Jimmy Carter: America’s best former president

— I became an admirer of Jimmy Carter shortly after he took office as the nation’s 39th president. I was 12 years old at the time. I felt differently about Carter than his predecessors. I actually felt a personal connection, like I could relate to him.

Like me, he was Baptist and like many of my relatives, he taught Sunday school. Unlike Richard Nixon, who left office in disgrace and who seemed to struggle with a host of demons, and unlike Gerald Ford, whose administration supported the apartheid South African regime’s efforts to suppress liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique, he seemed well intentioned and decent.

So like millions of Africans, I was elated when in 1978 he became the first American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to make an official visit to the continent. FDR’s visit to Liberia in 1943 was just a brief stopover on his way to Tehran. He needed something. It was in the midst of World War II and he wanted to implore Liberian President Edwin Barclay to end his country’s neutrality and expel German expatriates. However, Carter was different. He seemed genuinely interested. He visited Liberia before heading to Nigeria, where he hung out for a few days. For those few days, our eyes were glued to the television as we watched him, his wife, Rosalynn; youngest daughter, Amy, and their entourage of more than 400 tour Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial (and at the time its political) capital.

My personal connection soared on the Sunday of his visit when he worshipped at First Baptist Church Lagos, my grandparents’ and parents’ home church, and a congregation where my late grandmother, Comfort Okekunle Oguntoyinbo, was ordained a deaconess in 1946, becoming the first woman from our ancestral village to hold such a position.

We loved his seeming approachability and openness. We applauded his decision to place African Americans, including Andrew Young, in high profile positions. We saluted his efforts to help end white minority rule in Rhodesia and we were saddened when his political career was cut short at the polls by Ronald Reagan, a man many blacks around the world considered insensitive at best.

Over the decades, we watched delightfully as Carter reinvented himself as a statesman, laborer for Habitat for Humanity, peacemaker, champion of democracy, human rights activist and warrior in the battle against diseases such as guinea worm. His efforts abroad, earned him a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He has been persistent in holding Nigeria, Sudan, Haiti and other countries accountable on human rights issues. He has served as an election observer in dozens of countries. He has complimented authorities in countries when the elections were free and fair. He has been outspoken when they weren’t. He has been fearlessly outspoken about Israel’s reckless disregard of the rights of Palestinians.

Jimmy Carter has been a relentless peacemaker who has championed the plight of Haitians. He was probably the first ex-president to call for re-thinking the misguided Cuban embargo.

At home, he is not been afraid to take on the most controversial issues. He has been quick to point out that much of the malicious criticism against President Obama is motivated by racism.

It has been an unlikely path for this farm boy from the nation’s most conservative region, this relative of slave owners who fled to Brazil after the Civil War because slavery was still legal in that South American country, and yet refused to be defined by his culture or his heritage. Like Lyndon B. Johnson, another southerner, Carter has earned a place in the pantheon of America’s most progressive presidents on the issue of race.

Now, the world is watching nervously as he fights the biggest battle of his life— brain cancer. Since making his diagnosis public, he has handled himself with grace, courage and dignity. He seems to be at peace with himself. He even taught Sunday school at his home church in Plains, Georgia, a few days after undergoing the first in a series of radiation treatments for the disease.

Historians have not judged Carter’s presidency kindly. In truth, his presidency was hobbled by a weak economy, the Iranian hostage crisis, the pitiful failed attempt to rescue the hostages and Carter’s lack of savvy in navigating the nation’s capital. I suspect the evaluation of presidential historians won’t change much in the coming decades and the moniker he was tagged with decades ago— America’s best former president— won’t change, either.

In both roles, he tried to do the right thing. He just did the job so much better after he left the White House.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo is a Dallas-based independent journalist. To contact him. email: oguntoyinbo@gmail.com.

Black lives should matter to black killers, too

— I applaud the Black Lives Matter Movement for renewing attention on police violence against blacks, an issue that is old as the republic— for black lives do matter. And black lives should always matter— even when the killers are not hyper-aggressive cops, white supremacists or other emblems of oppression.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo

Lekan Oguntoyinbo

In 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, more than 6,000 blacks were murdered, according to the FBI, most often by other blacks. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than 90 percent of blacks are killed by blacks. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of Blacks die at the hands of other Blacks as a result of warfare, ethnic and religious conflict and police and military brutality.

In fact many crimes committed by cops against blacks pale in comparison to black-on-black crimes.

Tuesday night in St. Louis, for example, two males were killed in separate shootings and eight others were shot and wounded in six shootings.

A few weeks ago in a Detroit neighborhood, patrolling police officers spotted two men in a car. One of them appeared to have a gun. When the cops tried to pull them over, they sped off and a chase ensued. The driver of the fleeing car nosed his car onto the sidewalk and ran over a six-year-old child, killing him instantly. He didn’t stop. He ran over another child, a three-year-old who died within a few hours, before he was apprehended.

A few years ago, Al-Jazeera posted footage online of military personnel in Nigeria, the world’s largest black country, murdering young men on a busy street of a large northern Nigerian city. The men were suspected of being affiliated with the terrorist group, Boko Haram. The soldiers had conducted a house-to-house search in a neighborhood believed to be sympathetic to the group. They pulled young men who fit particular profiles out of their homes, laid them on the sidewalk in full view of passing motorists and shot them dead in broad daylight.

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has resulted in the deaths of more people than any other conflict since World War II. To date, more than five million people have been killed. The conflict also has drawn in several neighboring countries. Some analysts have called the Congo crisis the closest thing to a world war in more than 70 years.

In Nigeria, large numbers of people are abducted each year and used as human sacrifices. Children are particularly vulnerable to these predators. In parts of Tanzania, kidnappers frequently target albinos for ritual sacrifices. The belief is that the gods give you greater rewards if you present them with an albino.

On at least two occasions in the last five years, large numbers of blacks in South Africa have viciously attacked expatriate blacks from other African countries, killing scores and burning down their homes and businesses. Black South Africans see the black expats as an economic threat.

And the list goes on and on.

For the record, I am sickened by stories of police brutality against blacks, by the footage of the killings of Walter Scott and Samuel Dubose and by the gross insensitivity of the Ferguson police who left Michael Brown’s lifeless body baking on asphalt for four hours.

But I am even more horrified by what blacks do to each other in this country and around the world. Pushing the idea that black lives matter has to involve more than slogans, hash tags and protest rallies. And it must be more complex than urging federal officials to investigate police misconduct.

We have to place a higher value on black lives in our own communities, block-by-block, city-by-city and nation-by-nation. It’s hard to persuade white authorities to respect our human rights and treat us with dignity when many of us don’t do the same. Until we get just as fired up about black-on-black violence in North St. Louis, in Detroit, on Chicago’s South Side, in South Central Los Angeles, in Lagos, in Kinshasa, in Kingston, in Port Au Prince and in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro as we do about cop killings, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” will remain no more than a pithy slogan. And the killings of Blacks will continue unabated.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo is an independent journalist. Email him at oguntoyinbo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo.