Still not equal

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Dr. Barbara Reynolds blogger/columnist at The Washington Post Root DC
Dr. Barbara Reynolds
blogger/columnist at The Washington Post Root DC

I was especially interested to read Barbara Reynolds’ op.ed. piece on civil rights in today’s morning paper.

Her piece, first published in The Washington Post, contrasts the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of today with those demonstrations of the 1960s civil rights movement.

If I had a signature issue when I was writing editorials for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, it was civil rights. So here it is, long after my retirement in 2000, and I still carefully follow the story of the struggle of our black citizens and other minorities for equal rights.

In her column, Rev. Reynolds notes that at protests today, you have a hard time telling the legitimate activists from the “mob actors who burn and loot.”

She recalls civil rights leaders of that now long ago era, Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Andy Young and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In contrast with many of today’s demonstrators, such heroes and their followers in those marches and sit-ins exhibited great discipline and forbearance – even when police set upon them with billy clubs and tear gas.

These demonstrators wore suits, ties and dresses, attired in fitting fashion for the dignity and resolution their faces showed.

Dressed in torn jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers, many of the today’s Black Lives Matter demonstrators taunt police and appear bent on confrontation. Some throw bottles and rocks.

Yes, these young people have reason to be upset and angry. Black and Hispanic unemployment remains double that of white unemployment. In some cities, that contrast is more like three times. Social services are spotty and poorly funded.

Segregation in housing and schools in larger cities remains intractable. In a few southern states, public officials continue to seek ways to prevent black citizens from voting.

It would be an insult to minorities and their hopes for equality to point out the social changes that have taken place since the 1960s. Indeed, these are innumerable. In Barak Obama, we’ve even elected a black president – twice.

Nevertheless, equal rights for all citizens still appears the dream of idealists. Which at least explains in part the rowdy behavior of the Black Lives Matter demonstrators as they assess the reality. But they’re still missing something.

At the end of her column, Rev. Reynolds quotes the nasty lyrics of the rappers. Suffice it to say this sounds like the language of surrender, defeat.

What a far cry from the inspiration and hopeful songs of the civil rights movement. For me, the words still ring out – “We shall overcome.” Someday. Yes, someday.

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Map to a better world

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screen568x568I know there are lots of publications that promote worthy causes. Many church and other religious magazines feature people who are doing well by doing good. Every issue it seems of our Unitarian Universalist “UUWorld” spotlights such folk and champions such causes as the homeless, safe drinking water in faraway countries and prisoners of conscience.

Yes, there are lots of publications out there. But I discovered a new magazine at Barnes & Noble this week that surely must rate as one of the slickest and most compelling publications promoting good causes. It’s named “Unite 4: Good.”

I did a double-take when I first noticed the magazine. I wondered why pick November for the first issue, although I suppose the timing has something to do with the busy holiday shopping season coming up when book stores fill with customers.

An almost life-size photography of actor Forest Whitaker appears on the cover. Inside the magazine, Whitaker is shown with children in South Sudan. That’s the newly created country following the Sudan’s civil war. The inspiring article that accompanies the photographs is one of hope for this impoverished part of the world.

In his introductory essay, founder Anthony Melikhov writes about his hopes for new publication. Here’s a guy who wants to change the world. I’m all for him!

Indeed, the magazine is an ambitious undertaking. Inside this inaugural issue, you’ll find stories with compelling photographs of animals recently removed from the Endangered Species List. There’s a rating of the world’s top health care systems. The United Kingdom rates Number One. You guessed it. The United States didn’t make the list. Obviously there’s still work on this issue for Americans to do. President Obama’s plan isn’t the last word.

Unite 4: good offers practical ideas for all kinds of people. On this page you’ll see ways to improve your relationships with family members. In another section, you’ll find college programs that prepare you for jobs where you can help make it a better world. You’ll read about ways to try out your talents. Then another story features “Moth” bars. I hadnt heard of them. They’re in 14 cities. These cozy looking bars invite customers to entertain people with a five-minute story. Now that’s cool.

