Posts Tagged ‘north carolina’

Photo: Brandon Harris.
Brandon Harris (left) and Sura Sohna after Sohna’s release from the Patuxent Institute Feb. 8. Harris’s work on a Davidson College project figured into the court’s decision to release Sohna more than a decade before the end of his 14-year sentence.

Your childhood friends may know you better than anyone else. In today’s story, Brandon Harris knew that a disadvantaged friend who had gotten in trouble with the law was a good person at heart and deserved a second chance. Getting him out of jail took a college research project and people willing to listen.

Sydney Page reports at the Washington Post, “Brandon Harris sat anxiously in an Annapolis courtroom, his head buried in his hands. He took an audible breath as the judge prepared to read the ruling.

“The 22-year-old college student didn’t fear his own fate. He was concerned for Sura Sohna, his childhood friend, whose 15-year prison sentence for first-degree burglary was being reconsidered that morning.

“ ‘Being in that moment was completely surreal,’ said Harris, a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina. It was his independent-study project that was part of what compelled the court to reassess the case [of] Sohna, 23, who had been in the Patuxent Institution, a correctional facility in Jessup, Md., since he was 20. …

“Sohna’s friendship with Harris began at Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis, when they were in the same fourth-grade class.

“ ‘We had a lot of great times,’ Sohna recalled. ‘We were close as kids.’ … They remained close as they moved on to Annapolis Middle School.

“ ‘But towards the end of that, we started drifting apart,’ Harris said.

“As teenagers, they were on opposite paths. While Harris got an academic scholarship to a prestigious private high school, Indian Creek School, Sohna was living in an affordable-housing community, witnessing acts of violence with little guidance or stability in his life.

“ ‘We had bad circumstances,’ Sohna said, explaining that he felt responsible for looking after his mother and brother. ‘I felt like I had to be the one to support us, and I went into criminal activity because of that.’ He broke into several houses when people weren’t there and stole property. He would then sell the items for money.

“Sohna got caught and was first incarcerated at age 17 after being charged as an adult with 25 counts, including burglary, theft and multiple gun-related offenses. Many of the charges were dropped in a plea deal, but he still ended up behind bars. When he was released, he continued committing crimes and was again arrested. On Jan. 14, 2020, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for one count of first-degree burglary, which he had committed while on probation.

“ ‘The judge gave him a really hefty sentence,’ said Keith Showstack, Sohna’s lawyer, who thinks the tough sentence was due to ‘a track record of Sura committing a lot of burglaries, and the judge thought enough was enough.’

“At that time, Harris and Sohna had lost touch. Harris remembers seeing Sohna’s mug shot in the local news more than once over the years. ‘I was very scared for him,’ Harris said. ‘That hurt.’

“Harris knew his friend was a good person at his core and believed he had committed those crimes as a response to poverty and desperation. ‘The thought that went through my head was that if our life circumstances were flipped, I might also be behind bars,’ Harris said.

“While they weren’t in contact, Sohna stayed on Harris’s mind, particularly during his college classes that covered social justice. ‘It just made me think a lot about him,’ Harris said.

“But it wasn’t until June 2020, when Harris read about how the coronavirus pandemic was worsening already poor prison conditions, that he decided to write a letter to his childhood friend to check in. Sohna was stunned to receive it.

“ ‘It was so shocking to me,’ he said. ‘I saw it said, “Brandon Harris,” and that made me feel warm inside.’ [He added] that when you’re in prison, ‘you don’t have people on your side.’

“Harris’s letter was mostly filled with life updates, as well as motivational messages. … Before long, their childhood bond was restored.

“Sohna shared with Harris what life was like in prison. ‘It was miserable. It was shameful. It was angering,’ Sohna explained. ‘I felt like that place was going to define me and make the worst of me.’ When Harris resurfaced in his life, he added, it was ‘at a time when I really needed it.’

“Corresponding with Sohna was meaningful for Harris, too. … He was inspired to start an independent-study project through the school’s Communication Studies department. … Sohna was enthusiastically onboard. It offered him a sense of purpose, and for the first time in a while, allowed him to see himself as more than an inmate.

“As part of the semesterlong assignment that started last January, Harris conducted interviews with Sohna, as well as some of the victims of Sohna’s crimes, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and Sohna’s family.

“Harris learned that Sohna’s father was mostly uninvolved in his upbringing, and that his family struggled with homelessness at one point. He also came to understand the violence that Sohna had seen while living in Robinwood, an affordable-housing community in Annapolis, where even this week, two youths were shota boy, 15, and a girl, 11.

‘He had to be willing to listen to good things about Sura but also things that were not all that flattering in order for him to actually have the full story, which is not always easy,’ said Ike Bailey, a journalist and professor at Davidson College, who mentored Harris through the project. …

“Harris contacted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who gave permission for Sohna to participate in a public interview from prison, which the facility initially had prohibited. It turned into a live Zoom conversation that was publicly broadcast.

“Sohna’s lawyer, Showstack, participated in the discussion — which was promoted by the school and featured in local media — along with hundreds of members of the Davidson community and others. Sohna could feel the support, he said.

“His lawyer said the Zoom was helpful, as it ‘opened his eyes to the realization that there are a lot of good people who are willing to help,’ Showstack said. … In December, Showstack decided to try to get Sohna’s sentence reevaluated. … The judge granted the request. …

“By the end of the month, Sohna was granted a hearing. While Showstack was optimistic, Sohna was less confident. ‘I just had really no hope,’ he said.

“At the Feb. 8 hearing, though, he poured out his heart to the judge, owning his actions and explaining why he was worthy of being back in society. He said he wanted to contribute to his community rather than take from it.

“ ‘It was an amazing speech. I was proud,’ Harris said. … Harris also took the stand, outlining the findings from his project, including Sohna’s unstable situation at home and his family’s financial struggles. He reinforced that Sohna’s behavior was a series of bad choices he made rather than who he was as a person — or who he would be in the future.

“ ‘I talked about the progress I’ve witnessed since working with him’ [and added] that Sohna’s father is back in his life, he speaks regularly with a therapist and, because of the project, he has many prospective mentors in the Annapolis community and beyond.

“At one point, Maryland Circuit Court Judge William Mulford II — the same judge who sentenced Sohna in 2020 — asked everyone in the gallery to raise their hand if they had come to support Sohna that morning, and everyone did.

“Then, in a moment Harris and Sohna described as dreamlike, the judge said: ‘You’re going home today.’ “

More at the Post, here.

Read Full Post »


Gavin Hardy is good at both the bass and basketball. For a bigger image, watch the video at WFMY.

Our niece teaches orchestra at a middle school in North Carolina. Teaching orchestra is a job she loves, and she has often said she thinks she was born to do it. Sometimes she gets notes from long ago students telling her things like, “I always looked forward to your class. It was the time I felt best in school.”

She encourages students of every ability, and when she sees exceptional talent, she likes to spread the word. Here’s a story about a young bass player.

Maddie Gardner at television station WFMY in Clemmons has the report.

“You might say basketball is like music. The ball hitting the court: resonance. A shoe squeaking against the hardwood: pitch. The perfect shot: crescendo. And then there’s the discipline.

” ‘I think both go hand in hand. You have to be very disciplined to be a musician – same thing with an athlete. You have to practice it. You have to do it when nobody is looking. You have to be able to work hard when nobody is watching you do it.’

“Coach Tommy Witt says 8th grader Gavin Hardy brings a certain harmony to the Clemmons Middle School gym.

” ‘I hope to play at a division one school. My dream is to play in the NBA, but I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m willing to put in the work,’ Gavin said. …

” ‘Just keeping the tunnel vision, staying focused, you gotta block out all of the distractions that get in your mind, know what you want and attack it. Strive to be the best,’ he said. …

“For 10 years Gavin’s been on the court. … But playing the National Anthem on his bass was something he’d never done before.

” ‘It’s funny – we want to get people to play the national anthem and I went to [his orchestra teacher] Barbara and said, “Do you think he can play the national anthem in his uniform?” ‘ Witt said.

‘It was just a no brainier; he can do anything,’ Gavin’s orchestra teacher, Barbara Bell said. ‘Whatever he puts his mind to he can do.’ …

” ‘I’ve been listening to classical music ever since I was four. I just like the string family and I like the dark tone of the bass,’ Gavin said.

Gavin says he usually listens to string music to get pumped up for a game but before the team played Winston-Salem Prep he decided he’d be the string music before tip off. …

” ‘He’s always interested in more. He keeps working harder to get to the next level,’ [said Bell]. …

” ‘When your best player is also your hardest worker you have a chance to be really good and that’s what Gavin has done for us,’ [Coach] Witt said.” More here.

