In light of Trayvon’s plight, I have worried, gotten upset, cried, felt deep concern. For his family — as a mother I can’t even imagine the hurt and loss his parents and entire family must feel. I hurt for the divide that seems to loom in the country, dividing at times on racial and even political party lines. While some demand justice, others pass judgment. I cry for the untold stories of others who have encountered unfair treatment that have never received media attention and outrage. It is in this kind of moment of loss and divide, I hope to discover something that speaks to me and to others about the plight of those many souls misunderstood, misrepresented, quickly judged and for some, no longer here to defend their case. Enter the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. President Obama hosted a screening of the film at the White House on Thursday evening and will introduce a restored version of the film on the USA cable network on Saturday night. This is timely and compelling news. I am extremely grateful to learn about the opportunity for this film to enter our current discussions on justice and fairness.

I loved this book as a child. I remember that growing up in The Bahamas there was a tattered and torn copy among numerous books on an old wooden book shelf in my parents’ living room. I watched two of my older brothers as they would take the book up often, reading and sometimes annotating pages way before I even discovered the beauty of this novel. When I was finally old enough to read the book for myself, I perhaps in part imitated my brothers’ example. I read it over and over again. I would open the book to a random page and reread select passages. I fantasized how I would write a novel of my own in which I could depict similar themes. Like most fans of the novel, I was transported to that small Southern town, watching the events of the adults through the eyes of Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend, Dill. Yes, Tom Robinson’s case speaks to us, even today. Yes, Atticus’s defense is a nuanced and powerful speech on collective integrity and social justice. Yet, I remain awestruck by Lee’s depiction of the interaction between those children, the other townspeople, and their bogey man, Boo Radley.

It was in that part of the story that I learned about the pain caused by misunderstanding another, casting someone beneath your own sense of self and choosing to never analyze or question how you got to the finality of your judgment in the first place. Most of all, I felt intense empathy for a character that was isolated from society and yet, loved children and was a gentle and kind soul. It was through the eyes of those children, not tainted by social convention or peer pressure, that throughout the fifty year span of the book publication and film production, we as readers and film viewers realized that Boo really wasn’t so bad after all. These unassuming children turned learning about a secret into a game, only to finally realize that in their quest to “bring Boo Radley out”; Boo was looking out for them all along.

We need this story today as we appear to march towards a precipice of cultural misunderstanding, where debates about race, class, and gender make us fearful, resentful, and jaded. We need the sense of wonder and openness of those children and, of course, the courage and dignity of some of the other characters like Atticus, Maudie Atkinson, and Link Deas. We should remember the capacity that we all have to care deeply for each other and that in our interactions we can display more than mere cordiality or political correctness. This capacity for empathy, duty, and meaningful concern for another’s experience is what makes our time here worth the while. At least that’s how I see it.


*Guernica calls “foul” on Thomas Friedman:

*High school existential philosophy applied to Chinese students:

*Walker Art Center’s cool new art journal:

*National Book Award winner Nikki Finney describes the long and meandering path she took to her writing life:

Now, a game to guess :


1. China has invested millions of dollars in this particular country.

2. Complaints are arising that Chinese companies exploit workers and give government officials “sweetheart” deals to continue to do business in said country.

3. The average person in said country does not feel like they get any perceived benefits of these deals with Chinese companies.

4. China does not have trade unions in their country but this country does. The implication here is that businesses in China can make workers wait several weeks just to get paid and  requires employees to work really long hours without any ability to complain. How will this employer-employee relationship fare in a country with a strong trade union system? This is causing a “culture clash” in said country.

Did you guess the country?

See this report from PRI’s The World to see if you were correct.

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written. I was off traveling to see family over the summer in my beloved Bahamas and Switzerland. More about my experiences and thoughts about my time between my worlds later.

In the meantime, a very good friend shared a recent article from the New York Times about character education programs developed from the perspective of, on the one hand, a very prestigious private school, and on the other, a very successful charter school. I was intrigued at the way in which the journalist, Paul Tough, was able to express the differences and the linkages between the two types of schools in their pursuit of character education programs. In  many ways, each principal’s ideals originated from a  very similar place of wanting to have character education have just as an important position in education as the fundamentals, skills, and subject area content deemed valuable for educational success. However, each school’s distinct association with place (affluent vs. lower-income) led to varying results of how their character education programs played out in the “real world” of schools.  For the charter school, it was character report cards and for the wealthy private school character education led to wider curricular aims and more open-ended discussions, for example.