Founder Melikhov believes such articles can inspire readers to give back to their communities. His argument is that getting ahead at others’ expense no longer works. Rather, he and his stable of writers and photographers are committed to the idea that “we’re all in this together.” So here it is. It’s a publication that promotes a happier world. About time for the Bible to have some competition.

Even when you close the magazine and start for the desk to pay or to return the publication to the shelf, the visuals on the back cover challenge you to good words. You glance at the back and there they are, logos for 13 good causes, affiliates of the magazine. These include unicef, DO something.org, Feeding American, Boys and Girls Clubs and Points of Light.

I’m taken back more than 50 years to a small religious college in Michigan. It’s the first chapel service of the semester. I’m a freshman, sitting about halfway back from the piano and pulpit. The speaker for this inaugural service is evangelist Jack Anderson of South Carolina. He’s in the area to conduct evangelistic meetings.

“Students,” he begins, “There are a lot of good people in the world.”

It’s one of the few lines of any chapel speaker in all my eight years in religious colleges that I remember. Maybe I remember because Anderson’s words were about the best. I have no idea what else he said.

These days, I’m hardly alone wondering why there’s so much meanness and violence, so much hatred and cruelty. I’m at a loss to understand people responsible for kidnappings of young girls in Africa, for beheadings in the Mideast and for pointless executions in otherwise quiet neighborhoods in American cities. That’s not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

The facts are worth repeating. Horrible things often dominate the news because they are the exceptions. You have to look for the evangelist’s good people in the profiles of the feature sections. Or, most likely, you can look next door. In all likelihood, folks there are helping make the world a better place.

If you’d like to jump in, check out this new magazine, November issue. It’s called Unite 4: good.

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Death of an advocate

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bildeDave Lambert died the other day at the age of 79. But the news story about Dave on the front page of The Journal Gazette Metro section didn’t tell the half of it. First, he was a better than passable amateur actor in local theater. Actually, he was quite good. He was a vocal advocate for kids. Mostly, I suppose, he’ll be remembered as a peace activist, probably the best-known in the city.

We were friends for at least 40 years. A tall, handsome man, his booming voice meant that he was going to be listened to. Which was good. He had a lot to say, in particular about America’s wars.

I never heard how he became a peace activist. He was a Korean War veteran. That doesn’t tell you much, however. Lots of veterans joined the peace movement in the 1960s. That includes the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

In recent years, you could hear Dave speaking about any Saturday to a gathering at the courthouse green downtown, protesting the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. I can tell you he didn’t like George Bush who launched those wars. He was no fan of President Obama either, his distrust going back to Obama’s early years in office. He was especially critical of Obama’s approval of drone strikes that have killed so many innocent civilians, including children.

I told him even if he weren’t able to stop any wars he accomplished something very important. He helped insure his and other demonstrators their right to protest in a public forum.

Dave produced peace action shows for public access TV. At the Unitarian Universalist meeting house, which he attended off and on for years, he showed anti-war films weekend evenings.

During UU Sunday services, you might see Dave sitting in the front row, awaiting his turn to light a candle and say a few words on some current peace topic.

For years, Dave maintained his visibility on the Journal’s editorial page. As editor of that page, I had the final word on the letters. I chuckle to recall how he frequently criticized me for editing his letters so that they would be watered down, losing their punch. I never was able to convince him that any editing was to make room for other letters. Our disagreements – if lively – were always good natured.

But Dave believed the news media, including my newspaper, were biased in favor of government and big business. Of course, I challenged him. We often had these debates after the church service or in the cereal aisle at Kroger’s or in an adult forum class I might be leading. Again, my arguments left him shaking his head in disbelief.

Yet we remained on good terms over the years. When I saw him after the church service on a recent Sunday, I thought his greeting was particularly warm, heartfelt. No wonder he had such a reputation for getting along with all kinds, despite his formidable personality and strong beliefs. He genuinely liked people.

I don’t believe there’s another peace activist in Fort Wayne who can step into the role that Dave played here for so many years. He stayed with the cause of peace until the very end. I have been proud to call him a friend.

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In defense of endorsements

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For the past few days, the paper has been filled with news stories and editorials about area candidates in Indiana’s May primary.

