Saturday, July 30, 2011

Former DSS chief defends Gail Perry's record

In the blog “Robinson fired as head of DSS: something stinks”, the Rev-elution reported that Gail Perry was terminated after 37 years of employment at DSS. According to Dan Hudgins, former director at DSS, Perry retired from DSS after 31 with full benefits. “When I retired in 2004 I contacted Gail and encouraged her to apply for the DSS position,” Hudgins says.

“I don’t know of anyone that I know is any better qualified to run that department,” he went on to say. “Gail is passionate about has her work and has always been fair and ethical in her work with clients, staff, and community partners.”

Hudgins says he supervised Perry 5 or 6 year. See was an Assistant Director responsible for 70% of DSS’s programs and staff. “At least three times during my tenure, I asked Gail to take on additional responsibility to help improve the performance of sections that were struggling to meet standards,” he says. “In each case Gail agreed to take on the additional role and she provided the leadership and energy needed to assure that those programs met and exceeded standards.”

Confusion regarding Perry’s exit from DSS emerged after she was made interim director on Wednesday. Past and current employees at DSS have circulated mixed messages related to the reason for Perry’s retirement. The consistent message is that she took early retirement due to misappropriation of funds. Bowser made mention of the issue leading to speculation that Perry was forced to resign.

Since retiring from DSS Perry has served as Social Worker at Lakeview School. Hudgins noted the difficult task of working with youth in the alternative school established for youth pushed out of other schools.

“I am angry that Gail's excellent career at DSS is being misrepresented to indicate that she was fired, terminated, or forced to retire, none of which is true,” Hudgins says. I hope you will choose to set the record straight. Gail deserves no less.”

The endorsement of Hudgins forces a new spin on why Perry was chosen to replace Robinson on an interim basis. From his accounts Perry would serve well on a permanent basis, and would have been a better fit for the position over Robinson.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Robinsion fired as head of DSS: Something stinks

Sometimes it’s best to cut ties with a person who stirs more bad than good. This has been the week of firings. From pro athletes let go due to a new collective bargaining agreement that places a cap on team spending, to Butch Davis finally being sent out the door for a laundry list of no no’s at UNC, to Gerri Robinson getting fired by the politically constructed DSS board, we have seen our share of you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Wait a minute. Who that? Gerri Robinson, director of Durham DSS, was given the pink slip after less than two years of service in Durham. Those close to the drama at DSS aren’t surprised that ole girl was asked to take her show somewhere else. Many were confused, dismayed and bewildered when the DSS board decided to bring her to Durham after her turbulent stretch in Nashville, TN. The folks in the land of the Grand Ole Opry gave her the boot due to her inability to play nice with the board.

Many wondered if she would bring the same drama that led to her termination in Nashville. It didn’t take long for conflict to hit. Within months of her arrival members of the board were prepared to strike a match under her behind and set her on fire. Board members resigned in protest. The malfunction on the board was worsened by the talk of mismanagement within DSS. Something had to change. It did on Wednesday.

The firing of Robinson isn’t an issue of concern. What should raise a large red flag is the way it all happened. From all accounts, what happened in that meeting is a text book example on how to apply Machiavellian principles. The way the board was manipulated leaves one to wonder if County Commissioner Joe Bowser orchestrated a way to send Robinson packing.

The reason Bower gives for beginning his crusade is shaky at the best. He cites the case of Crystal Mangum’s children. Yes, here we go again. Mangum’s two children, ages 11 and 12, were staying with Liddie Howard while Mangum was in jail waiting to go to trial for murder. That was until District Court Judge Doretta Walker ordered temporary custody to the children’s father-Richard Ramseier.

Supporters of Mangum argued that Rameier is not fit to keep the children. He has no job, no home of his own and is staying with a couple in West Virginia. This is the point where it gets confusing. The Mangum backers begin a crusade against Robinson for failing to prevent Ramseier from taking custody of his children while mama is in jail. One has to question the validity related to expecting the head of DSS to go against the orders of a judge.

There may be credence to the argument that Robinson could have pressed the matter more; however, is that sufficient reason to force her out the door. Even more critical in this discussion is the lack of attention in cases similar to Crystal Mangum’s. If Bowser and other advocates for Mangum want to use her plight as reason for termination, I must ask why they couldn’t be found when other mothers and fathers needed the zeal of their protest.

Even more troubling is the decision to appoint Gail Perry as the interim director. Perry will assume her new role on August 8th. In the meantime, Jovetta Whiffield, child placement manager, will lead the organization. Note that it was child placement that led to the hammering of the last nail in Robinson’s casket. Perry was terminated after 37 years of service at DSS. Bowser claims it was due to her purchasing flowers for needy families, but the truth is locked in Perry’s personnel file.

With that being said, it’s critical that we consider how Perry is chosen to serve on the DSS board after being ousted when Dan Hudgins was Director of DSS. She’s placed on the board for one meeting, votes to terminate the Director and then gets the job. You can smell that stinking fish two miles away. At that same meeting Bowser is chosen to serve as the Vice Chair of the board.

