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Anita Rufus

Born in the Coachella Valley toward the end of the Generation X demographic, Tizoc DeAztlan, at 37, is the embodiment of all of the best Gen X stereotypes: individualistic, entrepreneurial, tech savvy, goal oriented—and wanting to make a difference.

DeAztlan is a Coachella Valley native, born to Roberto, a lawyer, and Amalia, a social activist and feminist (and someone I’ve known for more than 25 years). He has two older sisters.

“Yes,” he acknowledges, “I was the baby in the family.”

DeAztlan says he was born into politics. “My mom instilled in me the need to see justice, and to not just settle for conditions in the community as they are, or for less than is fair.”

A graduate of La Quinta High School in its first graduating class, DeAztlan went on to graduate from Fordham University with a degree in communication. He lives in La Quinta with his wife, Briana, whom he met when they were both in high school.

DeAztlan has been actively involved in the world of politics, working on the campaigns of locals like Congressman Raul Ruiz, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez and former Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez. He remembers campaigning with his mom back when he was in the fifth-grade, and his dad driving him around before school to put door hangers on people’s homes.

“I’m involved in party campaign politics and in nonpartisan community organizing,” he said. “I see politics in everything. It’s up to each individual how much to engage. It doesn’t matter your position; there are so many ways to be who you are and play a role.”

DeAztlan’s first job, at the age of 19, was doing field research for the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles County, interviewing people about their lives, access to health care and other personal and community issues.

“It was the first time I saw issues on both a micro and macro level, and saw how research can affect people’s real lives,” he says.

DeAztlan’s latest venture—in coordination with Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans—is Perspectives, a nonpartisan discussion group that held its first meeting in Indio in June.

“Hugh and I are friends who always have discussions about lots of issues,” says DeAztlan. “It’s so easy to fall into ‘talking points’ that often miss the point. We realized people may have more in common with their neighbors than they realize, and wanted to provide a place for people to discuss and share information in a hopeful, compassionate and responsible manner with mutual respect.”

The first Perspectives meeting drew 30-40 people and a lively discussion. A few designated people shared their ideas or feelings on the topic, and then others volunteered to participate; this was followed by small group discussions involving everyone present.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their own perspective,” says DeAztlan. “It’s important that if someone has something they want to say, they have a place to share it.”

DeAztlan hopes to tackle issues like income inequality, race, guns and the role of government.

“I think we have a responsibility to listen and learn others’ perspectives,” he says. “Groups like this happen more in urban areas, but here, we are so segregated by walls and geography. I’m confident people want an arena for discussion without restrictions. We want the questions to be open and give people the ability to learn more that will enable them to back up their opinions. It’s very sobering the effect that being around your peers in the community can have. It goes way beyond talking points. It’s worth much more than just reading about something or hearing it on television. You can’t eliminate the politics around lots of issues, but we want to eliminate ‘labels,’ and we want people to interpret for themselves.

”We’re often told to think a certain way about some issue, but our own lives can make us realize something completely different. You know, just because someone’s a Republican doesn’t mean they’re not a compassionate person. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be prejudiced against others. We all need to listen and learn from each other.”

No date has been set for the next Perspectives gathering, but they plan to announce a date and topic soon. Meanwhile, Tizoc and Briana have started an event production business that allows them to be involved in major events.

While Tizoc and Briana decided to return to the Coachella Valley after college, many young people do not, and yet others who do return have difficulty building their lives locally. Tizoc hopes to see a Coachella Valley future that includes more access to small-business loans, expansion of local education (like the four-year program now at Cal State’s campus in Palm Desert), more local development of technology, and access to jobs.

“Young people need to feel empowered that whatever their skill set is, there’s a local market for it,” says DeAztlan.

Tizoc DeAztlan is an excellent example of a generation that has felt the obligation to do something—and which is inheriting the power to get things done.

“Some choose to ignore, others feel the obligation to do something,” DeAztlan says. “I believe you have to want more than what is right in front of you.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

“It’s the best of times and the worst of times,” said Nadine Smith, the chief executive officer of Equality Florida, as she reflected on the recent gains for LGBT individuals, including marriage rights—and the horrific slaughter of those at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12.

Her words hit home for me. I’ve been struggling to reconcile spontaneously bursting into joyful tears in the voting booth, mere days before Orlando thrust me back into the violent reality of our times.