Barbara tells me that her student learned the National Anthem on the bass in two days and that the publicity brought him wider attention.

“The National Bass Society has contacted Gavin,” she said in a text. “They want him and they’re offering a playing opportunity. The assistant principal bassist from the Philadelphia Orchestra contacted him. He teaches at Juilliard and he is very interested in helping him. I am beyond excited for him. I was screaming and jumping up and down when he told me.

“The Philadelphia Orchestra bassist loved his playing and was especially excited about his work ethic and attitude. I told Gavin he had to give me tickets to wherever he lands.”

Gavin’s teacher with her twins. All three are string musicians.


Read Full Post »


Photo: Victoria Bouloubasis/The World
The Al-Khasrachi family lived on the Guilford College campus in North Carolina for months after arriving in the US as refugees. The father had received threats while working for a US military contractor in Iraq.

I know from my own experience as a volunteer in a refugee resettlement agency that there are few refugees coming through today although the need is greater than ever. Some agencies, like the amazing Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee) have chosen to “do the doable” at refugee camps abroad. Other agencies and individuals give extra love to the few families still arriving — at the same time reaching out to other immigrants who live here. Today I have a story about people who welcome others with open hearts.

Victoria Bouloubasis reports for The World at at Public Radio International [PRI], “Growing up in Burundi, Blaise Pascal was fascinated with R&B music from the United States. … According to Pascal, studying those lyrics helped him become fluent in English with no formal training.

“Pascal, 31, never forgot this teen pastime. When he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 2019, music helped him ease into his new life. It also helped that he was part of the Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR) program, an organization that provides housing and utilities for refugee families and individuals like Pascal. The organization was founded in 2015 at Guilford College and later spread to six other college campuses across the country. …

“Pascal also took advantage of the resources at his disposal at Guilford College, like the music room and soccer field. He met fellow musical minds, professors and students with whom he hosts regular jam sessions. He would also send videos of himself singing and playing guitar with his new friends to his older sister in Burundi over WhatsApp. …

“His sister raised him after their Congolese parents died when Pascal was still a young child. The siblings survived the civil war that their parents did not. Both have applied for refugee status; Pascal was resettled to the US while his sister waits. … Pascal [says] without his sister, it has left a ‘big, big darkness before me.’ …

“ ‘To go to zero is an enormous blow to the refugee resettlement program,’ says Diya Abdo, the English professor at Guilford College who created ECAR. …

“It’s also forcing resettlement agencies and supporting organizations like ECAR to rethink the future. Further cuts would be devastating to these organization, but there would be opportunities too, says Abdo — to re-focus efforts on refugee communities already in the US and finding ways to support them. …

“On a global level, the number of people seeking refuge and asylum is at 70.8 million — an all-time high — according to the UN Refugee Agency. But a mere 7% of those seeking refuge have been resettled. …

“ ‘This is about supporting human beings who are seeking security,’ [Abdo] says. ‘This should be framed always as hospitality and empathy, and it’s a way to diversify and enrich our communities.’ …

“In 2015, she asked Guilford’s president Jane Fernandes for permission to use a house on campus, framing the project against the backdrop of the college’s Quaker history.

The campus historically served much like a parish in supporting one another and the college was a site of refuge during the Underground Railroad. …

“Marwa Al-Khasrachi, her husband Ali and their three boys arrived in Greensboro from Baghdad on March 8, 2017. … The Al-Khasrachis were placed in the Guilford College house and given more than the allotted three months, since no one else was arriving. …

“The kids found immediate playmates within the community (which includes nearby housing for students who are also parents) that helped ease them into life in the US. …

“Marwa Al-Khasrachi and Abdo developed a friendship that has now withstood almost two years, one ECAR house and two apartments. Sharing an Arab heritage and rambunctious children close to the same age — Marwa is mom to three and Abdo to two — the mothers quickly became friends. … Marwa says she didn’t have continuity in friendships in Iraq, and they felt more circumstantial than cultivated.

” ‘I didn’t believe in friendship, but now I do,’ says Marwa, with Abdo translating for her. …

“The relationships built and shared experiences with Abdo give the Al-Khasrachis a sense of normalcy as they overcome the hurdle of survival and learning to flourish in a new place. Both Church World Service [CWS} Greensboro and ECAR will continue their work despite what the government may decide — by focusing on supporting communities already here.

