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Sunday, August 02, 2015

For all those who've been wondering just why it is that so many black people have not yet climbed their way out of poverty (are you listening Mr. Cosby?)... .

Consider that when the Social Security program was created, the two classes left out were laborers and domestic servants.  Everyone else was covered by the Act.

This left the fate of black elders in the care of poor families who were unable to earn living wages because they were also denied the benefits of Labor Union membership for many years.

The G.I. Bill which was awarded to returning veterans also was flawed since you could only have an education subsidized if an educational institutions would accept you.  Most importantly, graduate schools during the WWII years were closed to returning black veterans, except for those in historically-black colleges.

Because the G.I. Bill was administered locally instead of federally, the local banker could determine who was eligible for mortgages and who wasn't.  The government subsidized the creation of the suburbs surrounding all major cities.   It was in those suburbs that people of color were barred from residency.  Only in older parts of the inner city where real estate people had dropped a string around and designated, "open housing," could G.I. privileges be used by those of color.

It was after the war years that black folks flooded into city centers that were then being abandoned by former white residents who were fleeing to the all-white suburbs where blacks could not follow.  It is somewhat ironic having lived into a time when the process is beginning to reverse itself so that whites are now flooding back into the inner cities (now that the traffic flow is impossible and gas is so costly) to reclaim areas once seen as unfit for human habitation; to gentrify those same areas through the use of redevelopment planning.  Black folks -- priced out of reclaimed parts of the cities are now being forced to move outside city limits into low-cost housing developments far from employment opportunities and cultural life.

The main reason that our schools are as segregated as they were before the passage of Brown vs. Board of Education has to do with housing patterns that resulted from the advantages granted by our government to whites in the building of the suburban areas.

Our family operates a very small black business that will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year -- without ever being granted a line of credit.

We have so much to peel back from before any significant social change can occur.

First we have to own that history before we can reach any kind of understanding of the why of the persistent state of those who remain trapped at a subsistence level of social and economic development, a level at which it's impossible to build wealth.

Only then can we begin to address the problems that now bleed into the body politic and pollute the national psyche where our youth are being damaged by the hypocrisy that lies so near the surface of everything.

The hope lies in the fact that the American spirit is beginning to reflect a willingness to face those truths, and to speak openly about where we were in the recent past, and to where we wish to be in the not too distant future, hopefully.

I think the Millennials are ready.

...but are the rest of us?

 



A woman in the front row of my audience yesterday brought back a memory during the few minutes before my mike was turned on ... .

She leaned in to ask in a whisper if I remembered her friend,  John Watkins.  Thought for a moment and the image of a small boy rose in my mind.  "Of course."  He was one of the Watkins twins  -- sons of Jack and Eleanor Watkins, the first black family to move into the Valley back in the Fifties.  They preceded our arrival by a few years.  Their home was in another area, I never knew where that was, but the lovely pioneering Watkins family and mine had been friends for many years back in Oakland; My older sister, Marjorie, and their father Jack's younger sister had been best friends.

I recalled the story told by my friend, Dorothy Fibush, of Lafayette:

When the Watkins twins were graduating and everyone was preparing for the prom, her friends had been training their daughters for weeks for the evening by giving them ways to respond when the twins asked them to dance (wouldn't want rejection to be rude, you know.  There are polite and humane ways to refuse).

That evening when the girls returned home from the dance their mothers asked how they'd handled the awkwardness.

Daughters answered,

"They didn't ask us!"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Last night as I was reviewing my day against my closed eyelids ..

... I knew what it was that I wanted to explore with that interesting group.  It was that I'd discovered long ago that it's the givers who grow.

Learned that just before leaving the University of California system back in the 70's, where I was coordinating the Four H programs for the State.  That program was one of the long time offerings through the Department of Agriculture, and was being conducted out of the University of California statewide offices in Berkeley.  I didn't last long.  If I were to choose one area of failure in my work career it would surely be that position. 

The Four H programs were created long ago at a time when the nation's farming community was where poverty was most visible.  It was in order to try to draw that community into the educational system that the original Land Grant colleges were formed, and Four H programs were used to attract children and their families into considering college educations and studying for advance degrees.

Of course, by the time I was hired as a 4H program representative, California's farms were nearly all  giant agribusinesses, and the State's small farms had all but vanished.  The children of the farming community were by then from some of the state's most affluent families.  There were private planes in many barns originally built for cows.

I managed two state conferences before I crashed and burned -- one at the State Fair in Sacramento and another on the University of California campus at Santa Barbara.

One day I found myself in a staff meeting where the subject under discussion was how to bring the children of farm workers into 4H programs.  For that meeting there were several Latino community organizers brought in from the San Joaquin Valley farm worker community to participate in the planning.

I was horrified to discover that the group was planning to introduce gardening projects for farm workers kids.  I'm not sure where it came from, but I saw this as comparable to bringing little African American children into programs where they'd learn to pick cotton as recreation!  No one else could see what I was so appalled by.  My communications skill left a lot to be desired at that point.

I tried to explain by presenting an alternative that went over like a lead balloon! This was after I'd seen a flyer that was being prepared for distribution for the Santa Barbara teen conference. It was advertising workshops bearing the titles listed below (fortunately I found a copy of this flyer in my files). 

The list reads:
Growing up Asian
Growing up Black
Growing up in a Broken Home
Growing up Chicano
Growing up Delinquent
Growing up Handicapped
Growing up Native American
Growing up Poor
 I fully understood the intent was to create sensitivity in 4-H members, but it missed its mark -- if the rising discomfort that it caused in me was any sign.

Mind you, these are all privileged white teens with nary a child of color among them.  I was appalled by their proposed program.  For me, a workshop entitled "Growing up Racist" might have been more appropriate. The over all feeling was this list, which equated racial identity with behavioral and physical deficits, was stupid and insensitive beyond all measure.

I drafted an alternative program that would have children of the high schools of Merced and Fresno in the San Joaquin Valleys -- where the clusters of Barrios with Latino children needing programs -- I would have those white kids bused in from the towns.  I'd have turned things around so that the children of color would be the teachers by offering an immersion experience in the Spanish language being taught by farm worker youth.  How great would that be?  I would turn the tables, making the non-white kids the givers -- the teachers!

My supervisors were underwhelmed by my "brilliance," and there were no takers.  The Latino organizers simply looked puzzled by my attempt at re-directing to a format where they could not see a role for themselves.  I left the program after several weeks of frustration, and I've never looked back.

But that concept of moving us away from allowing young white people always having their supremacy reinforced through serving as saviors to the under-served, and our kids always seen as being little more than creatures of need is damaging in ways still to be determined.  Maybe this is the stage beyond Peace Corps and AmeriCorp, both great service programs, but both providing growth for the givers and encouraging dependency in the takers.

My hope is that the National Park Service in its wisdom, will one day send white youth onto historically black college campuses on six month details -- where they can have the experience of  being in the minority in an all-black environment, among peers.   That would be a rare experience that white youth should have in their formative years, and unfortunately rarely do.  The park service is well-equipped to provide it. And black youth would be seen as providers, equally as rare.

In an odd way, the Hip Hop community over the past decades has accomplished that quite naturally.  The market doesn't give them credit, but JayZee and Dr. Dre et al are operating in that dimension, and they've gone beyond the possibility of having their talents and marketable skills expropriated.  They've been more than willing to share their expertise with anyone with the interest and the ability to use them.  That generation has moved black culture from being seen merely as raw material with which to enrich American culture, to a place where it's gaining respect and a place of its own in world culture. 





Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New experience -- met with a group of members of a National Park Service African American leadership staff in a conference call ...

For about an hour we participated in a Q&A that -- hopefully will serve as the beginning of a new edge to grow from.

The format -- with folks scattered from coast-to-coast and me sitting at my desk at the Visitor Center talking into a telephone with the voices filling the room on loudspeaker -- served as a great way to be introduced into the process, but left me somewhat frustrated at the notion of having to give bumper sticker responses to huge questions that required at least being seated in a lounge chair with a glass of sherry in hand, and preferably after sundown.

After cradling the phone I went on dialoguing for hours with them  ...  inside my head, and decided that I would try over the next few days to flesh out some of those questions and provide answers from a deeper place.  Or, maybe I've already answered them and can point those answers out in archived posts that are still available here by using the little white search bar at the top left side of the screen.

There has to be a way to do that -- and I have two weeks of annual leave saved up and won't have to return to work until August 19th -- and can  do a search.  I can't imagine that I haven't written such thoughts over the past several years ... .

At this advanced age, surprisingly little is really new ... .

Saturday, July 25, 2015

 ... and I thought that interviewer was calling from New York ...

http://www.business.com.au/betty-reid-soskin-interview-2015-7 

Here's the link to the Business Insider Australia article that appeared today online.   (Copy and paste into your browser.)

The world has shrunken considerably, and I cannot imagine why anyone across the world would be interested in such a mundane story -- or maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture -- but it does seem to be much ado about nothing, or at least very little.

But then in a world where the Kardashians and Donald Trump command more ink than the Pope ... .

Friday, July 24, 2015

After months of acknowledging requests for interviews, photos, etc., then letting the pleasant feelings of being appreciated wash over me --  

... then unceremoniously hitting the trash button in disbelief!

Last week I spent several hours  at the Visitor Center as the subject of a photo shoot that will accompany an upcoming article in the National Parks Conservancy publication; another phone call in which a hopelessly young female voice announced that I'd been selected as someone's favorite ranger and could I answer a few questions for the readers of Pathways? Then a 30-minute telephone interview for a NY Business Insider magazine article.   I've lost count of those requests and now they're hardly recognizable except as items on my Google calendar with little meaningless notations as reminders that fail to remind me of anything due to the speed and urgency my life has taken on of late.

... I've become increasingly aware of the fact that there are out there, artists, writers, documentarians, videographers, poets, artists of various disciplines who have attended my presentations in our little theater over time.  And it's not just the "Polygrip crowd" as one might expect, but a cross-section of the community from near and far. They've become too numerous to ignore, and too insistent to brush off, and their message has finally penetrated through my resistance that the magical "something" needs to be documented.

That thing that happens is clearly not an accident, and has by now become part and parcel of my new "normal".  What I was assuming was a mere temporary "bump" in visitation as the direct result of the NPR Krasny Forum interview is growing with each day, and shows no signs of ebbing any time soon.

My presentations have been raised to 5/week instead of 3, and each event now runs at full tilt with every seat filled.  We're having to pass out numbers in order to not go over the seating capacity as ordered by the fire department.  Next we'll  have to go to a reservation system. Who knew?

And I'm now beginning to realize -- as Earth time is clearly winding down -- that there needs to be a way to capture on film or videotape those elements that make up my American Story since that piece will establish the way I'll be remembered when I'm no longer here.

That is becoming important to consider.  Any false modesty is beginning to fade away, and I'm finally admitting to myself that it matters to me.

My 94th birthday is only one month away.

Wish I hadn't trashed all those requests ... and could now give them the serious thought they deserved ... .

I've enlisted a small group of friends to act as advisers.  We shared a lovely dinner last night to begin to explore next steps.

I'm so grateful to have their counsel at a time when I'm no match for the incoming public attention.

Monday, July 20, 2015

In this final decade the insights come frequently and with the clarity of those that I experienced as a 6 year-old... 

... which should make them suspect, right?

This morning as I listened to the continuing coverage of the senseless and brutal killing of those marines last week, the insights came fast and furiously -- so much so that I almost called in to the station with what seemed so obvious.

They were talking about whether this should be classified as Terrorism or not;  what the motives of the shooter may have been; why ISIS was being so successful recruiting young idealistic foreign and domestic millennials; announcing that the FBI had confiscated his computers for removal and studying of his favorite websites; his family and friend's responses to questioning, etc., and all at great cost to taxpayers and aggravated fear of a deepening threat to our well-being as a nation.

When will we stop allowing the "enemy" to set the agenda; the Terms of Engagement?

By the establishing of a policy of shooting to disable instead of shooting to kill, we could eliminate the motivation of "Lone Wolves" who are deliberately bringing about their own demise in as dramatic a fashion as can be created.  They can count on our participating in the tragedy -- elaborately, in costume,  in armored personnel carriers, in great numbers, in all of the color and style worthy of a legendary Cecil B. DeMille or a D.W. Griffith epic!  These young assassins have the power to set all that off at will and turn our police protectors into executioners.

What would my alternative accomplish?

If announced as policy well in advance of the next strike we would rob these disillusioned young men the passage into oblivion after glory.  Instead of the cost of investigating every minute detail of their former lives and motivations, ambitions and associations, we would have a live perpetrator to question and/or rehabilitate (if possible).

Would this not be a move toward eliminating the ISIS promise of a glorified martyrdom?

If the potential Lone Wolf would have to consider the possibility of imprisonment and/or permanent physical impairment from the violence of the arrest, could this not serve as a deterrent to the recruitment and kill the "romantic" motivation of martyrdom?

May be worth a try.

And -- I thought of calling in to suggest to the experts just how they were on the wrong track, but   then cringed upon remembering how embarrassed I feel for the call-ins while listening to their cockamamie orders to "authority".

But -- after thinking about it over the past few hours -- I'm certain that our marksmen and women are expert enough to shoot the weapons out of the hands of a shooter, if that is what they intend.  I'm wondering why that hasn't been considered before now?

Even given the fury and chaos of such an event and the possibility of the shooter being killed in the melee, in my scenario, that death would be accidental and never intentional.  In a successful arrest the culprit would be incapacitated and never eliminated.  That life is needed in order to have the chance to learn as much as possible about the level of desperation of a generation that may see nothing to live for and little expectation for change in their lifetimes.  These tragic events have one thing in common; they're all intended as suicides. 

Maybe the greatest motivator of all is not ISIS at all, but the never-ending sense of helplessness ... .

.. but then where could we place blame?  


Friday, July 17, 2015

 In thinking back to those compassionate forgiving members of the congregation of Emmanuel A.M.E.... .


In the wake of today's breaking news -- another horrendous shooting -- this time four marines, and the shooter with some others suffering gunshot injuries; again.

I'm thinking of the unbelievably generous forgiving of the heartless murderer whose horrific act a month ago left us all in awe.   I'm struck by something that may be obvious only to me.

 I'm sure that everyone in the nation was grateful to them for setting the tone that would quell any thought of a violent reaction.   We must not ever forget that the assassin's goal was to start a race war by his actions.

Those loving Christians did not ask the death penalty.  Instead they offered him their forgiveness.

Fractious Southerners, black and white, spoke of it passionately throughout the South in the days that followed -- and in their legislature during the debate around the removal of the Battle Flag of the Confederacy. 

Does it not follow that this provides the answer for the divisive questions around the debate over the  possible elimination of the death penalty?  I believe the Supreme Court will tackle that question in the upcoming term.  Our national response to heinous acts of murder is to come at it from the position of an eye for an eye; at least until now.

I'm certain that were I to have to face one who took the life of one of my loved ones,  in the heat of passion I, too, might want revenge -- and aren't we lucky that I don't have the responsibility of making that decision.   Not any of us should, personally, have that responsibility.

But how about our ability to respond as a nation to such crimes in the same humility and compassion as those loving churchgoers? Would not imprisonment for life without the possibility of ever being released be adequate? When will we learn that we only diminish ourselves and our humanity when we continue to kill people to teach that it's wrong to kill people?

I've always had the nagging feeling that, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, was granted a state-sanctioned suicide, and went to his execution still defiant, steely-eyed, and without remorse.

I suppose it makes as much sense as fighting wars to defend democracy with a segregated armed forces.

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