Sunday, July 13, 2014
Monday, September 16, 2013
"None of the Above," the latest production from Hidden Voices, is a truly riveting critique of one of the most troubling trends of our time: the systematic bias against children of color in school disciplinary procedures, under the guise of objective "zero tolerance" policies. Under these policies, something as innocent as bringing a Midol to class for a friend could well be the trigger of a suspension, then an appearance in court--and so the school-to-prison pipeline begins.
You can read much more about this devastating phenomenon from such sources as the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But if you haven't seen the Hidden Voices production, you're missing the human dimension to all of the statistics.
Written by Lynden Harris and directed by Kathryn Williams, the 40-page script was distilled from hundreds of pages of workshop recordings produced over a period of thee years. The performance is in the format of a radio call-in show. Moderator "Ernest Justice" (Philip Smith) deftly manages a conversation with student activists, a defense attorney, a Teach for America teacher, one very outspoken student, other teachers, a restorative justice worker, and other well-intentioned folks as well as call-in listeners, not all of whom are so sympathetic. By the time the evening is over, it is hard not to feel a little numb, and not a little powerless to change such overwhelming structural forces.
And yet doing nothing is the last thing that Hidden Voices intends to accept. "Do one thing," says the program copy, listing two pages of possibilities. A few of them:
Join the Raise the Age movement. North Carolina is one of only two states that charge children for crimes as if they were adults.
Get involved in the Restorative Justice movement. Help give juvenile offenders and their victims an opportunity to address the harms caused productively.
Tutor a child. Mentor a child.
Talk to someone about what's happening in the schools. Reach out. Listen.
If you missed it, there are a few other chances: next weekend at the UNC Stone Center, and Oct. 5 on the Duke campus.
For me, "None of the Above" raises an opportunity to mention a book that fundamentally changed my understanding of our world--sometimes it's not an exaggeration to say that about a book. Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness opened my eyes to terrible racial injustices in the criminal justice system that extend all the way from discipline in the school room to the administration of the death penalty.
Our "color-blind" laws are of little help--in fact they become rather confounding--when we grapple with the Trayvon Martin murder, for example. Last Thursday night, the Town's Justice in Action Committee hosted a panel discussion on "Lessons Learned from the Trayvon Martin case." The room was packed. Our police chief, Chris Blue, explained the procedures he has in place that ask his officers to self-check against racial profiling. Let's hope it's working.
And let's keep talking.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Today, I'll be at the Eno River to join the 34th annual celebration of the Festival for the Eno.
Yesterday, spurred by events on the Senate floor on Tuesday night, I joined hundreds of others in witness to and peaceful protest of the Senate's passage of a bill that places unconstitutional restrictions on the right to safe and legal abortion in this state. This bill was rushed through the Senate without public notice, without time for deliberation, and in fact it had come from the House in the form of a bill that would outlaw the recognition of "foreign" (Sharia) law (as if the United States Constitution did not fully require that the laws of the United States be only the laws of the United States). Though we doubted we would change the outcome of the vote after the third reading yesterday morning--just as the Moral Monday protests do not measure their success by immediate outcomes--it was important be there.
It was a privilege to serve for two terms on the Council, from 2003 to 2011, and since my appointment in January I have been honored to step back into the good work of the Council on such important issues seeing our expanded Public Library off to a strong start, focusing attention on new ways of supporting affordable rental housing, and continuing to serve those in our community who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. As we pursue implementation of the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan, I've been responsive to community members who are devoting much time and energy into discussions of the Central West planning area and the potential development of Obey Creek.
I'm proud that our work on what used to be called Lot 5 has come to fruition in the beautiful 140 West Franklin development and the associated public plaza, and I'm excited about the conversations for the future of the Rosemary Street corridor. This is an exciting time for downtown Chapel Hill, and these discussions are bringing out the best in our residents' creativity.
I look forward to the campaign, and to talking with each of you along the way about the issues that are important to you.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Town Council does indeed have a process for naming public structures and facilities after people. To have something named after you by the town is a great honor; it’s not something we do lightly. The first requirement is that the person be no longer living. There are good reasons for that policy, but there’s also a downside: Rebecca Clark is not here with us today to see this honor bestowed upon her.
I think of that old song by the Carter Family,
Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on.
Useless are flowers that you give
After the soul is gone.
It’s a chilling song, and there's truth in the lyrics. So I’m sorry Ms. Clark is not here to see this day. But I hope I’m not wrong to think that she was appreciated, especially in later years, like on her great community 90th birthday. And I hope I’m not wrong to think that she did recognize that the work she had done for so long, especially in the arena of political organizing and getting people to the polls, did really make a difference.
And certainly her presence is still felt and will be felt for a long time to come, through the memory established here with this gazebo but also in the hearts and minds of so many of us who can still remember vividly long phone conversations with her, in which she had something important to explain, something complicated with deep roots, going way back, are you with me? She wanted to be sure you know how some seemingly intractable problem had gotten to be that way in the first place, are you with me? Something was going on, going wrong, and it needed to be fixed.
We’re still trying to fix it all, Ms. Clark. We’re with you—and we’re grateful that you were with us and that you stuck with us and worked with us for so long.
Greetings on behalf of the Chapel Hill Town Council, and thanks to everyone involved, including Butch Kisiah and his Parks and Recreation staff, as well as our partners at Active Living By Design, who worked closely with the HOPE group to make this happen. Congratulations to David Baron and the whole HOPE team.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Luckily for these four young men, it was grass during Holy Week in 1964 when they decided to fasten themselves to this place 24 hours a day, fasting in protest of the Town of Chapel Hill's refusal to pass a public accommodations ordinance.
