February 20th, 2015

If film starts dialogue about black gay issues, it succeeds

Only three members of Bluegrass Black Pride walked as a gay contingent in the Roots and Heritage Parade last year in Lexington, but Thomas Tolliver put it on his list of 2014 highlights.
The group has been making concerted efforts to raise the visibility of black gays and lesbians locally.
“The white gay community has made so many advances,” Tolliver said. “There are a number of white people elected to public office and serving on influential boards as openly gay people.”
But when it comes to black gays and lesbians, the most memorable person remains James Herndon, better known as “Sweet Evening Breeze.” Herndon, a beloved and colorful character, never shied from wearing women’s clothes while walking down Main Street in the early 1900s.
“Sweet Evening Breeze was way ahead of his time,” Tolliver said. “He was accepted because of his eccentrics. I don’t doubt that we have our own James Baldwin right here in Lexington, our own Langston Hughes, our own Don Lemon, and, yes, perhaps our own Michael Sam right here in Lexington, but the stigma associated with being black and gay prevents them from coming out. That needs to change.”
In the black community, being gay is a negative, Tolliver explained. “It goes against the strong macho man” image, he said. “We hide it rather than deal with the discrimination.”

Thomas Tolliver, center, marched in the Roots and Heritage Parade in September, with John Bentley, left, chairman of Bluegrass Black Pride, and Mark Johnson.

Thomas Tolliver, center, marched in the Roots and Heritage Parade in September, with John Bentley, left, chairman of Bluegrass Black Pride, and Mark Johnson.

Bluegrass Black Pride, comprised of more than a dozen lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender residents, was established in 2013 as an advocacy group to unite the black LGBT community.
“One of the things that Bluegrass Black Pride wanted to do was start a conversation about being black and gay,” said Tolliver.
As a conversation starter, the group, along with JustFundKy, Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health, is hosting a free showing of The New Black, a 2013 award-winning documentary written, directed and produced by Yoruba Richen. The film explores how the black community and black churches address gay rights by following activists, families and clergy on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue in 2012 in Maryland. The film begins on the morning of the election and backtracks to fill the viewer in on the players and events that led up to it.NewBlackFilm-Poster_thumb
“We see this documentary as a tool by which we might educate some people, dispel some myths and empower some other LGBT folks,” Tolliver said.
The subject matter is particularly pertinent now because of the battles waging in Alabama and even in Kentucky regarding marriage equality. Last year, a U.S. District Judge in Louisville ruled that Kentucky’s one man-one woman definition of marriage discriminates against gays and lesbians and is unconstitutional.
Gov. Steve Beshear hired a private law firm to appeal that ruling after Attorney General Jack Conway refused to. The 6th Circuit Court, however, ruled against same-sex couples.
That led to last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review two Kentucky cases and four others to decide whether states must recognize same-sex marriages.
“I commended Jack Conway,” Tolliver said, adding that Conway publicly declined to push the issue a few days before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Frankfort. Tolliver carried a sign in that march that read “Bravo, Jack Conway.”
The New Black will be shown at 2 p.m., Feb. 28 in the Farish Theater at the Central Library, 140 East Main Street.
“I don’t know that just by showing this film that anybody’s mind will be changed,” he said, “and that’s not the point. Our objective here is to start a dialogue in Lexington about being black and gay. We cannot break down the barriers if we refuse to acknowledge they exist.”

 

IF YOU GO
What: The New Black, an award-winning 2013 documentary that follows black gay activists, church members and families as they examine their attitudes about gay rights and marriage equality.
When: 2 p.m., Feb. 28.
Where: Farish Theater at the Central Library, 140 E. Main St.
Cost: Free.

February 20th, 2015

Story of UK’s black football trailblazers subject of CBS film

By the time I entered the University of Kentucky as a freshman in 1969, the football team had been integrated and UK had become the first Southeastern Conference team to have black players.
Nate Northington from Louisville and Greg Page from Middlesboro were the first black players awarded football scholarships at UK after a concerted push from UK President John Oswald and Kentucky Gov. Edward T. Breathitt, who wanted to integrate the football players in the SEC.
When I arrived on campus, Page had died from an accident on the practice field in 1967 and Northington had left the