“ ‘We have so many community members who support our work,’ says [Megan Shepard, director of Church World Service Greensboro]. ‘It couldn’t seem further than what that rhetoric is on a national level.’ ”

More at PRI, here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Michael Falero
Seventh graders Daelyn Brown and Elaina Grady with their teacher, Justin Parmenter, at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, NC. After a traumatizing shooting at a nearby school, Parmenter launched an activity called Undercover Agents of Kindness. The results speak for themselves.

Like you and me, the folks of WNYC radio have noticed a certain lack of emphasis on kindness in the public sphere. Recognizing that there are always people reaching out to others somewhere, they decided to track down those obscure acts of kindness and feature them on the air. The station’s series taps the knowledge of listeners, who provide leads.

From WNYC: “We expect schools to prepare students by teaching them math and science and reading and writing. But what about teaching kindness?

“Justin Parmenter, who teaches Language Arts to seventh graders at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, decided to try. After a deadly school shooting at a nearby high school rocked the campus, he launched Undercover Agents of Kindness, an activity designed to gets his students out of their social bubbles and doing good deeds for each other.”

He writes at his blog: “I’d already been thinking a lot about the decline in positive interactions in our society and how we might more effectively teach character in our schools. … An adult simply talking about character or modelling positive behavior does not often lead to the changes we want to see in our children. There had to be a more impactful approach. …

“To increase interaction between students who did not normally talk to each other, I had students draw a random classmate’s name from a bowl.  After they drew names, I was shocked to hear some of them had no idea who the other person was –- even after being in class together for two months and in many cases attending the same school for years. Students had two weeks to perform an unexpected act of kindness for the other person and complete a written ‘mission report’ detailing what they did and how it went.

“Soon I began to see encouraging sticky notes on lockers in the hallway. Batches of homemade cupcakes and bags of leftover Halloween candy made their way onto desks in my classroom, as did origami, inspirational quotes, and hand-drawn portraits.  I heard compliments exchanged about all kinds of things. Students I’d never seen together started offering to carry each other’s books and musical instruments to the next class.  As the mission reports started trickling in, I read accounts of children studying together, inviting others to sit together at lunch, helping others put football equipment on at practice.

“However, it was my students’ reflections on the kindness activity that revealed its impact most.

Again and again they acknowledged that it was difficult and felt awkward to approach someone they didn’t know well and do something for them.  But almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves for doing it anyway and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”

WNYC interviewed the teacher with two of those students.

” ‘I always thought that people would just reject me if I ever started talking to them, but the truth is if you branch out, you’d be surprised at how nice people can be,’ Waddell student Daelyn Brown, 12, says of the kindness activity.

” ‘When someone does something kind for you or you do something kind for a person, it’s just like wow, I can do this so much and I can make so many friends and everybody would be so happy,’ adds fellow classmate Elaina Grady, 13.”

Listen to the radio report here. And please treat yourself to the wonderful student notes at the teacher’s blog, here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Patrik Jonsson/Christian Science Monitor
At Swan Quarter, North Carolina, shrimp boats cluster on the shore ahead of hurricane Florence in September. The town’s protective dike represents cooperation among practical people, who put aside politics to solve a serious problem.

Even when people believe global warming is only a cyclical blip, they can find common cause with others to solve a problem that affects everyone. Residents of a small town in North Carolina did just that after years of dangerous floods.

From the Christian Science Monitor: “As staff writer Patrik Jonsson began traveling the Carolinas after hurricane Florence, he came across a town that put aside its differences over politics and global warming to find a solution to chronic flooding. …

“Neighbors J.W. Raburn and Henry Williams are political polar opposites. … But the two lifelong friends – along with about 300 or so other North Carolinians who call Swan Quarter home – stood united [in September] against hurricane Florence.

“Nearby Oriental, New Bern, and large parts of central North Carolina were devastated when up to 40 inches of rain fell. … Tens of thousands of residents were displaced, and at least 23 people died.

” ‘There is no doubt that dike has saved us. It gives us a little bit of hope,’ says Raburn. His friend nods.

