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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Who's marked for greatness besides Paul Miller?

That's easy, I'm looking at Attorney Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center in San Francisco. His work on the world stage is becoming more and more important. He recently returned from the World Economic Forum at Davos with a strong sense of where we are and where we ought to be in the march toward a better future. His recommendations? "Forget what's happening in Washington, D.C. Let's just go about the business of building that better world here in the Bay Area and then let the rest of the country emulate that." His work on juvenile and criminal justice reforms has made a significant difference in policymaking in this state. His strong support in the battle for a moratorium for the death penalty will surely help to bring about much-needed scrutiny of the issue if not abolition.

United States Senator Barack Obama, of course; someone we're all pinning our hopes on. He impresses me because he is being so very cautious in not moving too fast or taking too many chances before it is appropriate to do so. He's letting us know that he's in it for the long haul and is trying hard to get us to not hamper his efforts by too-heavy expectations. This is a wise and ethical man who is destined to become a world leader in the not too distant future.

Lani Guinnere's short-circuited ascent has slowed her trajectory into national prominence to some degree, but her writings and her incisive powers of analysis continue to bring me from whatever "next room" I happen to be in when I hear that distinctive voice ring out from the radio. I've been known to pull over to the shoulder of the road to listen to her remarks from time to time, and each time come away with usable nuggets of logic and truth. We owe her much. Knowing that she is influencing a new generation of leadership from her university lectern is comforting. One day, though, I'm looking to see her occupying a bench -- maybe on the Supreme Court.

Then there's the rarely-seen Aron McGruder, the political cartoonist who has the same arresting effect on me that Ms. Guinnere does. So much wisdom gained over so few years -- 'tis a wonder. Can't imagine why we don't see more of this wise young man, but I'll keep watching what pieces of his work that I can ferret out and continue to hope for more.

In journalism there's Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor of the Berkeley Daily Planet and an occasional contributor to AlterNet.com. His insightful pieces are being more and more widely read. Not much that happens in the Bay Area of any import whatever escapes his notice or his pen. He's working on a first novel that shows great promise. His insight into the workings of local governance has caught the attention and concerns of major policymakers and made a difference in outcomes of many a critical civic debate. I'm looking for a Pulitzer with his name on it one day soon.

I also like the work of Deborah Santana. Listening to a radio interview on the occasion of the release of her memoirs reminded me of the kind of spirit and sensitivity of Isabel Allende's writings.

In the arts I like the compositions and performances of Jill Scott and am waiting to hear more from Queen Latifah who has only recently discovered her more serious side and come up with more traditional jazz and R&B themes that are truly exciting. Each time I watch her I see a young Pearl Bailey before me, and wonder if Ms. Latifah sees that in herself? It's clearly an accidental quirk of nature since they're generations apart and there is surely no conscious effort to imitate, but the effortless timing and sheer richness of personality are stunningly similar.

I also have great expectations for the continuing political contributions of Kwami Mfume in his bid to join Obama in the Senate chambers. I've loved him for years and was truly dismayed when he left the Congress to head the NAACP. Have forgiven him, though, and am grateful for the fine work he did in leading that organization out of the shadows of insolvency and back into national prominence.

There are others, I'm sure, in other fields, but I have now to go about the important task of moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer -- then it's off to the dentist to make a payment on my newly re-lined dentures, so that I can claim them as my own again. For one who hated and feared dentists since childhood, I must admit that I was looking forward happily to the day when I could stay home and just send my teeth in a cab! In case you're wondering, that doesn't work too well, either. Wish I could do it all over again ... at least that part of my bodily life... .

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