As part of its inaugural Locally Grown Festival Theater J is presenting the world premiere of The Hampton Years. Written by Jacqueline E. Lawton and directed by Shirley Serotsky, The Hampton Years explores the development of African-American artists, John Biggers and Samella Lewis while under the tutelage of Austrian Jewish refugee painter and educator, Viktor Lowenfeld during their time at Hampton Institute – now Hampton University - during WWII. As the play unfolds it reveals the dreams and travails of young artists in a still segregated society while examining the impact of World War II on a Jewish immigrant and his wife finding shelter in the US and his controversial influence in shaping the careers of African American students. The Hampton Years runs through June 30.
Archive for the Commentary Category
Being an elected official is a big and significant job …. But, at the end of the day, it is a job like any other. I believe that the same is true for all elected positions. While I have a tremendous respect for any person who chooses to run for office and serve their communities, I view them as being public servants and in the truest sense, American workers.
Men and women in elected positions should be seen as American workers because they have been (sel)elected by their peers to work to make their neighborhoods, cities, states and our nation better.
Like most other jobs in this economy, the application and interview process for these positions can be rigorous. Prior to election day, candidates interview for elected positions in advertisements, town hall meetings, debates, and anywhere else that a potential voter can see and hear them. Candidates tout their credentials, explaining to all who will listen why those credentials and their vision make them a better fit for the elected position than other candidates in the running.
Finally, when election day arrives, people head to the polls to select the best man (or woman) for the job. No longer a candidate, the elected person will move into the position and begin to do the work to make reality that vision she (or he) laid out in their campaign. Their success in the job depends heavily on their ability to realize their vision. Ultimately, voters decide whether they can keep their job by reelecting them or whether they should give that job to someone else.
But wait, is this really how other American jobs work? Usually, a worker is hired and along the way his manager – read the person that hired him or her – is going to manage the employee. Sadly, this is where American voters have gotten it wrong in recent years. Once a person is elected to office, too often voters haven’t acted like the hiring managers. I can’t think of any job where a person is just given the keys to their new office and are told by their boss, “I’ll be back in two or four years. Good luck!”
I know there are some frustrated people across the nation who are fed up with some of their elected officials and plan to vote them out in a few days. I speculate that these dissatisfied voters who feel their incumbents didn’t meet their expectations are like the unusual, almost never heard managers that leave employees on their own after the first day and never come back until they think they want to hire someone else. Voting someone out of office is fine, but should that be the first resort? Our jobs as Americans, is not just to put someone in office, but to support that person while he or she is in that position. Every citizen must pay attention and sound off in the governance of our cities, counties, states and our nation, all year long, not just in the months leading to and on election day. Elected officials are American workers who should be held accountable for their work 365 days a year. The future is in our hands as voters and we empower those we elect with the privilege to work to make that future a reality.
During campaign seasons I appreciate the emphasis being put on getting Americans to participate on election days, which is wonderful, but more attention needs to be given to sustainable civic engagement. Discourse on civic engagement moves beyond getting a citizen to check a box for a candidate on election day. Sustainable civic engagement involves getting that citizen to call, email or write a letter to elected officials during their terms to check on them and to support the vision that they selected through the election! Further, meaningful civic engagement and democracy building moves beyond training people from disenfranchised communities to register voters and knock on doors for a candidate to training more people from those communities to run for office, be the candidate and knock on doors in support of their own campaign.
The conversation about how and who is the best person to govern our local municipalities and our nation will intensify between now and election day 2012, but my greatest hope is that the day after election day people will still be having those conversations and remain vigilant and active on all the days between then and the next election day.
In August 2011 the long awaited Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial situated on the National Mall first opened to the general public and was later dedicated in a formal ceremony in October of the same year. The beautifully carved stone monument was meant to be a great monument to a great man for the entire world to see. While the monument has received mostly praise since it’s unveiling, it has also received some criticisms for the quotes selected to line the walls that flank the likeness of Dr. King which is the monuments centerpiece. Some have even offered unflattering critique to the likeness of Dr. King saying that it is either too small, doesn’t look enough like him or that they would have preferred his facial expression to look different than the current rendering.