Nate Northington

Nate Northington

team.
Still Running: The Autobiography of Kentucky’s Nate Northington, the First African American Football Player in the Southeastern Conference, details the time Northington spent at UK. Lexington Herald-leader sportswriter Mark Story has interviewed him a few times in recent years.
What really hit home with me was when I saw Northington struggling, 50 years later, with the death of Page, his friend and roommate, on a documentary that is airing on the CBS Sports network.
Forward Progress: The Integration of SEC Football debuted on Feb. 16, and will be shown at least seven more times during Black History Month.
That film rightfully shows how Breathitt and Oswald moved mountains to push UK ahead of the traditional thinking of the SEC. They wanted black football players to tackle the color barriers in the South and they wanted UK to be the school to move that idea forward.
They hadn’t made much headway with UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp in integrating the basketball team. They succeeded with football coach Charlie Bradshaw.
But no one anticipated Page’s death or the amount of grief that burdened Northington.
Although he became the first black player in the SEC, Northington began skipping classes. He said he had lost his motivation. As punishment, the coaches took away his meal tickets and wouldn’t allow him to eat with his fellow players. In the film, Northington said he thought they would make him run extra sprints or something on that order. But to take away his ability to eat was too much.
He quit the team and later signed with Western Kentucky University, where he became the star running back on the 1970 Ohio Valley Conference championship team.
The documentary has comments from Coach Joe B. Hall; Basketball Hall of Famer Wes Unseld; Houston Hogg and Wilbur Hackett, the first two black players to follow in the footsteps of Page and Northington; UK history professor Gerald Smith; and from Porter G. Peeples, Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County president and CEO.
But by far the most moving moments come when Northington, a minister and the recently retired regional director of property management with the Louisville Metropolitan Housing Authority, was talking about his friend Page.
Tears were never far away despite his nervous chuckle and the smile that was for show only. When he spoke of being lonely, I felt it. When he said Page was his friend, I could almost see their closeness.
The documentary brought home to me the pain of being the first. It also made me realize, had something as devastating as a player’s paralysis and death occurred in this era, more would have been done to counsel teammates.
We have come a long way. A long way.
In the film, Peeples, who was a UK student during those years and who traveled by bus with other black students to Page’s funeral, called Northington and Page “our Jackie Robinson.”
“Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, giving African-Americans all over the country a player on the field they could root for and identify with,” Peeples said Wednesday. “That’s what Nate and Greg did for us at the university.
“I thought CBS did a great job with it,” Peeples said. “I think they told a story that should have been told long ago, 50 years ago.”
I do, too. If you get a chance, watch the film. UK comes out looking pretty good in this one. The strength of Northington and the character shown by Page’s father looks even better.

Showtimes
Forward Progress: The Integration of SEC Football, a documentary on the University of Kentucky integrating Southeastern Conference football, is showing on the CBS Sports network during Black History Month.
When: Midnight and 11 p.m., Feb. 21; 11 a.m., Feb 22; 9 p.m., Feb. 23; 7 p.m., Feb. 24; 11 p.m., Feb. 27; and 2 a.m., Feb. 28.

February 20th, 2015

Women make educating Kenyan girls their mission

Carolyn Witt Jones and Jo Robertson were only casual acquaintances before their mission trip to Kenya in 2011.
“Carolyn was going alone, and I didn’t know her very well,” Robertson said. “I wanted to go on safari. So I said I will go with you if you will go on a safari with me.”
Both women got what they wanted and more.
They spent a month in Ken­ya visiting HIV ­orphanages and churches, and returned with their hearts set on doing something to make the lives of women in Kenya better.

Photos similar to this will be on display at the library.

Photos similar to this will be on display at the library.

“The girls in Kenya are treated just awful,” Robertson said. “They will sell her for a cow or a goat.”
If the girls stay in their villages past age 12, they can end up with 10 children by the time they reach their 20s, Jones said. “About 85 percent are abused in some way. It is staggering.”
Polygamy is still practiced, as is female circumcision, she said.
“These are bright, energetic girls trying to make the best of their lives,” Jones said. “We wanted to do something.”
She and Robertson chose education as their means of helping and formed Kenyan Girls Forward, a nonprofit organization. Robertson is a retired educator in Fayette County Public Schools and at Eastern Kentucky University. Jones heads the Partnership for ­Successful Schools at Georgetown College.
The women connected with Selline Korir, co-founder and former director of Rural Women Peace Link, a grass-roots organization in Kenya that focuses on women’s issues.
Korir had been sold for a cow but was fortunate to become the wife of an Episcopal priest. “He was a good guy,” Robertson said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
kenyan2Through that network of women, Korir finds girls whose families cannot afford to pay the tuition required for them to attend high school.
Tuition would be $350 a year. The women started out soliciting money to pay for four years of tuition for five students, which seemed manageable.
They started Kenyan Girls Forward, and the women contacted the Blue Grass Community ­Foundation, which receives the donations and then three times a year forwards the money to the ICAN international foundation in Washington, which then forwards it to Rural Women Peace Link.
Sponsors, who are asked to commit to providing four years of tuition, receive a photograph of the girls they are helping, along with their grades three times a year. Correspondence is encouraged, and many ­relationships have been forged.
If they excel on the national exam, the girls can go to college tuition-free, but they have to pay their fees and other expenses.kenyan3
From the idea of ­providing for five girls, ­Kenyan Girls Forward is now supporting more than 50. Some of the girls graduated and are attending college.
Helping girls in Kenya reach their potential is such a strong story, Jones said, that several groups, churches and individuals have pooled money to ­support more than one girl.
“Why wouldn’t we do this?” Jones said. “I can spend $350 a year on ­frivolous things.”
Most of the girls attend boarding schools near their villages, but some families require them to return home daily to help with the chores.
“Many will walk home, help with family responsibilities, study by night with lanterns, and then walk back to school,” Jones said. “Being somewhat close by, the families are counting on those girls for family support.”
kenyan4.Though more than 50 girls are receiving help, many more girls are in need. To get the word out, Robertson will have a photo display of pictures she has taken in Africa at the Central Library beginning March 2.
To sponsor a girl, contact Jones at (859) 333-0944, or Robertson at (859) 333-1940.
“If anyone is interested, call us,” Robertson said. “If any group is interested in hearing about it, we will go and speak.”