“The dike, completed in 2010, is a piece of political pragmatism that has gained stature as it held up well against during hurricanes Irene and Matthew, superstorm Sandy. …

“There is also growing evidence that mounting property losses, declines in property values, and threatened historical landmarks are wearing away resistance to preparedness. That common purpose might sometimes be hard to see on the national stage. But locally, people are putting aside politics in favor of practical solutions.

” ‘Working in Swan Quarter, flooding is not an ideological issue there. It is a way of life. Same with sea level rise. People have watched it happen within that lived environment. If you watch forests turn to marshland and the roads flood, the politics fade away,’ says Jason Evans, an environmentalist from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., who worked on the dike project.

“Raburn and Williams, former bandmates, show the human side of the debate. Raburn believes that finding solutions to manmade climate change is vital. Williams, a farmer and volunteer firefighter, does not believe that humans are altering the temperature of the planet, calling it ‘a phase we are going through.’ But he is the one who cares for and maintains the dike – a job he takes very seriously. …

“In Swan Quarter, local taxes are likely to go up. The county needs to purchase pumps to help clear water that seeps through the dike. Across the sound on Ocracoke Island, county leaders are working on bolstering dunes. …

“At the same time, the dike played a role in the county investing millions in a new courthouse and fire station. The state credit union has felt confident enough in the dike to build a new branch. A critical ferry service runs from the docks to the Ocracoke Island. Inside the local gas station, a line drawn at head level shows the height of Isabel’s surge. Thus far, Florence has left no mark at all.

“The size of the town and the lean budgets mean, ‘the kind of interventions that can be done there and how we think about it is much different than thinking about New York City or Miami,’ says Evans. ‘Hyde County is a hardscrabble place trying to build a dike. Nothing solves anything forever. … But it clearly has helped with certain floods. I wouldn’t want to be in Swan Quarter during a big hurricane event without that dike being there. …

‘Whatever legislators want to do, whatever presidents want to do, it’s in the end not relevant in terms of trying to work through the facts. We have scientific understanding that can apply to all these places,’ says Evans. ‘But I have also seen over and over again – whether in the Florida Keys or in Swan Quarter – that within areas facing substantial problems, all the political stuff that we all get drawn into fades away.’ ”

Speaking of political stuff fading away, I want to do a post sometime on the fact that the divisions among us may make lively and urgent headlines but aren’t always replicated on the ground. Don’t we all interact regularly with people whose politics we know differ from ours? Would love to hear your examples to add to my own.

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: North Carolina Arboretum
Plant physiologist Joe-Ann McCoy extracts seeds from black cohosh collected in western North Carolina.

A plant physiologist, worried about the future effects of global warming on biodiversity in Appalachia, is not only preserving seeds but working to attract preservation-based economic development. It would be almost like getting a sponsor for one of the plants there, a plant whose roots are used in popular herbal remedies.

At Yale Environment 360, Nancy Averett writes, “When she can spare the time — away from the grant applications, journal articles, and economic reports strewn across her desk — plant physiologist Joe-Ann McCoy laces up her hiking boots and heads to the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.

“Dodging copperheads and black bears, she winds her way deep into the forest, her eyes scanning the lush understory for black cohosh, a native plant whose roots have been used in herbal remedies for centuries, primarily to treat symptoms related to menopause. When she spots her quarry, McCoy gently pulls the plant’s seed pods — tiny brown orbs that rattle when shaken — off the stem and slips them into a paper envelope.

“The seeds inside those pods — which will be cleaned, vacuum-packed, and then stored in a freezer at -20 degrees Fahrenheit — give McCoy hope. As the director of the North Carolina Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository, her job is to preserve native seeds in this highly biodiverse area in southern Appalachia before climate change makes it impossible for some native vegetation to survive there.

“But the black cohosh holds another promise, as well. The plant’s roots are used in top-selling herbal remedies, and, if someone could succeed in growing black cohosh as a crop and manufacturing supplements here [it] could help drive economic development in this job-scarce region. …

“North Carolina [is] special in terms of biodiversity. Studies have documented more than 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 species of fungi, and 500 species of mosses and lichens in the region. Unlike much of the U.S. East Coast, during the last three ice ages the ground in this region did not freeze, which means the plants here have a much longer genetic history and more diversity than in other areas.