Any violence that indiscriminately targets a specific ethnicity, or religion, or race, or national origin, or gender is onerous. I see every person whose life was cut short or is still suffering grievous injuries as being just like my son, who is gay. My tears flow freely as the names and ages are called out on the news with small details of their ordinary and extraordinary lives as described by families and friends. My heart goes out to share their grief.

The worst of times.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was shedding unexpected tears in that voting booth. I admit to feeling emotionally overwhelmed as I cast my vote for a woman to be the nominee of a major party for president of the United States.

The best of times.

I remember when there were jobs I couldn’t apply for because I was a woman. I remember when I couldn’t get a credit card without my husband’s signature. I remember having to sign an affidavit saying I would never get pregnant again in order to qualify for a VA loan to buy a house, since both our incomes were necessary to get the mortgage.

“Despite all the negativity, she kept reaching, exceeding her grasp … lesson learned.” —Helen, Palm Desert, on Hillary Clinton

After many years of involvement in the women’s rights movement, including service on state and national boards of major organizations, I have seen my share of challenges and triumphs. I remember when using “Ms.” to identify women as individuals—without regard to their marital status—was considered unthinkable. I remember when women were expected to train the young men who they knew would eventually be promoted over them. I remember when being crudely hit on by a client was considered a compliment.

“Going all the way back to the ’70s and ’80s and the ERA battles … this is not the end, but it sure as hell is closer than we have ever been. My granddaughter can shape her own future—be a combat troop commander AND Miss USA, or president of the United States” —Pat, Palm Springs

Many of my friends fell in love with Bernie Sanders’ agenda. They might never self-describe as Democratic Socialists, but they like his approach and willingness to challenge the status quo.

“Regardless of candidate preference, the idea of a female taking on such a role—the presidency of our country—proves to individuals everywhere, especially young girls, that they don’t have to settle for less.” —Alejandra, Thermal

“I like many of Bernie’s policies, but Hillary knows her way around Washington and the world. As the leader of the world for almost a century, the United States is way behind in electing a female president.” —Alice, Desert Hot Springs

I would never vote for a candidate merely based on a single arbitrary characteristic, like gender, color or religion. However, all things being equal, I would give the nod to a well-qualified woman over a well-qualified man, just because we need to catch up with the rest of the world. (It does look as if “all things being equal” won’t apply to this election, in any event.)

“In the voter’s booth, I’ll take ‘calm intelligence’ over ‘erratic instincts’ every time. My reaction is that I am standing proud with women everywhere.” —Janet, Palm Desert

“I cried when I saw Hillary walk onto the stage with arms open … I am so proud of her and proud to be me, a woman.” —Anita, Rancho Mirage

Women have led nations all over the world, in countries with varying predominant religions, and even in the face of security and military challenges far worse than those we face. Women have won presidential elections in South Korea, Malawi, Argentina, Kosovo, Iceland, Malta, Philippines, Nicaragua, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Latvia, Panama, Finland, Indonesia, Liberia, Chile, India, Lithuania and many other places, to say nothing of nations where women have served as heads of government in the position of prime minister or other titles.

“The historical aspect of it didn’t hit me until election night.” —Pat, Indio

“When I was listening to Hillary’s acceptance speech … I was so emotional that all I kept thinking was how I wish my mother could’ve been there with me, celebrating this moment in history, something she always dreamed of.” —Claudia, La Quinta

There are many women, and men, who will not support Hillary BECAUSE she is a woman and who still believe a woman’s place is in the home—in the background, in the support role. There are women who are uncomfortable identifying with Hillary’s persona, because it often evokes misogynist reactions and they don’t want to suffer those same reactions. There are those who have a negative view of Hillary based on scandals and various “—gates.”

“It will make a difference to have a woman in the White House, and it’s long overdue. Compared to all the powerful men in history … whatever mistakes she may have made are, in my opinion, far less egregious. Thanks to all the heroic women who have come before me and who made this possible.” —Helen, Northern California

“Maybe I’d vote for her if she divorced Bill!” —Val, Indio

Going back to Nadine Smith’s comments in the wake of the Orlando killings, the Equality Florida CEO said: “I vacillate between sadness and anger, but mostly pride (at what we’ve accomplished).” I, too, am saddened and angered that anyone, for ANY reason, indiscriminately murders innocents. At the same time, I am full of pride and hopeful that we have a chance through a new approach, a woman’s approach, to model our values and our better angels to the world.