TO HELP
What: Kenyan Girls Forward, a nonprofit group that pays tuition for girls to attend high school in Kenya, will have a photography display at the Central Library.
When: During library hours, beginning March 2.
Where: Central Library Gallery, 140 E. Main St.
Information and to donate:  (859) 333-0944 or (859) 333-1940.

February 20th, 2015

Agency’s fundraiser helps refugees re-settle in Lexington

With the help of an interpreter, Joel Rosales, a refugee from Cuba, explained how he came to paint a chair, one of about 16 that will be auctioned to benefit the Kentucky Refugee Ministries in Lexington.
During one of the classes refugees are required to attend to help their transition to America, Rosales said his teacher, Luella Pavey, had the class paint flower pots. His artistry was so well received, months later he was asked to paint the chair.
“It was a good idea for me,” Rosales said, finding the words in English to express his feelings. “Many here need the funds to help other refugees, for housing and food. And, then, I like painting.”

Artists Aous Alnaasree, left, with achair he calls "fire and ice" and Joel Rosales, right, with a chair he calls "Cuba" at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Photos by Charles Bertram.

Artists Aous Alnaasree, left, with achair he calls “fire and ice” and Joel Rosales, right, with a chair he calls “Cuba” at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Photos by Charles Bertram.

His chair, which he said is “para el pueblo Americano,” for the American people, includes images reflective of Cuba. We can sometimes forget just how talented some of the people are who manage to make it to America after leaving their war-torn or politically oppressive homelands, said Barbara Kleine, director of KRM.
Rosales, 42, was a telecommunications engineer, artist and photographer before he emigrated to Canada in September, 2013, and then to Lexington in June, 2014 to be with friends.
Now, however, he is grateful to be working at Webasto, making sunroofs. When his English improves, he said, he will try to re-establish himself in the field of information technology.
Aous Alnaasree, 35, an Iraqi immigrant who came to Lexington in July with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, worked as a senior motion graphic designer for a TV station before being forced out of his country. They had spent four years as refugees in Syria and were then forced to move to Jordan for two years.
“There is not enough financial support of an organization like this,” Alnaasree said. “There are so many refugees from all around the world, Africa, Asia, the Middle East.
“They arrive here looking for a better life, better chances, but we start to figure out the truth,” he said. “There is not enough financial support.”

An African themed chair painted by Talizo Kombaki at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

An African themed chair painted by Talizo Kombaki at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

He has been looking for a job in his field, but is currently unemployed.
It is sometimes harder for refugees with high qualifications, especially physicians, to start at the bottom, Kleine said. But KRM is there to help and that’s how the money raised at KRM’s Third Annual Rockin’ Round the World fundraising event will be used.
The event on March 6 will be filled with food, drink and performances by the Refugee Children’s Choir, selections by Abraham Mwinda, and dancing to the sounds of Boogie G and the Titanics.
Also there will be a silent auction of the chairs, some of which were painted by refugees and others by staff members and local artists.
“All the money goes directly to client support,” Kleine said, including emergency housing, utilities and medical needs.
The U.S. State Department provides every refugee with $925, she said. Out of that, the deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment is subtracted, along with the purchase of beds, pillows and “everything you need if you are a refugee getting off an airplane with one suitcase,” Kleine said.
Since KRM’s establishment in Lexington in 1998, 2,500 refugees from 32 countries have settled here. “Last year we had a huge year,” Kleine said, with 299 people immigrating, most joining families that were already here. KRM is expecting 250 to 260 this year.
“Most of the refugees now have a U.S. tie,” she said. “A friend or a relative.”
The largest contingent of refugees is Congolese, she said. A lot of Iraqis are still coming, and the number of Afghanis is growing. The number of Bhutanese, however, is slowing as the refugee camps in Nepal are closing down.
KRM’s goal is to find employment for the refugees and help them become self-sufficient. English classes are first on the list, along with classes on cultural adjustment and working in the U.S. It takes an average of 120 days to find work.
Refugees differ from other immigrants, Kleine said, in that “refugees really don’t have a choice,” she said. “Their only other choice is to live in a refugee camp for another 10 to 20 years.”

Barbara Kleine

Barbara Kleine

Worldwide, there are about 15 million refugees, but fewer than 1 percent resettle in countries like America.
“The other 99 percent are languishing,” Kleine said. “The ones that get here are really the lucky ones.”
Alnaasree is fully aware of that. He painted a chair for the auction in abstract design. He also designed the event’s flyers.
“The people at KRM are trying to understand all these different people with different experiences and different knowledge from different cultures,” he said. “Painting the chair is a small thing I can do for them.”

