Thursday, June 30, 2005

All dressed up with nowhere to go ...

Received an eleventh hour call late on Monday evening advising that the event with the Lighthouse Charter School had to be rescheduled due to the inability of some of the out-of-staters to get flights that would bring them here in time. It was fine. New date is August 26th with a larger body of participants than before.

As it happened, I was already trying to accommodate two other commitments into the same day and the squeeze was taking its toll on my sanity. The old "feast or famine" analogy is most fitting at moments like this.

Met on Monday evening with the board of Ma'at Environmental Youth Academy -- out of which grew some rather exciting new possibilities that brings together several elements of my life.

The new national park (Rosie the Riveter), where I will be working again come July 26th is still "under construction." As you may know, the mission of the National Park Service is to tell the story of the nation through its structures. The Park does not own properties but partners with foundations, civic governments, etc., to develop its urban parks.

It was decided by those so charged with that responsibility -- that the story of World War II was best told by the Kaiser Richmond "ruins" that line the shoreline. Much of what is still standing is in one or another state of decomposition -- not by choice but through abandonment and neglect. After the war ended, those who created this powerful machine of war walked away leaving the ghosts of structures to rust away into infinity without interference.

There were originally 5 Kaiser yards in Richmond. The city's Redevelopment Agency has since totally replaced Kaiser Shipyard II with an impressive housing development (a gated community), public parks, the Bay Trail segment, plus the Rosie the Riveter Memorial. One sees a lovely marina filled with sailboats and catamarans, and rows of luxury boats moored in the marina waiting to be launched for trips to Angel Island, Sausalito, San Francisco, Emeryville, Vallejo, and the southbay. Makes for a slick brochure for the Chamber of Commerce's marketing to potential developers.

But just at the edge of that lies Kaiser Shipyard III which is still a working port surrounded by the ghosts of WWII -- the SS Red Oak Victory in the process of restoration lies against the dock; the old Ford Assembly Plant that put together tanks for shipment to the South Pacific war theater sits at the end of Harbor Way in the process of a multi-million dollar restoration; the huge cement "bunker" where all of the supplies were stored that filled the holds of ships just before sailing off into the wars; the machine shops (newly restored and serving a new purpose), the old Whirley Cranes; and the bays where the ships were built in drydock then launched with great celebrations upon completion. There are the remains of the Kaiser Field Hospital and the buildings that housed the cafeteria that fed workers round the clock and the childcare centers. It is still possible to see war housing stock left over from the period in Nystrom and Atchison Villages -- and two 24 hour-a-day childcare centers that Kaiser initiated as the first of its kind in the nation.

All of these sites have become elements in the Rosie the Riveter Homefront Historical Park -- a driving tour that covers several miles. The interim reception center at city hall holds the archives, the library of collected relevant materials for researchers, artifacts collected from Rosie's across the country as the result of a national campaign a few years ago. It has a growing collection that has brought out of old trunks and attics the personal stories of thousands of Rosies both in oral histories (videotapes) and through letters from those who lived them. It is already an active and alive park with a growing number of visitors each day. The permanent NPS Reception Center has now been funded and will eventually be housed in a large area set aside in the historic old Ford Assembly Plant building, the reception center in planning stages.

Over the past several years I participated in the sessions that designed the park and its planned building uses along with historians, architects, city planners, park superintendents, marine engineers, etc., from across the country. But at the time I was working as a field rep for a member of the state Assembly. Now I will be working directly with the NPS in an entirely new phase of the park's development. Exciting work.

But back to the present: Learned on Monday at the Ma'at board meeting that the assemblymember (my former boss) is interested in sponsoring the creation of an environmental center for young people somewhere in Richmond. She has located the funding for it, and is ready to explore possibilities. The Ma'at executive director was contacted and there is need to move on to find a location and to begin the planning.

Any one of the old Kaiser sites are the natural choices, I believe. This brings together my Ma'at Academy interests with the new position involving community liaison work between the city and the NPS -- with any leftover influence that may still be recoverable with the state. Makes for some exciting possibilities, right? These are embers worth breathing on -- maybe a small flame here or there will flare up into a brilliant new adventure. It may mean simply bringing together those who can facilitate the next steps. And -- as has been proven over and over again throughout my life -- if you don't care about who gets the credit, all things are possible. This may be another of those times when I get to make a hero or heroine of someone else.

That's one under-rated thrill that I've never known quite how to exploit. It just doesn't show up on one's resume. It's funny. In a way I'm like a bit like those who are famous for being famous. When I try to make a list of my individual accomplishments, I wind up scratching my head in wonder. Almost everything I've accomplished over a lifetime has been in achieved in coalition with others -- rarely alone. It isn't easy to get credit for teaching people to fish, is it? Besides, I've always considered it a failure in leadership if that leadership is visible. I've always loved being the wind beneath the wings... .

But maybe that doesn't really matter any more now than it did before.

Photo: Students of Ma'at Environmental Academy conducting an experiment in urban pollution before Congressman George Miller recently. These are high school kids who are attending Contra Costa Community college full time. They were self-selected into the program then chosen from a lottery for the program that is vastly over-subscribed.

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