I’m just saying. Sometime a person has to go, but things should be done the right way. Something stinks over at DSS.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Carl Webb Leave Greenfire to Start New Venture: The Meaning of Forty/AM

You can’t keep a big fish in a small bowl. You have to let that sucker out to swim in a large body of water. He needs room to grow and show off those swimming skills.

That’s the way I view Carl Webb’s decision to start a new work. Webb has left his role as the primary spokesperson for Greenfire Development to embark on a new venture- Forty/AM. He maintains his role as partner with Greenfire Development and will serve as a board member. He will no longer be involved in the daily operations of the company instrumental in the renaissance of the downtown district and leading the deal to sell the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance building.

Webb left Webb/Patterson Communications to team up with Michael Lemanski to realize his dream of resurrecting the Black Wall Street. That’s the name given the former hotbed of black business on Parrish St. It was the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier who called Durham “the capital of black bourgeoisie.” Frazier, in “Black Bourgeoisie, noted the massive achievements of the descendents of slaves in Durham.

Webb envisioned a multi-level building on Parrish Street across from the former CCB building. It was to be Durham’s memorial to the glory days of the Black Wall Street. Greenfire Development purchased the CCB building. The sign that adorned the top of downtowns tallest building was replaced with the name of the bank that took ownership of CCB –Sun Trust. Construction begins soon to convert that building into a boutique hotel.

The vision of the Black Wall Street continues to capture the imagination of Webb. One only needs to consider the name of his new company.

Forty/Am may confuse those not familiar with the struggles of black folk. It evokes recollections of a promise never fulfilled. During the last stages of the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order on January 16, 1865 providing 40 acres of land and a mule to the former slaves. By June 1865, around 10,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, his successor, Andrew Johnson, revoked Sherman's orders and returned the land to its previous white owners

Could it be that Webb named his new business to divulge his irritation with attempting, the best he can, to build a work while contending within an environment that pits him against people with more than enough? Could it be that Webb is sending a message? That he lacks what others take for granted and has to survive within a business culture that has him pressing, on a daily basis, just to keep pace with those who have more than enough to take risk that he can’t afford to take?

Watching Webb’s rise as a major player in downtown economic development has been a text book lesson on the way money and power works in Durham. Those who have get more. Those who have insight, vision and talent, void of resources, are left waiting for those at table to drop a few crumbs from their over stacked plate. There is a disparity between the way Webb has been treated by the white and black elite of the city. Those with deep pockets and reputations are treated like royalty when seeking the support of local government in the form of an incentive package.

I’m angry about the way Webb has been treated. I feel the agony that comes with watching people escorted to the execution of their dreams. They don’t have to bang on doors; there are people waiting to open the door with a plate of cheese and a bottle of wine while standing with them every step of the way. Others, like Webb, have to answer to the gatekeepers- the white and black men and women who conserve their right to determine who is allowed access to the easy road leading to success.

I’m not sure what Forty/AM means to Webb, but I know what it means to me. Those with the resources refuse us access to what rightfully belongs to us. They stand and watch as we struggle to survive in that small bowl they’ve given us to swim. They have the ability to pull us from that place that strangles our life and creativity, but they would rather watch us die.

It’s difficult being a big fish in a small bowl. All you need is a way out. All you desire is a place to show off those swimming skills. The bowl is too small, but those watching are amused by our grapple to maneuver our intellect and vision in a space too small to sustain all of that potential.

The good news is fish like Webb have strength enough to jump out of the small bowl. He may not have been given his Forty/AM, but something tells me he will find a way to offer others what no one was willing to grant him. A chance to swim.

I think I might swim in the lake with Webb. It’s time to break free from this fish bowl

Monday, July 25, 2011

Same-Sex Union Ban: Not in Durham

I love the guts of Durham’s city council. As a collective voice they have proven an ability to do the right thing when doing so may create a backlash among voters.

On last week, they unanimously passed a resolution opposing a statewide referendum on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Our gutsy council sent a message to the Republican-controlled legislature to stick a sock in it. The good folks in Durham, NC aren’t down with hating people and denying each citizen their constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Durham is not alone among municipalities in the Triangle opposing a constitutional amendment. Carrboro and Chapel Hill both offer domestic partner benefits and consent to couples registering as domestic partners. Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor of Chapel Hill, is openly gay. Carrboro Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle and her partner Alicia Stemper, held a commitment ceremony and registered their union with the town.

An amendment to the state constitution could annul Durham’s domestic partners benefits. The resolution reaffirms the council’s dedication to the rights of those in same-sex partnerships. It states the city has shown "its commitment to making Durham a welcoming community for gay and lesbian residents by formally extending health care benefits to same sex domestic partners of city employees and with their legal dependents in 2002.”

While preparing for the Marry Durham ceremony in March, I heard the frustration of numerous same-sex couples who found it difficult to embrace the symbolic marriage to a city when they could not marry the person they love. I took great care to celebrate the love we have for the city while acknowledging the irritation among those who wanted the same rights as those in love with a person of the opposite sex.

That day was a celebration of the rich diversity and openness in Durham. Our local politicians showed up to makes vows to the city we love so much. “Today, we marry our city. In doing so we affirm our love for each other,” I said as the officiant of the ceremony. “Today, we marry each other. Beyond race. Beyond gender. Beyond class. Beyond sexual orientation. Beyond religion and all other declarations. For better and for worse. In times of economic strength and recession. We love you Durham and we love each person gathered to bear witness to our absolute love for all that makes our happy home.”