So we get to see photographs of people running for state legislature and county offices and learn a bit about them. The editorials endorse the paper’s preferences and give readers the reasons the editorial board picked one candidate over another.

Every election cycle takes me back to my more than a quarter century of interviewing the candidates, talking to people who know them, then arguing the pros and cons of each one with the publisher, editor and other editorial writers in order to arrive at the paper’s endorsements. Of course, I can’t forget actually writing many of those endorsements.

I always approached this part of my job with mixed feelings of dread and anticipation. I dreaded the time all this interviewing and writing took me away from what I thought of were the big issues of the day and my own interests. I dreaded knowing that we’d be interviewing people who didn’t know basic things about the position they sought or had such outrageous opinions I’d leave the candidate meetings angry and deeply disappointed. Or, I’d just be embarrassed for the person. Even smart, candidates who agreed with me could just be self-centered blowhards.

I suppose I had an infantile expectation that the candidate should be well-informed, thoughtful and a caring person who would look out for the little guy.

Despite my disappointments, I often found myself eager to meet a U.S. senator, governor or congressman, as well as certain candidates for mayor, county and city councils. As a rule, even those I disagreed with, and those the paper wasn’t going to support, could turn out to be quite interesting people. I think of former Indianpolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a very bright guy who was just fun to debate. And I could tell, he enjoyed himself too.

Former mayor and state Rep. Win Moses was always full of insights and frank talk, a joy to interview. That was also my experience interviewing former mayors Graham Richard and Paul Helmke. For all the years I was writing editorials, I thought
the city was lucky to have such capable leaders in the top job. I disagreed often with Bob Armstrong when he was mayor, then on the county council. Yet when he was mayor, he was surrounded by capable people in key departments. And I’ve often despaired of the overly cautious decisions of county government. We seemed to elect people whose passion wasn’t a better community. It was mainly to not spend any dollars. Not much vision there.

One major exception during my time at the paper was the late sheriff and, later, state senator Charles “Bud” Meeks. Yes, Bud was a conservative Republican. But he demanded his officers not jump into high-speed chases without the oversight of a command officer on dispatch. And in the state legislature, he strongly endorsed separating serious juvenile offenders from adults, not writing them off forever.
Local government has been the poorer without him.

I recall a lot of awkward moments during these interviews. One candidate for a county office got upset at the questions and started to get up to leave well before the interview was over. I believe Editor Craig Klugman talked him into sticking around for the rest of the interview. Needless to say, however, I’m sure we didn’t endorse the fellow nor was he elected.

I’ll never forget Mrs. Yingst whose husband Ned had been a business teacher for many years at South Side High School. The two of them were actually running for the same office. Go figure. But Mrs. Yingst was more interested in sharing her original recipe. As I recall, it was for a cake. Did she also bring homemade cookies to the interview? Seems like it. Somehow, all of us board members managed to keep a straight face. In another interview, it was somewhat startling to see a middle-age man from a rural community nearby wearing finger nail polish. Imagine my grandmother sporting a tattoo on her left bicep.

For many years, before my tenure, the paper declined to endorse candidates for public office. Back when I was reading the paper as a kid, I never saw endorsements. The argument to take a pass was simply, “Who are we to tell people how to vote?” Klugman challenged that thinking, whether it came from publishers or readers. He would point out that the editorial board was in a position to know the candidates much better than the typical voter and that the paper would try to offer an honest, impartial judgment. In fact, we owed the public nothing less, Klugman said. Indeed, we could play a useful role in the development of better government.

I think most candidates honestly sought the paper’s endorsement even if they hated our editorial stands. To be sure, an endorsement might not help them win the election. For those of us on the editorial board, it was a chance to argue for our positions and maybe advance our own cause.

I still marvel that so many people, including those who lack the qualifications, are willing to run for public office. It takes personal courage and a sincere commitment to put oneself out in such a manner. People can be so cynical about government. For sure, some political leaders give a person reason for that cynicism. But having interviewed and followed the careers of scores of politicians, local, state and national, I believe the vast majority are honest. I believe most truly want to serve. I believe most want to justify the faith the rest of us place in them. So I say hats off and three cheers for the colleagues at the paper I left behind to interview and write about the candidates. You’re serving your country. You’re serving your community. You’re serving all of us.

