Archive | February, 2013

Closing Black History Month 2013

28 Feb

Black-History-Month-20131-e1361831330607My hope this year, as it is every year, is that I have sufficiently proven how we still need to celebrate Black History Month in the United States; that racism is sadly alive and well and living in every state. Hopefully, TSM has celebrated many folks who have been relegated to corners of history and are rarely celebrated.  I have to confess what a pleasure it was to celebrate so many African Americans who dedicated their lives and continue to dedicate their lives to civil rights and social justice.

Some of my favorites this month (none will surprise the TSM audience) were:Martha Wash — talk about a true example of working for civil rights and social justice?  Gordon Parks was another great article — I hope he becomes integrated into history books. As we can see there are too many African American voices who are missing from American textbooks.

The most personal and the most painful life to celebrate for Black History month, was Bonnie Sanders.  I so want her to have her place in history.  I love and miss  her so very much.

I hope you got the chance to learn about some new people and were able to rejoice in names you already recognized.  Chime in and let me know who were some of your favorites and tell me some people you would like me to add to the list.  I suppose one of the “take-aways” from this series is that until we see African-Americans being represented in all history books and American culture values Black History, we will continue to have the need for Black History Month.

Black History Month 2013: Loretta Long

27 Feb

LorettaLongToday we honor and celebrate a woman who has been a key part of the lives of millions of children, Dr. Loretta Long. As Susan, Long has been a member of the cast of Sesame Street longer than anyone but two colleagues: Bob McGrath and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).

Born in Paw Paw, MI in 1940, Long pursued a degree in Education, determined to make a difference in young lives. She was also interested in entertainment, and began co-hosting the WNET show Soul! while substitute teaching. The show mixed musical variety (including performances by Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle) with frank political commentary, appealing to all Long’s interests. One day she saw the set decorator preparing scenes for a new program and asked for more information. The show was Sesame Street.

[It] wasn’t Dick and Jane’s old neighborhood with the picket fence. That intrigued me.

Impressed by the educational and multicultural goals of the program, Long went to audition. What she didn’t know was that the creators were looking for a “Joan Baez type” for the female lead. All the other performers were there with guitars; Long had expected a pianist. Improvising, she sang “I’m A Little Teapot” to the children in the test audience, engaging them to join in. Her infectious good humor and way with the kids won her the part.

So that–I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career!

Long taped the show, substitute taught (much to the confusion of students who saw her in the classroom and on TV), and pursued her PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts all at the same time. She wanted to be sure to have the tools to make education meaningful and fun both. Her dissertation was entitled “Sesame Street”: A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids.

While educating generations of children on fair play, diversity, and basic skills, Long has also been a strong voice for social justice. She is dedicated to creating true equity and challenges people to think outside their comfort zones.

In 1998, she wrote the children’s book Courtney’s Birthday Party, about two girls who are best friends, one white and one black. When Courtney, the white girl, has a birthday party coming, her mother doesn’t want to invite Dejana, her African-American friend. The girls work together to solve the situation, promoting diversity and cooperation. Long faced some criticism for the book because people felt it wasn’t realistic in 1998. She demanded otherwise (quite accurately) and provided kids, parents, and teachers with a marvelous tool.

We seldom know about the backgrounds of the entertainers who create educational programming. As Long observes,

TV is like fire. It’s good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching.

The cast of Sesame Street were all dedicated to true educational and social justice principles (including the late Will Lee, better known as Mr. Hooper). Thank you Dr. Loretta “Susan” Long for providing your voice and passion for so many years.

(For a wonderful, lengthy interview with Dr. Long, visit the Archive of American Television.)

25 Feb

This is quite lovely. Thank you Jennifer Carey for sharing this: Library of Congress Electronic Exhibit – African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

Indiana Jen

In honor of Black History Month, the Library of Congress is hosting the electronic exhibit “African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.” The exhibit displays more than 240 artifacts, including documents, images, videos, and more.

The exhibit “explores black America’s quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century.”

This is a rich, multimedia exploration into the experience of African Americans in this country for over 200 years.

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Black History Month 2013: Nina Simone

25 Feb

Nina Simone in Pink Dress and Gold TurbanToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Her 80th birthday was this month and we lost her nearly ten years ago. I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  I can’t drink gin without thinking of our Nina.

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means.The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song.

Nina Simone you are missed and cherished.

Black History Month 2013: James Baldwin

22 Feb

James-Baldwin-9196635-1-402I would like to honor and pay tribute to James Baldwin. Baldwin was an amazing and courageous writer, civil rights activist, and novelist. Not only did Baldwin work for social justice as an activist, but he was a pioneer writer who grappled with issues of race and homosexuality.  Is it any wonder he became an expatriate and moved to Paris, France? America was not a safe place for blacks or gays.

While most people have read one of my favorites, Go Tell It on the Mountain (his autobiographical coming of age novel), and Notes of a Native Son, it was Giovanni’s Room, that spoke to me. Imagine the courage it must have taken to have written a novel about homoerotic love, I only wish the characters in the novel could have been black, for there is still such a need for positive gay black role models.