Pat Cusick, LaVert Taylor, John Dunne, James Foushee (in the photo) and countless other activists will be remembered this Sunday at 3 p.m. as we unveil and formally dedicate the Peace and Justice tribute marker at the site we've named Peace and Justice Plaza.
Please join us for the celebration. Opening remarks by Mayor Kevin Foy, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, and local NAACP chapter president Michelle Laws will be followed by brief tributes to the people honored on the marker. We will also recognize Yonni Chapman, historian, for his tireless work to ensure that past struggles for civil rights in Chapel Hill are remembered. Dan Pollitt, emeritus professor in the UNC School of Law, will conclude with some personal recollections of his own experiences on the front lines of local battles for civil rights and social justice.
The marker bears the names of nine people who devoted much of their lives to working for causes of peace and social justice in our community: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley, and Gloria Williams.
At the top of the marker is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
True peace is not simply the absence of some negative force; it is the presence of justice.
The marker is a flat granite paver, flush to the ground, directly in front of the flag pole. It is designed so that other names can be added in the future.
What's been most remarkable lately, as town employees have worked to remove one section of the brick pavers and ready the space for the installation, has been an archaeological discovery. On the concrete base that was poured to stabilize the brick pavers when they were laid, someone etched a swastika. (Click on the photo for an enlarged view; it's in the lower corner.) Emily Cameron, landscape architect for the town, puts it beautifully in perspective: "We thought it was worth noting that we have removed an historic symbol of hate and racial prejudice that had been hidden at the foot of our nation’s flag to replace it with a marker to commemorate the struggle for equality, justice, and peace."
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Overheard at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, mother to silent daughter: “The ugliest tomatoes are actually the ones that taste the best.” I wondered if this one-way conversation would take the obvious metaphorical turn, but it stayed straight on message. “Mommy is very picky about her tomatoes,” she continued as she examined a promising German Johnson.
Except for recognizing the inherent superiority of the home-grown varieties, I can’t claim to have ever been that picky about my tomatoes. Since I grew up in rural East Texas, my husband, bred in Charlotte, finds this to be curious.
Trips to the farmer’s market with Paul in high summer are quests for the ugliest, tastiest tomatoes. In reaction to the acidy Burpee’s Big Boys that he remembers from his father’s backyard garden, he’s after sweetness, with enough texture to stand up to the heat of the stovetop. Pink Girls, Cherokee Purples, all manner of lyrical names will join the reliable German Johnsons in soups and gumbos and biryanis and jamablayas of his own invention.
Assembling the tomatoes with other seasonal picks from the market, he’ll jump from cookbook to internet recipe to suggestions from his “tweeple” till he finds the magical combination of ingredients. He’ll put our son Tucker to work at the chopping board, encouraging all kinds of proper habits, not to mention the love of a good meal carefully prepared.
At 16, Tucker is ripe for embarrassment, though that’s not my aim in sharing the story behind one of his best works of art. Preschool age being the high point of abstract expressionism for so many, the daycare years brought out a talent in Tucker that he has since let languish.
On construction paper washed in pink he painted a fury of reds and greens, with a red center of gravity, random spokes of the red and green contributing energy and intensity. This creation of our young Jackson Pollock ended up on the coffee table next to a New York Times Sunday Magazine. The magazine happened to have a picture of a tomato splattered on its otherwise stark white cover. Tucker looked at the two, pointed to his own, and proclaimed, “Tomato!”
The topic of the cover story was politics: the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, symbolized by an iconic image of the tomato as hand grenade. Out of the mouths of babes, though. With that pleasurable cry of discovery—Tomato!—political symbol was reduced to its literal essence, while the abstract was translated into a piercing reality, a bright red tomato so juicy it could not be contained. Home grown, to be sure.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Dr. Jones has a long history with Alabama--while an official in President Nixon's education department, he awarded a multi-million dollar grant for extension education to the University of Alabama; and more recently he has donated a significant part of his art collection to the University. This is yet more evidence of the ways that, over the course of a lifetime, things change. It reminds me of a story Dr. Jones told me of his childhood growing up in Bessemer, Alabama. He sometimes went with his parents to the Bright Star--a legendary restaurant that's still in operation in Bessemer. I highly recommend it next time you're in Birmingham. Because those were the days of Jim Crow, Jones' family could not go in the front door--but the proprietor would set up a table in the back and the Jones came in the back door. That was a courageous position for the restaurant in those days, I am reliably informed.
Some years ago I asked Dr. Jones whether he'd been back. And he said "yes. It's still a great restaurant. [Pause] And this time I went in the front door!" Ah, what changes he's witnessed over his lifetime--and what changes he's been a part of, and contributed to as well. It's an important lesson of foregiveness and of moving forward. As we say in the historical memory business, we are far too often burdened by memory.
So you can imagine my surprise when a reader of Greenespace wrote me recently to tell me about another recent story in which Paul Jones figured. During the 1972 presidential election, Dr. Jones was in charge of President Nixon's campaign to get out the black vote. In that capacity he approached Sammy Davis, Jr. Amidst the recent talk of the release of Nixon tapes, there's a story about a letter that Paul Jones wrote about his meeting with Davis. The Orange County Recorder reports:
Campaign workers talked to Davis about supporting Nixon in January 1972. "The entertainer's reaction was that he has not chosen sides and is 'hanging loose,'" said a memo sent that month by campaign staffer Paul Jones to the re-election committee. "He indicated wanting to see 'what is in it' – which was spelled out to mean something 'for the people' – not for himself."
Another example of the unexpected outdoing itself in its power to surprise, as Ralph Ellison said!