Close to 2,000 people took vows that day. They represented all segments of the city’s diverse population. Many serving on the city council honored those vows when they stood before me, Frank Stasio and Willie Bull. As corny as the event may have seemed to those who read about it the next day in the newspaper or saw the footage on the local news, we took those vows seriously. We embraced the men dressed in wedding dresses. Yes, the event was part gay pride, part Mardi Gras and part something no one has ever seen. It was a transformational moment in which those who made those vows committed to move past all language and politics of division.

The council’s vote affirms how seriously they stand behind those vows. It’s why so many, like me, love Durham so much. It’s why we wanted to marry the city. Sadly, not everyone feels the same. There are those who don’t fit in.

“You and the City Council have done it again with your opposition to a ban on gay marriage. This is the kind of thing that makes Durham the laughing stock of the area. You can't even run the city efficiently must less the state or the nation. You need to stick to concerns that are the business of the city. Do you really think that the state cares what the Durham City Council thinks,” Kenneth L. Hunt emailed Council Michael Woodard after the passage of the resolution.

“As one state congressman said with your opposition to Mexican matricula use for drivers licenses, ‘Those folks walk to the beat of a different drummer!" Do you really think that Arizona cares what the Durham City Council thinks of their laws on immigration? Most of Durham, including me, doesn't care what the council thinks. It just irks me that you think that you represent the opinions of the city and you certainly do not. You Mr. Woodard are a poor excuse for a representative of Durham. You represent the things that give this city a bad name all around the area. If God was going to give Durham an enema, he would stick it in Mike Woodard and the city council. You are a disgrace.”

Given Hunts usage of the enema imagery, its people like him, not Woodard and other members of the city council, who need to be flushed down the toilet. His rant is nothing but a load of crap, and in need of being extracted from public discourse. That’s why I waited to the end to even mention his dung. Flush it please before its stench invades the space we all enjoy.

Yes, I love the members of the city council. Today people can file to run for Mayor and city council this fall. I have one word for those who want to run. If you can’t take the vow we all took on March 19th, don’t waste your time. This is a loving community.

Find another city to spit your hatred.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Borders Going Out of Business: Two Thumbs Up for Locally Owned

Let me begin with a caveat to place this blog within a convoluted context. I hate national chains. I can’t stand Wally World (that’s Wal-Mart for those lacking street credibility) and the supermarkets that pump processed food and chemically laced meat into our bodies. I deplore our nation’s fascination with massive duplication seen at malls from coast to coast.

I love all things local. Locally grown produce and restaurants that do their best to bring us products that came on a truck packed just a few miles down the road. I love food created by chefs who live in Durham. I love clothing and jewelry stores like the ones owned by my friends at Vouge and Vert and Hamilton Hill both at the Brightleaf Square. I love the taste of coffee coming from a locally grown shop versus that Starbuck junk.

When it comes to purchasing books, I’d rather take a scroll down 9th Street and give my money to the folks who own the Regulator. Why, because they have supported me. They vend my books and gave me a place to hold a book signing. John Valentine wrote a review of my first book in the Independent Weekly. I support the Regulator because of their love for local authors, and because they create a place for us to be celebrated.

So, my hatred for all things mega-national may creep into this blog. I’m not sad that Borders is going out of business. I do regret that it comes as a consequence of reduced sales in the book business. People aren’t buying books. Some are opting to get their read on by downloading it on their Kindle or Nook. The e-book craze is changing how people like me promote and distribute their work. I get that. What troubles me even more than the implications related to changes in technology is how much people have stopped reading altogether. That frustrates the mess out of me.

As an author, I need for people to buy my work to survive. One would think that Borders and Barnes & Noble would be my best friend. It takes the drama out of distribution when one can stir a person to that one stop shop for feeding the need to learn. As a business maneuver, the national chain makes sense. As one dedicated to the promotion of local voice and economic development, it is the incarnation of evil.

That’s right, I said it! All of that massive national chain development is the DEVIL. Hiss at me if you want. Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Borders and the rest are, in part, responsible for the death of locally owned and operated business owners. Those who support local are dealt a difficult decision-to spend or not to spend. Should they take that hard earned cash and waste the little they have by supporting the locally owned shop, or take what is left to Wally World where the dollar brings home more shopping bags?

The end of Borders gives me reason to celebrate. Another one bites the dust! Sing with me…another one…yes another one bites the dust. I know it’s heartless. Many have lost jobs across the country. I’m sad for all the employees forced to stand in those long lines at the Employment Security Commission. I pray that each of them will find work soon along with the countless others looking and waiting to end their term of unemployment.

Yes it all hurts, but this is a celebration of SUSTAIN-A-BULL. That’s the name given to the marketing plan to get Durham residents interested in supporting their homegrown businesses. Borders is dead, but the Regulator is still open for business. Refrain from getting one of my books on I know it may be cheaper to purchase it on E-bay, but stop before you press the button. Pause and consider what it means to be connected to a community.

