Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Poverty Awareness Week at UNC

Lots of good programming going on this week on campus during Poverty Awareness Week sponsored by the Campus Y. Sorry I'll have to miss tonight's screening of "Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the NC Fund," a progressive anti-poverty initiative that Gov. Terry Sanford started in 1963.
The Fund sought to align federal, state and local government, foundations and the state's civic and business leadership to break the entangled bonds of racism and poverty in North Carolina.
This trailblazing program used integrated teams of college students to assist and strengthen poor communities throughout the state. The NC Fund, which grew to embrace the radical notion that poor people should be empowered to act on their own behalf, was both controversial and transformative, leaving a legacy that continues today.
Produced by Durham documentary filmmaker Steve Channing.

Other events to be aware of.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eyes on public-sector blogging

Municipalist is a blog that focuses on blogging by public officials--legislators, school board members, town council members and such. This week it profiled GreeneSpace. My thanks to Craig Colgan for the kind attention.

Oh, there's lots of other interesting stuff on Municipalist too. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Speech

Barack Obama's speech yesterday was a remarkable performance. Some politicians would have "denounced" the inflamatory words of a Rev. Jeremiah Wright and got on with other things as quickly as possible. That would have been hard for Obama, given his longstanding ties to this man. But he managed to reject the explicit remarks Rev. Wright made, while putting them in the context of the rhetoric of black liberation theology--not denying the legitimacy of the minister's argument, but marking his own distance from what he called the "static" view of race in America that the minister's remarks reflected:

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

Obama distinguishes his own generation from the generation in which Rev. Wright grew up, and in the process works to weave together the complicated stories of being black and white in America:

They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
As the New York Times editorial this morning states, Obama "put Mr. Wright, his beliefs and the reaction to them into the larger context of race relations with an honestly seldom heard in public life."

In a culture of sound bites there's a real danger that this speech will not undo the damage that has been done to Obama's campaign, that the inflammatory words of the minister will be all it takes to drive some voters away. But that would be a shame. In this speech, Obama faced perhaps the toughest challenge yet to his campaign. As the Times said, "It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better."

Delivered in the shadow of Independence Hall, it was a speech for the ages. Read (or watch) the whole thing.

UPDATE: Jonathan Tilove's insightful coverage of the speech:

Barack Obama's speech on race was entitled "A More Perfect Union.'' But it might have been called "Waking From the Dream.''

With it, Obama dashed the fancy that 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., America, in an act of timely wish-fulfillment, might elect a black man president while skipping lightly over questions of race.

But more than that, Obama was both true to himself — ending a self-imposed silence on matters central to who he is — and true to the deeper meaning of King.

Come the April 4 anniversary of King's death, it will now be far harder to be satisfied with platitudes. Very much in the spirit of King's 1963 "I Have a Dream'' speech — and unlike the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that made the Illinois senator's reputation — Obama's words this week were less an idealized paean to America's aspirations and more a gritty accounting of its real history, its present quagmire, and the long slog ahead.

. . . more.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A real great story

From Meg McGurk of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. At yesterday's meeting of the work group for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, she had a great story to tell about the "Real Change from Spare Change" program. A man went into The Bookshop on West Franklin Street and asked if they were participating in the program. Yes, they are: he was shown the collection can on the counter. He plopped down a large container of change. He said he'd been picking up loose change on Franklin Street for years, knowing that there ought to be some good use for it, and now he was grateful to have the chance to give it back. It came to $27 (and change).

Monday, March 10, 2008

We remember Eve

Mayor Kevin Foy's statement tonight at the beginning of our Town Council meeting:

We begin this evening's meeting by acknowledging the grief and pain that we are suffering at the loss of our colleague and friend, Eve Carson.

Eve was the president of Carolina's student body, which is how many of us came to know her. But the more we got to know her, the more we understood what an extraordinary person she was, and how broadly and deeply she touched the lives of people in Chapel Hill and beyond.

Eve's death represents for us a terrible, incomprehensible loss. She was a person who embodied what is beautiful in this world, and it was a joy to know her. Her having been taken from us rips from us our greatest hopes and our greatest dreams and our greatest aspirations for what the world might become someday.

We are diminished by the loss of Eve, and we know it.

We mourn this day, but we will carry on. We will soldier on. We have Eve's memory and spirit to help us carry on. But we will always remember Eve; we will always cherish Eve; and Eve will always be with us in Chapel Hill, to challenge us with her beauty and grace, her intelligence and charm, her compassion and idealism.

Eve's spirit will challenge us to be a place where youth can flourish and hope can endure and evil will be forever banished. And although we cannot replace Eve, we do know that she was a person who mattered in this world by the work she did, and she was destined to do great things. Rather than have those things remain undone, each of us can look to pick up a piece of the work that Eve did, and to do the work she would have done, the way she would have done it.