“I’m thrilled, like every other woman should be.” —Nancy, Palm Desert

“Our time has finally arrived.” —Kathy, Oceanside, formerly Palm Springs

I yearn for her candidacy to show my two granddaughters that they can achieve anything.” —Dori, Palm Desert

When Hamilton, a revolutionary approach to a Broadway musical, won the bulk of trophies at the Tony Awards, one of the producers, echoing a line from the script, said it all for me:

“Look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now. History is happening.”

It is the best of times.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Those of a certain age will remember Ish Kabibble, the zany cornet player with the strange haircut who played with bandleader Kay Kyser in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing on radio, television and the big screen.

Kabibble was born Merwyn Bogue in 1908 in Pennsylvania. According to his daughter Janet Arnot, a Palm Desert resident, he originally studied piano, but didn’t like it—however, he liked the sound of the trumpet. Bogue got one when he was 12, and learned on his own how to play “God Bless America.” Hanging around speakeasy clubs, Bogue fell in love with Dixieland jazz.

While in his third year of pre-law studies at West Virginia University, Bogue was playing with small bands. At a dance in 1931, bandleader Hal Kemp asked from the stage, “Is there a trumpet player in the audience?” Bogue sat in, and within months, he heard from Kay Kyser, an old friend of Kemp; he asked Bogue to try out for first chair in Kyser’s band. Musician friends told him he had to know how to triple-tongue; he learned, practiced and played without a hitch. Bogue got the job.

“He got this telegram,” says Arnot, “saying, ‘No whisky, no mustache, clean cut.’”

His father agreed he could drop out of school and pursue music, but he had to promise he would someday complete his degree—a promise he finally kept at age 70.

One of the comedic songs in the Kyser repertoire was a song, “Isch Gabibble,” taken from a mock-Yiddish expression meaning, “What, me worry?” (Yes, it’s the same slogan adopted by Mad Magazine.) When Kyser became host of the popular ’30s radio program Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, Bogue portrayed a silly character called Ish Kabibble, called down from the bandstand to join Kyser on the stage as a comic sidekick. Bogue wore his dark hair with funny bangs, and dressed like a bumpkin. He would tell funny jokes and poems, and is known by music-lovers of the time for his chant, “boop boop dittem dattem whattem chu,” in the band’s hit “Three Little Fishies,” which topped Billboard’s pop chart in 1939.

In spite of the funny persona, Bogue was a standout soloist with Kyser’s band for nearly 20 years, and he served as the business manager for the orchestra.

One of Ish Kabibble’s poems flows easily from Arnot:

I sneezed a sneeze into the air.

It fell to earth I know not where.

But you shoulda seen the looks on those

In whose vicinity I snoze.

As for family life, “Dad met my mom (Janet Meade), when she was 17, and he was 21,” says Arnot. “She was with a date at a dance where he was playing. He saw her in the audience and said it was love at first sight. They started dating, but her father was upset that she was involved with someone in show business. She snuck out to see dad secretly, a daring thing to do at 17.”

They married a few years later. He had a gig in San Francisco that would pay no money, but would provide food and lodging and get them to California. He played at small places along the way, and by the time they arrived, he had 17 cents in his pocket—and some Lorna Doone cookies.

“They had to wait for another band member to show up to get enough for the toll to get across the bridge,” says Arnot. “They stayed married for over 60 years, dying within eight days of each other in 1994, and every year on their anniversary, he always gave her a box of Lorna Doones.”

Arnot is the youngest of Bogue’s three children.

“I was really too young to experience much of his time with Kyser,” she says. “After Kyser retired, dad teamed up with Mike Douglas (before he became a big talk-show host) doing something like a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis act. They had summer bookings all over the U.S., so we traveled in the back seat of a Ford woodie station wagon. For us kids, it was an adventure.

“In 1955, after he and Douglas split, he started a six-piece Dixieland group called The Shy Guys. He was often gone five months at a time, but whenever he was home, we were his priority. He was easy-going, caring, kind, a devoted father and husband. Mom was a trouper, but it was hard.”

