E.J. Dionne: Getting identity politics right

By E.J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne Washington Post

E.J. Dionne Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Progressives have some intellectual and moral work to do. What are cast as political challenges to liberals and the left are also philosophical problems. Resolving them is essential to sorting out the tensions among the movement’s goals and establishing its priorities.

It comes down to this: Whom do progressives think they’re fighting for?It’s a question joined most pointedly in arguments over “identity politics.” The debate itself is flawed because it’s not clear what it means to be “for” or “against” identity politics. All politics is about identity in some way, since all of us think of ourselves as, well, something.

To use an example I am especially familiar with: I’m a reasonably well-off white male liberal who grew up in a middle-class family in a working-class city in Massachusetts where Catholicism and trade unions were important parts of life. I was born in the United States of French-Canadian heritage. I’m a husband, a father and a baby boomer. I was also inspired by teachers, friends and books. I’d love to claim these various intellectual and moral influences as the primary shapers of my worldview. But social scientists and psychologists would be quick to point out that I’d be lying if I pretended that my demographic background has had no effect on how I think.


This limited tour of my political psyche is the sort of exercise all of us can engage in. Such a reckoning is a commentary both on the limits of identity politics (we are all multiples of some kind) and on the limits of any argument for abandoning identity politics (we can never entirely divorce ourselves from who we are). Disputes over the merits of identity politics are vexed because they are often seen as code for unstated claims or points of view. For example, calls for an end to identity politics are frequently (and reasonably) interpreted by African-Americans, Latinos, women and LGBTQ people as not-so-veiled attempts to make politics about straight white men again. This alone makes the war on identity a non-starter among progressives and Democrats. One of liberalism’s most noble commitments is to advancing the rights of minorities and those who have suffered discrimination. Contemporary progressives would lose their moral compass, not to mention a lot of votes, if they cast this mission aside.

But there is another strong, if fluid, identity at play in politics and social life: class. What many critics of identity politics are implying is that progressives have downplayed class politics to their own detriment and the country’s. Moving away from a robust focus on the interests of working-class men and women of all races, this view holds, was a mistake on two levels. Liberals lost a rhetoric that can appeal across the divides of race, ethnicity and gender. And they moved away from an approach to politics and policy that would deal with one of the premier problems of our time: the rise of extraordinary inequalities of wealth and income.

On the left, the word “intersectionality” has gained popularity as it deals with the cross-cutting effects of race, gender and class, and there is no doubt that progressive politics will, of necessity, be intersectional. But beyond buzz words, progressives must find a politics that links worker rights with civil rights, racial and gender justice with social justice more broadly. In the 2018 elections, Democrats found that an emphasis on health care, access to education and higher wages worked across many constituencies. A war on corruption targeting the power of monied elites holds similar promise. It was a start.

What all sides need to acknowledge is that identity politics is, of its nature, highly combustible. In his book “Modernity and Its Discontents,” Yale political scientist Steven B. Smith offered this in an essay on the philosopher Isaiah Berlin: “Identities are not just things we have, they define who we are. We can compromise and balance interests. We cannot so easily adjudicate our identities.” This is important to bear in mind, because political coalitions and democratic nations alike require a degree of solidarity rooted in our willingness to uphold each other’s rights — partly to protect our own rights but also to fashion a more just social order.

In grappling with the tensions entailed in identity politics, we can do worse than to remember Rabbi Hillel’s celebrated observation: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” Hillel was not a political consultant, but his balanced approach remains sound, electorally as well as morally.

Email: ejdionne@washpost.com.

Discovery of African-American graves in Texas highlights ‘moment of reckoning’


Construction crews in Sugar Land, Texas discovered remains believed to belong to African-American prison inmates from more than a century ago earlier this year. The legal battle over what to do with them is now being waged. USA TODAY

SUGAR LAND, Texas — Reginald Moore sank deep into silent prayer, an electric candle casting a glow on the countenance of Martin Luther King Jr. embossed on his black T-shirt.

Beside him, on the steps of Sugar Land City Hall, 50 others paused in quiet reflection. Eyes closed. Heads bent. Flames flickering in their hands.

Moore shifted from side to side, as if communicating with a spirit. He silently mouthed an invocation. He lifted his hands to heaven.

His mind returned to the moment, a few months back, when he first saw the skeletal remains of 95 African-Americans discovered at a school construction site in Fort Bend County, about 20 miles southwest of Houston.

He thought of those souls in the unmarked graves, laying forgotten for decades in the soil where a convict lease camp once stood. He thought of the free men, women and children ensnared by a system often called “slavery by another name.” How they toiled and sweated and bore the brunt of the lash, until they dropped in their tracks and were buried where they fell.

He envisioned the thread extending from slavery to prison labor to mass incarceration, of the history never covered in textbooks or taught in school. He remembered the parable of the Valley of the Dry Bones, from the Book of Ezekiel. 

In the story, the prophet sees a vision of dry bones that are transformed into human figures — covered by flesh and sinew and skin, resuscitated with the breath of life, and raised out of captivity.

Moore moved to the front of the steps and faced the crowd gathered for an evening vigil in honor of the “Sugar Land 95.” Each of the candles they held, now glimmering in the settling darkness, represented one of the people found at the burial site.

They were there, a previous speaker had said, to be the “voices of those ancestors who had been unearthed.” 

That call — to give voice to those who have long gone unheard — is being echoed not just in Sugar Land, but around the country where long-hidden grave sites of slaves, former slaves and free blacks have been uncovered in recent years — in a small park in New York City, on a plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on the campus of the University of Georgia, under a playground in Philadelphia.

Each find illuminates a part of the American story that often goes untold and unmemorialized — and comes amid a national reckoning, a movement to bring attention to those missing chapters. In Sugar Land, that effort centers on resurrecting the names of the forgotten and interring the remains in their proper resting place.

At the vigil, Moore took the microphone for a benediction.

“Lord of our weary years, Lord of our silent tears, we have come a long, long way, but we have a mighty long way to go,” he intoned. “Thank you for allowing those bones to be found, so that they may tell the truth of what happened in the past.”

The first bone was found in February, by a backhoe operator clawing through the dirt on land owned by the Fort Bend Independent School District. By the summer, the remains of 95 people had been recovered on the future site of a career and technical education center.

They were African-American. As young as 14 and as old as 70. With muscular builds, but malnourished, their bones misshapen from back-breaking, repetitive labor. Buried in plain pine boxes, sometime between 1878 and 1911.

Archaeological experts hired by the school district retrieved chains, but no markers. No names. 

Moore knew who they were. For two decades, the activist, historian and former prison guard had been telling officials that the ground held the bodies of people who died while in the convict leasing system. Preliminary analysis has supported that conclusion.

As the caretaker of the nearby Old Imperial Farm Cemetery, which holds the marked graves of 33 former state prisoners, Moore researched the history of the city that wears its identity as a sugar town proudly. Sugar Land was named for the Imperial Sugar Company, which is still based here, and the city seal bears the company’s crown logo.

Moore peeled back the official version of the city’s past. He learned that much of Sugar Land, now a sprawling, affluent suburb, had been home to plantations where sugar cane was harvested and boiled. That after the Civil War, land was sold to two Confederate veterans, Edward H. Cunningham and Littleberry A. Ellis. That the business partners turned to convict leasing for cheap labor. That prison labor contracts often specified “Negro workers.” 

He knew there had to be bodies somewhere on the land near the Old Imperial Farm Cemetery, which had been sold to the state for use as a prison. He advised school officials not to build on the property, begged them to do archaeological surveys before starting construction.

But for years, no one in Sugar Land wanted to address that part of the town’s legacy.

Until the remains were found on the school construction site, once known as “Ellis Camp No. 1.”

Suddenly, a light shone not just on Sugar Land, but on a little-talked-about chapter of U.S. history.

“The discovery and unearthing of these human remains provides a moment of reckoning for us to grapple with America’s history. America’s history that, at some times, has been a very dark history and a history as much of unfreedom as it has been of freedom,” said Paul Gardullo, director of the Center for the Study of Global Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. 

This is, Gardullo said, “a moment for us to take stock of the stories that ought to be told in public spaces like museums, in our towns and communities, and in our schools.”

At the candlelight vigil in mid-December, as children played in front of a towering, brightly-lit Christmas tree, supporters and advocates for the “Sugar Land 95” stood behind placards detailing the horrors of the convict leasing system.

Naomi Carrier, executive director of the Convict Leasing and Labor Project, a group working to create a memorial for the remains, invoked the ancestors who “suffered abuses with no apologies.” She called for restitution and reconciliation.

She described the cruelty of the system by quoting historian W.E.B. Dubois: “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”

Under convict leasing, which flourished across southern states after the Civil War and into the early part of the 20th century, state governments leased out convicts as forced labor, exploiting a clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed slavery except as punishment for a crime. 

The convict laborers toiled in plantations, factories, coal mines, quarries, timber yards and railroads. The vast majority were black, some former slaves, arrested under laws designed to “criminalize common dimensions of African-American life,” said Douglas Blackmon, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery by Another Name.”

The so-called “pig laws,” which later formed the basis for Jim Crow era segregation laws, included minor offenses such as stealing a farm animal, vagrancy violations, selling produce after dark, speaking loudly in the company of a woman, walking along the railroad tracks and not being able to produce proof of employment.

For petty crimes and trumped-up charges, African-Americans were sent by the thousands to prison camps, where they worked in brutal conditions from dawn to dusk, sometimes serving years of hard labor to pay off a small fine. 

In Alabama mines, they were forced to dig eight tons of coal a day. In a Georgia brick factory, they turned red clay into scores of hot rectangles. In Texas, they built the state capitol building in Austin, part of the Texas State Railroad and the Fort Bend County Courthouse, where a legal battle over what to do with the remains of the “Sugar Land 95” is now being waged. 

In Sugar Land, many were sent to sugar plantations, where conditions were so horrific the region was called the “Hell Hole on the Brazos.” Prisoners were worked so hard their muscles were wrenched from the bone. They suffered regular beatings, infections from chains that cut into flesh, mosquito-borne illnesses.

“It resembled slavery in every regard. It used the same commercial systems of slavery. It used all the same tactics of torture and compulsion and coercion, the same sexual exploitation of women,” said Blackmon. “It was explicitly established to recreate something as close to slavery as possible but using the criminal justice system.”

For African-Americans who had just started to taste freedom after emancipation, the threat of being sent back into bondage through convict leasing was terrifying — and those in power in the south used it to suppress political activity and other aspirations.

In Texas, inmates sought to escape being sent to prison camps on farms across the state by “slicing their heel strings, hacking off their hands, or gouging out their eyes,” according to accounts cited in Blackmon’s book. 

One prisoner said he lost “the prime of my life … as a slave.” Another said he had been “buried alive … dead to the world.”

In at least one regard, said Blackmon, convict leasing was even worse than slavery.

Unlike slavery, the business owners had no financial incentive for keeping their workers alive. If one died, they would simply lease out a replacement. Between 1866 and 1912, an estimated 3,500 prisoners died in Texas alone. 

Including those buried in the field in Sugar Land.

Moore, a devout Christian who attended seminary school, had long heard their voices calling. He thought of Luke 4:18, his favorite Bible verse, as his mission statement.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Moore recited. “He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, restore sight to the blind and set the captives free.”

Until the “Sugar Land 95” are given a proper memorial and burial, he said recently, “those people are still in bondage.”

For the time being, the remains are stored in a blue storage pod on the school construction site, by the rising frame of a new 200,000-square-foot vocational school. Mounds of dirt show where the bodies were excavated.

The Fort Bend school district wants to relocate the remains to the Old Imperial Farm Cemetery, about a half-mile away. But Moore says they do not belong at that graveyard, which is enclosed by a chain link fence, holds mostly white prisoners who died after convict leasing had ended, and is prone to flooding.

A task force, set up to recommend what to do with the remains, agreed — voting 19-1 to bury the “Sugar Land 95” on the land where they were discovered. (The dissenting vote was cast by school district spokesperson Veronica Sopher.)

The school district filed a petition seeking permission to move the remains, but District Court Judge James Shoemake is not expected to make a decision until March. He has appointed attorney Michael W. Elliott as a mediator to work toward a resolution.

