Thursday, June 15, 2006

Settling into a new role of luncheon speaker ...
Today I met with a group of about ten civic leaders as the speaker for their monthly Chamber of Commerce Leadership meeting. I'd been invited to make a presentation on the park's programs -- to show the "Lost Conversations and Untold Stories" dvd, then to spend about 90 minutes aboard the Chamber's 15-passenger van on an improvised tour of historic sites.

Our park tours have caught on, and both individuals and groups have begun to request our guided trips around this small city that they all know so intimately, but are beginning to truly see in new ways. It's really a fascinating process. The next tour -- scheduled for July 21st -- is already oversubscribed and a wait-list is forming even as we speak.

As before, we have only to hand out one-page maps with the historic structures numbered and the fun begins. After the very first stop at Ethel Dotson's old International Hotel (stopping place for all black Pullman porters while those Pullman cars were being serviced) the "tourists" took over the tour. Everyone had memories and -- sometimes -- conflicting memories of these structures. That makes for lively discussions that never fail to add reams to what I know about this city and its people, and, slowly -- this oddly troubled industrial town has begun to feel like home.

That's fortunate, too, because next Wednesday I'm being interviewed by a production team from PBS for a segment in a major 4-hour documentary being presented in one-hour segments, nationwide -- on "The Saving of San Francisco Bay." The special will trace the Bay from geologic time to the present. As a critical change factor in the story, World War II and Henry J. Kaiser are major contributors. I will be one of several homefront workers from that era being featured along with some impressive talking heads, Environmentalist Stewart Udall; State Historian Kevin Starr; plus, scientists, economists, engineers, etc. Having seen the 12 minute promotional dvd describing this blockbuster -- I'm more than a little intimidated. My interview is scheduled for 3 o'clock next Wednesday afternoon, and today's Chamber experience helped considerably to prepare me for the experience.

I found myself seeing the city differently today than before. It may have had to do with the fact that almost every one in the van has spent their entire lives here in Richmond, and I am a kind of a "summer person" having only lived here since the mid-nineties. Except -- that I did serve the war effort as a file clerk in a Jim Crow segregated union auxiliary during those fateful years of World War II. And I remember ... and I've learned ... and the sting of segregation lies, still, very near the surface of my consciousness and still colors my days and helps to define who I am in today's world.

Maybe the fact that I've learned to use the pain well, and to articulate it in ways that help to bring change for the sake of the young -- is reason enough to justify sitting before those cameras and talking my truth into the ether.

Awareness of the upcoming interview was ever-present all along the tour, and I could feel myself grabbing at new facts as they spilled into the air as we traveled along the historic path through Atchison Village, The SS Red Oak Victory, the old rusted Whirley Crane, past the Kaiser Field Hospital, etc., and I could imagine the ghosts of the past standing huddled along this now more and more familiar route through a city struggling to re-define itself.

... and my work is -- in a small way -- is facilitating that process.

Photo: Taken not at the Chamber luncheon, but at a similar gathering at the U.S. Forest Service in Vallejo, California a few months ago. Forgot to take my camera along to the Chamber Leadership event. (Do remember that these are thumbnails and can be blown up to full size when you click on them.)

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