If you haven’t read a book lately, go get one today. I would recommend one of mine. I could use the support, but, if not me, consider Zelda Lockhart. By all means, buy a book.

Buy it at the Regulator or another locally owned shop. Tell John Valentine and Tom Campbell I sent you. The good news is they don’t have to fax or email your comments to the home office.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Deportation of a Young Man's Dreams

Someone from the school administration office called just before the rally. The people at Jordan High School said it was okay to meet there to support Fausto Palma-Guifarro, a recent graduate at Jordan High. The move across the street to the parking lot of the city park was not enough to chill the emotions of a troubled crowd. In two days, Fausto is set to be deported to Honduras.

“This is my home. This is the place I want to be,” the soft spoken 18 year-old told 45 supporters. “I feel like my dreams are going down. I don’t have the opportunity in my country to be what I want to be.” He wants to be a pediatrician.

His few words were enough to tell the story as young people held signs that said more than anyone could say. “Education not deportation,” a middle school male student held the sign high as an African American female honked her horn and waved her hand in support. She screamed out the window and the crowd of young people responded to her support. I couldn’t detect what the motorist said.

Others blew and waved. A tear dropped from my eye as I noticed most showing support were African American. Most in the crowd were Hispanic and white. It didn’t matter the race. “We are humans not a #!” read another sign held by a young man the same age of Fausto.

The clock is ticking on Fausto. He crossed the border into the U.S. when he was 12 years-old. “I was brought to this country escaping the violence in Honduras and reunite with my mother who I had not seen since I was 6 years old,” he wrote in a statement passed out at the rally. “I did not remember my mother’s face. I missed her love, hugs and company.”

In 2004, Fausto and his brother were stopped by immigration officials while attempting to cross into the U.S. He was given an order to appear in court, but did not go after his mother received legal counsel informing him not to show up.

On June 8, the day before his graduation from Jordan High, authorities came to his house and arrested him. “We need John Morton to deprioritize Fausto so that way it will give us the opportunity maybe in three to six months to keep him in this country,” Steve Monk, Fausto’s attorney says. “He had no control in coming here. He has lived the good life and wanted to improve himself.”

Fausto’s mother, Veronica Guifarro, moved to Durham in 1998 after a tornado in Honduras. She does cleaning work in Pittsboro. She has Temporary Protected Status due to the conditions in Honduras. Fausto’s is the youngest of three children. Angel Jose Lobo, the oldest son, 27, was deported last month.

Fausto is among thousands in the U.S. who qualify for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Act (DREAM Act) which allows undocumented students to come out of hiding, pursue and obtain higher education and become American citizens. To qualify the student must have entered the country at the age of 15 or younger, graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED, not have a criminal record and lived at least five years of continuous presence in the U.S.

The DREAM Act failed in the Senate in December. North Carolina Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr voted against the legislation. “We need to be communicating with our legislators about the importance of immigration reform that will protect especially vulnerable kids like Fausto who have such a promising future.” says Spencer Bradford, executive director of Durham Congregations in Action.

Bradford says this is a moral action that requires the attention of people of faith. “3000 years ago Hebrew prophets beginning with Moses began talking about being hospitable to strangers in the land,” he says. “God expects us to be as hospitable to strangers in our land as God is hospitable toward us as we come into his house.”

The T-shirt worn by Fausto told the message that Hagan, Burr and other critics of the DREAM Act can’t hear. “Don’t deport my dreams.”

If we are to be a nation that upholds the right for all children to achieve the best within them, how can we do that when a young person like Fausto is sent back to a land where dreams wither like a raisin in the sun?

The move across the street was a fitting illustration to how we handle problems in this country. When faced with conflict, just move it. Move it off school property, or deport it to a far away land.

The clock is ticking. Please don’t destroy Fausto’s dream. He belongs to us. If you don’t believe me, take time to listen to the people honking horns and waving out the window.

We love you Fausto. This is your home, and we are your family.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kalkhof: "DDI is off the table"

“If I run for city council DDI is off the table,” Bill Kalkhof, president of Durham Downtown, Inc., told me during a recent phone conversation. “It would be a conflict of interest if I continued to serve.”

The conversation came after a recent blog were I mention Kalkhof as a potential candidate for city council. His name has circulated since 2009 after he shared his interest with Barry Ragin and Kevin Davis on Shooting the Bull, their radio show on WXDU. Kalkhof says he has pondered running since then with the understanding that doing so would mean leaving the post he has held since the beginning of DDI.

“I have a team in place,” he told me. “If I decide to run now they are prepared. If not this time they are in place for me to run late.”. Kalkhof was clear that serious thought has gone into his decision to run. At issue is not if, but when, and the when has much to do with if the landscape is such that he can assure winning.

Kalkhof has been instrumental in fueling growth in downtown Durham. Once a wasteland of vacant and deteriorating buildings, downtown has transformed into one of the hottest spots in the South. The city has caught the attention of the New York Times and is regarded as a national model for economic development.

To keep the wheels of progress flowing, Kalkhof led the charge to pass the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) which created a special taxing district for augmented services downtown. Like a master craftsman, Kalkhof was able to convince the city council the BID is essential during tough economic times.