If you go
What: Kentucky Refugee Ministries’ “Rockin’ Round the World,” a fundraiser with music, food, drinks and a silent auction featuring chairs hand-painted by refugees, staff and local artists.
When: 7 p.m. March 6.
Where: The Livery, 238 East Main St.
Cost: Tickets are $65; $45 for age 34 and younger; discounts for purchase of multiple tickets. Price includes dinner and two drinks.
Tickets: Purchase online at kyrm.org/rockinroundtheworld.
Information: Call (859) 226-5661.

February 9th, 2015

For Sifford, golf’s racism made it easy to be hard

Golfing great Gary Player, when introducing his friend and fellow golfer Charles Luther Sifford at his induction into the 2004 World Golf Hall of Fame, said some people called Sifford mean.
Other people called him ornery and bitter.
But, Player said, none of his friends or fellow golfers did.
The more I read about the first black golfer to hold a PGA Tour card, the more I understand why he may have been that way and may have had the right to be. After all, how would you feel if there were organized efforts in place to keep you from fully using your God-given gifts?
Sifford, the man who broke the color barrier in golf, died Feb. 3, just three months after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the man who broke the color barrier in the White House. He was 92.
I didn’t know about him. Lee Elder was the first black golfer I ever heard of. But the more I read about Sifford, the more I understood why he would have a chip on his shoulder.

Charlie Sifford

Charlie Sifford

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Sifford began caddying at the Carolina Country Club for 60 cents a day when he was about 10. He taught himself the game on days when the club was closed.
After serving in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to the States thinking he could make a living as a professional golfer. That was not to be. Not for a long time, anyway.
Sifford was not the only black golfer at that time. In fact, there were more black golfers who could have qualified for the PGA Tour in the 1940s than there are now.
That didn’t bode well with members of the PGA. In 1943, members inserted “Caucasians only from North or South America” into qualifications for membership.
Sifford had to play on the black circuit and in Canada. He won six Negro National Open titles on that circuit, five of them in a row, 1952-56.
In 1952, during the Phoenix Open, where black and white golfers could play, there was human feces in the cup when he reached the first green. No one seemed to know how it got there.
On a traditionally quiet golf course, it became routine to have people yell out just as he began his swing, or to kick his ball away or hide it under trash. The N-word and other racial slurs became a part of the game, right along with death threats and intimidation.
I would think appearing mean was his defensive mechanism. He never went too far, though.
In 2000, Sifford told The Associated Press, “If I hadn’t acted like a professional when they sent me out, if I did something crazy, there would never be any blacks playing. I toughed it out. I’m proud of it. All those people were against me, and I’m looking down on them now.”
In 1959, he gained the attention of California Attorney General Stanley Mosk. Mosk demanded to know why the PGA would not allow Sifford to play on tour if it were not just because of his race. The PGA gave in and approved Sifford as a tournament player in 1960. He became a rookie that year at age 39.
Still, even with the card, doors didn’t swing open.
“To give you an example,” Sifford said in a 1986 interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Sifford said he kept playing and trying to play. “…I just wouldn’t quit. I couldn’t let them win. I just wanted things to change. Change has come slow.”
Very slow.sifford2
Sifford won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967, which usually included an invitation to play in the Masters. No invitation came. In 1969, he won the Los Angeles Open, which also usually brought with it an invitation to the Masters. Again, none came.
“When I won a tournament, they changed the rules for who was eligible,” Sifford said in 1997. “Same thing when I won another tournament. They had a group of people in charge who didn’t see where it was beneficial to let blacks play. From the very first, I had to be better and tougher than other players, so I kept bothering them and bothering them about it. Finally, when Lee Elder won a tournament in 1974, he was in.”
Elder became the first black golfer to play the Masters in 1975. Sifford never played in the Masters.
When Tiger Woods, who called Sifford his grandfather, won his first Masters in 1997, Sifford watched on TV from his home in Texas. Sifford said he would never set foot in Augusta and he didn’t.
Sifford became one of the founding members of the PGA Senior Tour, where he finally earned some of the money he should have in his prime.
“I don’t know how I made it sometimes,” Sifford said in a Herald-Leader interview. “The good Lord was with me, I guess. Sometimes it felt like he was the only one on my side.”
“Sometimes, I think what it would have been like if I could have played the tour when I was at my best,” he said.  “Don’t get me wrong. Golf has been good to me. It just could have been a whole lot better.
“But, you can’t dwell on that,” he continued. “It’s gone. It’s not important, I guess, that I didn’t make it real big. It’s important that I made it. At least, it did open the door for a few more blacks.”
Sifford never blamed the players; he blamed the golf establishment.
When Sifford died last week, Woods tweeted: “Terrible loss for golf and me personally. My grandfather is gone and we all lost a brave, decent and honorable man.”
Sifford may have been ornery and bitter because of what happened to him. I just hope the Hall of Fame induction and the Medal of Honor ceremony made up for a lack of accolades during his prime. Maybe, before he died, those old wounds were healed.