This NYT article highlights the implication that character education should not be viewed from a values-free perspective. In fact, character education programs should include an assessment of the differences that play out for the wide variety of students who belong in the distinct social spheres in our society. To my mind, education seeks to assist/ instill values of citizenship in children. That, I think, is the ultimate goal of education.  In order to be a good citizen, you must be productive and give something of value and use to the society, you must adhere to righteous laws, and you must be able to critique actions that would move society further away from an equitable and just one. Schools and learning must have this as their ultimate mission and vision.

Hannah Arendt says (according to Melissa Harris-Petty in her book Sister Citizen (an amazing read, btw, and a book review to follow) that “the public realm was reserved for individuality”. People want strive toward citizenship because it permits them public recognition.  This fact, Petty says, encourages pro-social behavior like following rules without draconian measures (This full participation is what I think they should mean in the NYT article when they refer to good character leading to ‘happy lives’). The premise of Petty’s book describes that this path of public and social recognition is not always readily given to some citizens, and in her book she particularly focuses on how this lack of recognition impacts black women (who are misunderstood and not fully recognized and furthermore placed in these main lenses— poor, the mammy (all giving, self-sacrificial), the seductress, the angered (at anything and everything).

So, if the goal of education is to produce citizens, and it is a dominant perspective that some citizens are not viewed as fairly as others, then shouldn’t character education foster citizenship while simultaneously identifying the barriers hindering some from attaining full participation in this society?  Character education should teach students that there are pro-social values that allow you to participate meaningfully in society. Additionally, character education must in some ways attune itself to the unfairness that exists in society when it comes down to this notion of public recognition. It should first provide an understanding that even when some people are at their best (character-wise), they are still misunderstood and misrepresented and specifically speaking, poor people, immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, and minorities have to deal with this non-recognition on a daily basis. How then can we create students that work to ensure their own public recognition as citizens while they concurrently think and act to ensure that others are not hindered from attaining that  same opportunity?

For me then, two important character traits are public recognition and justice, no?

Click here to read the NYT article in its entirety ( it is interesting, but rather long).

Click here to read a follow-up interview with the two school principals.

William Deresiewicz writes over at The Nation magazine about the crisis in academia as one that stems from lack of leadership. Who will stand up for intellectual inquiry and employment equity in the nation’s universities?

“But leadership will have to come from somewhere else, as well. Just as in society as a whole, the academic upper middle class needs to rethink its alliances. Its dignity will not survive forever if it doesn’t fight for that of everyone below it in the academic hierarchy. (“First they came for the graduate students, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a graduate student…”) For all its pretensions to public importance (every professor secretly thinks he’s a public intellectual), the professoriate is awfully quiet, essentially nonexistent as a collective voice. If academia is going to once again become a decent place to work, if our best young minds are going to be attracted back to the profession, if higher education is going to be reclaimed as part of the American promise, if teaching and research are going to make the country strong again, then professors need to get off their backsides and organize: department by department, institution to institution, state by state and across the nation as a whole. Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.”

Read the whole article here, please.,0

Just went to my local Borders bookstore this past weekend to check out the “last days sale” as the national chain prepares to close many of its local stores after it filed for bankruptcy. I am not trying to be dramatic, but while it was not necessarily eerie, it was a bit strange to walk through the giant store with most of its shelves empty while signs of deeply discounted prices along with “fixtures for sale” signs were draped everywhere in the massive  store.

What does this signal to the entire book selling business? Will everything be internet recommended? What will happen to local books by local authors? Will we only read what a few deem as worthwhile via recommendations on the various tech devices and websites that we use?

Case in point, my daughter just finished  the youth novel, Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes and loved the work. We are trying to find something comparable to this book and the internet web store recommendations don’t really give us options that truly suit the fullness of this amazing piece of literature that focuses on the coming of age of the protagonist in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. When we went to a local chain bookstore, the clerk while very helpful and friendly really could not point us in the right the direction, and at the locally owned store, the lady that is magical at recommendations is not always at the store.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Perhaps this is only my dilemma. Maybe everyone else is content with their web store inspired recommendations. I admit they can be very helpful but they do not always give the best and most exhaustive lists.

There is something exciting with bookstores that online sources do not provide when it comes to book browsing. A free first chapter is great and all, along with speedy shipping, but there is something delightful about feeling the book and then viewing another book next to the first one, and then maybe discovering a work that you might not have even thought about before you walked into the store. To spend time with books out in front of you and compare the pages side-by-side is an adventure in and of itself, and I wonder how this change to the variety of a real bookstores will impact young readers, for example. Will the future of books only allow us to read the award-winning books and remove the opportunity to discover works on our own? In this future, you don’t get to have that imaginary conversation that the author deserved more praise and accolades for their work and then spend time convincing others that they MUST read this book. But maybe I am just overreacting….

What I find interesting is that a few years ago, the argument was that the giant superstore would destroy the local bookstore, but now it seems that the internet and tech devices will destroy the physical bookstore and replace it with a virtual, automated, efficient and quasi-personal reading experience. Maybe we don’t really want to discover a writer, maybe we want to be told what to read and perhaps have the film adaptation instead.

What are we not experiencing when we don’t have an opportunity to see rows of creative minds as far and as vast as the eye can see on the shelves of a great bookstore along with staff recommendations and a sales associate providing assistance to us who shares our joy for the written word? Nostalgic maybe, but if there is some truth to this new reality then I can’t help but think that we will in turn become less independently minded than before. And what upholds democracy more than the mind that is willing to challenge even when those around you in your cultural space do not?

In the meantime, I will savor the moment when I walked into that independent bookstore with my daughter to purchase a gift for one her classmates on his birthday. We talked about books, the manager read with us, pulled books from high shelves, we laughed and read some lines from a few and took our time chatting while my daughter picked out the perfect wrapping to match the book we thought would inspire her friend to dream and imagine.  Ahhhh…. just give me a moment.

For writers, thinkers, advocates, and artists:

Public media provides so much that other media does not offer.

Have you supported your local public media station?

If you haven’t by now seen Brick City on Sundance Channel at 8p.m. on Sundays, you should and here’s why:

In the news this week, on the one hand, we see attempts at union busting in states like Wisconsin, the Libyan people suffering under brutal oppression, and on the other hand Charlie Sheen and his goddesses preening on every news channel. The albeit saddening but trite latter news theme finds its way on even the most “sane” of cable shows. I recently saw one show host urge viewers that watching Sheen’s recent rant was actually meaningful to watch.

The host noted, while intently focusing in on the viewers at home, that the Sheen debacle could happen to anyone in “our” family. This implied the view that watching a wealthy star struggle with his addiction in almost an embarrassing fashion should “teach” us something about the nature of addiction and should even serve to humble and lead one to contemplation about life and the potential possibility of addiction in our own families. This extremely delusional thinking permeates much of our attitudes about reality television. I know some teenagers who urge that watching shows like Jersey Shore help to make one feel smarter and better about themselves. To this I often ask, “How about watching something that actually makes you smarter?” Yet, I know that we are drawn to the the juicy and the taboo. In many regards, it is normal human behavior to find attraction to these topics. However, it is dangerous when the media bombards us with these stories, shaping the narrative, attempting to bend us into treating these kinds of non-news stories as actually having a meaningful purpose. We need more television like Brick City that can help us to see that the


trite is truly trite and help us to make significant meaning of our world. We need more shows that compel us to consider that our communities and our collective future requires contemplation, truthful storytelling, and honest imagery. Then, we can begin to tease out the implications of news worthy events like region sweeping revolutions and public policy.

Brick City the series began last year, and if you don’t know much about it, followed Corey Booker after he won the bid for mayor in Newark, New Jersey. In Season 1, Booker (elected in 2006) appears as a fresh young face riding the winds of change spun nationally with the election of Barack Obama as Obama led the Democratic Party to a strong winBooker (elected in 2006) appears as a fresh young face riding the same winds of change spun nationally with the election of Barack Obama as Senator of Illinois among others leading eventually to Obama’s presidential election.. In that historical moment of change, our global imagination changed not only in the way we thought about politics but also transformed our understanding of race. In this context, it was difficult to separate Booker’s energy from that of Obama’s.

This season is much different. Booker faces the local and specific challenge of a recession and the ensuing local budget cuts required to weather the city’s economic storm. He no longer  serves just as a symbol for hope and change. We get to watch him defend his positions and make difficult decisions that many of his constituents aren’t always happy about. There are various other interconnected stories and characters that make the city of Newark hum like a live and energetic organism, thriving at times, and then at other moments crashing into disappointment, allowing viewers to appreciate that real policy and community change comes from strain and often times surrender and not a nameless and unseen wind.

There is Garry McCarthy, the newly appointed Police Director of Newark who rarely smiles (he’s pretty intense) taking us into the realm of city politics, where the outsider (he’s a New Yorker) is often not welcomed.

Jayda and Creep with their family Courtesy:

Then there is Jayda along with her partner Creep, gang members from opposing gangs that fell in love now fighting to make a home for their children and demons from their past. Jayda, in my mind, is the best and most authentic representation of black womanhood on television right now. She is beautiful, strained, independent, human. She runs a non-profit for  young girls motivating them to stay focused on a goal and tries to inspire them to remove the large barriers that lay in front of them. She understands their struggles as she has had her own run-ins with the law among other stressful life events. Finally, there is Jiwe, a gang member and peace advocate who last season wrote a book about his life as an active gang member. This season, the book’s truths catch up with him as he faces legal charges based somewhat on the events described in his book. His story is extremely compelling as he is now faced with the consequences of his truth-telling from his personal and provocative book. His lawyer, is the husky voiced and legally sharp attorney, Brooke Barnett who is a compelling advocate for justice.

Jiwe and attorney, Brooke Courtesy:

With the depiction of these full and distinct stories comes the narrative of the city. This is not your “wealth gone wrong show” chock full of decadence and jet-setting. The decay of the city presents as seemingly nothing beautiful. Yet, this truthful depiction makes the harsh reality of the city vibrate. The story moves in and around town from the church leaders social, to a Latino street parade all with the blaring sounds of the city. There are tense and terse public meetings, mundane budget committees, kitchen table conversations. This is the real city, filled with promise and potential, haunted by mistakes but aching for change. There are many places across the globe that in many ways mirror the people and place of Newark. In the midst of this depiction come the themes of atonement, suffering, and triumph. This is authentic and not “reality” T.V. We should watch and empathize and grow along with this city and these characters. Our collective souls would do well to take note of this inclusive and honest series.

“In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”

From the CBS statement regarding Lara Logan’s brutal attack by a section of the crowd on the day of  Mubarek’s resignation in Egypt. While the news reports focus mainly on the negative reactions found on cable news, twitter, and the blogosphere, there was a resounding silence on the act of heroism on the part of the group of women who worked along with the Egyptian soldiers to free Logan.There is also so much more that could be said of the risky act of reporting in dangerous places, especially for female journalists. For many women, the act of truth-telling, truth advocacy, and community engagement is still a perilous and thankless act.

Yet, there are still heroes.

From the New Yorker Magazine. Read any of them? Any other suggestions?

“We asked Jon Lee Anderson, who has been blogging about the uprisings in the Middle East on News Desk, to recommend some titles that might shed light on why and how such uprisings happen.

  1. The Great French Revolution,” by Peter Kropoktin
  2. Ten Days that Shook the World,” by John Reed
  3. The Fall of the Shah,” by Fereydoun Hoveyda
  4. The Snap Revolution,” by Jame Fenton
  5. The Autumn of the Patriarch,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Here’s a quick list of books that hold insights into uprisings and revolts and also about the nature of dictatorship and what goes on in the minds of autocrats confronted with their downfall; these range from some out-of-the way classics, like Kropotkin’s examination of the French Revolution, and Reed’s “Ten Days,” about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; to Fenton’s long piece on the overthrow of the Marcoses in the “People Power” revolution of the Phillippines in the nineteen-eighties (published in Granta), to the bitter memoir by Hoveyda (a brother of the Shah’s last P.M., executed by Khomeini’s revolutionaries) about what led up to Shah’s downfall. In echoes of the shifting relationship between the U.S. and Mubarak today, Hoveyda’s attention given to the supposed lethal perfidies of the U.S. as the Shah’s ally hold some interesting historical insights. Garcia Marquez’s fictional “Autumn of the Patriarch,” is, of course, the novelist’s great “dictatcor” novel, and modern classic, worth knowing that it was nurtured by Gabo’s own experiences as a reporter in nineteen-fifties Venezuela where he observed the overthrow of its long-serving military dictator.”

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