The district contends that a school site is not the appropriate setting for a graveyard and memorial. The task force and community members, including Moore, say it is disrespectful to move the remains.

At the heart of the debate are questions being raised across the country: Whose stories are being told? Whose past is being honored?

Discoveries such as the one in Sugar Land can help tell a more complete American history, one that includes the “hidden stories of African-Americans,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

“We’re at an important inflection point in our nation about the ways our collective past is reflected in our culture and our public spaces,” Leggs  said. “When we create an American landscape that speaks truthfully about who we are as a nation, I believe we can change the way our nation thinks and the way that we relate to one another.”

The Cultural Heritage Action Fund and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, are working to tell the full American narrative. So is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, which opened in April in Montgomery, Alabama.

At the University of Georgia, a memorial will be erected in memory of slaves and former slaves buried on the campus, while across the country, Confederate statues are being taken down.

In Texas, more than 220 historians have also signed onto a letter, circulated by historian Caleb McDaniel of Rice University in Houston, urging Fort Bend officials “to make choices that acknowledge the national significance of this discovery.”

“No other burial ground like this has been found,” said McDaniel. “The history of convict leasing is really important for Americans today to understand. It reminds us of how resilient racism was after the Civil War and the end of slavery, and it’s a reminder we still need in the present.”

He noted that many southern states have laws protecting Confederate monuments, but sites associated with African-American history often have no such statutory protections.

In Sugar Land, officials have the names of about 20 inmates who may have died at the camp on the construction site, but only one body, thought to be of an amputee prisoner, has been tentatively identified, according to a court filing. The school district says it can’t conduct DNA testing without the approval of the Texas Historical Commission; the commission says it doesn’t have the authority to order invasive testing. The state Attorney General’s office has been asked to weigh in.

For those advocating for the “Sugar Land 95,” the remains represent more than a piece of history. They are a tie to ancestors who never received justice in life, who deserve to have their names remembered, their struggles commemorated.

That is still missing in Sugar Land, Moore says. On a drive around the suburb, he pointed to streets and subdivisions named after plantations. He gestured to the water tower bearing the Imperial Sugar symbol, noted that the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation is selling a 2018 Christmas ornament paying tribute to plantation owner Littleberry Ellis.

He flashed back, once more, to the moment he first saw the remains from the former Ellis Camp No. 1.

After so many years of researching the stories of African-Americans forced to labor in convict leasing, so many years of insisting that a burial ground might be there, of being “the lone voice in the wilderness,” he could bear witness to an undeniable truth: “They existed.”

He won’t let that again be forgotten.

Follow Monica Rhor on Twitter: @monicarhor.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/12/27/graves-95-african-americans-forced-into-labor-after-slavery-convict-leasing-system-texas/2364201002/

Residents Express Support For Wicomico Nursing Home; Financial Issues Plague Facility

SALISBURY –  Community members called on county officials last week to support a county-owned nursing home.

Last week, several county residents came before the Wicomico County Council to advocate for the Wicomico Nursing Home after learning the facility was experiencing financial issues.

In November, representatives of the Wicomico Nursing Home came before the county council to request a $489,320 loan to sustain operations through fiscal year 2019. At the time, officials attributed financial woes at the facility to low occupancy, personnel costs and write offs of bad debt.

At the recommendation of staff, the county council earlier this month approved a loan that would keep the facility afloat through June 30, 2019.


That decision, however, also included a discussion on possible personnel changes and capital improvements to the nursing home, as well as the need for an advisory board that would provide guidance to the enterprise fund. County officials also questioned if the facility should be privatized.

To that end, members of the community came before the county council last week in support of the Wicomico Nursing Home.

Salisbury resident Katrina Purnell said the county should do what is needed to keep the facility in operation and under county ownership.

“Wicomico County Nursing Home needs to be kept solvent,” she said.

Wicomico resident Donnie Waters noted the importance of the nursing home, which was established in the 1960s to provide services for all people, regardless of race or color.

“It is very important to the community in general, not just the African American community,” he said. “The nursing home has found a way to be a beacon of light and hope for individuals who have aged or are in the unproductive years of life and need care.”

Waters argued that lack of quality health care contributed to racial disparities in the community and said the county-owned facility provided valuable services to taxpayers.

“These people have given money into tax coffers. They’ve given their money to the general fund,” he said. “Although they are at the unproductive stage of life, they’ve given money and it’s time for the community to rally around them and be supportive and ensure their family gets the services they need.”

Wicomico resident Shanie Shields noted the Wicomico Nursing Home was one of the top-rated facilities in the county, but lacked funding for renovations.

“The Capital Improvement Plan should include the Wicomico Nursing Home,” she said. “The funding should be phased in.”

Shields added that community members in attendance wanted to see the county keep the facility.

“You can see the community wants the nursing home under the guidance of Wicomico County,” she said.

Wicomico resident Carol Ward, the relative of a nursing home resident, agreed.

“It is a big family. They care. That is a jewel to the county,” she said. “Please do not close it. Do not sell it. It would be the worst mistake.”

A nurse at the Wicomico Nursing Home said she was concerned about layoffs and possible closure.

“There are a lot of rumors going around, and we know nothing,” she said.

She asked that county officials consider the employees.

“Regardless of what decision is made, I think we need to know,” she said. “People’s livelihoods are at stake.”

Wayne Strausburg, the county’s director of administration, assured community members the county had no plans to shutter the facility, but wanted to address its shortfalls.

“We are trying to keep the nursing home open,” he said. “But we can’t keep the nursing home open if it’s losing money operationally each year. That’s attributed to a number of things.”

Strausburg said the county would need to find ways to improve the facility and its census.

“We are trying to address how to reposition this nursing home so that it can continue to operate and provide a high level of service …,” he said.

Councilman Ernie Davis thanked community members for voicing their concerns.

“I’m glad to see people come in support of the nursing home,” he said. “It’s good to see there are still people out there who have a heart for it.”

First Day Of Kwanzaa Marked With Celebrations Across Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The first day of Kwanzaa honoring Umoja, or unity was celebrated with events around the Bay Area.

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration honoring African heritage, from December 26 to January 1. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, in 1966. Each day honors one of seven guiding African principles, with candle-lighting ceremonies to mark them. On the final day, there is a feast and gifts are exchanged.

The Village Project’s 13th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration kicked off at noon in San Francisco City Hall, with a dance performance and a keynote address from Dr. Maestro Curtis.

Later, the Museum of the African Diaspora presented The Daktari Medicine Collective Dancers.

A candle-lighting ceremony along with art, games and traditional African food is happening at the African American Art & Culture Complex located at 762 Fulton Street from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Thursday, Alive and Free – Omega Boys Club will celebrate Kwanzaa at the Bayview Opera House, located at 4705 3rd Street in San Francisco, from 6 p.m to 9 p.m. There will be food, performances and other festivities.

On Friday, the Brotherhood of Elders hosts its annual Kwanzaa celebration at the West Oakland Youth Center located at 3233 Market Street. There will be a performance by Donte Clark and Jazz Hudson.

On Saturday there will be a Kwanzaa celebration in Hayward with the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society located at Palma Ceia Baptist Church, located at 28605 Ruus Road.

On Sunday, there will be a Kwanzaa celebration at the African American Heritage house located in San Jose History Park, 635 Phelan Avenue. The event is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and includes libation, drumming, storytelling and a candle-lighting ceremony. African attire is encouraged.

The South Bay Kwanzaa Collective is also hosting Kwanzaa celebration on Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the First AME Zion Church located at 95 South 20th Street, in San Jose, with storytelling, drumming, libation, food, and a special tribute to Aretha Franklin and Nancy Wilson.

Admission to all these events is free.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

How wealth inequality in the US affects health inequality in the US: 4 essential reads

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In Memoriam 2018: Around the City

Patti Myint

Restaurateur, cook and beloved community member

Patti MyintPatti MyintIn 1975, young Thai immigrant Prapasri “Patti” Kopsombut Myint — then recently married to Burmese immigrant and TSU professor Win Myint — was out exploring her new neighborhood. A boarded-up, dilapidated red-brick building with a sale sign stopped her in her tracks.“Maybe I could do something with that,” she thought.

The International Market has anchored the corner of Belmont and Bernard for 43 years, giving generations of Nashvillians their first taste of authentic Asian food and achieving status as one of the city’s culinary institutions. It was the sun around which a growing commercial corridor of retail and restaurants revolved, including two restaurants across the street, where she partnered with her son, chef Arnold Myint.

The announcement last year that the Myints — including daughter Anna — were selling the International Market property to Belmont University was dismaying to scores of customers. But word of the family matriarch’s sudden death in October prompted an outpouring of sadness from neighbors, who heaped flowers and notes on the restaurant’s sidewalk tables. “She called everyone she served, everyone who worked for her, ‘my children,’ ” said Anna. “They called her Mama Myint. It means everything, how much people loved her.”

And Mama Myint loved everyone back. In a nod to her generous and kind spirit, at the memorial service Anna and Arnold set out a bowl filled with tiny purple bags that contained a fortune cookie, and a card with their mother’s last words: “Be good. I love you.” Kay West

Mary Louise Watson

Civil rights figure and matriarch

In the family home on 12th Avenue North, Mary Louise Watson prepared elaborate breakfasts before school. Her daughter Lethia recalled an abundance — sausage and biscuits, hashbrowns and cooked apples. Mrs. Watson stayed home when her children were young and her husband worked as a shipping clerk downtown. She received the youngsters at the end of the day with a snack before they headed out to play. In the Nashville of the mid-1950s, the Watsons had black neighbors and white neighbors, and the children crossed lot lines and explored local parks together.

But they did not go to school together. This began to change in 1957, when Nashville made its first step toward desegregation: Nineteen black 6-year-olds attended schools previously open only to white children. Mrs. Watson’s second daughter, Barbara Jean, was among them.

Mrs. Watson registered Barbara Jean at Jones Elementary, and the threats began. People telephoned, or shouted as they drove by, words about firebombing and kidnapping. Not deterred, Mary Louise Watson walked Barbara Jean to school on Sept. 9, 1957, girl and mother both doing the most intimate and wrenching work of desegregation. After the cameras and reporters dispersed, the threats continued. Today Barbara Jean Watson recalls being awakened from school rest time, taken to the principal’s office, and sent home for her safety.

 Mary Louise Watson was born in Maury County. Her parents died young, and her own schooling ended at eighth grade so she could work. After her husband Hugh passed away in 1960, Mrs. Watson returned to work, doing day work in other families’ homes and later helping transport patients to X-ray at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the job from which she retired. In Maury County as in Nashville, white-dominated schools did not provide the same books, materials, or facilities to black children as to white. Watson hoped desegregation would “even the balance,” so black children could “have the same education and go farther.”

 Some of Watson’s descendants — her five children from her marriage to Hugh Watson, their more than 40 grandchildren, greats- and great-greats — gathered at the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room a few years ago. The family screened a film on desegregation that features Mary Louise, and the younger generations asked if their great-grandmother had been scared that day in 1957. She was, she said. It was a scary time, even more so when she recognized one of the threatening voices on the phone as that of a white neighbor only a few doors down. To Barbara Jean, her mother never showed fear, “and because of her, I could do what I had to do.”

 As Mary Louise Watson put it, “I’m glad I made the effort to help somebody, as well as mine.” In that commitment, she was a mother to all of Nashville’s children. Ansley Erickson, Columbia University historian

C.M. Newton

Basketball coach and gentleman-leader

C.M. Newton helped shape basketball in ways both obvious and incomprehensible. As chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee, he helped bring the 3-point shot into the college game. He also served as president of USA Basketball, and as such, he was one of the people who helped choose the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team,” which expanded the sport’s profile worldwide.

He was a successful coach at college programs big (Vanderbilt, Alabama) and small (Transylvania) and signed the first African-American student-athlete in any sport at Alabama. In retirement, Newton evolved into a highly respected consultant who lent his expertise to institutions faced with a wide variety of issues. Locally, he offered guidance as Trevecca Nazarene moved out of the NAIA to NCAA Division II.

Newton is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame. He passed away in June following an illness. He was 88.