February 9th, 2015

Holocaust born from marginalizing minorities

Irma Rosenstein of Lexington called a few days ago with a request. She wanted me to change what I had planned for that evening to watch CNN and Voices of Auschwitz, a documentary featuring Jewish survivors of concentration camps in Poland that were operated by Nazi Germany in World War II.
“You watch it and I will call you tomorrow and see what you think,” she said.
I sensed urgency in her voice and decided to do as she asked.
I had met Rosenstein in 2011 and admired her passion for social issues and her willingness to act.
This time, though, she was burdened with sadness for those who had lost their lives in Europe because of intolerance and even hatred, as well as those who had survived the death and labor camps only to be haunted by horrific images and memories.

Irma Rosenstein

Irma Rosenstein

Later that evening, I also received a text message from a member of my Bible study urging the group to watch.
Rosenstein and members of my study group, who are mostly black, represent a time when the persecution and oppression of certain groups were sanctioned by some segments of society and ignored by others, allowing hate crimes to blossom.
When Rosenstein called the next day, she seemed even more depressed than the day before. She was astonished that more was not acknowledged locally of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet Union soldiers.
“I thought it was the demarcation of a very important anniversary,” she said.
So many people died, some say as many as six million Jews during the Holocaust, and about 1.1 to 1.3 million Jews, Gypsies, disabled people, gays, dissidents and political prisoners in the Auschwitz camps alone. We need to remember that, Rosenstein said.
Born and reared in New York, Rosenstein, now 92, still remembers the loss of innocence.
“We had never felt or heard anything like that in our lives,” Rosenstein said. “We were young, bright Americans. How could you believe something like that could happen?”
The anniversary serves as a trigger for waves of sadness and a reminder to people to never forget. Those people who died “would say please remember us,” Rosenstein said. “They died for a reason and the reason is still there.”
That’s true. Anti-Semitism is alive and well, as evidenced by the killing of four Jews in a kosher market in Paris last month by an Islamic radical.
“Have we learned anything at all?” she asked, rhetorically.
Some of us have. Others still use intolerance as a footstool on which we stand taller than others.
The lessons that should be learned from the Holocaust all hinge on acceptance of diversity, and tolerance of differences, Rosenstein said.
Trouble begins when ordinary citizens choose to remain silent while others are mistreated, which is what happened in Europe before World War II and seems to be gaining a foothold again, she said.
“News from the headlines about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe have some clear connections to the themes of the Holocaust, but so do examples closer to home,” she said. “The rising intolerance against new immigrants (in the United States) and the stark disconnect between so many African-Americans and police serve as examples of how easy it is to create and marginalize minorities.”
The Holocaust is a case study of the moral consequences of citizens allowing those in authority to negatively label a group of people so that the group’s mistreatment seems justified. When we are willing to abandon our consciences, our sense of fairness, just to be accepted by the group in authority, we make the extreme palatable.
There is danger in seeing ‘us’ as individuals and ‘them’ as a monolithic mass, Rosenstein said.
“The murder of six million Jews could not have happened on such a scale without the participation of masses of ordinary citizens,” she said. “Killing Jews had no major political or economic justification; it was an end in itself.”
They were Jews. They weren’t seen as German or Polish or Russian. They were non-human and, therefore, OK to kill.
“That is such a stupid thing,” Rosenstein said. “That is stupidity. I can’t use any other word.”
That scenario should never be allowed to unfold again. We all must remember the lives lost in the Holocaust so that we won’t allow that to recur. Not to Jews. Not to blacks. Not to Hispanics. Not to gays. Not to anyone.
“The Holocaust prompts us to continually reflect on the role individuals have in shaping history,” Rosenstein said. “It teaches us that the choices they make every day — in thought and in action — can have an effect on each other and on history.
“The lessons of the Holocaust prompt us as Americans to ask what it means to be a citizen in a democracy,” she said, “and to understand how to exercise our rights and responsibilities to create a more compassionate world.”
While there wasn’t a big deal made in Lexington for the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, there will be a public observance of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 19 at 10 a.m. On that day, Lexington’s Jewish community invites all of us to Temple Adath Israel to join in the commemoration of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945.
The least we can do until then is study the mindset that allowed the Holocaust to happen so that it never happens again.
Thank you for reminding me, Irma.

 

February 9th, 2015

Book Project needs donations for India, Uganda

At one time, I was into wild birds.
I ignored my husband’s constant complaints about having to weed-eat around the multiple bird feeder poles I had pounded into “his” lawn in the backyard. And I dismissed as signs of gratitude the many gifts left by my feathered friends after they had filled their ­tummies.
I bought book after book about North American birds and have continued to dust them off even though I have not opened any of them for years.
Those books came to mind after I spoke with Chassity Neckers last week.
Neckers, director of development for the ­International Book Project, said the Lexington-based not-for-profit organization needs help in filling two sea containers with books. One container will be shipped in late February and the other in April.
Each container, one destined for India and the other for Uganda, can hold 20,000 to 30,000 books, so we need to get moving.
“What we need most are fiction and nonfiction, informational and textbooks,” she said.

Chassity Neckers

Chassity Neckers

Informational books could be about insects, animals, planets, the body, countries and people, or perhaps weather phenomena. And they can always use children’s books.
“Once the shipments get to the destination, they disperse them, a lot of times for an entire village or multiple schools and libraries or universities,” Neckers said.
The book project relies heavily on personal donations, although some bookstores have also been generous.
“I am sure there are schools and libraries that would love to give their books and we’d love to take them,” Neckers said. “A lot of people don’t know we are here and that we take books.”
I wondered if the move to digital books was hurting donations.
“We haven’t found that to be a problem yet,” she said.
While a lot of people have embraced Kindles and other e-readers, they still have a lot of paper books. “I still like the feel of a book,” she said.
The book project has been promoting literacy, education and global friendship by sending hundreds of thousands of books each year to schools, libraries, churches, community organizations and Peace Corps volunteers throughout the world and the United States.
seacontainer(1)Harriet Van Meter started the organization after a visit to India in 1965, where she saw long lines of people waiting for books. She placed an ad in an English-language newspaper in India offering to send books to those who wanted them. She began shipping books the next year from her basement.
The organization now sends not only small shipments but also sea containers. The overseas partners requesting a sea container must have the resources to transport, clear through customs, and distribute a large number of books.
Knowing e-readers could be the future, the book project partnered last fall with WorldReader, another global literacy non-profit, to send 75 Kindle Paperwhites, each loaded with 106 mostly African-authored books, that would be shared by the 33,000 local residents of Bakubung in the North West Province of South Africa. That area does not have a library.
To help offset some of the shipping fees, the book project has a bookstore in the front of its warehouse that offers a variety of books at low prices. A half-price sale is planned for March, which might be good to keep in mind.
The book project is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays for donations or for shopping. There is a gray bin outside the office for after-hour donations.

IBP book store

IBP book store

“There are more than 300,000 people in Lexington,” Neckers said. “If everyone gave a book, we’d be set for the year.”
I’ll do my part with my bird books, and some gardening books that I have memorized and no longer refer to. Please look around your homes and offices and see what you can purge.
If we enjoyed them before, someone else might find pleasure in them now.

TO HELP
What: The International Book Project is asking for book ­donations to fill two sea ­containers scheduled to be shipped to India and Uganda.
When: Donations accepted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or may be placed in the gray bin in front of the building.
Where: 1440 Delaware Ave.
Information: Intlbookproject.org, or (859) 254-6771.

January 30th, 2015

Cliff Jackson to play piano at benefit

Watching and listening to Cliff Jackson directing the church choir on Sundays, I sometimes forgot how famous he is.
Jackson took early ­retirement from serving as vocal coach at the ­University of Kentucky in 2011, ­expecting to blend in with us commoners and to hide his gifts under a basket.
That was never to be.
Even though he became as dependable as a comfortable pair of house ­slippers, his musical prowess at church could never be ­denied or undervalued.
His retirement lasted a whole semester before he produced a concert ­featuring some of the students he had coached at UK. Bitten, he started playing for a few recitals and lessons for the students.
Last year, Everett ­McCorvey, director of UK Opera Theatre, asked ­Jackson to return, working in the opera department and stage productions only.

Cliff Jackson - photo by Rich Copley

Cliff Jackson – photo by Rich Copley

“I enjoyed working here,” Jackson said of UK. “I needed a job and I wasn’t totally out of shape. I had been practicing.”
Jackson was never ­musically out of shape, but now he is back in full swing. He will accompany soprano Karen Slack for a concert Friday that will benefit the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington at the ­Downtown Arts Center’s Black Box ­Theatre. The concert is billed as an intimate club atmosphere, complete with wine and food catered by Alfalfa.
Slack and Jackson are ­featured because they are based in Lexington and because they are superior musicians, said Richard Young, executive director of the Chamber Music Festival.
“This is very unusual thing for us,” Young said. “It is an amazing opportunity.”
Slack, he said, is a “fantastic artist who hasn’t really performed in Lexington.” She has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, ­Carnegie Hall and throughout Europe. She appeared in the 2010 film For Colored Girls and recently performed the title role of Tosca and as Leonora in Il Trovatore for the Arizona Opera.
She has also performed with the Latvian National Symphony, the Alabama Symphony and the West Bay Opera.
Slack and Jackson will be performing everything from traditional vocal pieces to Puccini, spirituals and Gersh­win. “It’s a pretty diverse program across the board,” Young said.

Karen Slack

Karen Slack

That suits Jackson, who comes from a diverse musical background. He graduated from Oberlin College, but not before getting kicked out for a semester for academic reasons.
“I wasn’t a very good student,” Jackson said.
All he wanted to do was play music while someone sang. That wasn’t what music appreciation was about.
So he switched majors to piano when he returned to Oberlin and fell under the guidance of a teacher who urged him to move to New York to audition for the master’s program at the Manhattan School of Music.
“My mother didn’t want me to go to New York, but she didn’t stop me,” Jackson said. “A lady told my mother his talent is too good to come back here. The world needs to hear him.’
“I say that with all ­humility. I can’t take any claim for that. We have to get God in this article.”
Not only did he get into the master’s program, he landed a job playing at a church in Brooklyn.
Perhaps the church jobs helped him hone his mastery of being able to anticipate when a vocalist will sing each note. Perhaps it was accompanying classical singers.
He has served as pianist for internationally renowned artists on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. In 2008, Classical Singer magazine named him Coach of the Year.
Jackson lived for 10 years in New York and five years in Miami before McCorvey lured him to UK in 1992.
“When I got here and saw the Singletary Center and Commonwealth Stadium, I knew I would come,” he said, adding that he’s not a sports fan but that the stadium represented a college town, and that’s where he wanted to be.
Between now and May, Jackon’s dance card is full, starting with the benefit concert, followed by rehearsals and performances of The Tales of Hoffman by UK Opera Theatre, and 10 to 12 student recitals thereafter.
And I’m sure he’ll play the organ and the piano at Wesley United Methodist Church on Sunday mornings as well.

IF YOU GO
Chamber Music Festival of ­Lexington presents soprano Karen Slack and pianist Cliff Jackson in a benefit concert
When: Jan. 30; 6:30 p.m. ­reception, 7:30 p.m. concert
Where: Downtown Arts Center Black Box Theatre, 141 E. Main St.
Tickets: $150 cabaret seating, $100 theater seating.
Information: (859) 233-3056 or Chambermusiclex.com/tickets.

January 30th, 2015

Young entrepreneur brings Booiaka to Lexington to shake things up

A co-worker, who used to be my friend, urged me to take an exercise class she had found that was “fun and different.”
I’ve never described exercise as fun. Those two words should not be used in the same sentence as far as I’m concerned, I said.
Booiaka is different, she said.
I went.
What I saw was a room filled with women of various ages and body types who did seem to be having fun. It was more dance than exercise, complete with ­music that made standing still quite difficult, even for me.

Tara Johnson -  Photos by Mark Cornelison

Tara Johnson -
Photos by Mark Cornelison

Booiaka, pronounced boo-ya-ka, is a dance fitness program that takes bits of several dance styles and fuses them into something you might find yourself doing when no one is watching. Latin, Brazilian, Jamaican, hip-hop and old-school R&B beats encourage the body to follow carefully ­choreographed movements that have the same results as a fitness class.
These participants were following the lead of Tara Johnson, owner of Exalted Fitness at Imani Baptist Church, who is a certified master Booiaka instructor.
“Booiaka is basically a dance-fitness class,” Johnson said. “It allows people to release themselves. It allows me to be me. I am a free-spirit individual.”
She had us twisting, twerking and moving our bodies in ways mine hadn’t moved since I used to go to clubs. OK. Maybe I was simply attempting to twerk. Still, it was indeed fun.
Booiaka was created in 2008 by Italian choreographer and dancer Tatiana Tamai after she moved to Los Angeles. It is an intense workout, but the moves are repeated frequently making them easy to remember and follow. Booiaka takes the intimidation factor out of dance. Each class builds on the previous one, with at least one new move added each time. After about a month, new choreography is started.

Dana Branham

Dana Branham

“I love it,” said Dana Branham, who has attended Johnson’s classes for about two years. “It is hard to make fitness fun for me. The dance part is really probably what keeps me coming, and I get the benefit of being fit as well. Or trying to be.”
Johnson was on track to become a financial adviser when she realized she felt trapped and needed something more, she said. Johnson had run track for Dunbar High School, anchoring the state champion 4-by-100 relay team in 2006. She attended the ­University of Kentucky, studying economics while working at a local bank.
The athlete in her wanted more. She began teaching Zumba and loved it, as did the 60 to 70 followers she had.
So she took the “leap of faith,” she said, and studied for a year at the Lexington Healing Arts Academy, after graduating from UK, to get her personal training certificate. She opened Exalted Fitness in 2012 and recently received the Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Young Entrepreneur Award.
booiakaWhen she learned of ­Booiaka, she traveled to California to learn from Tamai and eventually earned a master trainer certificate. Only two people in the United States hold that distinction, and both live in Kentucky.
She helped Tamai present Booiaka to the Idea World Fitness Convention last year in Anaheim, Calif., and she’ll travel to other states this year, teaching Booiaka to those who want to be certified instructors.
Tamai will be in Lexington in April and will, with Johnson, teach a master class for Booiaka, which lasts 90 minutes and teaches an entire choreography in that one class.
“She has asked me to start choreographing my own stuff,” said Johnson, who is working on doing that.