‘If I had to pick one place in the entire U.S. for this project,’ McCoy says, ‘it would be here. This is the ultimate spot.’ …

“When she first came to the arboretum, she focused on black cohosh and creating a robust seed collection from the plant’s entire geographic range — she has 22 different strains — and then growing plants from each strain so she would have enough seeds to back up her collection in three different repositories. These include two federal storage sites — in Ames, Iowa and Fort Collins, Colo. — plus the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.”

After cataloging the seeds, McCoy turns her attention to the economic possibilities. Read here about her work with investors. The Yale article also describes her ginseng efforts and her assistance to Cherokees who value plants used in traditional medicine.

Read Full Post »

To me it’s tragic that languages are disappearing and, with them, unique cultures.

Small, determined efforts can bring attention to the problem, as I noted this morning when the filmmaker behind Marie’s Dictionary retweeted this from North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain Elementary School (@pilotMtnElem).

Third grade students are learning about Marie’s Dictionary and endangered languages. @goproject #scsed #pmespirates @UNESCO

Excellent. Third graders are sure to spread the word.

Recently, I came across an article on another threatened language, Hawaii Sign Language.

“In 2013, at a conference on endangered languages, a retired teacher named Linda Lambrecht announced the extraordinary discovery of a previously unknown language. Lambrecht – who is Chinese-Hawaiian, 71 years old, warm but no-nonsense – called it Hawaii Sign Language, or HSL.

“In front of a room full of linguists, she demonstrated that its core vocabulary – words such as ‘mother,’ ‘pig’ and ‘small’ – was distinct from that of other sign languages. …

“The last-minute arrival of recognition and support for HSL was a powerful, almost surreal vindication for Lambrecht, whose first language is HSL. For decades, it was stigmatised or ignored; now the language has acquired an agreed-upon name, an official ‘language code’ from the International Organization for Standardization, the attention of linguists around the world, and a three-year grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. …

“An initial estimate of up to 280 surviving HSL signers was soon revised down to 40, then down to just 10 or so old-timers still likely to be competent in HSL. ASL had made deep inroads even among these signers, but there was evidence, especially from Lambrecht’s signs, that HSL was distinct, and lay close enough to the surface to be recovered. Spoken languages such as Basque, Welsh, and Hawaiian have come back from the brink of extinction – could HSL be the first sign language to do it?”

The article is from the Guardian by way of the blog Arts Journal. Read it here.

Photo: Eugene Tanner Photography, LLC
Linda Lambrecht, left, teaches Hawaii Sign Language.



Read Full Post »



Until January 24, you can see at the ICA in Boston an exhibition on the artistic legacy of one of the most interesting colleges ever. It couldn’t last, but while it did, it burned with a bright flame.

Let me drop a few names of people who worked and studied there: Robert Rauschenberg, Josef Albers, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Koonig (painters); Buckminster Fuller (architect); Merce Cunningham (choreographer); John Cage (music); and Robert Creeley (poetry). I am leaving out too many, including the women, whose names are not as well known.

I went on my lunch hour and so swept through the exhibition too fast. I confess I am not crazy about much of the art from this period. My favorites here are Motherwell, Lawrence, Cunningham, and Creeley. But how amazing that they all gathered North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, energizing one another across disciplines and making the school their life for a while, even pitching in with the chores.

Surprisingly, the things I took away with me were two ideas I’d like to apply to art with grandchildren.

I’ve done photographic paper before (you put objects like leaves or shells on the paper, leave it in the sun a few minutes, then run in the house and rinse it in water), but someone in the show did a full body. I might try a hand or a face. I also loved the textures of one piece of art I saw. Not quite a collage, it used string and bumpy surfaces in imaginative ways that reminded me of a project I watched Earl Gordon do when I was a child. He sliced the seed pod of a flower and used it as a stamp. Got to try more of that.

You can read about the school and the exhibit here.

Photo: Craig F. Walker/Globe
I liked “Female Figure” on sun-exposed photographic paper, by Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg, left.

Read Full Post »

On Sunday, I got to the Peabody Essex Museum early and decided to walk around Salem before going in to see the Thomas Hart Bentons. I thought I might take a look at the hotel where I stayed when DeAnna and Mairtin got married.

I hadn’t gone very far when what should I spy but some very strange constructions made of sticks. Turns out the sculptures, by Patrick Dougherty, were also a PEM exhibition: “Stickwork.”

From Dougherty’s website: “Born in Oklahoma in 1945, Dougherty was raised in North Carolina. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina in 1967 and an M.A. in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Iowa in 1969. Later, he returned to the University of North Carolina to study art history and sculpture.

