Monday, January 26, 2009

Where Were You?

Now that I’ve finally thawed, I’m ready to share my experiences at last week’s inauguration in D.C. To be honest, it wasn’t only the bone-chilling cold that’s delayed this post, but the fact that it’s been difficult to gain perspective on the expansiveness of what we experienced.

We got on the road to head down to Maryland to spend the night with my girl, Tammy, late Monday afternoon. The plan was to get to Tammy’s, get a little sleep, head out to the Metro station at 2:30am and get in line to catch the first train into DC on Jan. 20th.

At 3am, we found ourselves with about 1,000 other folks with the same bright idea. We snapped photos, waited for our turn to participate in the group wave, sang songs and did whatever we could to keep our minds off the cold air. Thankfully, we boarded a warm train at 4:10am. We arrived in DC around 4:45am and headed over to the Newseum where we had tickets to enjoy the day’s festivities indoors and with access to clean bathroom facilities---- YEAH! The only hitch is the doors to the Newseum didn’t open until 10:00am and it was frigidly cold. I mean cold-to-the-bone... never felt this cold before kinda cold. Fortunately, Loverman had the forethought to pack hand-warmers to put in our gloves and foot-warmers for our boots, and although I’m sure they made a difference, in the middle of all that cold it was hard to tell.

Trying to walk over to the Newseum was no easy feat. As soon as we exited the Metro station, we joined hundreds of people making their way to various locations… the Mall... the Newseum, like us… or some other vantage point to witness history. No matter where you were headed, you were surrounded by a sense of good will, hopefulness, joy. I don’t remember ever feeling so a part of humanity before this day.

Sometime before 6:00am, we found ourselves in a sea of people unable to move forward. Loverman lifted Yannick onto his shoulders and I held Olivia’s hand tightly. Word had drifted through the crowd that anyone with a ticket to the Newseum would be allowed through the barricade to make our way to another line into the facility, but despite our best efforts we couldn’t move. In the midst of all of this I exchanged glances with Loverman wondering if we’d made the best decision to bring the kids into the mass of people. For a brief moment I felt great anxiety at the thought of the potential danger of being unable to move or get out of harm’s way if something jumped off. At some point after the sun had risen we heard a familiar voice pleading for passage through the crowd and as I turned to my right I found myself face-to-face with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. She, too, was trying to get to the Newseum. We tried to push through with her, but had very little luck.

It was until about 9:00am did we get to the line to gain access to the Newseum. We were probably in the first third of the line and there were still at least 800-1000 people ahead of us. Again, we danced around, tried to keep the kids occupied and our minds off the cold. While in this line we met three lovely women from Georgia and police officers from Louisville, Kentucky, who volunteered to come to DC to work for the day.

I should also note that at no point did I see a Port-a-Potty or encounter a police officer that could offer more information than what we already had. Thankfully, Starbucks allowed folks to use their bathroom facilities. Loverman thinks the hundreds of law enforcement officers were probably working on a need-to-know basis, because there’s no way the powers-that-be could coordinate the DC cops, Federal Marshals, Secret Service and visiting volunteer officers onsite to shepherd the 2 million visitors in town for the festivities.

We finally cleared security and made our way into the Newseum at 11:45am, just in time to jockey for a position in front of the huge Jumbotron. I’ve never felt so at-home surrounded by complete strangers. While waiting for the ceremony to begin I exchanged niceties with a woman who traveled from Colorado and a couple who had just moved to the states from Ghana. Olivia took dozens of photos of the crowd and Yannick simply enjoyed being able to sit in a warm place. Loverman wandered to an upper level of the building to get a better vantage point. As the television cameras caught Barack as he walked down the hall to the Capitol steps, I unexpectedly burst into tears. Why… I’m not sure. A stranger handed me tissues to wipe my tears. After getting myself together, I began to take some photos and scored two especially great shots for a news geek like me, one of George Stephanopolis and another of Charlie Gibson, who demanded a hug in exchange for having his photo taken. I gladly obliged.

