or article.

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Signing books at Mrs. Dalloway's

Bookstore, Berkeley, CA

So many people yearn for the inspired self-expression that writing provides. If putting pen to paper is the creative mode that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, bursting with ideas, plunge in. Some artists find exquisite pleasure in painting or sculpting. But if playing with words lifts your heart, there are multiple paths for you.

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Writing Feeds My Soul

The writer relaxing at Sea Ranch,

2019. Photo by Carole Johnson


Writing, for me, is pure: totally involving, pleasurable, existing only for itself, not the end product. In the same way I cherish hiking a trail in the woods early morning, eager to see cottontail rabbits leaping into the brush, or the joy I get pulling weeds in my flower garden--where the aromas of leaves and fresh dirt fill my nostrils--writing is an activity that fully absorbs me. When I finish, I'm flushed with pleasure.

Of course I learn a great deal about myself during the process: writing is a minute examination of some facet of living, subjecting it to the microscope. But while that is useful, it is the mental act of creating sentences and paragraphs or musing over structure that fills my heart with joy. I am a great rewriter, believing each revision only improves the draft; my heart lifts as each sentence receives its polish. Or even when I ruthlessly cut out phrases or larger chunks of writing. Read More 

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Sandra Bland at 28


In 1968, when I was twenty-eight years old, I suddenly heard a siren blare behind me. On my country road in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, it was a strange sound. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I saw a police car flashing red lights. Never imagining it had anything to do with me—a white, mostly law-abiding woman—I sped up. So did the screaming vehicle behind me. I continued to speed, trying to get out of its way.


Finally the patrol car drew parallel and then careened before me at an angle, forcing me to put my foot on the brake, hard. A cop strode to my window, looking grim. "License and registration please."

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The incomparable

Audre Lorde


In 1978 I discovered Audre Lorde through her startling poem "Power" in the Village Voice. I taped it inside my desk drawer, where my eyes lingered on it daily. It felt like a gut punch, but I couldn't stop reading it.

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Photo: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

On my drive into Berkeley's Tilden Park recently, I saw a white man of about sixty—twenty years my junior—standing by a black car. I paused to see if he needed help. He made a small hand gesture, which I took as a "go on" wave so I continued. But fifty feet later, troubled, I decided the gesture had been ambiguous. Brought up by parents who always stopped for strangers, I flashed my blinkers and reversed.


Rolling down my window, I asked, "Are you okay?" Read More 

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