“Combining his carpentry skills with his love of nature, Patrick began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material. In 1982 his first work, Maple Body Wrap, was included in the North Carolina Biennial Artists’ Exhibition, sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art. In the following year, he had his first one-person show entitled, ‘Waitin’ It Out,’ in Maple at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environmental works, which required saplings by the truckloads. Over the last thirty years, he has built over 250 of these works, and become internationally acclaimed. His sculpture has been seen worldwide—from Scotland to Japan to Brussels, and all over the United States.” More at http://www.stickwork.net.

Aren’t artists something? They just follow where it leads. Nobody gets them into windowless rooms to discuss strategy, goals, subgoals, benchmarks, measures, or evaluation.

Although, I suppose, if Dougherty started out in hospital management, he was subjected to lots of that sort of thing.



















Read Full Post »

Where was mime-matics when I was a child convinced I was bad at math? Pretty sure I would have changed my mind after a few laughs at this comedy show.

Robert Strauss describes it for the New York Times.

“Without saying a word, a man walks on stage carrying a case full of small plungers. Each time he reaches in the case to take some plungers out, he tries to array them in order on a table in front of him, but he always has one left over. Five, seven, 13: No matter what number, there is still that one left alone, and the man gets visibly, but silently, more exasperated at each turn.

“The man is a mime named Tim Chartier, whose day job is associate professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College in North Carolina. The plunger skit and many others that he and his wife, Tanya, have developed are part of their Mime-matics business. Having learned from the master of the craft, Marcel Marceau, they use their skills in mime to teach mathematics in a decidedly unconventional way. …

“At Davidson, he teaches a course called Finite Math, which often fills the math/science requirement for history and English majors.

“ ‘It is probably the last time these students will ever take a math course, so I see myself as the last chance they have to have a good experience with math,’ he said. ‘On the first day, I tell them that many of them will one day sit at a table where their kid will ask whether he or she should like math and science. I tell them I want them to get one story to tell that kid that will be positive in the next 16 weeks. It is an important moment in that class. They start looking for a good experience.’

“The Chartiers, who themselves have two children, 8 and 12, said they wanted their approach to Mime-matics to deliver the same positive experience. Even when they perform at colleges, the audiences are filled with children and their parents.

“ ‘Kids start laughing at the sketches and that frees up their parents, who might have long been afraid of math. The kids break the ice,’ said Ms. Chartier, who added that she particularly wants to fight the perception that math is for boys and writing is for girls, and hopes that Mime-matics entices girls to become more attracted to math.” More here.

Photo: Andy McMillan for The New York Times
Tim Chartier practicing a skit. He and his wife perform at colleges, math conferences, festivals and schools across the country.

Read Full Post »

Adele Peters writes at FastCoExist that some schools, “like Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are starting to fill classrooms with exercise bikes, so students can work out while they learn.

“The Read and Ride program at Ward began five years ago. One classroom is equipped with enough exercise bikes for a full class of students, and teachers bring students throughout the day to use them. As they ride, they read. The combination burns calories, but it turns out that it also helps students learn better. As the elementary school analyzed testing data at the end of school year, they found that students who had spent the most time in the program achieved an 83% proficiency in reading, while those who spent the least time in the program had failing scores–only 41% proficiency.” More here.

The concept, which I learned about at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, is interesting. I hope most such efforts are in addition to recess, not instead of, but I know from experience that physical motion can helping with learning. And if the kids like it, so much the better.

Photo: Read and Ride

Read Full Post »

At the radio show Living on Earth, Steve Curwood recently interviewed Gary Cook of Greenpeace about an effort to get tech companies to be greener.

CURWOOD: “Back in 2012, you criticized Apple for using carbon-intensive energy from coal plants to power its servers. …

COOK: “Just after we spoke, they made a commitment to be 100 percent renewably powered, and as the end of last year, they even made that goal. So, it’s been quite a big shift.

CURWOOD: “100 percent renewable energy. How’s that possible?

COOK: “It requires some effort. Apple has done a lot in North Carolina where they have their largest data center in terms of deploying two different solar farms and an onsite fuel cell that’s powered with biogas energy, so it’s all renewable. They have several other data centers. … In Oregon they’re using wind; in Nevada they’re using solar.

