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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

new era

Well, 2009 is just about here. In the linear world, this mark of time matters. In the grand scheme of things, it is just the infinite universe. But since we are unwilling to figure out how to use our 10 dimensions and the full power of our brains, we are comforted by the man-made phenomenon that we call time. So in honor of our superstitious rites, I thought I would consider what I am looking forward to in 2009.

The inaugural of the new President can't come soon enough. I'm looking forward to the country working together to address our financial, ecological, and personal issues. kum-bay-ah and all that.

Wouldn't it be great if the election of Obama and the presence of our new first family gave hope to millions of African-Americans in our country? A friend and I were discussing how things will ever change in the glacially slow evolution of our race relations. We settled on the notion that hope is an underrated salve for our interpersonal warfare. If we continue to give meaning to difference, then race will forever be an issue that divides us v. them and enabling the question who is better than the other. By demystifying racial differences and putting meaning on success instead of competition based on race - well, we might make some progress.

Related to demystifying racial differences is the acceleration of educational achievement for kids in the worst performing schools. How can we continue to let generation after generation of young minds go to waste because we refuse to change our educational process to actually ensure that children learn. I'm so tired of teachers complaining that they can't be social workers and teachers too. I'm sick of hearing that there is no money for schools. It is a national nightmare that we place more emphasis on standardized test results than we do on actually producing well educated people. These issues have been plaguing our education system for many years. Get over it and get on with the important work we must do. Teach, educate, and ensure that learning goes on. You know what the characteristics of the students are, what conditions you will have, and what needs to be taught - so get on with it and figure out how to get it done. Enough with the excuses. I don't care if it takes one teacher for every student - do it.

Having a community organizer as our head of state, hopefully will produce attention to our urban ills. We have learned much since our last serious national effort at urban revitalization - see the Jimmy Carter administration... Let's hope our new prez puts his sklz to good use and sends some new options to cities. If we have to keep tweaking the margins, we will never see any significant improvement. I'll be sitting by the phone in case the administration needs some advise.

On a more personal front, I am looking forward to another Gator championship in football, rooting for the Cubs to actually succeed in post season, and enjoying all the benefits of powerfully living a life I love. Check out landmark education to experience what I enjoy every day. I look forward to continuing to put my virtual pen to virtual paper on this blog and contributing to a better world. See you in 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Katrina aftermath says it all - depression may be next round

The Nation has done an interesting story and expose of the aftermath of Katrina in Algiers Point - a white area of New Orleans. Vigilantes took to the streets and shot "looters." Problem is that some of those people were simply trying to find dry ground and Algiers was dry. Other people were trying to get to the National Guard processing point to catch a bus to Houston. The video shows a couple of shooting victims watching Algiers residents boast about their vigilante heroics. This is a sad and viscous commentary on the state of race relations. Here is the full story.

There are stories coming out about a significant uptick in shoplifting as the economic woes of our country grow worse. It is only a matter of time before the vigilante fever erupts in other places of the country that will experience dire straits. Donations to charities and toy drives are down and the need is increasing daily. We need to think about how we as a nation of people will address the crisis that is building. How will we help our neighbors? How will we help the destitute? Will we be willing to give up our material goods, share food and space, and help people or will we resort to "protecting what's mine" and be a vigilante? The economic downturn right now is like a plague - people are hoping that their home is not taken and that their job is not cut. But even if you are not individually a victim or hit by the depression, you will be affected. Everyone will feel the sting as others feel the pain. Everyone will lose a little as others lose everything. This is not a rising river that we can outrun. This is a tsunami and we will all be touched. I worry that race will be the first line of demarcation and that people will stoop to the easy route of racism in order to "protect" themselves.

I read a story today about a wealthy black businessman with a family foundation who has dropped a million dollars on inaugural festivities that will be made available to poor people, wounded veterans, nonprofit volunteers. A nice gesture for sure. They will witness the history in DC on Jan. 20. But I can't help but think that in these economic times if we don't need to be thinking about more strategic uses of $1million. It's his money and he can throw a party or burn it. Whateva.

But what do we do on Jan. 21? Let's not let Algiers set the standard for how we deal with the fear that comes with crisis.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O'Neil

I am a really avid baseball fan - Chicago Cubs. My favorite player from my day was Billy Williams. Most people think of the Cubs and think Ernie "Mr. Cubs" Banks or Ron Santo - current radio voice of the Cubs and shamefully kept out of the Hall.

I had the good fortune of living in KC, home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum - a must visit if you are anywhere in the vicinity or visiting in the area. The Negro Leagues existed when the Major Leagues were segregated - BJR (before Jackie Robinson). The Negro teams were amazing and had a number of great players (some who went on to the MLB when it integrated) and some who retired long before the opportunity became available. The Museum chronicles the teams and all the great history of the players and the times. One of the greats was John "Buck" O'Neil. He was my hero and died a couple of years ago.

Buck O'Neil grew up in Florida and wanted to attend the University of Florida - my alma mater. He was turned down because UF at the time was segregated. Buck played baseball for the KC Monarchs and was a standout, though not the best player. He went on to become the first African-American coach in the MLB - for the Chicago Cubs. He was a talent scout and signed Ernie Banks to the Cubs. So, you can see that for me, I had to love Buck.

In his retirement, Buck took on the Negro Leagues with great passion, becoming the ambassador for their story and champion of the museum. Of course, in KC he was a legend and celebrity. He was a tireless and incredibly optimistic supporter of the mission of the Museum across the country. Annually, there is a dinner and weekend in KC for African-American ball players that draws a number of luminaries from the MLB to support the museum. Very cool. All these fans of the Leagues and friends of Buck fought to get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sadly, shamefully, an error of historic proportions, worst judgment in history - Buck was denied entry into the Hall in his last opportunity when a vote was taken for Negro League players. With great aplomb, Buck said it was ok and in one of the classiest moments in baseball history - Buck spoke at their induction at the Hall. That's who he was and the character he infused into the Museum. (Note: a statue of Buck was erected outside the Hall - once again indicating the closed door policy of the MLB...).

Buck had a dream for KC - to build an education center for kids in the building where the Negro Leagues were formed. It is a beautiful old red brick structure that has been closed for years and is a silent sentinel to what will be Buck's legacy. I started a group on the UF Alumni social network site - the Gator Nation - called Gators Love Baseball - as a tribute to Buck and his connection to the University. I had hoped to have Buck recognized by the Alumni association, but sadly, he died before I was successful. I hoped that Gator Alumni would donate to Buck's dream.

This weekend the Museum hired a new Executive Director, Greg Baker. There are concerns that the Museum will drop their plans for the Education Center. One, the Museum has always been in financial peril and two, the fundraising for the Center has been lackluster to say the least. Seems that when Buck died, the enthusiasm for these efforts died with him.

I contacted Greg as soon as I heard he had been selected. I've known him and his family since arriving in KC. I am pledging to redouble my efforts to this cause. Maybe the Museum will spin off the Center to another group. Maybe it won't. Doesn't matter - as both causes will go on. The African-American community is quite stirred up about the 8-7 board vote that settled on Greg. I don't envy him having to go into a divided situation like that. Jason Whitlock, sports commentator, wrote a scathing column about Greg's selection. Way to support the cause, Jason! Comments about Greg center on questioning his commitment to the Museum, his commitment to the black community, and his professional skills. Glad the community could come together to honor Buck's memory. Well. I loved Buck. I love baseball. I love UF. I love the Cubs. I have no choice but to support the Museum and the Center. Expect to read more about it here!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Urban Policy Agenda

The election was like no other and now this new administration is engaging in a transition like no other. Bold and innovative don't begin to describe the way the Obama group is shaping up how government will be approached. From YouTube vids, to podcasts, to blogs, to a completely open and transparent process - you can watch it all unfold AND engage in the process. Talk about a 180 change from the secretive administration of Bush. This is great stuff! Here is the link the to the Urban Policy agenda. It covers a lot of territory and I suspect it will be implemented using many interrelated strategies, new tools, and participation from every corner of our country. I particularly like the attention to "green" approaches to economic development and urban revitalization. These are approaches that make sense and can have a meaningful impact on our cities.It also has a focus on the next generation - urban education, youth violence, technology and new industry - things we can build on, not just the typical panoply of programs.

As an urbanist and someone who is dedicated to the preservation, resurrection, and advancement of cities as a significant piece of our national fabric, I am elated that we have a new administration that a: knows what a city is, b: understands that "urban" is not a dirty word and c: is willing to be bold and creative in actually making a difference with federal policies towards our cities. Honestly, not since Nixon have we seen such attention given to Urban America and this broad of a scale. Clinton paid attention to cities but the attention was narrowly focused and conceived. He was more about "reform" than "innovative." But that was his place in history and I get that. Obama has the luxury of a paradigm shift and is taking full advantage of it. Very Kennedy-esque. You might want to bookmark and visit it often. It is where our country is going and it will be a great ride!