I would strongly encourage everyone to read his essay: No Name in the Street, which addresses the assassination of three of his closest  friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Here is part of an interview with Baldwin and his reflections on Malcolm X; very complex interview and one really should listen to all three parts of it. I’m not sure enough people know how much of his time was spent as a civil rights activist and how grateful we all should be to Baldwin!  Baldwin has an amazing understanding of the intersections of oppression and system oppression–if only more people would learn about and read Baldwin’s works.

Hero of the Week Award: February 22, Oregon United For Marriage

22 Feb

OU4M_logoThis week a dedicated group of Oregonians began the official process of undoing a great injustice. In 2004, during the great wave of anti-equality measures across the nation, Oregon voters passed Measure 36, a constitutional amendment denying LGBT couples marriage equality. Although the margin was smaller than in most states, it was a decisive and depressing result.

Oregon United For Marriage (OU4M) is a new group allied with Basic Rights Oregon. Their goal is to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot to overturn the constitutional amendment and create true equality. The initial petition required 1,000 signatures; OU4M gathered over twice that many, including signatories like Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Gov. Barbara Roberts. They must now obtain approximately 100,000 signatures to get the measure certified for the ballot.

Oregon was one of the first states to issue same-sex marriage licences. In early 2004, Multnomah and Benton counties decided that the equal protection clause in the state constitution trumped the male/female language in the marriage statutes. That effort resulted in the backlash that passed Measure 36. Even in the wake of that defeat, the Oregon legislature created a “marriage in all but name” domestic partnership law championed by Senator Frank Morse (R – Albany). That separate but equal provision at least creates some basic rights and protections. With polls showing a huge 54 – 40 margin in favor of equality, the new measure should put Oregon on the right side of justice and history with the nine (and counting) other states.

Honorable mention this week goes to former Utah Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. In an article for American Conservative, he makes the case that if his party continues to oppose simple equality it will be “made irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas.”

While serving as governor of Utah, I pushed for civil unions and expanded reciprocal benefits for gay citizens. I did so not because of political pressure—indeed, at the time 70 percent of Utahns were opposed—but because as governor my role was to work for everybody […] That was four years ago. Today we have an opportunity to do more: conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry. […] There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.

Well said, Gov. Huntsman, and thank you.

Black History Month 2013: Bonnie Sanders

19 Feb

Michael & Bonnie June 2008This particular tribute is especially difficult for me to write and I only hope I can do Bonnie justice.  Bonnie and I were friends for nearly a quarter of a century.  She would have been 61 years old today, but sadly we lost her all too soon.  Bonnie was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.  She lived the last part of her life in Atlanta, Georgia. Just by the way Bonnie lived her life, she was an exemplar of social justice.

Although she could present a gruff exterior — and we all know she did not suffer fools lightly — she had a heart that embraced all marginalized voices. From the nine turtles she saved and adopted, the many dogs and cats she rescued, to standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and with the aging community, her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights was unparalleled.  Bonnie walked in every AIDS Walk Atlanta since the very beginning. Bonnie’s voice will be sorely missed.

Bonnie was the boss of all of us and inspired everyone to be their best person, although I have to admit she did have a devilish way of making me act out.  Although she was chronologically older than I, she referred to me as her Granny.  Probably because I would just hold her hand, fix meals for her, and fuss at her if she did not go in for her mammogram.  To be honest, she also called me Granny because I can’t stay up past 9:00.

Our traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza would usually start at 4 and Bonnie, Joanie,  and I would be asleep by 8:00.  Our friends who knew us well knew you had to leave by 8:00 because we would be asleep.  I did wake up at midnight and would wake up Bonnie and Joanie for a quick toast to the New Year and then back to sleep.

I was in my early 20s when I met Bonnie and was immediately in love with her — with her contagious laugh, her irreverent sense of humor.  Over the years we built a life together and have a shared history.  Bonnie knew I was gay before I did, as she was wont to remind me of often.  Bonnie is one of the reasons why I married my wonderful husband, for Robert had to get her approval.

The pain of losing someone so close is at times unbearable; there are times throughout the day that I feel as if I’m choking, or I break into tears.  Other times something funny will happen and my immediate reaction is to want to call Bonnie.  Right now it feels as though a huge part of myself has been ripped out and I cannot retrieve it.  I desperately try to just be grateful Bonnie was a part of my life for so long.  I know she lives forever in our collective laughter and acting out.

A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but by how much it is loved by others; it is obvious how Bonnie’s heart embraced the world and I am all the better for just having been connected to her.  Her light and wonder were contagious and should be shared!

For those that knew Bonnie, please, I invite you to share a funny story that shines as an example of how witty and irreverent she was.

I love you, Bonnie.