Once the ceremony began, you could almost hear a pin drop throughout the viewing area and collective cheers, hugs and flashing flashbulbs abound as Obama completed his mangled oath. It really was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I’m not really sure if it felt any different because we experienced it in DC. Over the past week, I’ve seen the most incredible photos depicting how folks all over the globe witnessed this historic moment and I don’t feel like our experience is any more significant because we traveled to DC to be closer to the scene. Don’t get me wrong, it was an unforgettable day and I’m happy we could share it as a family in DC and I’m sure it’s a day my children will never forget…. but no matter where you were the day Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, we were all one… really ONE… full of hope and good will for the road ahead.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

a perfect complement

This clip is an ideal complement to the post below, Down the Rabbit Hole. Check out how Michelle Obama's first roommate at Princeton details their short time together.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

I agree with many of my friends that Facebook may be the new crack. I’ve been on Facebook for about nine months. Introduced to it by my girl Lise, who does her best to keep me cool and in the loop. At first I resisted, but after a few days I decided to give it a shot. I’ve been hooked ever since and have even introduced my mom, other family members and friends to the joy of social networking via FB.

Earlier this week, while trolling other friends’ pages, I saw a familiar face from my days in elementary school, Bill Logan. Before I go any further, let me offer a bit of back-story. After 4th grade at Evans Elementary, a fully integrated school, my parents enrolled me in St. Louis, our local parish Catholic’s school. I attended St. Louis from 5th to 8th grade and was always the only African American in my class. This was from 1976-1979, prior to the era of political correctness. Although I made out fine academically, socially I had lots of problems. I did develop some friendships, none of which were maintained beyond my 8th grade graduation.

I found myself in the same situation, when after my sophomore year, my first high school, St. Leonard’s Academy, closed and I was forced to transfer to the local all-girls Catholic high school, Archbishop Prendergast. The social alienation I experienced at St. Louis was multiplied by 300 because again, I found myself to be the only African American in a class of 400 girls. I excelled academically, made a few friends and was even elected to student council. But, once graduation hit in June 1983, I bellowed a hearty “adios chicas,” and never looked back.

The issues I faced at both St. Louis and Prendergast stemmed from the “overwhelming majority” not used to interacting on any level with anyone who looked different then they did and daily I had to deal with the ignorance of my fellow students, teachers and administrators. My classmates rarely invited me to parties outside of school and to a child it’s painful to always be excluded. My mom’s constant refrain, “We’re not sending you to school to make friends, we’re sending you there to get an education,” did little to help me weather the loneliness. No one ever came out and said why I wasn’t invited, but I imagined their parents weren’t open to welcoming a Black child into their home. The nuns weren’t much better and were often even more insensitive than the kids. I posted once about being called Kizzy by my 6th grade teacher, Sr. Stephens, during the week of the original broadcast of Roots.

Honestly, not everyone at either St. Louis or Prendergast was a total jerk and thus on Wednesday evening when I peeped Bill Logan’s profile photo on Facebook, I hesitated for only a second before sending a friend request. Bill was actually quite decent to me. He never went out of his way to say anything mean or join in with other kids if they were giving me a hard time. I have thought of him periodically over the years and thought if given the opportunity I would thank him for his kindness.

Bill readily confirmed my request and that’s when my journey down the rabbit hole to revisit my time at St. Louis began. He immediately flooded my inbox with messages, explaining how happy he was to reconnect with me. He bombarded me with questions and urged me to join the FB group he created, St. Louis Class of 1979. Curiosity got the better of me and I did. I spent the next 90 mins. pouring over the group page checking out the photos posted by other group members. Suddenly, I started receiving friend requests from former classmates who caught glimpse of me as one of Bill’s friends. Fortunately all of these requests have come from people I didn’t actually despise. What’s been the most amazing have been their reflections of our time together at St. Louis. All have offered the variations of the same tune regarding their admiration for me.