But as the country celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King on the federal holiday in his honor, that has become a National Day of Service, ‘a day on not a day off’ I find myself reflecting once again on my visit to the MLK Memorial. I don’t remember a single quote and I faintly remember the size of the monument or the expression on his face. I do remember three things very vividly though about my experience.
It was a cool late summer afternoon in Washington. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun wouldn’t go down for some time after I left the office so I decided to walk down the green of the National Mall beyond the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial and venture ahead and to the left to see the MLK Memorial with my own eyes. The entire time I wondered what my grandfather and grandmother would have had to say about it if they were still alive.
When I arrived at the Memorial I was impressed by the hush of so many people who were gathered there. Hundreds of people were there but there was not a lot of talking or noise. It was mostly reverence. The most audible noise was the wind, inaudible you knew there were prayers of thankfulness being sent to God. Prayers for a number of reasons. The crowd was young and old, men, women and children and people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Quiet. Reflecting. Respectful.
I walked around for a few minutes before I heard someone call my name. It was a friend of one of my dear friends. He was sitting and taking in the monument for himself. He is African American, in his late forties and an out gay man who has lived in a domestic partnership with his life partner for nearly 20 years. We exchanged pleasantries.
I walked a few feet more and I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was a former colleague. She is a white woman, in her mid-thirties. She was there with her husband, an African American man who happened to be wearing his Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity sweater, and their handsome young son who seemed to be enjoying his time with his family and being outdoors. After I spoke to each of them I decided that I would head home.
As I headed out I heard my name called again. This time it was a young lady who once interned in the office next door to mine. She was excited to see me as I had always been a friendly face and offered her guidance when she asked. She explained that she did very well during her first year of college and that this semester she was home in Washington because she was interning in the Office of the Vice President. I was so proud of her.
Those three moments, those three people I saw are what I remember most about my visit to the MLK Memorial. I know that all three of their life experiences were greatly enriched by Dr. King’s work for equality in all areas of life. When we live our best life, love one another and take full advantage of the opportunities to serve and succeed, we each become living monuments honoring Dr. King.
Martin Luther King Day is every day. The true memorial to Dr. King is the way we live our lives.
One of the most wonderful things about Washington, DC is that there is always something new to discover and someplace to go that you have never been. Whether you have lived in Washington for just a few months, a few years, or even your entire life, there are an abundance of opportunities, experiences and adventures that are to be had. So often, however, those of us that dwell in the DC metro area find ourselves bound by habits and routines of going to the same familiar places. We’ll eat at the same restaurants out of complacency. Likewise, we’ll patronize the same theaters, museums, parks and galleries. We will attend the same festivals in the summer year after year, if for no other reason than it’s what we’ve always done. It is convenient and less scary not to venture beyond our normal paths and neighborhoods that we know so much about. We behave this way because it’s easy and comfortable. It is effortless and doesn’t take much thought to do what we have always done or go where we have always gone. It also means, though, that we continue to see the city through the same lens which we have always seen it. But 2012 we can all challenge ourselves to do something different!
The Substance & Style 2012 challenge to each Washingtonian is to spend an entire day in a ward of the District of Columbia where you do not reside, work or frequently play. Take the time to get to know and enjoy the city in a new way. From Dupont Circle to Fort Dupont, there are numerous parks to picnic, play or relax in. Art galleries like Honfleur and Morton Fine Art are great examples of the numerous galleries on either side of the Anacostia River that offer visitors visual treasurers. The DC Public Library also offers an array of programs and activities in libraries across the city. Cultural Tourism DC’s Neighborhood Heritage Trails provides self-guided walking tours of neighborhoods including Deanwood, Mount Pleasant, Tenleytown and Barracks Row. The walking tours are directed by signs that provide a great deal of history, stories and photos while you walk and create your own memories In every Ward of Washington, there lies something to enjoy and new people to meet. We simply must seek the opportunities to do so.