"If you believe, like DDI does, that the current level of services is simply not good enough, then we're going to have to have a public-private option to raise up the level of services downtown, and to do so in a way that does not take away from other neighborhoods," Kalkhof said during a council meeting. He convinced the council that forming a special tax district would free funds to focus on other vital needs.

Kalkhof has his share of critics. Some have argued that the emphasis on economic development downtown has robbed resources from North East Central Durham and Southside/Rolling Hills. Others are critical of how Kalkhof and DDI receives credit for all that growth while failing to acknowledge the contributions of Jim Goodman at American Tobacco, Christian Laettner, Brian Davis and Tom Niemann at West Village, and Michael Lemanski, Steve Mangano, Paul Smith and Carl Webb at Greenfire Development. They are quick to point to a series of interrelated events that led to massive growth in downtown. More than Kalkhof’s passion, they argue, it was the vision of these business folks that stirred the growth.

The critics of Kalkhof are silenced by the success of downtown economic development. His passion and consistent voice as the advocate for downtown revitalization has been influential in shifting the tide. Now that the BID is in place, Kalkhof is free to pass the baton and consider expanding economic growth in other areas as a member of the city council.

Kalkhof has talked about focusing on downtown and extending economic development from the center. He has talked about developing North East Central Durham and Soutside/Rolling Hills after building a strong infrastructure from the downtown district core.

Maybe he can follow through with the rest of the vision. One thing is certain-we have to take notice of his track record.

DDI is off the table. Sounds like he needs to be placed in a seat.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spill the Beans Marvin!

I hope Marvin Austin spills the beans. The former UNC football standout and second-round pick of the New York Giants has threatened to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth after a judge denied Michael McAdoo the right to play football at UNC.

“I’m so heated right now…justice will prevail…even if I have to spill the beans,” Austin wrote on his Twitter account, @anchormanaustin, the night of Judge Orlando Hudson ruling. The Durham Superior Court Judge denied McAdoo’s request for an injunction against the NCAA and UNC that would have restored his eligibility.

McAdoo, a defensive end who played two years for the Tar Heels, was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA after an investigation that uncovered academic fraud and the receipt of improper benefits among players. Austin was one of the players connected to the scandal that may have cost the team serious contention for a national championship. A record nine players were drafted in Aprils NFL draft, which tied for most draftees among one school. Many of those players were declared ineligible to play during the season that had fans drooling.

Austin claims McAdoo was “misled, misused and ostracized from the program,” and described administrators at UNC as “cowardly.” I would love to see Austin make those same comments as a witness. Who better to talk about the whirlwind of events that wrecked a promising season for the Tar Heels?

It was Austin’s comments on Twitter that began that rollercoaster ride that continues to cast a shadow over the UNC football program. In June, the NCAA delivered a 42-page Notice of Allegations to Chancellor Holden Thorp that offered nine major violations, including six related to former assistant coach John Blake or Jennifer Wiley, the tutor responsible for getting McAdoo in trouble with the NCAA.

“Same reasons that others got suspended and are able to play for because I know exactly the details in each case and its no way that this young…Man should have his dream snatched from him like the NCAA has done,” he writes. “I can tell you so many stories that would be mind boggling in comparison.” Say more Marvin. Spill those beans!

I wish he would tell the truth, on stand, about the leadership at UNC. He comes close to opening that can. “I wish the administration stood…And stop the cowardly acts when they are in front of the NCAA and tell them what you told us,” I wonder what Austin and other players were told. I wonder if we will ever get a chance to hear what athletes are told when schools are under the haunting glare of NCAA investigators. Hmm, I marvel at the possibilities.

Judge Hudson’s ruling means McAdoo, who would have started this coming season, cannot play at any NCAA level. He has been stripped of his right to play, and, ultimately, deprived his right to prove his merit as a future NFL draftee. The good news is Robert Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court judge, and Durham attorney Noah H. Huffstetler have just begun their fight against the NCAA and UNC. This one could go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In the meantime, McAdoo can’t play which exposes the gross hypocrisy surrounding the way the NCAA rules the lives of college athletes. The lack of due process and consistent decisions renders the NCAA a laughingstock among those who believe in the American judicial process.

Putting Austin and other athletes on the witness stand may be what’s needed to restore standing to the NCAA sanctioning body. The way the NCAA ruled in the McAdoo case can best be described with the image of putting his name in a hat. The NCAA just grabbed the sentence du jour. They destroyed the life of a young man who made a bad mistake and confessed his role in what appears to be an issue within the administration. Put another way, McAdoo played by the rules given him as an athlete while the university uses him as the goat to be slaughtered.

Spill the beans Marvin. While you’re at it, get some other players to step forward with their can of beans.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A sip of coffee and reflections on the next city council election

I’m sitting at the Beyu Café sipping coffee. It’s one of my local hang outs. I don’t go to the Beyu as much as I would like. You only get one hour to park on the street. That’s an issue for the city council to tackle.

I’m sitting a few tables away from Donald Hughes. Hughes made an unsuccessful bid to serve on the Durham City Council during the last election. Everyone I’ve talk to regards Hughes as a rising star among the countless other political wannabes. His biggest political liability is his mother Jackie Wagstaff, who gets a bad rap for being too outspoken. Many are unwilling to forgive her outburst when she served on the school board.

Hughes was there too. I’ll never forget his rants at school board meetings. He was a high school student at Hillside High. I loved his passion. I loved his courage. I loved his intelligence. Dang, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen after he found a way to channel all of that talent in a constructive way.

After taking the most recent sip of coffee, I fought the urge to ask him if he plans to run for office in the next election. The word in the streets is he will sit this one out. It’s also rumored that his mother has her eyes on one of the three council seats. That hasn’t been confirmed, but Victoria Peterson has announced her intention to run this fall. Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham, Inc, has been mulling a potential run for city council since 2009. That could stir an interesting conflict of interest debate.

This falls election speaks to the failure of Durham’s African American community to prepare a credible candidate to present to voters. Farad Ali’s decision to leave Durham for work in Durham may shift the demographics of the council from a 4-3 African American majority to a 4-3 white majority. History has proven that Durham functions best when the politics of race are taken off the table, and that normally happens when there is a majority of highly competent African Americans serving on the council.

Steve Schewel, former member of the board of education, is a serious contender to assume the spot occupied by Ali. It’s safe to conclude that Peterson, who has run unsuccessfully for the council three times and for county commission once, is a long shot to win. Those who have lost in the past normally don’t fare well when attempting to prove they are worthy after being defeated before.

Eugene Brown and Diane Catoti face minimal opposition to reclaim their seats on the council. Defeating the incumbents will require a candidate who won’t require being sold to voters. Sadly, the political leaders in Durham are aging fast, and there aren’t many prepared to step on the scene with a resume of strong consistent public service.

There are many who would be phenomenal council members-Carl Webb, Chuck Watts, Sterling Freeman, Anita Brown-Graham and Lois Deloatch come to mind as African Americans who I wish could serve. The problem is the limits based on the work they do and potential conflicts of interest. It’s too bad. A person who holds office in Durham has to be either independently wealthy, have a job that allows flexibility to stray away for those meetings, have a partner that pays the bills while you cut back from work, or be so disconnected from work and other responsibilities that you have nothing better to do with your time.

There aren’t many who trigger an aha moment. Durham has failed at locating, developing and nurturing people for civic leadership. It’s a community that quite frankly kills its youth with power play, manipulation and division. Hughes is one among many who could have served well in political office. I’m hoping he gets another chance. What he and other young leaders need are older, seasoned politicians to teach them. They need the support of our local political action committees.

I would love to see someone elected from the Hispanic community. I would celebrate the election of a person who is openly gay or lesbian. Wouldn’t it be affirming to elect an Asian American or someone who has transcended the scars of incarceration? When that happens we will know that Durham has truly become the diverse community we all say we love so much.

Until then, we are facing another election with the same players. No fresh voice has emerged on the political canvass. There’s a graveyard filled with those who died in elections from the past. Maybe some should rise from the grave. Most of them lost for good reason and should stay in the grave.

I still can’t get over a one hour limit for parking in downtown Durham. One more sip and a prayer for more faith in the next election

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cheating Schools in Atlanta: Could it Happen in Durham?

Could it happen in Durham, NC? Is it possible that the scandal that has ripped the reputation of teachers and administrators within the Atlanta public school system could happen in our own backyard?

In case you missed it, the Atlanta public schools system is entangled in an unprecedented cheating scandal involving 178 principals and teachers, and 44 different schools. A recent investigation uncovered a decade of cheating were educators erased wrong answers on state standardized test, and inserted the right ones. 82 of the 178 educators under investigation confessed.

The reason given is the massive pressure to meet state guidelines. Teachers and administrators decided to change the rules given their inability to meet expectations the right way. Maybe they felt the test creates an environment that encumbers the delivery of quality education. What does one do when funding is linked to test performance, and you have to face attacks because of the limits of those who show up at your school?

Is this what happens when the test controls the way we measure teachers and administrators? At the end of the day, the test is used to gauge more than the advancement of the pupil. It is used to determine the limits and strengths of both the teachers and administrators at the school. The pressure to meet end of the year goals is enough to tempt a teacher to change those answers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cosigning on the mistakes made. The purpose of education is to do more than teach things measured on a test. Schools should teach integrity. Any time a teachers changes the answers they have denounced their role as molders of character. Those heads should roll down in Hotlanta.

But there is a deeper issue on the table. It’s one that could be lost in the fury of the moment. It’s imperative that educators examine the implications related to creating a culture of competition and reprimand joined to a standardized test.

What does a teacher do when there is a federal law that states all schools have to have 100 percent of their students proficient in reading and math by the year 2014 or the school will be shut down? No Child Left Behind has helped rouse a climate of fear among teachers and administrators. The annual end of the year report card has become the sole gauge used to determine the success or failure of the school.

In Atlanta, the school system showed such amazing progress in 2009 that it led to Beverly Hall, the school system’s former superintendent, being named America’s superintendent of the year. Investigators of the scandal claim that Hall either knew of the cheating or should have. She has denied the accusation, but blames other employees.

So, is that what it takes to gain national recognition for turning a troubled school system around? It’s not the implementation of strategic plans with sounds systems of evaluations that moves schools in the right direction. It’s not facilitating parental and community involvement that makes that critical shift. Could it be that the key is to refuse to play by the rules? Simply cheat on the test. Get around the tragic execution of No Child Left Behind.