“C.M. was so much more than a coach,” Trevecca athletics director Mark Elliott said at the time of Newton’s death. “He was a gentleman-leader. Because he was so down-to-earth, so relational, so personable, it is almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of his accomplishments — privately, culturally and professionally.” David Boclair

Herschel Moore

Football coach, author and sports innovator

Herschel Moore wrote the book on football. Well, several of them. A longtime football coach whose career dated back to the 1950s, he authored several manuals on the Wing-T offense that became essential to those who employed the scheme or simply wanted to borrow elements of it. Some things he created are a part of virtually every offensive playbook these days. For example, he is credited with naming the “jet sweep,” now a staple at the highest levels of the sport.

Moore was the first football coach at Glencliff High School (1959) and Stratford High School (1963). He also was head coach at Beech High School, did a second stint at Glencliff in the 1970s and led Cumberland University for 11 seasons. He directed Cumberland to its first NAIA playoff appearance (1993), and his 1996 team led all college football teams at every level with 3,890 rushing yards.

He passed away in September. He was 91.

“It’s amazing how many coaches across the United States know who Herschel Moore is,” longtime Metro high schools football coach Wes Elrod, who was an assistant under Moore at Cumberland, told The Tennessean. “Herschel was without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the country; not just in Tennessee.” David Boclair

Elliott Ozment

Attorney, friend and defender of immigrants 

OzmentElliott OzmentWe may never be able to see Elliott Ozment’s legacy in full. It is carried around in pieces by men and women he fought for, immigrants to a country he believed should live up to its own supposed ideals.

After Ozment’s death in October, Tricia Herzfeld — a Nashville attorney who worked at Ozment’s firm for five years — told the Scene that few people knew how many cases he took pro bono. In one instance, a woman showed up at the office with vegetables as her means of payment for Ozment’s legal representation. But much of his work did make headlines. He famously represented Juana Villegas, an undocumented woman who was arrested after a traffic stop in 2008, when she was nine months pregnant, and held without bond under an agreement between the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and federal immigration authorities. Villegas gave birth to her baby boy while chained to a hospital bed. Later, Ozment mounted a legal challenge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, 287(g), through which the DCSO screened detainees for immigration violations. The DCSO pulled out of the program in 2012.

Quick with a smile and always ready for a fight, Ozment was the quintessential happy warrior. Conexión Américas co-founder Renata Soto called his passing “a loss for the cause of justice.” In his fights for common and marginalized people, she said, he “commanded forceful outrage and immense humanity in equal measure.” Steven Hale

Cano Ozgener 

Artist, entrepreneur and benefactor

OzgenerCano OzgenerCano Aret Ozgener, founder of OZ Arts Nashville — a popular destination for cutting-edge art experiences, including performances and visual arts events — died peacefully in his home in June. Ozgener and his wife Esen moved to Nashville in 1968 and started a family. Cano Ozgener worked as an engineer, researching and developing polyester synthetic fibers at DuPont. Then, in the kind of 180-degree shift that would become his signature style, Ozgener left his lucrative engineering career to pursue a fascination with artisanal meerschaum tobacco pipes. That led to CAO Cigars, the company he started in 1994, which quickly became world-renowned, with distribution in more than 100 countries.

In 2006, while Ozgener was undergoing cancer treatment, he discovered that he was able to find solace in art. At age 70, he became a prolific artist, producing close to 500 paintings and dozens of sculptures. The Ozgeners sold the cigar company in 2007, but by 2012 they had started the next chapter in their lives — OZ Arts Nashville. The inspiration for OZ’s formation emerged, the family says, from Cano’s near-death experience while undergoing stem-cell transplant for lymphoma. An Irish lullaby sung by a nurse and the act of painting the colors of nature led to his discovery that “art is able to invigorate your soul and help your physical and mental fight.”

In 2014, Wayne McGregor and the Random Dance Company opened the inaugural season of OZ Arts. In the years since, OZ has hosted plays by Peter Brook, musical performances by Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Kid Koala, and dance presentations from Kyle Anderson and the Trisha Brown Dance Company. But just as important as those big-marquee names are the local visual artists Ozgener helped foster, among them Tony Youngblood, Brandon Donahue, Stephanie Pruitt and Alex Lockwood. 

Cano Ozgener was not only the wizard pulling all of OZ’s strings, but also the Scarecrow who masterminded it; the Tin Man with the big, selfless heart; and the courageous Lion who gave OZ its slogan: Brave New Art. Laura Hutson Hunter

Mark Bilbrey

Cheese man, friend and son

Behind the Porter Road Butcher cheese counter, Mark was the unofficial greeter at the shop — the first face anyone saw upon entering. He eagerly handed out bites of his favorite cheeses to anybody who was curious, answered questions with care and patience, and delighted in helping each person select their perfect spread. He shared his knowledge and passion without pretense, and made sure every single customer, from seasoned cheese-lover to curious novice, knew that he or she was valued and respected. Without a doubt, Nashville has far more “curd nerds” than it did two years ago. 

Mark died in a car accident in November at age 39.

Beyond his day job managing the PRB cheese program, Mark also spent much of his time outside of the butcher shop working as an editor, helping his clients express themselves effectively. It seemed fitting; he was a natural teacher, a great listener, and I imagine his patience and natural empathy made him exceptional at that job as well.

While Mark respected that my own passion for cheese had more or less plateaued by the time he joined our crew, he seemed to hold out hope that I was just one bite away from finding my way back. And in some ways it worked — I’ll probably never again match his sheer giddiness for opening a new wheel of Manchego, but Mark reminded me that great food is created by passionate people, and is best when shared.

Mark touched many lives deeply, and reminded us that enthusiasm, warmth and kindness are contagious. Above all, sharing our time together — with loved ones and perfect strangers alike — spreads happiness. For me, the simple joy of eating cheese will always bring Mark to mind. He’d get a kick out of that. Katharine Azzolini, Porter Road Butcher

Don Beisswenger

Social justice advocate

It’s hard to imagine the world without Don Beisswenger in it — mostly because my earliest memories of movement-justice work in Nashville are of Don being at every single community meeting, direct action and vigil that my wife Lindsey and I ever went to. When Lindsey and I began engaging issues of homelessness and affordable housing as college students in 2007, Don was there. He helped forge the path we’ve been walking for more than a decade.

He spent 70 years listening to the cry of oppressed peoples, of accompanying people struggling for justice. Don’s wisdom was so clear and concise that it often woke me up. What is spirituality? Three words: “Stop, look, listen.” What is the first question you ask in the face of injustice? “What’s going on?”

When my wife and I visited Don in hospice in early November, though he was getting weak, he was as Don as ever. He cracked jokes, talked about hot-fudge sundaes and root beer floats, and asked: “How’s the work? How are the guys at the prison?” Lindsey asked him if he had heard about the community oversight amendment passing. “They fought for community oversight and they won,” she said. “We’re going to have community oversight of the police!” 

Don perked up. “Is that right?” He pumped his fist in the air and held it there for a good 10 seconds. We followed suit, as we have for a long time. Andrew Krinks, community educator, activist and Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University

Peter Pressman

Runner, friend and community leader

“Sexy Dudes, first place!” In his most dramatic voice, Peter Pressman announced the results of the Centennial Park relay race to the small crowd of runners, and then did a horrible but thankfully short version of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” Peter loved our team’s name, and his enthusiasm, sense of humor, and love of running were on bright display that morning.

Pretty typical, really. Peter’s constant setting was high energy and maximum support. Whether you were a beginner, a veteran racer, a prisoner looking for a positive outlet in running, or a child just starting out, he encouraged and shared the experience. He used running to connect, to motivate, to explore, to travel and to lift people up physically and emotionally.

Most folks view running as hard, as unpleasant. In contrast, Peter felt only a positive spirit related to running, and he conveyed that spirit with his actions and his words, helping thousands embrace an active lifestyle. Serving for many years as the president of the Nashville Striders, the largest running club in Tennessee, he channeled his love for running into our community, helping give opportunities to race, train and socialize.

Peter brought the same enthusiasm and energy to his 47-year marriage to Ruth, to his children and their families, to his 35-year career at General Electric, and to his love for the Predators. Ruth and Peter especially loved traveling to the 50-plus marathons that he ran across the country. After every race he would declare, “I finished upright with a smile on my face.”

Peter Pressman was still vibrant when he died of a heart attack on March 25. He jammed a full life into his 72 years and left a legacy of good deeds. Maybe Peter wasn’t a “sexy dude,” but there’s no doubt that he was a good one. Mark Carver

Colleen Conway-Welch

Nurse, teacher and community leader

Colleen Conway WelchColleen Conway-WelchColleen Conway-Welch — a longtime community leader and former dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing — began her career as a labor-and-delivery staff nurse at Georgetown University in the 1960s. She continued that work in Honolulu, moved to work in emergency rooms in San Francisco, and then became a nurse-midwife.

“Colleen Conway-Welch was a bona fide nursing pioneer,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander in October. “Nationally, she was recognized for encouraging innovative ways to utilize nurses in better health care. In Tennessee, she opened health clinics and housing for mothers recovering from substance abuse disorders and their children.”

In 1987, Conway-Welch was named by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the President’s Commission on AIDS. In 2006, she was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as a member of the Board of Regents of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

While at Vanderbilt, Conway-Welch believed her primary responsibility was to continue to increase the value of a nursing degree from the university. “That’s what I set out to do,” she once said, “and that’s what I’ve done.” William Williams

Eugene TeSelle Jr. 

Minister, teacher, activist and mentor

Gene TeSelle spent a lifetime building bridges between communities. He served in the Presbyterian ministry and taught at Yale in the Department of Religious Studies, then at the Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1969 to 1999, an esteemed mentor for younger faculty members over his three-decade tenure. He helped form and lead the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors; worked on a comprehensive integration plan for Metro Nashville Public Schools; was a board member of the Fair Housing Foundation of Nashville; and was an organizer of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center.

It would then seem entirely appropriate that following TeSelle’s death, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons and state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both Democrats, would team up and persuade the GOP-led Tennessee General Assembly to pass a resolution naming a bridge in the progressive activist’s honor.

Those whose tenure in Nashville predates the opening of I-440 in 1986 appreciate the irony of the bridge’s location on 21st Avenue South, spanning a project that TeSelle spent many years vigorously fighting. When it became clear the 7.6-mile interstate loop cutting through residential neighborhoods would be constructed, TeSelle continued hammering at planners, resulting in design changes that included building the interstate below the level of city roads. That required the building of overpasses and bridges, and ultimately the dedication on Nov. 17 of the Eugene TeSelle Memorial Bridge. Says Clemmons: “I wanted to honor Gene in some significant way, and what better way than a bridge? Now he can symbolically spend eternity connecting neighborhoods and looking down on I-440.” Kay West

Stephanie Stephens Balmer 

Head of school

Stephanie Balmer,HeadshotStephanie Stephens Balmer“This will be such an adventure, and I look forward to becoming a part of the Harpeth Hall community,” said Stephanie Balmer when appointed the new head of the all-girls school in 2014.

The last candidate to meet with the search committee after an exhausting weekend of interviews, Stephanie impressed the members with an authenticity, energy and enthusiasm that augmented her superior credentials and her proven support for girls’ education. She knew every girl by name, almost 700 of them, and approved dress-code changes — allowing leggings on casual days — within weeks of her arrival on campus. Those were simple yet significant examples of her focus on the social and emotional health of her students.

In February, an email informed the school community that after 14 years, Stephanie’s cancer had come back in her liver. It was incurable. Two days later, she died. Flower memorials and chalk drawings popped up on campus; cars bore the message #BalmerStrong across back windows; and students shared how they would try to live by her example. 

In less than four years, Stephanie Balmer made a lasting mark on the Harpeth Hall School and the community. She will be remembered for her engaging presence, personal warmth and intellectual vitality, which touched all who knew her. She was an extraordinary woman, leader and role model for generations of young women. Holly Hoffman

Nashvillians Experiencing Homelessness

It’s everyday routine. You pull up to an intersection and do everything you possibly can to avoid eye contact with the local street-corner bum. Normal, right? You don’t have cash, and surely some sucker has already given them some pocket change.

They’ll be fine.

You’re out for the night, and you see them brandishing their cardboard signs — they probably aren’t even veterans, even though they say they are. You’d give them money, but they’re probably going to spend it on booze anyway.

They’ll be fine.

It’s the following morning, and you’re on your way into work. There they are, sleeping on park benches. Is that where they slept last night? Why didn’t they find somewhere a little more private to sleep? You don’t bother to check on them.