When Arnot was 12, her dad was booked to play throughout Nevada.

“I was already enrolled in school. Mom said we were selling our house, putting stuff in storage, and going to be with my dad,” she said. “I remember once he was playing the lounge at the Fremont Hotel in Las Vegas. Kids couldn’t go in there, but sometimes, they would let us go behind the curtain. I would peek through a rip and watch his show. I especially remember one night after the show, we went to a restaurant with the rest of the band, and dad let me order a bowl of chili. Imagine, chili at 2 a.m.!

“That tour ended in Lake Tahoe, and mom decided she wanted to travel with dad, so we stayed with friends and went to school there,” says Arnot. “At 16, I was acting up so they sent me back. My dad greeted me with, ‘Whatever happened up there, you’re forgiven for being a troublemaker ... but you’re grounded!’ He was so trusting. I realized he deserved someone who would respect him. I turned over a new leaf.”

When Bogue was drafted in 1944, no less than Gen. Douglas MacArthur tapped him to join Kyser in entertaining the troops.

“He always felt a little guilty,” says Arnot, “because other guys were getting killed, and he was playing. But he brought so much joy to the troops.”

As for Arnot’s life: After a brief stint as a nun, she married, raised three daughters, and is now the grandmother of eight. Arnot was attendance clerk at Nellie Coffman School for nine years. Her parents were desert residents when they passed away.

“My dad was always happy when he could make people smile,” she recalls. “He was so compassionate. When I was 12, in my third junior high school, I remember crying to him that I didn’t have any friends. ‘I will always be your friend,’ he said. And he was.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

The current flap about Hillary Clinton playing the “woman card” is nothing short of ridiculous.

As a woman, I know what it feels like to be trivialized (called “honey” and “girl”), talked down to (“mansplaining”), ignored, talked over, interrupted and denied a seat at the decision-making table.

I also know what can happen to one’s career if one stands up for oneself or responds in kind. So much for the “woman card.”

Why aren’t we talking about Donald Trump playing the “man card”? After all, he’s trying to be some sort of alpha male by appealing to other men who wish they had the guts (and the money) to just say whatever they want. You know—a guy who puts down women based on looks, presumes women have less stamina to pursue their ambitions, makes unwanted physical advances, bullies to get his way, ignores a woman if she’s not a “10” and prefers to hire women without children—all while telling everyone how he respects women. (Trump not too long ago said: “[A female employee] is not giving me 100 percent. … She’s giving me 84 percent, and 16 percent is going towards taking care of children.”) An alpha male never makes apologies or excuses his behavior. He is self-focused, self-justifying—and believes that everyone else is there to help him, serve him, entertain him and sleep with him. It isn’t that the alpha male doesn’t provide opportunities for smart and capable females; it’s that he’ll only do it when it benefits him—and he can’t help seeing women with sexist presumptions about how they should look and act.

If merely being female is playing the “woman card” and gives women some kind of advantage, then why are there so few women in positions of power? Only 12 percent of seats on corporate boards in America are held by women. Women have headed their governments in the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania, Liberia, Bangladesh, Denmark, South Korea, Norway, Chile, Poland and many countries—but not in the United States. Less than 20 percent of congressional seats are held by women, and we are actually losing ground on getting into elected office at the state and local level. In 1998, we ranked 59th in the world in the percentage of women in our national legislature; in 2014, we were 98th, just behind Kenya and Indonesia, and barely ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Less than 25 percent of statewide offices are held by women, barely higher than in 1993.

Women make up half of California’s population but hold less than 30 percent of state, county and local elected offices. Of more than 400 cities in California, only 51 have female majorities on city councils, and 69 cities have no women serving at all. That’s actually better than most other states.

While we’re used to seeing lots of women heading charitable functions and raising money for good causes locally, the statistics on women holding public office here in the Coachella Valley are depressing. In both Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, just one of the five councilmembers is a woman. Coachella has one of four; Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio each have two women out of five councilmembers. As for Cathedral City and Indian Wells … not a single woman can be found on their city councils. At the Riverside County level, there are no women on the Board of Supervisors.

This lack of women in political positions has consequences. Arend Lijphart, a former president of the American Political Science Association, says there are “strong correlations between more women legislators and more progressive policies on issues like the environment, macroeconomic management, support for families, violence prevention, and incarceration.” Worldwide studies that have found women legislators introduce more bills than men regarding civil liberties, education, health, labor and other important issues affecting day-to-day life. In addition, research indicates that nations that elect women to key national leadership roles enjoy increases in economic growth, largely based on a more participatory style and the ability to manage difficult situations requiring cooperative approaches.

Hey, that “woman card” sounds pretty good!

When Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of playing the “woman card,” and attacks her for “enabling” her husband’s womanizing, keep in mind his own philosophy about marriage, as written in Trump: The Art of the Comeback: “I tell friends whose wives are constantly nagging them about this or that they’re better off leaving and cutting their losses. I’m not a great believer in always trying to work things out, because it just doesn’t happen that way. For a man to be successful he needs support at home … not someone who is always griping and bitching. When a man has to endure a woman who is not supportive and complains constantly … he will not be very successful unless he is able to cut the cord.”

Compare that mentality to the fact that Clinton found a way to work through public humiliation to keep her marriage and her family intact. She was supportive in making her husband successful. If the woman card means not living by the alpha male philosophy, then I don’t mind voting for a woman just because she is a woman.

Meanwhile, my woman card apparently got lost in the male.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Let me bring you into the world of Sharon Katz, a South African by birth, a music therapist by profession—and, in the words of musician Pete Seeger, “one of the people who is saving the world.”

She was born in Port Elizabeth (now called Nelson Mandela Bay) under apartheid—the rigid racial/social ideology system that required citizens to live by race designations (black, colored/mixed race, Indian, white) in segregated areas of the country, with restrictions about who could go where and when.

“We lived in a conspiracy of silence,” she says. “South Africa was a prison for everybody.”

As a young woman traveling with her family, Katz saw how others barely survived in their segregated communities, and she became obsessed with finding a way to support change. “How can this be my country?” she asked herself. “Seeing all of that changed me forever.”

In her teens, she would sneak out to the “blacks only” townships by hiding under blankets in the back seat of a friend’s car in order to get past identification checkpoints.

After getting her education as a music therapist, Katz began her mission to bridge the country’s artificially imposed racial barriers through music. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison, but before the promised national elections were held, Katz came up with a revolutionary idea: She would form an integrated children’s choir to bring together young people from across South Africa, to show that they were all the same when their voices were blended.

“I saw music as a way to transform the system,” says Katz. She traveled throughout the country teaching the same songs and dance routines to students in their individual segregated schools.

In 1992, Katz brought 500 children to Durban, where, for the first time, they were grouped by voice, regardless of race, and practiced together for their first concert. One of the student participants said, “Being in the group made me believe I could do anything with my life.”

Expecting a small audience response, Katz was overwhelmed when the hall was overflowing—and those attending somehow overcame traditions about integrating as an audience.

“There were so many people,” says Katz, “that they not only sat together, but people actually had to sit on other people’s laps. It was truly something to see.”

Enter Marilyn Cohen, executive producer of When Voices Meet, the film that documents Katz’s work. Cohen helped raise money to procure a train that became known as the Peace Train, which toured throughout South Africa in 1993 with the children’s choir, dancers and musicians. The government and protesters did not make it easy, but these remarkable women prevailed.

“It was music that brought the disparate groups together,” says Katz, “and the harmony of their voices became emblematic of the New South Africa.”

At each stop along the route, they performed their concert and encouraged people of all races, cultures, ages and political affiliations to put down their guns and hostilities, and to prepare for the country’s transition to a peaceful democracy. Mandela was elected president several months later.

Actress and filmmaker Shari Belafonte is on the advisory board of Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT). She saw the documentary at a film festival in Washington, D.C., and was so impressed—not just by the film, but by its subject matter and its “star”—that she encouraged PSWIFT to find a way to bring the film to Palm Springs.

I attended the PSWIFT-sponsored screening in the evening, shortly after 120 students from Palm Springs High School had seen it. The film, first released in 2015, is powerful and uplifting, and has won awards throughout the world. Its staff, crew and supporters represent an integrated coalition of cultures.

The local audience was spellbound, with many in tears. Both Katz and Cohen attended. Afterward, Katz brought her guitar on stage, answered questions and led us all in song.