WHAT?! I understand we were just kids back in 1977, but damn, where were these warm and fuzzy feelings back in the day? Reconnecting with folks has forced me to reflect upon my own feelings about that time in a way that I haven’t allowed myself to do over the past 30 years. Maybe I need to acknowledge that many of them may have grown up, evolved… changed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Growing Pains

My mom is in the middle of a massive purging and yesterday she dropped off a box of stuff she thought would be of particular interest to me. This little box of treasures included my class photos from kindergarten and 4th grade, prom pictures and old love letters.

But it’s my elementary school report cards that are of particular interest to Miss Olivia. She poured over each of them, one by one, trying to decode the grading system of Evans Elementary in the early 1970s. She counted the rows of Os (for outstanding!) I achieved in fourth grade. It’s nice to have tangible proof to illustrate that I understand what’s she’s going through as a 4th grader.

Olivia’s always been a great student and her most recent report card featured its own equivalent to my string of Os, but 4th grade has forced my girl to step up her game and she’s learning to apply herself in new ways…. spending more time on homework, and sometimes even having homework over the weekends. In fact, tomorrow Olivia is participating in her school’s National Geographic Challenge. She spent the latter part of this evening boning up facts like the country closest to the Tropic of Cancer and naming two cities in the Artic Circle.

I can tell she’s a little nervous, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure how she’ll do tomorrow; she thinks she probably could have spent a bit more time preparing. She’s probably right, but I’m also proud she’s giving it a shot.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Filling the Gap

Back in November, Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, announced the closing of 11 of the city’s libraries due to Philadelphia’s overwhelming deficit. This decision was met with a resounding condemnation by city residents, but Michael’s stood firm, while explaining that as difficult as this may be, it’s absolutely necessary in his attempt to continue to fund other vital city services. In addition to the libraries, other budget cuts include city recreation centers, swimming pools and the consolidation of a few of the firehouses.

As a kid, I remember my almost daily trips to the Yeadon library to feed my addiction to Judy Blume. I’d lose myself within the aisles of books trying to limit myself to checking out only three at a time. There is no doubt the seeds of my passion for reading were planted within those walls. Thankfully, my two children have been bitten by the reading bug and love our weekly visits to our neighborhood library. Olivia’s currently digging the Jim Benton’s Dear Dumb Diary series and Yannick loves comic books.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known Michael for years and I know these are not easy or frivolous choices for him. He’s a good, smart and thoughtful man.

But for the life of me, I don’t understand how he can deem a library, especially in an underserved community, as anything but an essential service, a cornerstone of many communities. And, I’m not alone because as I mentioned folks came out of the woodwork to express their outrage. A series of town hall meetings where scheduled throughout the city before the holidays and city officials, including Michael, listened intently as folks came forward and shared their personal stories about how these closing would adversely effect their lives. Many families use their local libraries as an ad hoc after school program for their kids. Especially in lieu of the expensive or often non-existent options for parents who have to find a safe place for their children after school. In this wretched economy, job seekers use the libraries internet access to look for jobs or revise their resumes. Elders use libraries as a resource or as a destination spot in their daily activities to stay connected to what’s happening in their communities.

Right before the new year, the Philadelphia’s plan to shutter these libraries was challenged in court and a judge halted the mayor’s intended action. The libraries are still open and Michael is still left with a huge budget gap to fill.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wii Havin' Fun

Has anyone out there heard of folks developing a Wii elbow or shoulder?

Santa bought the Mango Tribe a Wii this Christmas and hands-down it’s the best gift we’ve ever received. Everyone has been playing it, including my in-laws visiting from Sacramento and even my 80 year-old Aunt Elaine, who joined us for Christmas dinner. The kids, Loverman and me have even created our individual Miis and I’m happy to report that my Wii fitness age is an impressive 33 (not bad at all for a 43 year-old).

But, this morning after bowling a few rounds with the kids and beating Loverman in the best out of five in tennis, I noticed that my right shoulder is really sore and as pitiful as this may sound, playing these Wii games have been most physical exercise I’ve had in weeks. I had to pop two Motrin and take a nap to get myself together.

I’m sure hitting the tennis ball on the Wii Sports court may not be an adequate substitute for getting my butt out on a real tennis court, but it’s better than nothing. Now if I could just get my hands on the Wii Fit.