Because you’re sure they’ll be fine.

There are hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness in the greater Nashville area. Ignored by bystanders and tolerated, at best, by law enforcement. You avoid making eye contact with them at intersections, and resent them taking up room on that park bench, which your tax dollars paid for.

They are not fine.

In 2009, a 50-year-old man died outside a family health practice from hypothermia. On the property of a provider dedicated to public health, no one helped. In 2010, an 81-year-old man with heart disease died of hypothermia in a Brentwood neighborhood. In what is arguably one of the wealthiest and most influential neighborhoods in the state, no one helped. And in 2017, a 58-year-old woman died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease due to hypothermia at the base of a Baptist church.

These are only three of many stories, and the number continues to grow.

So for these individuals, the people who are all-too-often forgotten, we look back and remember. We should take a lesson from their deaths — to care, to help, to listen and, hopefully, to act. May they serve as a reminder of what isn’t always fine. Kara Hartnett

Daniel Shields

Trax barback and LGBT community member

According to District 6 Councilmember Brett Withers, Daniel Shields’ death in July “sent a chilling message” to the LGBT community. 

Shields was last seen leaving a Fourth of July shift at Trax, a gay bar on Ensley Boulevard where he worked as a barback. After he didn’t show up to work for a few days, a co-worker called Metro police to check on him. He was later found dead in his apartment. His death was ruled a homicide.

Shields was known for being kind and giving, according to friends. Withers last saw him at a charitable event for the Mr. Friendly organization, which seeks to eliminate the stigma associated with HIV. Trax general manager Kimmie Satin told The Tennessean in July that Shields was working a lot to help his mother, who had cancer.

“He was a great guy and [had] a great sense of humor,” Satin said. 

Metro Nashville Police Department spokesperson Kris Mumford said the case is still active, but no arrests have been made. Amanda Haggard

Billy Ray Irick, Edmund Zagorski and David Earl Miller

Tennessee prisoners executed in 2018

Even as the death penalty appears to be waning in the country as a whole, Tennessee resumed executions this year after nearly a decade without one, putting three men to death in just four months. Billy Ray Irick, 59, was killed by lethal injection on Aug. 9, 32 years after he was convicted of raping and murdering 7-year-old Paula Dyer in Knoxville. The three-drug cocktail that ended his life was at the center of a legal fight that lasted until he was only hours away from the gurney. After a life on the outside marred by childhood abuse and severe mental illness, Irick spent many of his years on death row painting and listening to AC/DC. His final words were, “I just wanna say I’m really sorry, and that — that’s it.” 

Edmund Zagorski, 63, became the first person to die in Tennessee’s electric chair since 2007, and just the second in 58 years. He chose the chair over lethal injection, which he believed — as did at least one leading medical expert — had tortured Irick during the execution. Zagorski was sentenced to death in 1984 for the drug-related murders of John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter, although six former members of the jury that convicted him argued publicly in the weeks before his execution that his life should be spared. A number of prison staffers also spoke in favor of clemency for a man they described as truly rehabilitated. His final words before he was electrocuted on Nov. 1 were, “Let’s rock.”  

David Earl Miller, 61, who had been the longest-serving prisoner on Tennessee’s death row, was electrocuted on Dec. 6, 37 years after he was convicted of murdering Lee Standifer in Knoxville. Like Irick and Zagorski, Miller spent more of his life in prison than on the outside. His childhood and early adulthood were defined by horrific physical and sexual abuse, as well as severe mental illness. But in his final years on death row, Miller maintained a relationship with his daughter Stephanie as well as his grandchildren. His final words before the electric chair was activated were, “Beats being on death row.” Steven Hale

Daniel Hambrick 

Son, community member

On July 26, Daniel Hambrick joined a tragic fraternity of black men who have been killed by white police officers. Less than 18 months after Jocques Clemmons was shot and killed by Metro Officer Josh Lippert in East Nashville, Hambrick was shot three times in the back by Officer Andrew Delke as Hambrick ran away. Delke was working as part of the Juvenile Crimes Task Force that afternoon, looking for stolen vehicles, when he pulled up behind a white Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot of the John Henry Hale Homes. Hambrick, who was nearby, took off running, allegedly holding a handgun. As with so many similar incidents, the chase and shooting were captured on camera — the footage shows Hambrick running away with Delke behind him; the officer stops, aims his weapon and fires. 

Hambrick, known to his family and friends as “Dan Dan,” was just 25 at the time of his death. But his name is now likely to be a part of Nashville history. The shooting prompted a surge in support for a community oversight board for Metro police, which was later approved by Nashville voters in a referendum. Moreover, in September, Delke became the first Nashville police officer in the city’s history to be charged with criminal homicide for an on-duty shooting. 

As far as anyone can tell right now, Delke did not need to shoot Daniel Hambrick, and so there is a real, cruel sense in which Hambrick died in vain. But it is also true that years from now, the incident — along with the Clemmons shooting — may well be seen as a turning point for police accountability in Nashville. Steven Hale

Taurean C. Sanderlin, Joe R. Perez, DeEbony Groves, Akilah DaSilva

Waffle House shooting victims

If you take a drive down Murfreesboro Pike in Antioch, you’ll pass the Waffle House where a gunman opened fire with an AR-15 in the early-morning hours of April 22. In front of the restaurant, there are four thick wooden crosses painted white and adorned with ribbons to honor the four who lost their lives that morning: Taurean C. Sanderlin, Joe R. Perez, DeEbony Groves and Akilah DaSilva. 

Perez, 20, was originally from Texas and was in town working for a surveying company. Groves, 21, was a Belmont University student majoring in social work. DaSilva, 23, was a local rap artist who went by the name Natrix Dream. Sanderlin, 29, was an employee at the Waffle House. The shooting could have proven more deadly had James Shaw Jr. not intervened and wrested the gun from the shooter. The incident was an all-too-close reminder that mass shootings happen in nearly every familiar locale in daily American life: schools, churches, offices, concert venues, movie theaters, restaurants.

On a recent Sunday morning, the Waffle House parking lot was busy. As cars pulled in, they passed by the four crosses, parked and went in — a reminder that while a shooter killed four people that morning, he didn’t scare Nashvillians out of living our lives. Amanda Haggard

2018 Homicide Victims

These are the names of the 81 people who were victims of homicide in Davidson County in 2018, as of Dec. 19:

Davario Kendricks, 20; Nathan McDade, 36; Samaii Daniel, 5; Sammarre Daniel, 8; Robert Payne, 70; Maria Brown, 29; Jose Gutierrez, 16; Marcus Lee, 26; Thomas Howard, 15; Tivvis Garrison, 47; Robert Harper Jr., 50; Jeremiah Shelton, 15; Marvin Lee Hughes, 39; Marquice Miles, 25; Shamar Lewis, 34; Charlie Brown Jr., 20; Nicole Stephens, 39; Hysen Krqeli, 25; James Brown, 41; Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29; Joe R. Perez, 20; DeEbony Groves, 21; Akilah DaSilva, 23; Shay Jones, 45; Marqondis Thompson, 21; Demarco Churchwell, 22; Jacqueline Johnson, 32; Cesar Reza, 24; Alfred Jenkins, 54; Kevin Ross, 37; Laylani Stevens, 3; Alan Edwards, 61; Anthony Breadfort Jr., 25; Michael Goff Jr., 57 (killed in 2017, remains found in 2018); Joel Paavola, 46; Dhargham Ateia, 27; Laquan Link, 16; Tonya Davis, 42; D’Twaun Moore, 24; Donna Adams, 46; Henry Smith, 26; Quintin Brooks, 24; Daniel Shields, 30; Beverly Hicks, 55; Alando Harris Jr., 22; Frazier Lumpkins, 66; Antonio Batts, 40; Adrian Montgomery, 27; Deion Woodruff, 23; Craig Crisp, 24; Kendall Rice, 31; Bartley Teal, 33; Jaime Sarrantonio, 30; Visanh Vilayvanh, 48; Glen Young, 59; Mansfield Rutherford, 22; Eliezer De la Cruz, 21; Jonathan Zeltner, Dequinta Young, 24; Michael Battle, 23; Miles Hunter, 17; Jose Luis Vergara, 27; Arthur Gordon Jr., 48; Johnathan Armstrong, 29; Tonya Pack, 47; Mario Alberto Garcia Lopez, 34; Joe Johnson, 31; Geovany Hernandez, 14; Frank Blair IV, 40; Brandon J. Adams, 18; Kevin Stewart, 32; Savitri Lyons, 48; Erik Helffenstein, 45; Quincy Brown, 19; Rachel Andrews, 97; Barbara Andrews, 68; Ethan Love, 29; Dontae Drew, 18; Tyler Bradley, 21; Tori Murphy, 18; Tyreese Southern, 17.

Monitor reports: Flaws are still harming African-American Children

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer on Wednesday said the county would have to find a way to correct the flaws cited in the Dec. 10 report by DOJ monitor Sandra Simkins. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By John Semien, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

What should be done when a report by a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) monitor eyeing Shelby County Juvenile Court says that flaws remain and that they are harming African-American children?
The report, which started circulating this week, comes after the DOJ put an end to its six-year oversight of the Juvenile Court operation. Local officials sent a letter to two of the three DOJ monitors asking them to complete their final reports despite termination of their oversight duties. A second report is due later this month.
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer on Wednesday said the county would have to find a way to correct the flaws cited in the Dec. 10 report by DOJ monitor Sandra Simkins.
“We have to have a lot of oversight in the juvenile court,” Sawyer said. “I think the report shows we were right to have concerns about the Department of Justice pulling oversight. And so, as the report says, the decision to not continue monitoring was premature and Black kids are at risk.”
“(We) as a commission need to do some investigating about what we can do to make sure they are protected,” Sawyer said. “We need to pull up our big boy pants and make it happen.”
Simkins’ monitoring report refers to a “deeply flawed” court system and an agency that enables a “culture of intimidation” that hampers lawyers appointed to defend the youths.
Justice Department officials announced the ending of federal oversight of juvenile court on Oct. 19. The memorandum of agreement between county and federal officials that brought about the oversight was signed in 2012. It came about after the DOJ reported:
• Systemic discrimination against African-American children,
• Unsafe confinement conditions and
• Failure to provide due process to youth appearing for proceedings.
“Despite the duration of the Memorandum of Agreement and the notable progress in many areas, the structure of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County remains deeply flawed, enabling a culture of intimidation that undermines due process,” Simkins, a due process monitor, wrote in her 60-page report.
Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner said he agreed with Sawyer that in the absence of oversight from the DOJ, the county should fashion its own remedy.
“We need to get that done,” he said.
In October, the County Commission approved a resolution, which Turner sponsored, proclaiming a vote of no confidence in the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to end federal oversight. He said at the time that while there was little chance the DOJ would change its mind, it was important for the County Commission to be heard on the issue.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris on Wednesday said his administration already has made several moves affecting Juvenile Court.
“We’re expanding the oversight that is brought to bear on kids that get caught up in the juvenile justice system,” Harris said. “For example, we have experts for each of the responsible divisions in juvenile justice matters.
“We have hired an expert to work with the juvenile court to make sure we are treating people fairly,” he said. “A new expert (was hired), I’m talking about in the last couple of weeks, a new expert to work with the Sheriff’s Office, to make sure the Sheriff’s Office is responding to some of the needs we’ve heard about in juvenile court.”
Harris also said he believes the county needs to rethink its approach to juvenile justice, to provide more classrooms so juveniles can go to class at least part of the day.
“Let’s at least have some green space and recreational space so they can see outdoors,” he said. “Let’s have free phone calls so they can stay connected to their families.”
The juveniles usually are kept 30 days on average, Harris said.
Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael was reported out of the country Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

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Boomer alert: how cities must adapt to an aging population, and vice versa

A review of posts about aging baby boomers on the Mother Nature Network.

Years ago the demographer David Foot wrote “Boom, Bust and Echo,” in which he claimed that “demographics explains two-thirds of everything — whether the subject is business planning, marketing, human resources, career planning, corporate organization, the stock market, housing, education, health, recreation, leisure, and social and global trends.” One of the lessons in that book was to follow the baby boomers, the oldest of whom are now 72 and the youngest 58.