Could there be schools in Durham with teachers and administrators who have taken matters into their own hands by cheating on the test? Maybe we have a few sick and tired of being chewed up and thrown out due to a test that comes back below the line. What do we say to the teachers who can’t get the message across because the classroom needs a social worker more than a teacher?

What happens when that teacher is afraid of the consequences that come with not being able to teach in a way that meets expectations? Things are being taught, but they don’t show up in the test. Does that mean the teacher has failed? Should the principal at the school be detached for failing to show improvement?

I’m not saying it’s happening in Durham, NC, but if it is I wouldn’t be shocked. I wouldn’t be if it’s happening in Wake and Orange County. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if we discovered it’s happening in most schools across the nation. That’s what happens when the livelihood of people is determined on their ability to prove significant growth in others.

Yeah, heads should roll in Hotlanta. Fire everyone connected to this scandal. After we clean house, let’s take another look at No Child Left Behind.

Otherwise we tempt people to change the answers on the test.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan stops in the Bull City

The Caravan arrives in Durham on Tuesday, July 12 at 6pm. That’s less than 24 hours away. Since 1992, The Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan has sent at least one aid caravan to Cuba each year. This year 140 cities will hold events hosting the caravan. They will stop in Durham at the Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church, 107 N. Driver St. To educate people on how the US embargo of Cuba causes shortages of food, medicine and other important supplies for the 11 million people living in Cuba.

The 14 routes of the caravan will congregate in McAllen, Texas, and take the aid collected on the way across the border into Mexico. Donations will be loaded on ships for transport to Cuba and participants will fly to Havana for a week of educational programs hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches and the Martin Luther King Peace Center.

Pastors for Peace founder Rev. Lucius Walker died in October 2010, making this the first “Friendshipment” since his death. Walker described the caravan as “an expression of the foreign policy of American citizens, opposed to the foreign policy of our government.”

Walker’s life was transformed on August 2, 1988, when he led a delegation on a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua where rebels were fighting the American-backed government. Their riverboat was attacked by government soldiers, and Walker and 29 others were wounded. Two were killed. The event inspired him to start an organization of pastors to fight what he termed American imperialism. That organization is Pastors for Peace.

Of Pastors for Peace’s 40 missions, 21 have been to Cuba, which has been off limits to American trade since 1963. “The Bible says feed the hungry, clothe the poor,” Walker said in an interview with the Washington Post in 1996. “It doesn’t say to starve the Communists.”

“It’s a travesty how much churches have said about social justice and how little they have done,” Walker told The New York Times in 1969.

Walker graduated from Shaw University before earning a divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin. He was ordained in 1958.

He was fired from his job as associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches for giving too much money to community organizations back in 1973. He went on to form an umbrella group of civil rights organizations to fight the Ku Klux Klan and another to help prisoners who had been accused of political crimes to obtain bail bonds.

The “Friendshipments” is the progressive faith community’s response to the US economic blockade of Cuba. Like Walker said, feeding the poor is not limited to political ideology. This year’s caravan has meaning beyond previous years. It is the first without Walker who died at 80. It is a celebration of his vision and legacy. Since the first in 1992, when 100 carananistas carried 15 tons of aid-powered milk, medicines, Bibles, bicycles and school supplies to Cuba. Since that first one that had CNN cameras film US treasury officers assaulting a Catholic priest who was carrying Bibles to take to Cuba prompting thousands of calls to Washington from around the US.

Walker is dead, but the work continues. The Caravan stops in Durham, NC, just a few miles down the road from where Walker studies English at Shaw University. It stops in a community rich in progressive theological reflection. Sadly, it’s becoming harder to find people willing to press beyond their politics to see God’s face in countries we’ve been taught to hate.

Blessed are the peacemakers-the Bible tells us. Next year I’m travelling with the Pastors for Peace. I’m headed to Cuba next year. The work of Walker has to continue. One preacher at a time. If not me, who? If not now, when?

Until then, I’ll see you on July 12th at Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Duality": Jazz at the Blue Coffee Cafe

The dude plays a slappaphone. I never heard of the instrument until I heard him play it 7 years ago. It’s a Gamelan percussion instrument. I’m told that Kahlil Kwame Bell is the only jazz musician in the world who plays it. His work is a unique blend of sounds that have left me spellbound and breathless every time I hear him play.

His newest project is a departure from his work with the slappaphone. He returns to his roots in “Duality”. It’s his skill as a percussionist that has landed him gigs on over 80 recording and tours with some of the best in the business. Bell has worked with Roberta Flack, Erika Badu, Sepia, Stefon Harris and two time Grammy Nominated Russell Gunn’s group Ethnomusicology. He plays over 1,000 percussion instruments and does work on both wood and clay flutes.

