Friday, July 02, 2004

As luck would have it,

on Tuesday last I attended a party at the offices of my former boss, Assemblywoman Dion Aroner. She's now a powerful California State lobbyist with tastefully appointed offices in Berkeley's chic Fourth Street Avenue along the Bayfront.

Because of the difficulty of parking anywhere nearby, I left my car about a block away from the site. As I did so I noticed that the car that pulled in behind me was that of the executive director of a very effective and successful program for emotionally disturbed teens. Ken Berrick has been a longtime supporter of Dion's so we've met before on many occasions though not often been in contact recently. We chatted idly on the walk to the party -- and in the process he mentioned that he'd been considering an intensive psychological/educational program for the troubled teens of Richmond. The interest had been heightened by his discovery of a great program being conducted by someone in New York. "Geoffrey Canada," I asked? "Yes," answered Ken. I'd just seen (African American Harvard educated) Canada interviewed on the Charlie Rose show a week or so ago and had been intrigued as well. We chatted for a few minutes about this exciting work ... Ken was obviously excited. It was a conversation that held great promise but was quickly extinguished as we approached the party and someone snagged him as we neared the site -- and engaged him in another conversation as I continued on.

After a few canapes and a margarita and after re-connecting with many friends of long-standing, I left to meet Dorian for supper together before another evening of watching the Richmond city council meeting on cable, my Tuesday night ritual.

The thought of Ken and his thoughts along the path melted away in the rush of busyness, but returned in the night as I lay awake playing over the Canada study in my relentlessly busy brain.

Slip to two days later. I logged on and clicked my way into the Seneca Family Programs website, wrote a short email to Ken telling him that I was keenly interested in his idea about emulating some of the Canada program in Richmond. Told him in a paragraph about my frustration around the ill-fated Barbara Alexander Academy, my interest in Washington, D.C., SEED boarding school that had just graduated its first class of 21 poor black kids (after four years of heavy educating) -- all of whom have been accepted at colleges across the nation, including Stanford. These are not the highly motivated and exceptional kids, but children chosen by lottery from one of the poorest communities in the nation. I'd met with SEED's creators while working for Loni. One of the two innovators called about a week ago to tell me proudly about their graduating class, and to let me know that SEED will be adding two schools to their program over the next few years; one in Oakland in 2006 and another in Richmond in 2007. All the fascination with education and troubled kids surfaced for me again, and I wanted to encourage Ken to pursue the Richmond possibility.

Told him in my email about the NPS job offer, but that I really wanted to explore the possibilities of helping Seneca to move into Richmond before finalizing that. "After that, I have a date with Al Zheimers, a guy who's been waiting in the wings for some time now!" (grin) I figure a good two years more before I slow down enough for him to catch me.

Within an hour Ken returned my email message (but by phone). The old excitement that I'd heard in his voice as we walked to the party was still there. "I'm thinking of both Emeryville and of Richmond as possible sites. I agree that we need to sit down and talk, Betty. How about the afternoon of the 14th in Dion's Berkeley office -- from two o'clock until four, maybe?"

This morning:

Rick Smith from NPS just called to say that he is on his way to the regional office and wanted to confirm whether or not I'd actually accepted their job offer (to start on July 12th).

"Have another possible job offer, Rick, with an exploratory meeting just two days later on the 14th. Would you have any objection to waiting a bit before we tie things down?"

"Oops! We'll need to sweeten the pot, maybe?"

"No. Just need some time to hear what this means, and whether or not it's a better fit for my abilities."

"Sure, Betty, we can wait."

"Would it be allright if I come in for a couple of days next week to do some volunteer work -- just to get a feel for the work?"

"Of course. Take your time. We can wait."

So you'll just have to keep tuned. With only a couple of years left, I'd sure hate to find myself doing something uninteresting and where my years of such varied experience is not utilized fully. Time is precious now, and spending it wisely is more important than ever before.

Who says that options cease with age? Apparently not anyone we know.

Keep forgetting to mention the young African American man with whom I've been working for several years now. Mentoring Eddrick Osborne is a labor of love. (You might want to look up his campaign website.) He's bright and receptive and dedicated to the political process and to a continuing role in public service. He's running for the Richmond city council in November and is finding broad support throughout the community. Gave him a copy of now-retired Congressman Ron Dellums' autobiography to read. It's called "Lying down with the Lions" and traces Dellum's rise from the "Hood" of Oakland to national prominence in Congress. His seat is now occupied by Rep. Barbara Lee, a former member of his staff and one who is destined for greatness as well. I see Eddrick as having high potential for that kind of leadership. He's 35 with a lifetime ahead to make his mark. I'm loving the fact that there is the chance to influence just how that contribution will be made.

So much to do -- so little time ... .

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