Archive for August, 2007


“We’re not dead yet”

For each of the anniversaries of 9/11, victims’ families and co-workers would gather at Ground Zero and read aloud the 2,700+ names of individuals killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.  On the Gulf Coast, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina – followed by Rita’s wrath one month later – killed over 1,800 people in Louisiana alone.  The physical and social tragedy and trauma of the 2005 hurricane season also needs to be comemorated and respected; but as one of my colleagues affirmed to room brimming with the energetic commitment of more than 40 organizations devoted to rebuilding their communities: here on the Gulf Coast, most of us are “not dead yet.” 

Not only has the city of New Orleans and the rest of the region not ceased to exist (contrary to the general tone of the anniversary press), but there is a tremendous surge of young leadership coming to the fore to direct long-term change in the region and the nation. On my latest project related to post-hurricane recovery, I have the pleasure and the honor of not only working beyond the boundaries of New Orleans, but with a group of emerging young, mostly African-American leaders from around the country dedicated to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.  From a personal perspective, it’s great working among a group of young thirtysomethings - my peers and a group I hope I’ll be working with and/or watching take the lead in effecting change in our country in the coming years.  From a professional standpoint, this is the group being groomed by the senior statesmen of the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and the professionalized community development sector that’s grown up out of these movements. 

While our elders from the Civil Rights movement see the fight for equity and inclusion in the Gulf Coast as a resurrection of past struggles, younger leaders are grappling with transforming these past movements to deal with twenty-first century realities.  While the threat of racial and class antipathy and divisiveness is as real as ever, the black-white color line has blurred significantly to include more explicitly the mutual and competitive challenges of other ethnic groups in the U.S., such as the SE Asian immigrant communities that are a large population of the low-income seafood industries along the Gulf Coast in this post-Vietnam era, and the rapidly growing Latino groups around the Gulf Coast due to reconstruction opportunities. 

There is also the tension between movement activism and the professionalized nature of community development work in which many of us have cut our teeth.  To say that there is conflict between the fluid energy of block-by-block organizing and political protest and the need to put on a suit and prepare statements to lobby government leaders would be an understatement.  One of the disappointments of elder movement members is the perceived lack of activism in my generation.  The thirtysomething company I’m keeping would surely feel differently, but we are definitely sorting out how to harness the very leftist and global activism of events like the recent U.S. Social Forum with our advocacy successes such as the Gulf Coast Collaborative’s congressional policy forum held yesterday at Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans.

I’m sitting in a coffeeshop in New Orleans right now, with some of these colleagues waiting for the rain to pass so we can carry on with our work today, on the second anniversary of Katrina’s landfall.  Though this week’s media attention is ephemeral, our efforts towards equitable and inclusive economic, social and political development in the Gulf Coast and the nation will carry on for years.  I’ll keep you posted on our efforts, and look to C-Span, BET, and possibly, gasp!, even Oprah for coverage of work here this week.


Redstar Celebration Week begins

I received my first birthday wishes from in my Hotmail junk folder this afternoon. 

(Actual date for those whom I have not yet drilled it into their heads: August 26)

From my personology book, re: Virgo I: August 26 – Sept 2, The Week of System Builders

“This period can be likened to the time in a person’s life when the instinct to consolidate and solidify existing structures, marriages or partnerships, businesses, etc. asserts itself…at this time, many individuals take part in service-oriented activities, whether in the family, professional or social life.  The desire to be helpful and to constructively influence the course of events manifests here.”

Some of my favorite excerpts:

“Structure is an important theme in the lives of Virgo I’s, a kind of insurance policy they inevitably fall back on in times of stress. 

Mental insistence and concentration are often their greatest strengths…

Although those born in the Week of System Builders seem to do well living and working with people who know how to cooperate and to share the burdens of everyday life,  it cannot be assumed that they want to be team players.  Virgo I’s need to spend a lot of time alone, and do best when their contributions to the well-being of a social or family group are made on their own terms.

They like to sit back and watch, preferring to observe carefully before acting; this quality of objectivity, and the evaluations that result from it, can make them extremely valuable to a company or family.  Writing reports, stating conclusions verbally, and chronicling in different media what they see around them are often some of their best-developed abilities. 

Virgo I’s tend to be fixed in their mental attitudes, and this is likely to arouse antagonism…

…their best relationships are often with those with whom they can just let go and have a good time. 

Those born in this week may need to free themselves from the constant demands of other people if they are to gain the space they need to develop their own expressive, creative and financially productive side.”

There you have it:  I’m a rigid, intense, antagonistic, reclusive tattling busybody!  😉

And that’s why You Love Me!


Happy Birthday to ME!

(well wishes accepted through 9/2/07)


(Because astrology is a science…just like Kiehl’s employees are chemists!)


Gulf Coast & Grahamad Update

A year ago, ten days before the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I posted a teary, anguished 3 a.m. lament about working in the post-disaster Gulf Coast. Despite my time in the post-9/11 Lower Manhattan trenches, I wrote:

Nothing yet has prepared me for working in New Orleans.  Were it not for the occasional journal entry, semi-regular blog posts, and long, heartfelt talks with the MAS, by now I’d probably be wandering around the vacant Union Passenger [rail] Terminal in New Orleans, talking to myself and in need of one of the mental health beds that no longer exist in the city or state.  I am grieving.  I am mourning a collective loss of livelihood that is tantamount to the death of a city I never even knew before the storm but have still somehow managed to fall in love with from the few glimpses of its old glory that persist.  I am appalled and reeling, from witnessing a power struggle over the ghosts of these lives, the buildings and other shreds of the neighborhoods that remain as old and new power elites compete to redevelop a city of their own imagining.  And I am infuriated, and endlessly frustrated by the widespread failure of government and non-profits to channel this energy to where these lives actually endure in the new cities and homes of the now permanently displaced New Orleanians.

I’ll have to come back to displacement, and so many issues, later.  A similar post as the second anniversary approaches has been bumping around in my head for awhile.  Sick to my stomach right now on chocolate, cheese, and diet pepsi, I am in the final hour(s) of submitting a summary analysis of papers submitted by local organizations in AL, TX, LA and MS on the state of recovery to date: from affordable housing to mental health to civic engagement to principles of equity and inclusion.  I’ve been mining them since last Friday, and they inspired tears and a picked fight with the M.A.S. Saturday night about People magazine of all things because I was so beat down by the long-road in front of us, and the disgusting injustices unleashed on the same coastal communities – usually of color or low-income means – over and over and over again.  My work has expanded far beyond New Orleans to bridge the common struggles of Gulf communities, and I am as thankful for and overwhelmed by the experience as I was last year when mired in my work in New Orleans.

I have to get back to my edits; this paper is long overdue and was disrupted by my Boston talk last night about the same issues, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m alive (if unshowered and exhausted), and the Gulf Coast is alive, and fighting.


Your Weekly Reading List: Friends, Family and Home

If you missed this on Friday, check it out, because it’s warm and fuzzy and earned me a much loved call from my cousin Friday night;

This should make you laugh as I stumble my way through a weekend of dog-sitting;

This shows you how life (and dog-sitting) is immeasurably easier with good friends helping you along;

and though it’s less about where you live than who you live with, it definitely helps to know what you like.


Where I Live

When Prof. Zero (you should really read her remarkable blog) posted a favorite cities meme, I thought she put too many parameters around the cities we could nominate.  I was particularly put off by the size requirements, as I’ve come to learn in school how varied cities are in size and scope, not least because the boundaries between cities and suburbs, and urban vs. sub-urban life is rarely as clear as we pretend.  And bigger does not necc. equal more urban.

In response to protests, including mine, she offered up what she called a “self-tagging town meme,” to which I finally responded the other night with a stream-of-consciousness thread of my favorite cities, that included a heavy dose of random memories and specific characteristics that matter to me in cities.

One of the things I love about the M.A.S. is that he and I both look at cities critically and value urban life deeply – mainly, we crave the density, walkability, accessibility and diversity that many cities offer (what is with suburbs and the absolute absence of sidewalks, for instance???).  I believe that if we go through life together, we will be able to live in a variety of places, because I trust our ability to knowledgeably evaluate and recognize if places have the characteristics that we seek at a much deeper level than a schools/taxes/property values equation (though all of that goes into the mix).

Though I hope you’ll read the professor’s posts and my comments, in short, I gave a shout out to:

1) Hartford and economically struggling but ethnically vibrant old NE/MW towns everwhere;

2) Boston, ‘cuz that’s my hood;

3) Krakow, ‘cuz its collegiate, historic and amiable personality – not to mention Krupnik honey liquer – nurtured me through the very dark hours of visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau;

4) New Orleans (though this is more of a love-hate relationship);


5) Memphis.

Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, Bismarck, ND and Vegas (“Adult Disneyland”) got shout outs too.  L.A., London, NYC (public transportation “nirvana”) and Dar are in my big city category.

Cities I could live w/o:

– Chattanooga, though I did find its train-station-sized-airport charming;

– Ft. Worth;

– St. Louis;

– Philly (“somebody else’s Boston”);

– Atlanta.


Of course, there’s no place like home, or my couch, at this moment, for that matter.

What are your favorite cities?  Bonus points for your stories.


Tell me you didn’t see this coming…

…CBS’s reality show Kid Nation “draws a claim of possible child abuse.”

Some of my favorite excerpts from the NYT article:

CBS officials say they broke no laws. “We feel very comfortable that this was appropriate from a legal point of view,� Ghen Maynard, the executive vice president for alternative programming at CBS, said in an interview Friday.

Tom Forman, the executive producer of the show, told television writers last month…that New Mexico had been chosen because Bonanza Creek [Movie Ranch] offered a unique setting. New Mexico also had no specific regulations concerning the use of child actors in television and film production, which many states, including California and New York, do have.

[…] Though many states limit the number of hours children can work a day on television productions, Mr. Forman said the children set their own hours.

Mr. Anschell also said that state labor laws did not apply. “The children were not employed under the legal definition,� he said. “They were not receiving set wages for performing specific tasks or working specific hours.�

But the parents were told before the children left to go to the set that they would receive a $5,000 stipend for their participation. The children also had the opportunity to earn [up to] $20,000 […]. In addition, the children were assigned tasks and were paid for those with buffalo nickels, which they could then use to buy items at a dry-goods store or a candy shop or to buy drinks at a root beer saloon.

Nevertheless, Mr. Anschell said, “those were not wages and did not create an employee relationship.�

The children’s definition of work is somewhat different. “Everyone usually had a job,â€? said Mike, an 11-year-old from Bellevue, Wash., who participated in the show. Among them were cooking, cleaning, hauling water and running the stores […]

Never mind the kids’ bleach-drinking incident or one little girl’s grease burns from cooking.

Tune in this fall!!


Mint Green

According to BostonMaggie’s Levels of Boston Irishness, I’m mint green:

Mint Green: Moved out of the city as a kid. Either has a government job or knows someone who does, especially cops. Likes a pint, but around the age of 30 developed a taste for Jameson’s. MP3 player is full of Dropkick Murphys and The Saw Doctors. Drinks in suburban places with neon shamrocks in the window. Hopes to visit the Auld Sod someday,but is saving for Disney. Might know someone who can get you off jury duty.

I’d venture to say my mint green roots have grown substantially intertwined with the bright blue of Brandeis and the pinstriped New Yorkers I’ve met over the years. This would explain why Zero 7 and Jill Scott crowd out the modern Irish bands in the iPod.  (And let’s not overlook the reddish-yellow tint I’ve picked up from all the foreign spice consumption in my past!). 

As for the drinking, hopefully the Irish bars of Brighton Center will have to suffice. 

Though I’m pretty sure I’m related by degrees to folks who can get you off jury duty.