Saturday, July 10, 2004

Wonderful party.

Point Richmond is a very interesting little community. Its residents live on the Bay shore edge and literally in the shadow of the Chevron/Texaco refinery. It is separated only by the Interstate that forms the gateway to the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. It's a little village of historic Victorians on tiny lots, combined with an occasional modern architectural gem. This is where the arts community has settled, with many well-known architects, engineers (oil related), photographers, designers, chemists, and actors -- creating a vibrant place to work and play. There are former city council members, retired state legislators, and at least one former mayor of the city, a resident for 40 years. It's a stable community with some of the most dramatic scenic views in the entire Bay Area. Unlike many cities along the waterfront that have squandered their shorelines to industrialization, Richmond has retained much of its bayfront for future development. The reasons have less to do with wise planning than with the fact that much of the shoreline consists of brown-fields -- ground so heavily contaminated during the war years that -- only over the past few decades has the technology existed to return the land to safe redevelopment. We're in the beginnings of the upsurge of that development now, and it's an exciting place to be. Being in a position to help to shape of the changes is exciting to ponder.

It's also true that Point Richmond is largely white-owned, with a significant percentage of its residents being petroleum industry retirees.

Not more than two miles away, in the Iron Triangle section, exists the poorest section of the city. That area is composed of 90% of the 40% African American portion of the population. It has the highest crime rates in the city plus an (unsurprising) 40% unemployment rate. The contrasts are staggering. Nowhere are the social and economic differences more stark than here. However, I'm fascinated by the fact that the same demographics one finds in the welfare and food stamp lines are present on the country club golf course. This city, though racially separated residentially due to economic factors, it has reached a level of successful social and racial integration that is rarely seen elsewhere in my country.

The Summer Music Festival I attended last night (and fundraiser for Eddrick) featured the Dave Matthews Blues Band. The attendees as well as the performers were a blend of the African American, Euro-Americans, and Latinos that make up the lion's share of the city's population. However, there was a noticeable absence of the large Asian (Laotian) refugee folks who haven't yet acculturated into the mix. These are the boat people who arrived here about 25 years, and are still dazed by western culture, I believe. Their numbers are substantial, but their presence is rarely seen except in those instances where they've been specifically sought out. The language barrier is still too strong to allow for easy access into that world. Translators are still necessary for even the most elementary kinds of cross-cultural activities. I'm sure that this will change over the next 5 years as their young people now graduating from our educational institutions, begin to take their places in the larger world.

This is a fascinating city, but one that is a study in contradictions. Though less than four miles (by interstate) from Berkeley and within plain view of San Francisco, little of the political sophistication of those cities has reached Richmond. I've found here a unique and distinctive Richmond culture, stubbornly provincial on the one hand, and a repository for national history found nowhere else in California. The provincialism forms a kind of coating around the political life and is not easily whisked away, despite all efforts to the contrary.

Except for Point Richmond and the exclusive nearby Brickyard Cove (similar to Tiburon and Belvedere across the Bay), most of those who spend their days in the office parks and laboratories here actually live elsewhere. After five o'clock, the city is returned to the locals, with even the public safety personnel leaving to spend their money and time in surrounding cities and towns. I suspect that the same might be said for Oakland, which appears void of all life in the downtown areas after dark.

The inner core of many major cities may boast majority-minority representation in their civic governments, while being actually controlled by regional and corporate power beyond their city limits. There is the illusion of power, always. Those who work in this city but live beyond the borders don't have to live with the effects of policies influenced into place by outside players. It's a Catch 22, and a political anomaly that has thus far defied solution. To try to debate this openly could topple what fragile political structure there is, and might seriously threaten the stability of the institutions that govern our daily lives.

Nonetheless, I see opportunity everywhere I look, and innumerable chances to alter the dynamics in one way or another. I'm not nearly smart or powerful enough to actually effect such changes, but the mere possibility keeps me trying. So long as I continue to feel the "seduction of the possible," I will surely remain in the game.

The fact that I've progressed to the point where I can be satisfied to mentor potential new leadership and to see that as an important contribution, may prove that I'm still evolving. The next step will come when I'm willing to accept the possibility that others can be trusted with the 'changing of the world' -- as I step off the stage and into the wings of the next one... .

Friday, July 09, 2004

Busy time!

After explaining to Rick Smith (Park Ranger in charge of Interpretation) that I needed another week before committing to his offer, I did agree to come in for a few days as a volunteer -- to get a feel for the position. Yesterday was the beginning. The person that I'll be replacing leaves after today, to return one day a week during the transition period. My assignment is to work five days a week, on my own and one day (Fridays) with Michelle.

Yesterday being the day of her farewell lunch, I joined Judy Hart, project director; Rick Smith, and Michelle, for lunch in Point Richmond. Lovely relaxed introduction to primary staff.

Michelle is taking a position as Arts Manager for the Parks and Rec Department of the city, replacing someone who has just retired. It's a six month's position for a job that will be posted for the permanent replacement after that time.

"What will happen when you want your job back at the end of six months? (asks I)
"Don't know," says she.
"May not matter anyway, at my age, in six months I may not remember that I HAVE a job!" (laughter all around).

This city is truly in a meltdown. There are signs of it everywhere. It may be in the same state of entropy that I am in these years.