That’s mostly a pretty healthy and fit group, that many make the mistake of conflating with seniors, often the boomers’ parents, who are in the seniors’ homes these days. But there are 70 to 75 million of these baby boomers, and when they are not so fit, in ten or fifteen years, are going to have a profound effect on our cities and more likely the suburbs, where 75 percent of them live. I have been mulling about these urban design issues over on our sister site The Mother Nature Network; here is a roundup of what I think are the most interesting stories, starting with one that got a lot of responses and interest.

The issue for boomers won’t be ‘aging in place’

The real question will be, ‘How do I get out of this place?’

What goes wrong first when you get oldWhat goes wrong first when you get old. (Photo: JCHS)/Public Domain

We do not have a home design problem, we have an urban design problem.

Baby boomers are looking around their houses and thinking “What can I do so that I can age in place?” and investing in renovations, when all the data show that one of the first things go to is the ability to drive — long before the ability to walk. Instead, they should be asking “What can I do to get out of this place? How will I get to the doctor or the grocery?” Every single one of them has to look in the mirror right now and ask themselves, “What do I do when I can’t drive?”

Ultimately, we have to face the fact that this an urban design problem, that our suburbs don’t work for an aging population. Ultimately, we have to build communities for people, not cars, as we have in the past. Most critically, we have to face the inevitability of demographics: Today it’s a problem, but in 10 or 15 years, it’s a disaster. More at MNN

How older Americans got stuck in the suburbs

It’s all just collateral damage from the Cold War.

miss blacktopWisconsin Historical society/Public Domain

After I wrote the previous article on aging in place, Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development for Akron, Ohio, had a few bones to pick. He said we are too quick to blame urban planners for giving people what they want:

I do want to apologize to Jason Segedy, and agree that we mostly got our sprawling suburbia in spite of modern urban planners like him, not because of them. He also notes that people love their single-family houses and actively resist change, and he is right in saying that it’s not about being liberal or conservative; some of the biggest battles about density and zoning are happening in Berkeley and Seattle. But then he writes, “It is not the urban planners, or some cabal of faceless bureaucrats who are preventing this from happening. It is all of us.”

But it is important to note that it was a cabal of faceless bureaucrats that got us here. “It’s an object lesson in one of the most successful military-industrial interventions of all time, and the consequences were exactly what was intended. The problem for older people today is that they are collateral damage.” More at MNN.

What makes a city a good place to get old?

We really can build better communities for an aging population.

Patterson, a town with good bonesPatterson, a town with good bones/Public Domain

Another urban planner, Tim Evans, noted that many recognize this issue of what he calls the “spatial mismatch”, and what needs to be done to fix it so that people can in fact age in place. Jeff Speck nailed this problem a few years ago:

With the leading edge of the boomers now approaching sixty- five years [now 72] old, the group is finding that their suburban houses are too big. Their child-rearing days are ending, and all those empty rooms have to be heated, cooled, and cleaned, and the unused backyard maintained. Suburban houses can be socially isolating, especially as aging eyes and slower reflexes make driving everywhere less comfortable. Freedom for many in this generation means living in walkable, accessible communities with convenient transit linkages and good public services like libraries, cultural activities, and health care.

Evans talks about the need for density, a mix of uses, street network connectivity and really good public transportation. More in MNN.

Why aging boomers need walkable cities more than convenient parking

The Guardian also picked up on the aging in place story. I reiterate:

We have a moving target with the 75 million aging baby boomers, the vast majority of whom live in the suburbs and the oldest of whom have just turned 70. Most are still driving, and when you ask those suburban drivers what they want now, it’s more lanes and more parking and get rid of those damn bikes.

But in 10 or 15 years, it will be a different story, and all those slow-walking aging boomers will want those bump-outs, the slower traffic, the safer intersections that a real Vision Zero delivers. Instead of using seniors as a political football, we should be keeping our eye on the longer game. More on MNN.

Older pedestrians are dying on our roads

‘Shared responsibility’ is code for it’s always the pedestrian’s fault — but that doesn’t work when you’re talking about aging boomers.

crossing the street© Funny, they don’t look like they’re drinking or Snapchatting — but they must be doing something wrong. (Photo: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

Driving a car is so difficult these days; it seems that whenever you get behind the wheel, someone leaps in front of you. That’s why so many safety campaigns these days are pushing the idea of “shared responsibility.” It is a way of telling pedestrians that they shouldn’t look at their phones or listen to music while crossing the street, even as drivers blow through red lights because they’re distracted by giant displays in their sealed boxes with big sound systems. But if they do get hit by that car and are “Walking While Distracted,” the pedestrian shares responsibility for what happened.

But I take issue with this concept; old people aren’t looking at their phones or texting, they are just “Walking While Old.” Others are noticing the problem:

Age and vehicle type are two important factors affecting the injury risks in vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes. Interestingly, there are currently two independent trends in the world, especially in developed countries, with one being the aging of the population and the other the increasing proportion of SUVs. Unfortunately, both of these trends tend to increase the pedestrian-injury risk. Consequently, addressing the hazards posed by SUVs to older pedestrians is an important traffic-safety challenge.

More at MNN.

Aging boomers: Forget the car, get on a bike

There are alternatives to driving that can work just about anywhere.

Senior in malmoA senior cyclist in Malmo, Sweden. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)/CC BY 2.0

In which I make the case that we have to stop promoting cars, and using aging boomers as an excuse.

A lot of people are hoping that self-driving cars will save us. Others continuously fight any attempt to limit the freedom of people to drive anywhere anytime. Mayor Bill deBlasio in New York recently objected to congestion charges because “old people have to drive to their doctors.” Whenever I write on TreeHugger about limiting cars in cities, I’m told that disabled people can’t take transit and we can’t have bike lanes because they have to be able to park in front of stores and doctors’ offices.

But I’m not alone in thinking there are alternatives that will let many (not all) age well and live longer because they don’t drive. In Cambridge, U.K., huge numbers of older and disabled people ride bikes — an incredible 26 percent of the population with disabilities. Many people who have trouble walking say cycling is easier; many have tricycles or recumbent bikes that are easier to ride. More on MNN.

Want an age-friendly place to live? Move to the big city

Older people love farmers markets like Union Square in New York. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)Older people love farmers markets like Union Square in New York. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)/CC BY 2.0

It seems that boomers are no different from kids these days; what older people want, according to the study, is not that different from what young people are attracted to:

… good walkability, transit, and mobility; affordable, accessible housing; employment and volunteer opportunities at every age; well-coordinated health and social services; and more inclusion and intergenerational connection. You’ve probably noticed that this could just as easily define a Millennial’s wish list for the perfect place to live.

More on MNN.

Why every house should be designed for multigenerational living

Single? Duplex? Triplex? Yes. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)Single? Duplex? Triplex? Yes. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)/CC BY 2.0

Where I live in Toronto, Canada, Portuguese and Italian immigrants built an absolutely standard plan in the ’50s and ’60s that could work as a single family, duplex or triplex house. There are thousands of them all over the city. Now, 50 years later, they are almost all multifamily, often intergenerational. I am also living in a house that I was able to duplex relatively easily.

Everyone should have this option. Developers and architects should plan homes so they can be easily divided as a matter of course. If houses have basements, they should have the ground floor raised enough so there can be decent windows for basement apartments. Even apartments can be designed to be flexible and adaptable, so that it’s easy to rent out rooms.

It’s not rocket science; it’s just good planning. More on MNN.

Starbucks shouldn’t be America’s bathroom

Public toilets are a government responsibility.

Protest at Starbucks in Philadelphia. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)© Protest at Starbucks in Philadelphia. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Earlier this year there was a protest in Philadelphia, when two African-American men were arrested after asking to use the bathroom. The Chairman of Starbucks responsed by saying “We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key.” I believe that this is wrong.

The situation is only going to get worse as the population ages (baby boomer men have to pee a lot), but there are also people with irritable bowel syndrome, pregnant women and others who simply need a bathroom more often or at less convenient moments. Authorities say providing public washrooms can’t be done because it would cost “hundreds of millions” but never have a problem spending billions on the building of highways for the convenience of drivers who can drive from home to the mall where there are lots of washrooms. The comfort of people who walk, people who are old, people who are poor or sick — that doesn’t matter.

More in MNN.

Hostile design doesn’t work for any age group

This isn’t rocket science. People just need a place to sit.

My, that looks comfortable. (Photo: Factory Furniture /Wikipedia)My, that looks comfortable. (Photo: Factory Furniture /Wikipedia)/CC BY 2.0

William H. Whyte wrote in “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”:

Ideally, sitting should be physically comfortable — benches with backrests, well-contoured chairs. It’s more important, however, that it be socially comfortable. This means choice: sitting up front, in back, to the side, in the sun, in the shade, in groups, off alone.

Instead, we get Hostile architecture, defined by Cara Chellew as “a type of persuasive design used to guide behavior in urban space by designing out specified uses of street furniture or the built environment as a form of crime prevention or protection of property.” This is bad for everyone, but particularly for older people.

We have noted that 30 minutes of doing just about anything will extend your life, and that exercise keeps your brain young. If we want our aging population to get out there and do it, we need good safe walking infrastructure, decent public toilets and comfortable places to sit. These hostile designs just get in the way. More on MNN.

Universal design is for everyone, everywhere

It doesn’t work for anyone unless it works for everyone.

The Flexity streetcar has a very low floor, making it easy for all to enter and exit. (Photo: City of Toronto)The Flexity streetcar has a very low floor, making it easy for all to enter and exit. (Photo: City of Toronto)/Public Domain

There are 75 million baby boomers in America, and only a small proportion of them are going to need full wheelchair accessibility. This is why I rant about the giant bungalows in retirement communities with big garages for the wheelchair van. They look at one aspect, a vague nod to accessibility, and ignore the things that would make life better for everyone — the seven principles of universal design. More in TreeHugger.

Baby boomers aren’t buying senior housing

Baby boomers aren’t ready for retirement homes — yet.

By 2035, America will have a lot of old baby boomers. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)By 2035, America will have a lot of old baby boomers. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)/Public Domain

I know I sound like a broken record here, (remember those?) but as I wrote in It won’t be pretty when the boomers lose their cars or The issues for boomers won’t be ‘aging in place’, in 10 or 15 years, the problems we face in transportation and urban design are going to be significant, and we should all be planning for it now.

Yet in all the discussions about infrastructure, what are the politicians planning to spend money on? According to CNBC:

Infrastructure could be one of a few areas of partnership between Democrats and Republicans, with members of both parties calling for improvements to the country’s aging bridges, roads and airports. Ever since Trump announced his bid for the White House, he has lambasted what he’s categorized as “horrible infrastructure problems” throughout the United States.

They might want to look at that demographic bulge and start planning for what 70 million 85-year-olds need, and it won’t be highways — it will be safe sidewalks, better transit and reconfiguring our cities so that older people will be close to doctors and shopping and things they need without having to drive there. They might want to think about rebuilding suburbia instead of airports.

As planner Tim Evans pointed out, we don’t need aging in place, we need places to age. More at MNN.

A review of posts about aging baby boomers on the Mother Nature Network.

My 15 Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2018: Stephen L. Carter


Here are my nominees for the best nonfiction books of 2018. I haven’t read everything published this year, but I read a great deal, and these are my 15 favorites.* Each reflects serious thought, research and argument. Each made me look at things in a new way. The first 14 are listed in random order (no tyranny of the alphabet). At the end is my choice for best nonfiction book of the year.

Richard Sennett: Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City

Sennett, who has been writing about cities for a good half century, has never been sharper. As the world grows more urban, he argues, we face a crisis: Cities are shaped by the designs of planners rather than by the actual lives, needs and beliefs of their inhabitants. People who live in cities should not only be free but feel free.

Joanne B. Freeman: The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War

Think we’re divided now? In 1854, one member pulled a gun on another … on the floor of the House of Representatives. Freeman’s book is full of such vignettes. (Yes, the famous Sumner story is here.) And our rhetoric pales next to the barbs exchanged in those days.

Bryan Caplan: The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money

I’m not sure he’s right, especially about education being almost entirely for the purpose of signaling, but goodness does he make a strong case. Agree with him or not, you’ll never look at the schools and colleges in quite the same way.

David W. Blight: Frederick Douglass

Already lauded as the definitive book on Douglass, this volume by our foremost expert on the great orator showcases Douglass’s human foibles as well as his grand triumphs.