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I Can – With Your Help

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You’re Churchill.

The Lufwaffe has been raining down bombs on London for days. For most Londoners, a stiff upper lip is no match for such terror.

But you’re the Prime Minister. You stand before the House of Commons, shake your fist, and proclaim, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

No, you’re not Churchill. You don’t stand, either. You can’t.

You’ve been bound to a wheelchair since you were six and your dad hit a patch of ice on I-69.

And you don’t give up. Somedays, though, you can use a hand.

We’re all in this together, whether we have disabilities or not. That’s why it’s a great idea for any group that organizes a workshop or an exhibition to connect persons with disabilities with resources and inspiring stories.

April 10, my city, Fort Wayne, will host just such an event at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. It’s sponsored by Turnstone, which gives all manner of folk with a disability and their families a helping hand. The event will be a first here.

The brochure promises workshops and has more than 60 exhibitors signed up to hawk their wares or tell the story of their business or their agency.

To be sure, the primary audience will be those with physical disabilities. But agencies that serve persons with other kinds of disabilities, such as mental illness, are expected to be on hand.

That makes a lot of sense. Those who are blind, wheelchair-bound, hearing impaired and developmentally disabled often suffer from depression or other forms of mental illness.

I know the Carriage House, a rehabilitation center for those with mental illness, will have people at the expo to explain that highly effective program. NAMI, a family support group, should be there, too.

Indeed, such an event can help people make connections with all kinds of services in a community, services they may never have heard of.

You forget. You forget how many others or their families are in the same boat. Turnstone’s expo reminds you that you’re not alone. You don’t have to even think about giving up. Not when somebody offers to give you a hand.

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Food for thought

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The red-colored flier was there this morning when I opened the door to get the paper off the porch.

“Hello, neighbors,” the flier announced.

We were instructed to collect canned goods and anything else we’d care to donate to poor families.  We’re to set out these food stuffs on the porch Dec. 5.

It’s the 25th annual Christmas Food Box, which serves 1,000 families in our town each year we’re told in the cheery message.   St. Mary’s soup kitchen, the Bishop Luers High School Key Club and St. Johns Elementary School sponsor this seasonal food drive.  And catching the spirit, I noticed that by mid-day my wife had already filled a shopping bag with canned goods.   It’s amazing what middle class people can live without.

I don’t recall any church or civic group dropping off canned goods at my house when I was a kid.   I imagine that because my parents belonged to bridge clubs, the Elks and the country club in our northwestern Ohio town people wouldn’t have guessed that my family couldn’t always pay the grocery bill.

I knew it , though.  I knew it because I answered the door when the butcher  announced to me, age 10, that he was taken possession of our 1937 Chevy because Dad hadn’t paid his bill.

It was humiliating.  But my folks didn’t offer to tell their side of the story.  People have their pride you know.   I was left to suffer the shame alone.

For me today, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to have enough money to put food on the table for the family.   Yes, there are food stamps.  Yes, Congress recently increased the food stamp allowance.  That’s now up to an average of $133 a month.  Yet for many households, that only gets you through three weeks of the month.  If that.   Then the family turns to food banks – providing one is available in your community.

It’s the story of a very tattered safety net.

The other day, the Department of Agriculture put out some grim figures.  It seems that within the last year or so, the number of households in which children face “very low food security” has jumped from 323,000 to 506,000.   (In the 1960s, we called it hunger; now it’s food insecurity, a way to pretty up human suffering.)

Well, those figures reflect what’s happened with food stamps.  Within two years, we’ve had a 40 percent increase.   That translates into 36 million Americans relying on this bare bones program for their daily bread.

Most of us won’t be surprised that these numbers, in turn, follow the recent increases in unemployment, now over 10 percent throughout the country.

But the families most likely to be in this fix for the long haul, even when jobs are plentiful,  are those headed by single moms.

President Obama wants to end hunger in America by 2015.  That’s his promise. So let’s all write him a letter or send him an e-mail to tell him to be sure and do that.

Meantime, put your canned goods on the porch.  And send a fat check to your local food bank.

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