Janis Reed

Janis Reed

Janis Reed, a woman close to my age, said she joined Exalted Fitness to have access to the walking track. When she asked what classes were available at night, she was directed to Johnson’s Booiaka class.
“I’ve had a blast,” Reed said. “I love to dance. I haven’t gotten all the moves down, but I laugh, and the stress has been removed.”
Reed has attended only four classes so far, but she likes it. “It has helped me fee less inhibited. This is fun. There is no judgment. You just do the best you can do.”
Aleah Mayfield has attend since October when she switched from Zumba. “I like the high energy and the high impact,” she said. “I just don’t feel like I’m working out.
“My first time, though, I thought I was going to die,” Mayfield said. “My socks were even wet.”
All Johnson asks is to let loose and enjoy, the way she does. Timid participants may start out on the back row, but they gradually move closer to the front row and the unyielding wall of mirrors as they gain confidence.booiaka5
“It doesn’t feel like work to me,” she said. “It’s all about changing people’s lives for the better.”
It was fun and it was an intense workout that I still felt in my hips a couple of days later. Johnson said a new choreography will begin on Tuesday.
I am tempted to try it again. I also might forgive that co-worker.

IF YOU GO
What: Booiaka, an international dance fitness program.
When: 7:15 p.m. Tue. and Thur.; 9 a.m. Sat.
Where: Exalted Fitness in Imani ­Baptist Church, 1555 Georgetown Rd.
Cost: Tue. and Wed., $7 a class or $35 a month. Sat., $5 a class.
Information: Exaltedfitness.com.

January 30th, 2015

Instead of charter schools, improve the ones we have

Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, remains neutral in the debate on whether charter schools should be allowed a foothold in Kentucky.
“If you say, ‘Stu, do me a paper on why we should do charters,’ I can do that,” Silberman said last week. “If you said, ‘Stu, do me a paper on why we shouldn’t do charters,’ I can do that.”
But charter schools, pro or con, should not be the focus, he said. In fact, it’s asking the wrong questions to wonder about charter schools, he said.
“The right question, we believe, is, ‘What do we need to be doing to raise achievement and close the achievement gap?’” he said. “I have never run into anyone who said they don’t want to close the achievement gap. People want to do it. The intent is there.”

Stu Silberman

Stu Silberman

Talk of closing the gap has been around for decades. If everybody knows it exists and the gap between what poor and minority students learn and what more affluent students learn continues to grow, why shouldn’t we just try charters?
After all, some research has shown charters benefit poor and minority children more than their richer counterparts, black or white. Why not make charter schools available to those underserved students and close the gap?
There are four things that must be in place to close the gap, Silberman said. They include: extra time, support, strong leadership and intervention.
Children who are academically behind should be given more class time to catch up. Additional support should be available in those schools so that, “it doesn’t matter who walks through that door; it matters what we as adults do when they get there,” said Silberman, who is a former superintendent for Fayette County Public Schools.
The school’s principal has to be a strong leader who develops a strong culture in his school that staff and educators buy into. And there should be a means of helping teachers to understand cultures or other populations they have never worked with so they can be more effective educators.
“I don’t believe we have given teachers the right tools,” he said. “That is our next step, to provide a tool box.”
There are schools that have embraced those four ingredients and have successfully closed the gap. Harrison and Yates elementary schools are examples.
“We are doing it in some places,” he said. “We should be doing it everywhere.”
Charter schools would draw some students out of a particular school and leave the rest of the students to flounder. That’s not fair. But neither is leaving the schools as they are, failing to educate all the kids.
Instead, Silberman proposes leaving students where they are and turning the whole school around.
That turnaround model, which he calls Districts of Innovation II, would entail having an outside group — with a track record of closing the achievement gap — take charge of the school. The school board would select that group and then hand over the reins, letting the management group decide the length of the school day, the principal, and the direction the school would follow. The group would seek waivers for some state regulations so that creative programs could be developed.
That turnaround scenario would be started when the school had failed to meet goals for a certain period of time, he explained. The superintendent could then step in and start the process.
“If we focus on what’s best for students achievement-wise, then we need to do it for all the kids,” Silberman said. “It would work. It has worked.”
The difference between charter schools and the Districts of Innovation II, he said, is that students don’t leave the system, taking money away from a school and leaving the school or system struggling financially.
“The beauty is that it is all done under the current funding system,” he said, adding that the management group could also solicit more money from the community. No money would be taken out of the school system.
“There are alternatives out there that can work in the current environment if the focus is specifically on kids,” he said. “What do you have to lose here?”
There is some interest in the turnaround model on both sides of the aisle in Frankfort, Silberman said. If everything rolls smoothly, and a bill passes, the proposal could be in place by this fall. But politics seldom allows anything to run smoothly.
“Pro-charter people don’t like it and anti-charter people don’t like it, but people who really want to go in and impact what is happening to our kids do like it,” he said.
“If we go in and try some of the Districts of Innovation II, my gut reaction is that it is going to work,” Silberman said.
For Silberman, the answer is not charter schools or the status quo. It is fixing problems we have through proven gap-closing management groups, strong leadership, better training for teachers and enough wiggle room to try new ideas.
For me, the status quo is not an option. I’m going back and forth between charter schools and Silberman’s turnaround model.
“We know one thing,” Silberman said. “We can’t wait any longer.”
Surely we all feel the urgency in those words.

For More Information
The Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence has produced a report called “Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide.” It is available at Prichardcommittee.org.

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