He is an accomplished composer and arranger. The genres on his recording range from Jazz to Folk, Rock to Hip Hop, Classical to World Music and Spoken Word to Spiritual tunes. In “Duality” Bell teams up with Brandon MCune. McCune, who was chosen as the U.S. Jazz Ambassador to Africa, has worked as a band leader, music director or sideman for Abbey Lincoln, Terrance Blanchard, Nneena Freelon, Betty Carter, Miki Howard, Wynton Marsalis, Terry Dunbar, Larry Ridley, NCCU’s Lenora Zenzalai Helm, Mark Gross, Antonio Hart and Orbet Davis.

“Duality” is magic wrapped in sound. The two stand alone in a collection of songs that take you on a journey around the globe of musical sounds. Each takes you deeper into a hypnotic state destined to pull you away from the chaotic mess that has enraged those searching for more than a drum machine to captivate their attention.

The two will be performing on Saturday, July 9th at the Blue Coffee Café at 202 N. Corcoran St. in downtown Durham. They will be there for a CD release party. The small venue will allow for the audience to touch and feel the sounds. There is a $20 cover charge to get in. It’s well worth it. The Blue Coffee Café will be transformed into a jazz club that night. For those who have been to some of the best clubs in New York City, Bell and McCune are set to take your mind there. The show starts at 8:00 pm. with a free art show from 4-7pm.

What a gift to the city of Durham. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Slave Master Comes to UNC

Folks following the Michael McAdoo lawsuit against the NCAA and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill should read William Rhoden’s book “The Forty Million Dollar Slave”. Rhoden’s book sheds light on a system that reaps amazing reward for keeping young men in bondage.

What happened to McAdoo deserves to be punished. For those not keeping up with the case, McAdoo, a 6-7, 245 pound defensive end, received a permanent ban from college sports last year by the NCAA. On July 1, attorneys for McAdoo filed a lawsuit in Durham County claiming their client was “improperly and unjustly declared ineligible to play intercollegiate athletics by Defendant NCAA.

The NCAA is charged with jumping to judgment void of all the facts. The investigation by the NCAA found McAdoo guilty of accepting $110 in improper benefits and three instances of academic fraud stemming from portions of a paper composed by tutor Jennifer Wiley.

The NCAA failed to investigate the allegations themselves. Instead, they took the UNC Sept 28 and Oct 4 self-reports at face value. No one adjusted the allegations after the UNC Undergraduate Honor Code Court found there wasn’t enough evidence to charge McAdoo with one of the three counts and found him not guilty on another. The NCAA also failed to consider that UNC’s self-report stated McAdoo did not knowingly commit academic fraud.

The Honor Code Court found McAdoo guilty on one count of fraud for allowing Wiley to add citations and composing a works cited page to conform to American Psychological Association style. McAdoo was suspended for one semester.

When declared permanently ineligible the following month, the NCAA cited three counts of fraud. No one from UNC or the NCAA raised issue with the error. No one in the room fought on his behalf. Like a slave on the auction block, McAdoo’s right to play was sold in exchange for UNC’s reputation.

UNC’s attorney’s failed to mention the error. During the appeal hearing, Utah State professor Ken White, chair of the student-athlete reinstatement committee for the NCAA, stated in his opening remarks that all factual disputes had to be resolved before moving forward. Any discrepancies would result in a postponement of the hearing. No one from UNC or the NCAA brought up the factual dispute.

Also at issue is the lack of fairness in the way the NCAA hands out punishments among those who break the Master’s rules. Is one count of academic fraud and receiving 110 bucks enough to suspend an athlete for the remaining two years of eligibility? Keep in mind that McAdoo made good on repaying the money he had received.

Andy Staples column on raised the issue of fairness within the NCAA. “When a tutor provided dozens of Florida State athletes with answers for a test for an online music appreciation course, the NCAA agreed in 2007 to a plea bargain that would force the athletes to miss 30 percent of their next season. Cheating on a test and getting APA style pointers are different animals,” he wrote. “As for the impermissible benefits, the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus admitted to receiving $1,787 in impermissible benefits in 2010 and received only a two-game suspension.”

So, you may wonder, why the reference to William Rhoden? Is it over the top to use the analogy of plantation life in reflecting on the state of college athletics? I think not. Not when the boss man holds his whip and collects massive institutional and personal wealth from young studs in exchange for the promise of a college degree. Let’s pull our freaking heads out of the sand and face the truth. Everyone is getting paid at the expense of those who put their bodies at risk.

It appears as an equal exchange-you give us your body and we will give you a place to live, food to eat and a college education. Yeah, it seems like a fair exchange of services and goods until someone gets caught. That’s when the university and the coaches forget the rest of the story and point their finger at the stud. It’s his fault for setting up the system. Problem is he didn’t create the system, the university, coaches, agents and the NCAA created a scheme that keeps players fettered and overwhelmed. That doesn’t absolve athletes for taking advantage of what has been created. It holds others to a level of accountability much higher than the youth prone to make mistakes.

My issue is with the silence of UNC and the NCAA at that hearing. It feels like the university simply decided to play the part to make it all go away. McAdoo, it appears, was no more than a Mandingo stud sold to protect the universities reputation. They watched as the NCAA ruled on his future. They refused to speak up on his behalf. They denied his right to be judged on the facts.

Like a slave on the auction block, McAdoo stood naked before the NCAA. He exposed his limits as the university he pledged to play for allowed his future to go to waste.

Take yo beatin and go to tha shed boy!