Monday, October 25, 2004

Took care of the series.

Registered my complaints with the managing editor and she agreed to pull the rest of it. It's a shame. I really thought it was a good piece of writing and -- if the essays did what was intended -- would have raised the curtain on our centennial year with style.

When I re-read the second part (the one that was so drastically edited), it was good, was submitted as a draft which invited cutting -- but would have been better served by a re-write. Wish we'd handled it that way instead of aborting the series. Maybe next time ... .

Spent Saturday evening at a seminar at the university. It was a five-hour presentation of ROHO (Regional Oral History Project) followed by a reception in the Morrison Library of the Doe Library. There were three presentations by researchers who'd conducted oral histories of the "Rosie the Riveter and the Richmond Homefront in WWII," plus the "Disability & Independent Living Movement." Both the Rosie project and the Disability portions were of interest to me so I braved the rainy afternoon -- pulled on my hooded windbreaker, and trudged through the campus under dripping trees and fast-filling creekbeds.

This was the first time in ages that I'd been in such a setting with academics. The audience was largely over 60, though there were a few student types sprinkled through. We sat in comfortable dark and rich leather couches under the mellow lamplighting common to libraries. The sense of stability and strength of the ages surrounds you in that setting. The mahogany tables and wainscoting mixed discreetly with the computers that were barely in sight on the half-level above the room. It was as though the technology tried to be understated for fear of destroying the ambiance. Beside the uniform softly-lit parchment tortoise-shell lampshades they looked hard and garish.

The Rosie stuff was old hat, of course, since I'd been working with much of the material for some time. The Disability section was of far more interest to me. Though the area is far more oriented toward physical rather than mental disabilities -- another culture completely. With Berkeley being one of the centers from which the movement sprung in the early seventies, much of what was discussed had a familiar ring for me. I'd spent some of those years as an aide to a member of the Berkeley city council, and knew some of the players well. I'd also been responsible for these issues more recently as a field rep for Loni Hancock.

Discovered something important while sitting there, mostly apart from the others. That world is less interesting to me than my current reality. There's a preciousness about the academic life that I remembered with some discomfort as I looked around that beautiful room. I think that I'd forgotten that. It mattered not the color of one's skin so much as whether or not one held proof of credentials -- no matter its relevance. The distance between the African American professional academic class and the everyday working class African Americans who make up my life in Richmond seemed as great as those between black and whites. I realized that I much prefer the grittiness of life in Richmond than this. Not sure just why that is.

It might have something to do with the fact that -- despite the fact that the university is at the cutting edge of change because of the role played in the research community -- at the human social level, that tends to get lost in the paper chase. At the social level, the waters get muddied somehow, and there is a loss of relevance to what I witness on the streets and agency waiting rooms of life, and I'm not sure why that is.

I do know that the experience of being a business person in a marginal "micro" business in South Berkeley changed my relationship to the black world. Having the experience of making a difference through hard work and determination created something that continues to be the driving force in my life. It moved me from the theoretical hypothetical to activism and I've never looked back. It opened my eyes to opportunity and closed them to indifference and privilege.

I also know that this is not a criticism of black academics. We need African Americans at all levels involved in all aspects of life -- from top to bottom. Even the Thomas Sowells, Frank McWhorters, and Ward Connerlys have their place, I suppose, if only to help me to define my own path in opposition to theirs. Can't take this as far as Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas, but they're nicely balanced off by Elinor Holmes Norton, Barack Obama, John Conyers, et al, and help me to define the issues.

When the world gets too complicated and I begin to feel overwhelmed, pulling back to my 500 feet realm of influence works to renew my sense of power. There is an opportunity to influence the shape of the next city council in my city by helping to get out the vote. I'll do that. This week will re-awaken that wonderful sense that I, too, can lean in the direction of change with those who share my hopes for the country, and -- this old atheist may just say a few prayers for deliverance from the goings-on under the present administration.

I must have faith that all over the nation others are leaning with me ... .

Let us pray!

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