Visiting the cultural and civic sites in other neighborhoods can be entertaining, educational and empowering as it also is a chance to support many of the small and locally owned businesses that are the heart of the local economy. Building community and sustaining it requires us to make conscious efforts to shop and support local entrepreneurs. Substance and Style’s charge to you is to expand your “local” in 2012. Don’t just cross the street, cross the river. Spend a day on Barracks Row and an evening on U Street NW. Reach beyond your ward. Celebrate the diversity of the city. Expand your local!
February 27, 2011
To my Brothers and Sisters of Libya,
I greet you in peace and open arms. I have never traveled to your country and quite honestly until the events of the past few weeks I knew not much about you other than the tales of your leader. Even the stories I’d previously been told about the man who heads your nation have been somewhat colored I’m sure. Nevertheless, I have seen the news. I have been reading. I have watched videos online. I am drawn to you and know that because we are all children of the earth and citizens of the world we are connected.
Years ago I was taught that freedom is not free and that in order to obtain it and keep it that people must work day and night. It appears as though you have been toiling for a long night, more than 40 years, and that perhaps your day may soon break. I pray your safe passage to dawn.
Tonight the evening news reported that those trying to hold on to power are hunkering down in Tripoli, the capital of Libya and those that are who wish to bring about change and freedom are consolidating their resources to march into the capital and claim it for what is just and of and for the people. As I sat here watching the news in my home here in the capital of the United States of America, I thought about so many things.
First was my great respect for the men and women of Libya who are so thirsty for freedom and justice for themselves and their loved ones that they would be willing to sacrifice their lives today for a better Libya tomorrow. It made me sad for a moment to think of those who live in Washington, DC, who complain under their breath about ‘no taxation without representation’ who don’t so much as sacrifice a few moments of their time to pick up the phone and tell their family members in other parts of the country to pick up their phones and call their elected officials and ask for their help in granting more freedom to us.
Next, I thought about the current partisan rhetoric in our country right now. It saddens me. I am deeply disturbed that rather than work together the two dominant political parties appear to be more concerned with winning elections, favorability polls and pushing ideological agendas rather than focusing on issues upon which they can agree and most effectively move our country forward. Our elected officials should not only be grateful that we chose them to serve us in public office, but also that our nation provides such a beautifully written living document and infrastructure to help citizens and our country stand tall. We have a constitution. We have an infrastructure that includes separation of powers. And until recently, I thought we had grown ups in the House and Senate. We have the tools necessary to govern our great nation but the ones we are counting on to be models and do the governing in a responsible mature manner aren’t doing that. Many of them should be ashamed. The ills that are permeating our country, while far from perfect right now, still pale in comparison to what is happening in nations around the world.
Tonight, I also looked at the images of the men and women in the streets of your country and wondered where the children and elderly were. I wondered how a mother explains what is going in the streets to her children. I wondered what insight an elderly person who has lived in Libya his or her entire life would have to offer on where the country was, where it is and where it might be going – those essential voices of the nations past and future. I hold them up in light and love.
Because I am human, because I want what is best for my friends, family and loved ones, because I cherish freedom, security and the right to dream and make my dreams a reality, because I know so deeply what it is like to simply want to be heard – I stand with you my brothers and sisters.
Know that I am not there in body, but I am with you in spirit. I am with you and everyone in every capital city of every country on this earth. I am hopeful. I am prayerful.
One day every citizen of the world will know peace in this world.
May God bless and protect you.
Substance & Style
Six months ago the nation of Haiti experienced a devastating 7.0 earthquake that changed the lives of its adult and certainly its children. In the process of healing the mental and physical wounds of the disaster children had the opportunity to use art to express their feelings. The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art has collected some of their art and for its current exhibit The Healing Power of Art: Works of art by Haitian children after the earthquake. Don’t miss out on seeing these works and connecting with the spirit of the children of Haiti and more importantly, six months later don’t forget Haiti.
Most people who get paid to go to work show up. Most people who are told by their boss that they plan to adjust the management and operation systems typically adjust their work style. It is part of being what people love to call on their resumes a ‘team player’ and after all they have been told by their employer to do so. However, this is not the case with professional football player, Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins.
Haynesworth has decided to skip attending the Redskins mandatory minicamp citing that he doesn’t agree with the new defensive strategy the team intends to run this season. Mr. Haynesworth your behavior lacks both substance and style. His actions are a let down to his teammates and the fans of the Redskins. Truly, this athlete is not a role model.
In April of this year Haynesworth got a $21,000,000 bonus check - yes, which is on top of his salary. And the fact that puts all of this in perspective and should deeply trouble every Washingtonian and every Redskin fan is that his bonus is $1,000,000 more than what will be spent by the District of Columbia to finance the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). The SYEP is a seven week employment and training program that allows nearly 20,000 District youth, ages 14 to 21, with an opportunity to work. The budget for the program this year is $20,000,000.
A star athlete from a local sports team refusing to show up for work after receiving a bonus check for practically the same amount of money as it costs the city to try to teach and instill in its young people the value of working, earning an honest living and staying out of trouble is quite ironic. Or maybe it is just sad.
When most people think of white privilege it is done so in race theory, a way of “conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that whites accrue as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.” Over the past six days Washington, DC has been hit with a snowstorm that shattered decades old snowfall totals immediately followed by a blizzard with additional snow and unusually high winds.
This occurrence has illuminated yet another kind of ‘white privilege.’ This one not based on race so much as by where you stand economically and geographically in all the white stuff we call snow. Dismally explored on local newscast – if at all – was not the number of inches of snow that fell on the ground but how that snow disproportionately impacted the lives of some Washingtonians.
So Washingtonians with substance and style please remember….
You might be stuck in the house but you aren’t one of the more than 12,000 people living on the streets of Washington or in a homeless shelter.
You may have had trouble getting to work but you aren’t one of the estimated 30% of Ward 8 residents who is unemployed. The total unemployment for all of DC is 12.1%.
You might have experienced a power outage but at least you know your light bill has been paid and will be cut on as soon the work crews can restore it. Some people didn’t have all their utilities before the first flake hit the ground.
You may have had to stand in long lines at and not gotten everything you wanted at Giant, Whole Foods or Harris & Teeter but about 88,400 different people receive emergency food assistance in any given week from the Capital Area Food Bank.
Be safe, be kind to your neighbors, be conscious of your own privilege and know that you are blessed.
“I hate to see you under these circumstances, but nevertheless it is good to see you.” That is such a common line heard at many funerals. Family members often gather together in times of high celebration or deep sorrows say this when they greet each other. Tragedy is too often what pulls people together, reminds them of the greatest gift that is life itself and appreciative of the ones that mean so much to them.
People also then say, “I’m going to do a better job at keeping in touch.” Then you see them only at the next funeral. There lies the true tragedy.
As I think about the outpouring of support to the brothers and sisters in Haiti in their time of need following the most horrific natural disaster that shook the capital city of Port-au-Prince I must also pray that it will shake those around the world to action – and not just right now. Before the earthquake hit the people of Haiti were living in a country plagued by poverty, illiteracy, poor sanitation, a shortage of clean drinking water, pitiable access to basic health care and corrupt leadership. So, before the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, it had already been hit by political, economic and social ills.
Haiti is not alone. Children all over the world, elders in every corner of the Earth, men and women of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds are living in conditions in which average Americans would think they’d die in and work, resources and prayers should be given to them as well – not just in times of disaster. Those who can, must band together at all times. All times for all people.