Paige Williams: The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy

Less a dinosaur story than a heist story — how did that illegal Tyrannosaurs skeleton wind up at an auction in New York? — with plenty of fascinating details about the way that the market for fossils has distorted the incentives in paleontology.

David Quammen: The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

Actually, more a history of the science that helps explain life. Never has molecular phylogenetics seemed so fascinating. And the discovery a few years ago of a new form of life is something I’d overlooked.

But what I find particularly fascinating about this widely acclaimed volume is Quammen’s ability to show us, in lively prose, how terribly difficult science is: the false starts, the confirmation bias, the backbiting and jealousy, the lengthy detours that become expensive dead ends. And the personalities. (He’s particularly good on the controversial genius Lynn Margulis.)

Tyler Cowen: Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals

Three cheers for long-termism! Pity that neither politics nor the psyche of (most) humans actually works that way. The writing, from my Bloomberg Opinion colleague, is at once amusing and relentless. A fun, provocative read.

Jason Brennan: When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice.

One of our most provocative philosophers argues that if we can use force to stop others from hurting people unjustly, we can also use force to stop the government from hurting people unjustly.

Juan Williams: ‘What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?’ Trump’s War on Civil Rights

I am not generally a fan of polemics, but Williams is an elegant writer, gathers evidence dispassionately, and stays far away from political correctness. He skewers everybody. You needn’t agree with every word to find this a fine read.

Sabine Hossenfelder: Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

Turns out that mathematicians are doing great things, but the physicists not so much. Hossenfeld, a theoretical physicist and popular blogger on the subject, accuses her colleagues of being so in love with elegance that they don’t worry as much as they should about whether they’re right or wrong. (Parts of the book are tough sledding for the lay reader, but it’s more than worth the effort.)

Colin G. Calloway: The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation

You may never look at the Father of Our Country in quite the same way after reading this finalist for the National Book Award. It turns out that Washington was not terribly kind to those who were here first.

Jeffrey C. Stewart: The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke.

A brilliant biography, winner of the National Book Award, of the man who largely fostered the flowering of black art and writing that became the Harlem Renaissance and laid the foundation for much of African-American intellectual thought over the ensuing century.

Gregg Easterbrook: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

So maybe the world isn’t going to pieces. Easterbook argues that if we study actual evidence, things are actually going well in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, economically, environmentally, demographically and in most other ways. And most of what’s not working, he says, we have the tools to fix.

Philip Hamburger: Liberal Suppression: Section 501(c)(3) and the Taxation of Speech

Don’t be turned off by the provocative title. Hamburger asks a great question: Why exactly do we limit the political speech of charitable organizations? Answers it, too. The rule wasn’t handed to us on stone tablets; it’s always been politics, all the way down.

Finally, my choice for the best nonfiction book of 2018:

Earl Swift: Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island

I can’t remember a book in recent years that taught me quite so much. Every page is vivid and rich. Tangier Island, Virginia, famous as a source of soft-shell crabs, is going under, literally — a victim of rising seas, relentless storms, and a changing economy.

Swift spends plenty of time on the ground, and so is able to pierce the veils of myth and mysticism that have long surrounded the community of fewer than 500 stalwarts, whose political and religious lives are far more complex and nuanced than their stereotypes suggest. He doesn’t agree with their beliefs, but his respect and affection for them are patent. A model for what serious reportage should be.

So those are my picks for 2018. Happy reading.

* Martin Gurri, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, would certainly have made the list, were it not a revised version of a book that was self-published in 2014 and then published formally in 2016.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.” To contact the author of this story: Stephen L. Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.net

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Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.” To contact the author of this story: Stephen L. Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.net

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Rochester 10

Who makes Rochester Rochester?

The people who are most often in the public eye are the elected officials, corporate leaders, university presidents and researchers, and entertainment figures. But thousands of Rochesterians make equally important contributions to the life and fabric of the community, often unknown to all but a few people.

Again this year, we highlight the work of 10 outstanding Rochesterians, people whose efforts, talent, and determination make Rochester the community it is. A musician whose side interest is entertaining children… the creators of a safe, nurturing community place especially for black women… a husband and wife dedicated to telling the stories of workers… a 19-year-old developing an app to further social change… an activist speaking out for the needs of the homeless…

You’ll find these stories and more in our 2018 Rochester 10 feature.

IRSHAD ALTHEIMER Public Safety By Tim Louis Macaulso

Irshad Altheimer was a gunshot victim when he was a young man. Now he studies gun violence: what triggers it, the impact it’s having on city neighborhoods, and how to stop it. Altheimer is the director of the Center for Public Safety Initiatives at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In that position, he conducts and oversees research at the Center to help law enforcement agencies around the country with their budget priorities and the programs they use.

“Our interest is in bringing the data and analysis to the forefront of decisions about criminal justice practices,” Altheimer says. “We want to encourage our law enforcement and community partners to embrace evidence-based practices and also to evaluate their own programs.”

Drug prevention programs like D.A.R.E. and the crime-prevention programs aimed at teens like boot camp attract publicity, but research shows they’re not effective tools, Altheimer says.

“If you want to stop gun violence in a community but you don’t know how or why it occurs,” he says, “how can you address it?”

Irshad Altheimer: He and the center he leads use data and analysis to help improve law-enforcement agencies around the country. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Irshad Altheimer: He and the center he leads use data and analysis to help improve law-enforcement agencies around the country.

Altheimer is black, has a thick dark beard, and is active in Rochester’s Muslim community, and he says he realizes some people in law enforcement aren’t used to seeing someone who looks like him give them advice on how to be more effective. “In academia, there aren’t many African-Americans in criminology,” he says.

But, he says, his interactions with the Center’s law enforcement partners are positive.

The goal of the Center and its research is to improve public safety, and some significant barriers need to be addressed, he says.

“Crime is a real problem,” Altheimer says. “I don’t ever want to minimize that. But I think our dialogue about crime is often manipulated for political reasons. Crime becomes a proxy for race.”

If you don’t think so, he says, take a look at the way white-collar crime is treated in the US. “A white guy who goes into work and steals $30,000 from the company probably won’t serve much time, if any at all,” he says, “but a young black male without a weapon steals something from a corner store and spends time in prison.” The young black man is seen as a threat to society, he says.

And, he says: “Go downtown to the courts. It’s pretty bad optics. Almost all the people working there are white, and the majority of people being served are people of color.”

The media play a huge role in the public’s perceptions about crime, he says. It’s not unusual to hear people say they won’t go downtown in Rochester because of a story they saw on TV, he says.

“Crime is not evenly distributed,” Altheimer says. “There are whole city neighborhoods that haven’t experienced a shooting in years, and some never have.” But even in neighborhoods where there has been some violent crime, most people do not engage in it, nor are they victims of it, Altheimer notes.

“There’s a very dangerous tendency to think that some whole cities are becoming dangerous places,” he says.

Altheimer grew up in Tacoma, Washington, a predominantly white city. He went to Alabama State because he wanted to go to a historically black college, earned his doctorate in 2005 at age 28, and joined RIT in 2012.

The crack epidemic was a defining moment for his generation growing up in the 1980’s, he says. And, he says, there’s a stark contrast in the way black people who were caught using crack were treated and the empathy shown to white people who are addicted to opioids today.

There have been times when he has struggled in his work with those types of contrasts, Altheimer says: “There’s been a lot of soul-searching.”

And he’s been challenged by people of color concerning his work with police, even though the data he can provide helps officers make better decisions.

“I never got the whole sell-out thing,” he says. “A lot of the people I grew up with and know what I’m doing think it’s great.”



Married for 43 years, labor historian Jon Garlock and artist Marilyn Anderson work in solidarity and for solidarity. They have collaborated on books, photo exhibits, and even coloring books, promoting the contributions of workers in Rochester and Guatemala. Their robust body of work underscores the relationships between craft, oppression, and resilience.

“There are a lot of ways to tell people about workers,” Anderson, a 1970 RIT graduate, says.

Originally a painter, Anderson has concentrated her work on Mayan textiles. In the 1970s, she and Garlock visited more than 40 locations in Guatemala while she documented weaving techniques and took portraits of craftswomen.

Marilyn Anderson and Jon Garlock: Documenting the contributions of workers. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Marilyn Anderson and Jon Garlock: Documenting the contributions of workers.

“I try to make people recognize the beauty of the work and the experience of it,” she says.

The couple later returned to interview and photograph Guatemalan refugees displaced by civil war who were living in Mexico. The result was the book “Granddaughters of the Corn: Portraits of Guatemalan Women,” published in 1988, which juxtaposes Anderson’s portraits of Mayan women with documentation of the war and crimes perpetrated against the women, written by Garlock.

click to enlarge Marilyn Anderson: Documenting the contributions of workers. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Marilyn Anderson: Documenting the contributions of workers.

Since then, Anderson has produced creative works in drawings, linoleum prints, and woodcuts. Some of them are displayed alongside a group of essays in her 2016 book “Guatemala/ Guardians of the Arts: Prints of Guatemalan Artists.” The book was published in English and Spanish by a women-run press in Guatemala.

Indeed, a true distinction of both Anderson and Garlock’s work is that they are dedicated to circulating it within the communities that inspire them instead of prioritizing a larger, mass market appeal. This way, they practice solidarity with the communities whose movements they document.

Garlock earned his PhD in history at the University of Rochester in 1974 under the mentorship of celebrated labor and slavery scholar Herbert Gutman. Rather than teaching, however, he wrote grants at Monroe Community College, and he continues to produce educational literature and to participate in local labor organizing.

Garlock has been an executive board member of the Rochester Labor Council since 1987, and he helped revive Rochester’s Labor Day parade in the 1986, a tradition that had stopped in the 1920s. Around the same time, he began co-curating the Labor Film Series at the Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theater. Its 30th anniversary season kicks off next fall. Overall, the series has screened 300 films, but Garlock estimates he has reviewed 800 or more during the selection process.

When he began curating the series, he says, just over a dozen film buffs would attend. Last year the series averaged an audience of 160 people per film. A screening of “North Country,” a 2005 film about the landmark 1984 sexual harassment case Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, starring Charlize Theron, drew around 300 people.

click to enlarge Jon Garlock: Documenting the contributions of workers. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Jon Garlock: Documenting the contributions of workers.

Although labor and manufacturing are less relatable to many Rochestarians since Kodak’s demise, Garlock says the #MeToo movement likely inspired this large audience. He says he hopes, however, that the movie educated more people about sexual harassment and blue-collar labor. “Most people think of sexual harassment as white-collar work,” Garlock says. “This is a different story. These women don’t have access to the same resources.”

And, he says, angst about national politics has likely triggered a renewed interest in labor and film. “Our working theory is that people are so agitated and upset they need to see these films together,” Garlock said. “They need to be together in a public space.”

It might also help that interest in socialism is having a revival. “Socialism is becoming, if not respectable, at least reasonable,” he says.

A popular saying from the 1960’s was “If you don’t know, learn. If you know, teach,” Garlock notes, and he and Anderson remain committed to both. They have ideas for future collaborations in the Rochester community and with each other, perhaps something graphical.

“There is no end in solidarity work to be done,” Garlock said. And, he says, “You are never too old to make art or engage in solidarity work.”

– Design and Activism


Jamison Clark – chief design officer of Goose Design Co. and creator of a prospective “app for activism” called “Updraft” – has always been precocious. By the time he was 12, he was dreaming of creating a school for activism that would include hands-on training in how to bring about social change. Now 19 years old, Clark has already begun to realize his vision for fueling activism, propelled by “design thinking.”


Clark co-founded Goose Design with Isabelle Bartter (now chief executive officer and chief technology officer) to provide photography, videography, and other design work for socially conscious businesses. Goose seeks out local companies that focus on ethical practices and community building, and its clients have included Leep Foods, Eat Me Ice Cream, and Holistic Herbals.

click to enlarge city_rochester10_jamisonc-22676.jpg

When he considers who to take on as a client, he considers a business’s motivation, Clark says. “‘Especially with companies that are ethical and looking to make an impact,” he says, “there’s usually a really deep ‘why,’ of like, ‘Oh, I want to feed people, get more access to food,’ or ‘I want to help reduce poverty. I want to provide jobs in this way or have an environmental impact or change the way food is produced.'”