Today I spent the entire day learning more about the NPR job and its duties. (If I decide to accept it) I will be what Rick calls a Librarian Technician. That's a new area for me(!). Today I scrounged around amongst the cartons so carefully stored in locked cabinets for the many artifacts, photos, audio and videotapes of oral histories, all gathered from Rosie's across the country. Ford Motor Company awarded a substantial grant with which appeals for the material was solicited through all the major publications and on the Internet. A web site was established last year. There are also wonderful artifacts from the war -- fascinating stuff. There are transcripts and summaries to scan and catalog into a data base for retrieval by researchers who will come from far and wide to discover this historical material to further their personal projects or to fill in gaps in their family histories. This will be the primary feature of the Rosie The Riveter Memorial National Park.

The time flew by as I absorbed the newness! After I'd completed the logging and transferred my lists to the computer, it was time to pick up Dorian from NIAD. I could enjoy this. It appears that I will also be the person who interfaces between the National Park, the community, and related agencies. I will take the phone calls from former Rosies and/or their sons and daughters when they contact the office for information. I'll answer their letters and write acknowledgments for materials received; that kind of thing.

Really quite interesting... .

Now I have to leave this to attend a fundraiser for Eddrick Osborne, my city council candidate, and a music festival out at Point Richmond. Dorrie will spend the evening with the original Music Man DVD, so we're both well occupied for the next several hours.

More later.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Voice from the past ... .

Answered the telephone to the unfamiliar woman's voice on Saturday last. She announced herself hesitantly as "Emily Fox," and -- despite the 30 years between -- instantly came the image of a little 15-year old brunette -- wise beyond her years but still very much the girl child. Here was one of the teens who were participants in Project Community, Bill's research project at the university. How in the world had she found me, and what kind of bonding could there have been that would have brought her back into my life at this point? One can only guess. After all, I was just one of the many grownups who sat behind a desk and interacted informally with the kids from time to time. Can't recall that I actually participated as a leader in any of Emily's groups, yet here she was, out of the blue from across the years!

"I've been living in Boston for many years, working at one thing or another, but still return home to visit my aging parents from time to time. Could we meet for lunch while I'm here?"

"Yes!" And in answering I could instantly visualize her sitting in a group of 8-10 adolescents, deep in soul searching up on the second floor of that lovely old frat house on the edge of campus. I could close my eyes and bring back the intimate conversations I was privileged to view as a part of my work in the project. All sessions were videotaped, and I was in charge of culling specific information, trends, etc., from the hours and hours of tapes the project produced over its 5-year run. I LOVED (subject) Emily! She was so articulate and wise and so loving. But I only knew her as a subject on the videotapes. Of all the kids that I'd come to know in this somewhat distant way, she was probably the most clearly etched. And there was Jeff Raz, the dark-haired Adonis of a boy, Middle Eastern in appearance, who literally went off to join the circus. These two are still easily called up from memory. I've seen his name on many a playbill, including that of the Pickle Family Circus (precursor of Cirque de Soleil) and the renowned San Francisco Mime Troupe. Have always imagined Jeff as the strongman at the bottom of the pyramid holding up the rest. I've never seen him in performance, but have occasionally caught sight of him on the streets of Berkeley, brawny and bold and as handsome as could be.

We arranged to meet this very day in Berkeley. It wasn't until I was driving up Solano Avenue that the thought occurred to me that I had no idea what my young friend would look like after thirty years. Neither of us had thought to ask for signs of identity. Yet, as I pulled up in front of Walker's Pie Shop, there was grownup Emily -- after 30 years -- and a lifetime of changing, and immediately we both grinned. She had also wondered about changes I would have surely made in all that time. We needn't have worried. It was all so natural. The major change was that we met as peers this time.

We exchanged stories of where our lives had taken us. I was a little taken aback by the fact that we had really not met before, officially. Our lives at the Project were anything but similar. I was involved with the work of being one of the adult leaders (in the front office most of the time), and she -- a little girl subject of an important experiment. Later, when I was working as a co-leader in the school's programs, she was no longer involved. She was one of the participants at the Berkeley House while my work was eventually based at school sites in the Napa Valley and Mt. Diablo Unified School Districts.

"Project Community changed my life," says she.
"Where are the research results?"
"Have there been followup studies?"
"I've been home many times, but have never been able to interest anyone in re-uniting."

What a lovely lunch! I so enjoyed re-visiting that part of my life again after so many years, and having the feeling that Emily is proof enough that those years were well-spent. I, too, wondered about the fate of those studies, and just where that vital work had ended up. But I do know that I saw remnants of our work picked up and emulated in other drug prevention programs throughout the area. I still find bits and pieces bleeding through brochures and in the pages of scientific journals.

Project Community was the first truly innovative work of its kind, and seeing Emily today served as a reminder that there is still stored up in me training and practical experience of working with teens in growth-producing ways.

Emily Fox and Seneca Family Programs move into my life at a time when I'm getting ready to meet with Ken Berrick about new possibilities. They're coming together almost simultaneously has just a hint of that serendipitous quality that follows me through life, doesn't it? Like coming onto the Bay Bridge and moving seamlessly into someone's movie script ... .

Do these things happen to everyone? I find myself wondering ... .

Do I simply connect the dots differently?

Tomorrow Emily flies to Southern California to continue her coastal visit with family there, and then a return to Boston where she will go on with the many interesting bits and pieces of the life she's fashioning for herself. Hope she enjoyed our visit as much as I did.

Can't escape the feeling that today's lunch will inform the interview with Ken on Wednesday, July 14th.

See what I mean?