My colleagues on the council and I have been a part of the sorrow of our community, and we have reached out to Eve's family and to our colleagues on campus and beyond. We have extended to Chancellor Moeser our deepest sympathy to the campus community, and we have sought to comfort everyone in our town. Each of us has suffered, individually and collectively, a harm that is deep and piercing.

Yesterday, my wife Nancy and I attended Eve's memorial service at her hometown in Athens, Georgia. We had the opportunity to meet Eve's mother, Teresa, her father, Bob, and her brother, Andrew. We told them how much Chapel Hill valued Eve and how heartsick all of us are.

Eve's family was very gracious, and even under the burden of such surpassing grief thanked us, and all of you for your thoughts and your support.

Athens and Chapel Hill are now forever bound. We are bound by the thread of the life of a lovely young woman who touched us as she graced this world.

Please join me in a moment of silence to remember Eve; but I hope that this moment will resonate around the world, and that our moment will awaken this world with our cry of grief at this senseless death.

I would also like to call attention this evening to the assistance that is available to everyone in our community who is coping with this tragedy and who needs assistance. Our town has a crisis unit, housed in our police department, that is ready to help, and I ask you please to call them to seek that help if you need it. Contact information is available on the town website or by calling Town Hall.

In addition, the university has counseling available and people ready to assist members of the campus community during this difficult time.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A lesson from Eve: Don't curb your enthusiasm

Long ago I trained myself out of using exclamation points--no place for them in polished writing, I learned and dutifully practiced: words themselves are powerful enough, if you know how to use them. Even today I find myself editing exclamation points out of my email messages.

Not Eve Carson. Here's a message I had from her on Feb. 11 (at around 3 a.m.), in response to my request to learn more about a survey the student government association had done (under Chris Belhorn's leadership) on student attitudes toward panhandling:

Dear Sally,

I am so sorry that I haven't gotten back to you before now! Somehow, I managed to miss this email and it remained unopened in my mailbox until right now! So, the date for the Feb 6 meeting with the Downtown Partnership has come and gone and again, I apologize for not seeing this before-- I so wish I had read this before... I can assure you though, that we would love to participate in these meetings in the future! I know a number of students who I think would serve as excellent representatives for this committee.

I hope you are doing well and I really thank you for reaching out to me. It was so kind of you to write in the first place! Would you mind if I passed this message along to Chris Belhorn? I think it is such a compliment to him (and he is totally deserving of all praise!) that you would be interested in having a student serve in this group!

Thank you Sally. I'll look forward to talking with you again soon!

For more of her infectious spirit, see this moving tribute by her friend Ben Lundin. As for me, in Eve's honor and memory I'm renewing my own pledge to serving others--with new and uncensored enthusiasm.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. I spent part of it speaking to the Orange County chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honor society of women educators. Also on the agenda was the presentation of scholarships to one young woman from each of the senior classes of the four Orange County high schools who planned to major in education. (This year, there was no candidate from East Chapel Hill.) I appreciate Betty Eidenier for asking me and Kathy Harris for introducing me.

They wanted to hear my "stories" about being on the Town Council, but I started earlier than that. I told them how I'd written my dissertation on a national fellowship from the American Association of University Women. And about how eventually I met one of the women who was on the award committee. She told me that one of the things that impressed her the most about my application was the fact that I had a brand new baby. This was kind of disappointing: I had hoped she was going to say it was strength of my ideas about Virginia Woolf! But it was true that juggling a dissertation and a newborn child was quite a challenge, and the time off from teaching that the fellowship allowed made my life much easier.

Women helping women: may it ever be so.

Real dollars for real change

Many thanks to the Daily Tar Heel for its generous $10,000 contribution to the "Real Change from Spare Change" program.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Two communities are shaken to the core by the senseless murder of Eve Carson. Here's what they're saying in her home town of Athens, Ga.

Eve Carson was brilliant, without arrogance.
She was beautiful, without vanity.
She was generous, without self-importance.
She was, as her Clarke Central High School teachers remembered her Thursday, the woman you hope your daughter will become.
"This was a girl who was going to cure cancer, who was going to make Academy Award-winning movies, who was ... going to do something big," said school counselor Sam Hicks.

My connections with Eve were few but meaningful. I was looking forward to seeing her at the next meeting of our Downtown Partnership outreach committee. My brief impressions of her were like everybody else's: this was someone who loved and embraced life, had enormous amounts of energy and talent to give, and was already at work to be the change she wanted to see in the world. There is no making sense of it.