In particular, Clark wants Goose Design to work with for-profit businesses certified as “B Corps” because the certification identifies them as having a positive impact on their community and society – helping the environment, for example. “We’re really interested in working with B corps,” Clark says, “because they go through a rigorous testing process, and they have to be retested every two years.”

His plan is that the focus on improved business practices will also be applied in the development of existing non-profit projects. And this is where Goose Design Co.’s flagship project, “Updraft,” comes in. The app is an example of design and technology converging to promote community activism. If it’s successful, it could become a game changer in how individuals, businesses, and organizations communicate and work together for the greater social good.

Clark has been designing the app for the past several years, hoping to create something that will help individual organizations and people collaborate on activist work. The work will fall under categories such as human rights, food justice, shelter, and environmentalism, with projects that could include things like urban agriculture, homeless services, and refugee settlement. A successful Kiva campaign earlier this year resulted in a loan of $5,000, and now Goose can develop the Updraft prototype, with the goal of an eventual beta release of the app. The company is currently seeking investments to continue the work.

The story behind the name “Goose” and its Updraft app offers insight into Clark’s personality and aspirations. At some point, people started calling him “Goose,” but what began as an affectionate nickname took on greater meaning for Clark. “I learned about how geese uplift each other with their updraft from their wings,” he says. “So when they’re in a ‘V’ formation, the updraft from the wings helps the other geese to fly more efficiently.” Essentially, the goose became Clark’s spirit animal.

Jamison Clark: Using technology and design to help bring about social change. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Jamison Clark: Using technology and design to help bring about social change.

Clark says he has always been sensitive to differences in cultures and to the problem of prejudice. “So I always knew that whatever I wanted to do, it had to be for a purpose,” he says.

Clark grew up with a wide range of interests, including the performing arts, food, and physics. He attended Brighton High School as well as a school in Vermont and graduated early at the age of 16. He then began working with Small World Foods and learning about organic foods and fermentation, before starting Goose Design Co. in 2017.

“When I discovered that design wasn’t just graphics – ’cause I thought it was for a lot of my life – and that it was actually a process that you could apply to different things using different skills, and this whole idea of design thinking: my world totally changed,” Clark says.



Stephanie Woodward says it’s impossible for her to separate her work from the rest of her life.

Woodward is director of advocacy for the Center for Disability Rights. And as a wheelchair user, much of what she deals with in her daily work also affects her personally.

So if she goes out to dinner somewhere and she uses the bathroom, she’ll probably assess how accessible it is. If she hears someone say the R word, “I am now lecturing them for the next 10 minutes about how about how that’s offensive and should be taken out of their vocabulary, just like any other highly offensive words,” she says.

Disabled people have to be constantly vigilant about their rights, Woodward says, because too often they’re not only disregarded, but they’re expected to be happy with what they’ve got. They have to fight to get restaurants to provide both accessible entrances and bathrooms, to get accessible housing, and to stay in the communities where they live.

Stephanie Woodward: “Being quiet isn’t saving lives.” - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Stephanie Woodward: “Being quiet isn’t saving lives.”

“Often times, disabled people are told to be quiet or expected to be quiet and are certainly not expected to be feisty or push back,” Woodward says. “So I’m not exactly what people would expect. And I’m OK with that, because being quiet isn’t saving lives.”

As advocacy director for CDR, Woodward works on anything that ensures that disabled people can live in the community and have the same rights as everyone else, she says. And her days are rarely the same.

Sometimes she’s trying to get a business to remove a step in front of its entrance, so wheelchair users can get in and out. Other times, she works with other CDR staff on local, state, and national policies. Currently, the organization is working with City of Rochester officials on new guidelines that would require any new one- or two-family homes built with city funds to meet basic accessibility requirements.

“I like to say I make or break laws in the name of disability rights, depending on the day,” Woodward says.

She gained some national notoriety in 2017 when members of ADAPT, a national disability rights group, protested Congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and slash $800 billion from Medicaid.

During a protest outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, Capitol police began arresting demonstrators, of which Woodward was one. As police pulled her out of her wheelchair and carried her off, protesters and media captured the scene on camera. The footage spread fast, and news organizations initially treated it as an unsettling spectacle, though some did ultimately explore the issues at the center of the protest.

For Woodward, the experience was nothing new; it was her 16th arrest at that point, and it wasn’t the first – or last – time she was carried away. The next week, in Columbus, Ohio, police grabbed her by the wrist and ripped her out of her wheelchair. Then she was screamed at for not getting into a police car, even though her wheelchair was still in the building she was removed from, she says.

“It was a normal experience for me,” Woodward says, “and I thought it was so interesting that the world fixated on what the police were doing to me and not on what the government was trying to do to millions of disabled Americans.”

The Medicaid cuts would have meant that more disabled people would have gone into nursing homes or other institutions instead living independently in their own communities. Not only is serving people in their own homes and communities cheaper, Woodward says, but it’s better for individuals and society.

The repeal attempt failed, though Congress did ultimately pass less-severe Medicaid cuts.

Woodward lives in Greece, and this summer, she began entering road races. She’s pushed the Rochester 5k, the Rochester Half-Marathon, the Jungle Jog, and recently a 15k. Her boyfriend, a former Paralympian in wheelchair racing, got her started and helped her train for the races.

“I’m more of a pizza roll with the cats on the couch, and he’s like kale and exercise,” she says. “That was my mistake for dating a healthy person.”



The August 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, hit black America like little else in recent memory. It was the latest in a string of police-involved deaths of unarmed African Americans, and the tension between black America and the police led to civil unrest in Missouri and galvanized protests around the country.

In Rochester, Tonya Noel joined a precursor of BLACK – Building Leadership and Community Knowledge – shortly after the events in Ferguson. She and dozens of others gathered, protested, and marched in the center of downtown Rochester south to the Ford Street bridge. That’s when Noel noticed Kristen R. Walker with a mutual acquaintance. “Finally,” she thought, “someone like me.”

After the march, Walker and Noel realized that they ran in the same circles in activism and were both among the patrons at the old Tajze’ Wine and R&B Lounge. The now-closed State Street bar was a focal point of much of their social scene. After nights out at Tajze’s, Noel and mutual friends would have nightcaps at Walker’s house in southwest Rochester. And the late nights fostered their budding friendship during what was a traumatic year culturally and personally.

Kristen Walker, left, and Tonya Noel of Flower City Noire Collective: Filling “the void of safe spaces” for black women. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Kristen Walker, left, and Tonya Noel of Flower City Noire Collective: Filling “the void of safe spaces” for black women.

Walker had suffered a miscarriage that year and lost a fallopian tube in the process. And Noel, a mother of two, acknowledged what her family and friends had known about her just about all her life: she was queer. Walker also identifies as queer today.

Too many people don’t take the pain of black women seriously, Walker says, so she and Noel created Flower City Noire Collective. Its mission, they say, is to fill the “void of safe spaces” for black women in the community while elevating “women of color in their communities using a holistic approach” and “to organize with imagination, respect, and sisterhood.” The group is intentionally multigenerational, to provide experiences for black women of all ages.

Walker and Noel lead service trips across the country as part of their mentorship of black teenage women 14 to 18. The trips are free for the young participants: cost is a sticking point for Walker and Noel, who want to give young women of color a chance to see beyond Rochester without burdening their families with travel or lodging costs.

Recently, the group went to Washington, DC, to attend the March for Black Women. And they went to Grafton, New York, to visit the black-woman-owned Soul Fire Farm, whose focus is ending racism and injustice in the food system. Soul Fire Farm’s Leah Penniman is the author of the recently released book “Farming While Black,” which advocates for black-owned rural and urban gardens.

Noel spearheads Flower City Noire Collective’s urban farm in the Jefferson Avenue neighborhood. Tending the garden helps the group connect with their neighbors while teaching gardening to Flower City Noire Collective’s members. Walker leads a bi-weekly book club featuring only black female authors, most recently Octavia Butler.

Kristen Walker: Filling “the void of safe spaces” for black women. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Kristen Walker: Filling “the void of safe spaces” for black women.

And the Flower City Noire Collective makes a point of being visible when violent crime hits southwest Rochester. They offer hugs and lend an ear to their community during tragedies.

“We’re kind of like black hippies,” Walker says with a Cheshire-cat grin.

Another project on the horizon for the collective is Harriet’s House, a home in southwest Rochester once owned by a member of Walker’s family. Harriet’s House was named after legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Walker and Noel envision the house as a community space and place of healing for black women.

Today, Harriet’s House is more dream than reality. The house needs a new roof and many repairs. Walker and Noel expect to fund the work through donations and bartering and say all other operating revenue comes from making and selling buttons. Flower City Noire Collective’s goal is to remain free of donations from large grant funders. Walker and Noel say they realize that making Harriet’s House a reality will be expensive, and they are wrestling with whether they should turn Flower City Noire into a non-profit in the new year.

LGBTQ Rights


Penny Sterling began acting as a man. A theater graduate of Ithaca College, she was named the “Funniest Man in Rochester” in 1992. Yet Sterling’s external humor masked an inner turmoil. “I was angry all the time,” she says. “I had a baseline of simmering anger that was barely contained.”

In April 2014, Sterling began planning her suicide. Then one night she took a gender-identity quiz on the internet. It was revelatory.

“I was almost completely transgender,” she says. Eighteen months later, at age 54, she came out. “I took an awful lot of people by surprise,” she says.

Penny Sterling: Performing about the transgender experience has become her ministry. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Penny Sterling: Performing about the transgender experience has become her ministry.

Naturally, people – including her children – had questions. At first, Sterling turned back to stand-up to explain her new life, although this time she “wasn’t sacrificing truth for laughs,” she says.

After mainly performing at open mics, in 2016 she submitted her first play, “Spy in the House of Men: A One-woman Show with Balls,” to the Rochester Fringe Festival. To her surprise, it was accepted, and she performed three shows. Since then she has performed her autobiographical play in Ithaca, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis. She estimates that 1000 people have seen her perform.

“They identify with me,” she says. “I touch a tricky subject and go over it in a personal way that isn’t preachy or maudlin. I don’t play the victim. It is my life, and I don’t take anything away.”

It takes her a few moments to regroup after each performance, she says, because the experience of performing and reliving the ups and downs of her past is so emotionally draining. Yet Sterling often concludes her performances with a “talk back,” where the audience can ask questions.

“This is helpful to so many people,” she says. “It is immensely gratifying.” An evangelical Christian, Sterling says performing about the transgender experience has become her ministry.

Despite first-hand experience of harassment based on her appearance, she says she thinks that being a taller, more mature woman protects her from some of the more extreme discrimination faced by younger, transgender people. 

click to enlarge Penny Sterling: Performing about the transgender experience has become her ministry. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Penny Sterling: Performing about the transgender experience has become her ministry.

“There only so many damns I have to give anymore,” she says.

And Sterling is eager to share her experience in support of the transgender community. When the Rochester Business Journal published an offensive syndicated cartoon negatively depicting a transgender person, Sterling wrote an open letter to the RBJ that she posted on her Facebook page.

“This cartoon gives power and cover to the people who would rather see me dead than joyful,” she wrote. “And you’re okay with that.”

To Sterling’s surprise, the RBJ responded immediately and took her up on her offer of a special performance of “Spy in the House of Men.” More than 75 people attended the performance at her church, Artisan Church. In November, the RBJ also featured Sterling in the first episode of its “BizCast,” “Respecting Diversity.”

In addition to advocating for transgender and other human rights, Sterling is involved in activism around homelessness, Planned Parenthood, and the Ugandan Water Project. She wants to be an ally for all minorities.

“When you marginalize, you hurt,” she says.

Sterling has a day job in retail, but she aspires to work in theater full time. She performed with musicians Mike and Mel Muscarella of Violet Mary in a show called “Parents and Children, Husbands & Wives: It’s all Relatives,” at Geva Theatre at this year’s Fringe Festival. She’s also developing a show on parenting (“Children Are Designed to Be Raised by Idiots”) and one on dating as a transgendered woman (“SHMILF LIFE”). She says she’s a much more nuanced performer now than when she was younger.

“I have more shades I can reveal,” she says. “Before, I only had two crayons. Black was rage and white was joy. Now I have 64 colors, and I’m able to use them all.”