“So they’ve actually shown a commitment from the top, been very aggressive, probably the most aggressive of any of the brands to make sure as they grow, they’re using clean energy.

CURWOOD: “Biogas. Where are they getting that from?’

COOK:” Currently, they’re getting that from landfill and some other renewable sources. The landfill is methane capture in the southeast, and they’re having that piped to where their data center is in North Carolina.”

The radio interview covers several other efforts tech companies are making. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider, as Living on Earth points out, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world.” More here.

Photo: George Nikitin, Greenpeace
The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading “Building a Greener Internet” and “Who’s The Next To Go Green?” Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy.

Read Full Post »

On Sunday my husband and I took in the painful stories of several formerly incarcerated women who work on getting their lives back on track with Mary Driscoll at OWLL. The occasion was the performance of a collaborative theater piece called Hidden Faces of Courage.

All the women had the cards stacked against them from childhood on and had little hope of a better future after serving time. A recurring theme was the near impossibility of finding work with a criminal record.

So it was with particular interest that I read an article in UU World today about a café in North Carolina that is giving such women a second chance at life, starting with helping them earn an income.

Michelle Bates Deakin writes, “There’s a classic Catch-22 for women who have served jail time. It’s nearly impossible to get a job with a criminal record, and without a job and an income, it’s hard to keep from reoffending.

“The Rev. Melissa Mummert, a community minister in Charlotte, N.C., has dedicated the past decade to helping solve this conundrum, providing career and life coaching to female prisoners …

“In August, she helped open a new takeout restaurant in downtown Charlotte run by women released from jail. Second Helping gives formerly incarcerated women valuable job skills, income, and new starts at life.

“ ‘I kept hearing the same theme from so many women: “When I hit the jail door, I can’t get a job, because there is so much employment discrimination against people with criminal records,” ‘ said Mummert. Second Helping helps women leaving jail or prison land that all-important first job.”

Monique Maddox is one of the beneficiaries of the effort. “Maddox has worked at Second Helping since November 2011, when it opened its first coffee cart. She credits Second Helping with giving her opportunity. ‘Each and every one of us value our freedom today,’ she said. ‘I would never give it up.’ ”


Photo: UU World
Rev. Mummert helped open the Second Helping café in Charlotte. It employs and trains formerly incarcerated women.

Read Full Post »

The Design Museum Boston — which, like Erik, has participated in the start-up accelerator program called MassChallenge — launched a challenge of its own. The results of the Street Seats Design Challenge are now available to all, and believe me, you have never seen park benches like these.

Each imaginative public outdoor seating creation is harnessed to a kiosk that gives background on the designer, the materials the designer chose, the ideas behind the competition, and the sponsors.

You can go from bench to bench along Fort Point Channel like Goldilocks testing them out (too hard? too soft? ju-ust right?).

Here is a bench I can see from my office, the Wright bench. It is made of a reconstituted wood that lasts for decades without treating and is combined with a bike rack. Designer Eugene Duclos of Appalachian State University in Cary, North Carolina, explains his approach in the video.

Be sure to check out the other benches at the museum’s Street Seats site, here. One bench is made of rope. Another lets you sit on plants. All are beautiful.

Read Full Post »

There’s a theory that if you want information to stick, it helps to tie it to emotions. The Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina tested the idea with The Bold and the Bankable: How the Nuestro Barrio Soap Opera Effectively Delivers Financial Education to Latino Immigrants.

It’s all true: If a character you like goes bankrupt because of reckless behavior with money, you are likely to remember and apply the learning to your own situation.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a theatrical production by teenagers from the Underground Railway Youth Theater who had written a script from interviews they conducted with 80 people of all ages. The teens asked interviewees about their experiences with money and how they felt about it. Some of the stories were quite moving, and the high school audience’s emotions were likely engaged as they were quiet as mice.

There was a talkback afterward. A few students wanted to know how to join Youth Underground.

From the group’s website: “Youth Underground serves youth ages 13-18 with stipend eligible opportunities to create theater together and in tandem with community-based organizations; and to showcase their work throughout the city, Greater Boston, and at Central Square Theater. Youth Underground holds both an academic year program and intensive summer residency with an annual Ensemble of 30 members. Youth Underground showcases work through performances, a youth driven Community Dialogue Series, and peer exchanges with local and global organizations.”

The Boston Globe has a good article on it.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: