Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bill Thorpe

My Town Council colleague Bill Thorpe died on Saturday. We will miss him very much. I came to know him first in early 2004, when he was involved with the NAACP in asking the Council to change the name of Airport Road to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Seeing Chapel Hill's long history through his eyes helped me to understand why this gesture--which some dismissed as merely symbolic--was so important. More than that, after his election to the Council in 2005 he continued to remind all of us of the need to go beyond symbolism to action in addressing issues of social justice in our community.

He also taught me a lot about collegiality in public service--that is, about working together as colleagues. And he never ceased to remind all of us us--usefully, no doubt--that we are public servants, that our actions and decisions must always be for the good of the whole community. As anybody who knew him can tell you, he had a powerful deadpan--he could shock you momentarily into thinking you'd committed some mighty offense! only to let you know it was all right, everything was going to be all right. He really had one of the sweetest dispositions of any man I've ever known (and surely it is OK, in the 21st century, to call a man sweet). When I think of him, I will always see him smiling.

A public viewing will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at University Baptist Church, and services will be held at 1 p.m.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What's your support system?

This is a question I was asked at yesterday's second annual Project Homeless Connect. It's a good question. There's probably a time when I would have responded, What are you talking about? I don't need a support system! I was independent, gainfully employed, healthy, reasonably happy. I still am all of those things, but no longer so naive as to think I'm any of them without a lot of support from many directions: especially family. Everybody needs a support system. Most of us have one.

A couple of years ago at one of our conversations on homelessness, I met a woman living in the Homestart shelter. Her salary at a fast food restaurant allowed her to pay rent and buy gas, but little else. When her car broke down, she had to choose between fixing it and making rent. She chose the car--because she had to get to work. Couldn't your family help? I asked. Her family was sympathetic but no, they were in no position to help.

Poverty begets poverty.

Calvin Harris' story is worse. His parents abandoned him; he was raised by cousins who didn't do very well by him either. He grew up learning New Jersey street smarts. In and out of trouble, in and out of prison for 28 of his 48 years, he lives in Person County now where he has been sober since 2006. Now, he's looking for work--a hard proposition for somebody with a felony record.

What's your support system?

Photos from Project Homeless Connect.