Mercedes Phalen has always been a rabble-rouser. She speaks sharply and chooses her words carefully. Her hair is dread-locked, and she wears a septum ring. Her oversized gray sweater, slumped down her shoulders, bears an image of someone painting an incomplete peace sign on a wall next to cursive words that spell “obey.”

In many ways, the sweater encapsulates the quick-witted, politically minded Phalen. Her work is never done.

Phalen lives in Beechwood, a Rochester neighborhood she chose for its sense of comfort and community. Her father lives nearby, and many of her friends and acquaintances, all activists, live in Beechwood as well.

Mercedes Phalen’s activism helped highlight the needs of Rochester’s homeless population. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Mercedes Phalen’s activism helped highlight the needs of Rochester’s homeless population.

The 28-year-old single mother has spent most of her adult life caring for and working with children, including a stint with Action for a Better Community. As an activist, she’s involved herself with cause after cause, formerly working with the local chapter of the National Organization for Women and with Metro Justice.

Currently, she’s the lead organizer for the Rochester Chapter of Citizen Action of New York, a grassroots organization promoting progressive candidates and working on such issues as education, health care, poverty, racism, and campaign finance reform. She estimates that she spends 70 hours a week knocking on doors, planning events, speaking at events, and protesting.

Phalen says she doesn’t seek the spotlight, but the spotlight found her last year when she was among the activists helping residents of the homeless encampment on Mt. Hope Avenue, on land owned by Spectrum and the Bivona Child Advocacy Center.

Mercedes Phalen’s activism helped highlight the needs of Rochester’s homeless population. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Mercedes Phalen’s activism helped highlight the needs of Rochester’s homeless population.

“People tend to act like people who are homeless are invisible,” Phalen says. “When someone takes the time to hang out with them, it makes their whole day.”

When residents of the encampment were threatened with eviction last April, Phelan joined other activists to sit in on the property for a week to prevent it. Phalen describes the experience as “humbling” and filled with “good energy and shitty weather.”

click to enlarge city_rochester10_2018_mercedesp-21495.jpg

The eviction date came and went, and the activists ended their sit-in. Days later, though, Phalen got a call. Spectrum employees were demanding that the residents leave. She rushed to the encampment, gave the employees a few choice words, and was arrested for trespassing.

In the months that followed, Mayor Lovely Warren and other local officials sat down with Phalen, residents of the encampment, and other housing activists, and by mid-summer, Warren announced a plan for a permanent encampment site near West Broad Street.

Phalen has mixed feelings about her arrest. “I’m glad that it happened,” she says, “because it brought more attention to the situation, and I think that attention is part of what helped push for the permanent encampment.”

“But I don’t want to be considered the face of that particular group or movement,” she says. “I strongly believe in those being directly impacted being the actual faces and actual sayers of what they want and what’s happening.”

For Phalen, the protest at the homeless encampment was a victory, she says, but the war is far from over.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘What are you going to do in five or 10 years?'” Phalen says. “I’m going to do this. It doesn’t even feel like work to me. I would love to see a world where I’m not needed. I would love to see a time where there’s nothing left for me to fight for.”

– Criminal Justice


In 2013, it cost taxpayers an average of $60,000 to care for an inmate in New York State. And if the inmate was located in New York City, it cost three times that, according to the New York Times. Many states have taken steps to lower their prison population, and now the federal government maybe following suit, says the National Conference of State Legislators.

That means more people who are incarcerated are eventually released back into their communities, says Susan Porter, executive director of Judicial Process Commission. The non-profit, which was founded in 1972 by the Reverend Virginia Mackey and Lois Davis, is dedicated to helping ex-prisoners restart their lives. For instance, they provide mentoring and referrals for drug and alcohol counseling for people who have recently been released.

But re-entry into society has many barriers. Starting over, even for people who have been convicted of minor offenses, is extremely hard, says Porter, who has been helping people return home to Rochester for 36 years.



Porter earned her degree in natural sciences from the University of Michigan, but a short stint as a volunteer with a prisoner advocacy group in Pennsylvania caused her to change career paths. She learned immediately, she says, that the justice system is far from perfect.

“One of the first people I went to see showed me his glasses, which were broken,” Porter says. Prisons are notoriously bad when it comes to inmates’ eye care, she says, and the prisoner asked her to take his glasses and get them fixed. But that’s a big violation, because in most cases, visitors can’t take anything in or out of prison.

The justice system is hardest on poor people – frequently people of color – who can’t afford a good attorney, she says.

“It’s a disgrace that we have not addressed the racial issues associated with the criminal justice system,” Porter says.

JPC was founded on a belief in redemption and rehabilitation rather than punishment for people who have been incarcerated. Last year, JPC’s bare-bones staff of five served more than 700 people out of a small office it rents in Waring Baptist Church on Norton Street.

Research shows that about two-thirds of people who are released from prison commit crimes and return to prison within three years. But that’s often because they returned to society with no education, skills, or support, Porter says. JPC’s first goal is to help people stabilize their lives. For instance, one of JPC’s programs involves finding permanent housing and then building on that stability.

“I have 25 families in the program right now,” Porter says. “All of these people were homeless.” Once the former prisoners have housing, JPC links them to other support services, which range from alcohol and drug treatment to education and job training.

But for people who have been convicted of a crime, regardless of whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony, the biggest obstacle is finding employment, Porter says.



“It’s really, really difficult to get work,” she says. “Most people want to work, but can’t find it. In a way, you’re disabled by your conviction.”

A criminal record can’t be expunged in New York, but in some instances JPC can help people get their records sealed. JPC also helps people obtain a Certificate of Relief of Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.

“Both certificates pull together evidence of rehabilitation to show that you are a changed person,” Porter says. But in certain careers where state certification or licenses are required – health care and education, for instance – the documents may not help.

One of JPC’s most important programs is mentoring people recently released from prison. Reducing recidivism is heavily dependent on someone helping people with things like dressing appropriately for a job interview, showing up on time, or avoiding a drug or alcohol relapse, she says.

Despite the frustration of working with a small budget and slow-moving bureaucracies, Porter says she still loves her job, even after three decades.

“I’m always so inspired by my clients,” she says, “because they’ve overcome so much.”



As a child, musician Jon Lewis wore a lot of different costumes from day to day, so much so that his neighbor frequently asked: “So who are you today, Jonny?” And for Lewis, now in his early 30’s, some things haven’t changed.

“You could ask me who am I today, and I might be a filmmaker, or I might be Mr. Loops, or I might be a serious folk songwriter,” Lewis says. “I do still dress up in different costumes every day. So it’s been a part of my life since forever. I think I needed to create something for that to continue in my life.”

Lewis has plenty of creative outlets, from his work filming documentaries for the Ontario County Historical Society and animated music videos to his evening gigs as the frontman of the upbeat, highly melodic rock quintet simply called the Jon Lewis Band. But it’s his role as the local children’s entertainer Mr. Loops that has resonated most, in Rochester and elsewhere.

Jon Lewis: finding a rewarding creative outlet working with children. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS

  • Jon Lewis: finding a rewarding creative outlet working with children.

With no prior experience working with children, Lewis began his transformation into the goofy, kind-hearted Mr. Loops – complete with his signature, bright burgundy sports coat and fedora – after he began writing odd, nonsensical songs using a loop pedal and posting music videos online. His friends’ children started calling him “Mr. Loops,” and the parents suggested that he perform at birthday parties.

Lewis reluctantly tried out their idea, volunteering at day care centers and nursery schools. He initially resented Mr. Loops’ popularity and ability to resonate with audiences, compared to that of his regular musical persona. But something had clicked. “To educate kids as well as entertain them became something that was really fascinating to me,” Lewis says, “and I found out that I was really natural at it. Just my general personality is very ‘Mr.Loops.’ Sometimes, I’m pretending more to be Jon, and when I’m Mr. Loops, I can kinda let go.”

Prior to launching Mr. Loops, Lewis had worked for 10 years as a high-end electronics salesman, but it was his three years of formal training as a comedy improviser in the Fairport High School group “Downstage” that helped prepare him for the world of kids’ entertainment. He found that working with children meant needing to engage with them, being responsive, and changing the performance based on what was happening in the audience.

“Kids, especially at the 4-year-old level, I find it’s pretty easy to maybe give them technology to keep them ‘quiet,’ or busy,” Lewis says. “And I think that’s really detrimental. So most of the time, if you can just engage with a kid, or give them some sort of creative motivation to do something, their brains start to fire off so much faster.”



When he’s playing music for adults, he says, the focus is on achieving healthy self-expression. Performing for younger audiences is different. “I wanna build something with kids, so when I do Mr. Loops, it’s very interactive,” he says. “I’m always focusing on how I’m building that relationship with the audience.”

Mr. Loops’ notoriety has also led to other opportunities. Lewis was invited to audition as host of the popular Nickelodeon show “Blue’s Clues” last March, and although he didn’t get the part, it helped him realize the value of making a difference in Rochester. In the fall, Lewis became a preschool teacher at Baden Street Settlement’s Childhood Development Center, and he’d eventually like to become a school principal.

“Maybe there are six or seven new hosts of ‘Blue’s Clues’ in my class,” Lewis says. “Instead of just being the one guy, I can make a whole bunch of positive warriors.”

Human Trafficking


Human trafficking is a massively complex issue. And when it comes to labor trafficking, there’s a global web of causes and influences, including politics and government, industry, natural and man-made catastrophes, want of opportunity, and exploitation.

But at the root of it all is an insatiable desire for cheap labor, which underpins the economies of the United States and most other industrialized nations, says Renan Salgado, senior human trafficking specialist for Worker Justice Center of New York. The dynamic dates back to the beginning of time, when one group of people waged war against another and the loser basically became the labor force for the victor, he says. Later, it gave birth to the transatlantic slave trade.

Labor trafficking is present in a lot of industries, from hotels and restaurants to construction. Salgado tends to focus on trafficking in New York’s agricultural industry. Workers there are filling jobs all around us, and we’re desensitized, he says.

The workers are the victims in the equation, he says. They’re often brought into the country through arrangements that resemble indentured servitude: paying someone to get them into the country and then having to work until they’ve paid off the debt. Agricultural workers coming from Mexico or Central America often owe between $7,000 and $15,000, Salgado says.



Their obligations leave them vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, from physical intimidation and threats against their families to wage theft, he says.

And the societal dehumanization or criminalization of the migrant workers only helps perpetuate their exploitation, Salgado says. Criminalizing and dehumanizing them sends a signal that it’s OK to treat them poorly, he says. And that’s a tactic that’s been used over and over again with every ethnic group that’s served as migrant workers for a particular era.

Chinese immigrants who came to the US to work on railroads were persecuted through the Chinese Exclusion Act, for example. Mexicans and Central Americans are the “latest flavor” in a long line of targeted workers, Salgado says. And this phenomenon isn’t unique to the US, he says. In France, there’s a similar dynamic with Algerians, he says.

Much of Salgado’s work focuses on identifying victims of trafficking and helping them. He serves on regional law enforcement task forces that discuss how to handle trafficking in those areas. He works with attorneys to develop cases against traffickers and to help victims of labor trafficking. He also helps connect victims to service providers.

But lately, he’s focusing a lot more on prevention efforts. He’s interested in “catching migrations before they start,” he says, and has been training government prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States.

He’s also eyeing the foodie movement, with its focus on how food is produced, distributed, and consumed. He wants consumers to be conscious of the labor aspect of food, too.

“There’s a lot of attention being given in this new generation to nutrition,” he says, “or, like, organic and sustainable, but not to the people that are working there.”

Outside of his job with the Worker Justice Center, Salgado is a rapper who goes by the name SAI. He’s been performing internationally for 10 years and initially became known for his socially conscious lyrics, which are mostly in Spanish.

Most of his fan base is in Mexico, and though he’s from Ecuador and was raised in Brooklyn, his knowledge of Mexican history and current affairs – which he’s gained partly through his job – allows him to rap about issues relevant to his listeners. One of his most popular tracks is “Militaras En Las Calles,” translated as “Military in the Streets,” which Salgado says talks about, as you might expect, “how crazy it is to see the military in the streets all the time over there.”

He’s now moved into a slightly more experimental, fun approach.

“I’m getting older,” he says, “so I’m trying to have as much fun as possible before I leave this earth.”