Love,

Granny

Black History Month 2013: Julian Bond

18 Feb

Julian_BondToday we honor and celebrate an outspoken pioneer for civil rights and social justice and one of my personal heroes. Horace Julian Bond was born in Nashville in 1940. He grew up in rural Fort Valley, GA, where his father was president of the university. He enrolled in Morehouse College, where he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He became its communications director and helped organize protests against segregation in public facilities in Georgia. He left school to spend more time as an activist; he would return to Morehouse and complete his BA in English at the age of 31–yay for English majors!

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Bond was one of eight African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. The House refused to seat him, citing his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. He lost an initial court case but appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously that Bond’s freedom of speech was being denied and compelled the Georgia House to seat him. He served in the Georgia house until 1975 and then in the Georgia Senate until 1987.

While still serving in Georgia politics, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center with Morris Dees in 1971 and served as its president for eight years. He also worked in education, teaching at a number of universities until 1998. That year he was selected as chairman of the NAACP, a role he held for 11 years. He helped create the 100th anniversary celebrations for the organization in 2009.

Julian Bond is an amazing voice for social justice and truly understands the intersections of oppression. He reluctantly boycotted the funeral of his friend Coretta Scott King because it was held in a viciously anti-gay megachurch. He shares King’s support of the LGBT community and has been a vocal advocate throughout his career.

African Americans […] were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now. Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.

He has also recorded a marriage equality spot for the Human Rights Campaign and has notably observed, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.”

Bond is currently a Distinguished Professor in Residence at American University in Washington, D.C. and a faculty member in the history department at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he teaches history of the Civil Rights Movement. He also finds time to advocate for responsible legislation to address climate change. What an amazing and inspirational figure!  Bond is a national treasure!

Black History Month 2013: Kathleen Saadat

15 Feb

Today we honor a tireless worker for social justice and equality, my very dear friend Kathleen Saadat. Born and raised in Missouri, Kathleen moved to Oregon in the 70s. She attended Reed College and received her BA in Psychology there. She held several managerial positions with the City of Portland’s CETA Job Training Programs in the 1970’s and 80’s and held the position of Executive Director for the Oregon State Commission on Black Affairs immediately prior to her appointment by the Governor as Oregon State Director of Affirmative Action in 1987.  She managed the Youth Services arm of the Portland Urban League during the 1980’s.

Kathleen has worked in a wide variety of government positions and as an independent contractor. From 1997 until 2001, she was the Strategic Plan Coordinator for Multnomah County Oregon’s Department of Community and Family Services.  During that time she also continued work as a private consultant and trainer in the areas of human diversity and organizational development and as a motivational speaker. She has served as a Commissioner on the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission and should also be recognized for her amazing work to fight HIV and help those impacted by HIV.

Kathleen is a member of Class VI of the Oregon American Leadership Forum, a 1992 Fellow with the Advocacy Institute in Washington DC and recipient of fellowship to Hedgebrook Women’s Writers Retreat and a member of the 29th Street Writers. Her list of awards and accomplishments is too long to enumerate here but includes being listed as one of 100 Who Lead in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine, a Harvey Milk Award, the Bayard Rustin Civil RIghts Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the World Arts Foundation in recognition of her contributions to the efforts to “Keep Living the Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kathleen is concerned with social and economic justice, what happens to our children, and with the issues related to world peace. More than just concerned, she lives and breathes social justice. She is both passionate and compassionate, willing and able to speak her mind clearly but also able to help people move along their own path towards understanding. Her desire for positive social change is only matched by her generosity of spirit. Although she has retired from the formal work force, her passion and presence continue to be felt in myriad ways as she channels her powerful voice through her own wishes and time. Truth be known, while she purports to be retired, I look forward to her next project towards social justice.

I am privileged to know and honor her. Kathleen continues to help me learn how to build coalitions and bring disparate groups together–thank you, Kathleen.  With love and admiration!

Hero of the Week Award: February 15, Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota

15 Feb
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week a newly elected member of the 113th Congress took a stand against Citizens United — one of the worst decisions to come from a very biased U.S. Supreme Court — and put forward an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rep. Rick Nolan (D – MN) is one of the Democrats who unseated a rabid Tea Party Republican in the November elections. He was in Congress before (1975 – 81), so he brings both experience and fresh eyes to the House.

Working with Rep. Mark Pocan (D – WI), Nolan crafted what he calls a “We the People” Amendment. It would clarify the Constitution by establishing two things.

  • Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and
  • Political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

What? You mean corporations are not human beings?  Scalia and his merry band will be sad to learn this. The full text is available at the Move to Amend website.

It is significant to note that during his time away from Congress Rep. Nolan served as president of the U.S. Export Corporation and the Minnesota World Trade Center. He is not anti-corporation but understands their limited and appropriate role. How wonderful to see him bring that experience to bear for the benefit of all.

A Constitutional amendment is a tall order and will take time and effort. It may even be a non-starter in Boehner’s House of Tears. Congress has the power to amend, however, to check the decisions of the Supreme Court. Thanks to Reps. Nolan and Pocan, however, the momentum has started.

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