Friday, July 01, 2005

Back to the "nine to five," and timed just about right ...

The formal call came this morning announcing that paperwork is being completed and that I'm to start work (officially) on July 26th at the offices of the new National Park. Couldn't come at a more auspicious time since -- in that way my life has of converging in strange and interesting ways -- my interest in working with kids; with the environmental justice issues; the upcoming Richmond centennial events; are all providing the opportunity to help to shape this NPS monument to the history of my era. What a fine opportunity to influence change. Is anyone more blessed?

Only problem is that my very brief consideration of becoming the next Toni Morrison may have been harpooned before it ever got launched. Writing for me tends to take a back seat to acting out my principles more directly in the political arena. Maybe blogging is about as far as I can take this flair. But perhaps not. Having given the possibility considerable thought now, maybe I can do it all.

To add to this strange timeliness, all decisions about Dorian's future have been decided (one of those meetings that bunched up on Tuesday) and she will be moving into a group home on August 1st. The painful transition will probably not be that at all, but a time of excitement for us both. It was her appeal (in a fit of pique) to her case manager that brought us to the point of decision, so she has the feeling of having guided her own future -- the system responded to her wishes. She's moving away from me. She displays no signs of feeling pushed out onto her own for having failed in our ability to live together. That's important. She's just moving on because it's her wish to be out in the world again as before.

This time she won't be truly on her own, but will be in a program called Harmony Homes, a vendor of the Regional Center of the East Bay -- supported by Lanterman Funds, and an entitlement for the mentally disabled. She will share an apartment in a pleasant and safe area of El Cerrito with another young woman like herself -- in a four-plex that houses several such pairings. She will live no more than about 8 minutes away from my apartment. Harmony House staff provides oversight and training opportunities. She will continue with her 5 day-a-week arts program at NIAD and Special Olympics (year round) and is as happy as a clam to be moving into semi-independence. Her money will be managed by the Regional Center, giving her an allowance each week and saving her SSA balance in an account she cannot access without agreement by her workers. We're both in heaven!

I'll now have my own life back to do with as I will. May still need to consider marketing my condo and moving to a smaller rental somewhere, but I'll remain in Richmond for the foreseeable future.

This is all proof that there's little reason to always be pushing the river. If allowed to, life does have its way of smoothing out the rough spots if given half a chance to just lie back and drift downstream from time to time.

And the bonus is that the NPS sounds as delighted to have me return as I am at the prospect of doing so. The contract will run through to October 1st and then we'll be back to decision-making time again, but the choices will have changed and I may be far more ready to hang up my Palm Pilot than before. We'll see. Maybe that's when I become, belatedly, an author of note. Maybe that's when being restfully idle will feel more like retirement and less like simply being unemployed.

(Submitted one blog entry to an e-newspaper at the suggestion of a friend, and am waiting to see if there's interest in publishing it. That will give some idea of whether writing is in my future. Oh, and while I was at it - I also forwarded it to Weekend's All Things Considered on NPR. Maybe Scott Simon will find it of interest. Did that on a whim, and since there's an element of time sensitivity to it -- it just may die for just cause. Given the ease of communicating by Internet -- "whims" have gained new importance. I just file them under "and why not?")

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Poor Bill Cosby ... he may have stayed too long at the Fair...

Watched the Night Line interview last night of the meltdown of a man we've all admired for so long. He did his awkward rambling boorish lecture before an audience in St. Louis -- an audience of poor black folks he's been verbally chastising publicly to the embarrassment of so many. I wanted to turn off the power -- actually did mute the remote several times as I watched him in an unbelievable show of insensivity -- stupidity! He's a man out of contact with himself as well as the rest of us, I believe. I can imagine that his wife and daughters are cringing in horror at the sad spectable he's become. Unfortunately, his celebrity lends weight to his words as it lends power to the political conservatives who preach the old "pull yourselves up by your bootstraps" mantra to those poor souls without boots. I can see in my mind's eye the likes of Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Armstrong Williams, et al, rubbing their hands together in absolute glee! How tragic!

But I felt compassion for him before it ended (unexpectedly) and so wanted him to abandon the rest of his tour, one that will bring him to Detroit, Cleveland, Gary, and other innercity hot spots where he will preach to those living in the projects and on the margins of society about the virtues of coming together to confront their "sins" and "turn in their children to the authorities instead of turning a blind eye to the evils" of what he sees as "self-inflicted poverty and shame." How he could not be aware of the complexity of the issues he so blithely prescribes for is baffling. His life of relative ease and exposure to the thinking of the mental health professionals he surrounded himself with in the old Cosby show days should have produced more than the simplistic old bastard showing off his ignorance before a puzzled audience of just plain poor folks -- and a national audience that deserved more from an old and admired friend.

How I wish dear Camille Cosby could reel in her foolish husband, the old reprobate with a checkered past of his own, apply a tight gag over his foul mouth, and tie him to his rocking chair before someone does it for her!

He was the prime example of the old adage that money can't buy everything.

Photo: Newspaper pic of football great Jim Brown, Pat Meyers, comic Bill Cosby (very young Coz), Cleo Jackson, Muhammad Ali, my niece, Victoria Jones (Charbonnet-Allen-Breaux-Balugo), and above her, pro basketball player, Bill Russell.

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.