Cohen spoke about their upcoming project, “The Peace Train 2016 Tour Across America: Diverse Voices Singing in Harmony,” which will begin on July 4 in Ferguson, Mo., where local youth, arts educators and police are working together to coordinate the kickoff events. It will then make its way to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and end with performances in Washington, D.C., on July 17 at the Washington Monument, and July 18 at the South African Embassy.

“We received impassioned calls from throughout the U.S.,” says Cohen. “The film has inspired people to re-examine the issues currently dividing Americans and to do something constructive about improving human relations and social justice.”

Many of the Palm Springs High School students hope to get on the train, and opportunities exist for chaperones and parents to accompany them. Katz and Cohen are traveling around the U.S. to show the film and garner support for the project. The cost per person is $1,800, which includes choral training before the tour, train fare, meals, hotels and performances. Tax-deductible support can be offered through the project’s website, www.GetOnThePeaceTrain.org. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for some of our local students if corporate sponsors came forward to help?

Cohen is reverent in describing Katz: “There are angels who walk among us. There are those who choose the selfless path for the good of those less fortunate, especially children, and who dedicate their time on this earth to doing that work.”

Katz is most eloquent when speaking about her fellow South Africans.

“It’s an incredible spirit, a spirit of optimism and love and openness to something new,” she said. “If we could infuse the whole world with the spirit of the South African people, we would be living in a wonderful place now.”

Every once in a while, I meet someone who revives my faith in the idealistic notion that one person can make a difference that changes the world. I now humbly add two names to that short list: Sharon Katz and Marilyn Cohen.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

The Paris Peace Accords, which were supposed to end the Vietnam War, were signed Jan. 27, 1973. The United States pulled what American troops remained out of that country.

Congress then passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 cutting off all military aid to South Vietnam’s government in Saigon. As the North subsequently advanced effortlessly toward Saigon, President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of all American personnel, including the removal of as many refugees as possible who had been friendly toward America. The U.S. Embassy was not intended to be a major departure point, but many became stranded there, including thousands of South Vietnamese hoping to claim refugee status.

I still remember the iconic pictures of those evacuation efforts through the night of April 29, 1975, and that last American helicopter taking off from the roof with people hanging off the sides—and many still lined up, unable to get out. At 3:45 a.m. on April 30, President Ford issued direct orders for the evacuation efforts to stop.

When North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon later that day, 30 years of war in Vietnam finally came to an end. More than 58,000 Americans were killed in the war, with more than 300,000 wounded and more than 2,000 missing in action. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of casualties in the South’s armed forces, it is estimated that more than 1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong died in action, with millions more wounded. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese civilians killed range into the millions.

Vietnam has come a long way in the 40 years since then. It has transformed from a rice-producing farming economy into a service economy, dominated by the tourism industry with manufacturing, construction, mining and transportation.

However, in the area of Quang Tri Province and what was known as the DMZ (demilitarized zone), remnants of the war are still blocking full-scale development and threatening people’s health and safety. The area was the focus of what has been described as the heaviest bombing campaign in the history of the world. Weapons that failed to detonate were left behind and pose dangers similar to landmines.

These dangers led to the formation in 2001 of an effort in Quang Tri Province called Project RENEW. Palm Springs resident Sally Benson; her husband, attorney Steve Nichols; Palm Springs philanthropist Gayle Hodges; and part-time resident and author Myra MacPherson have all worked through the Chino Cienega Foundation, started locally by Nichols, to help support the work of Project RENEW and other worthy non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Part of Project RENEW’s mission is to locate and reduce explosive remnants of war (ERW) to a level where local people can live without fear, and development is not impeded.

Benson, originally from Massachusetts, was an elementary teacher when she volunteered to teach English at the National Institute of Administration in Saigon in 1967. She met Nichols, a third-generation descendant of two prominent Palm Springs founding families (the Stevens and the Nichols), while he was also a volunteer, teaching with International Voluntary Services.

“Like a number of others, including many veterans, we have stayed engaged with the problems and people the war left behind,” says Benson. “Through the family legacy foundation Steve started here in Palm Springs, we were able to financially support projects we knew about, including ProjectRENEW.

“Gayle Hodges’ friend, (Vietnam veteran) Chuck Searcy, had the vision, along with the Vietnamese, to do this work. We helped support the building of their visitors’ center and have supported their Mine Risk Education Center, where Vietnamese children learn, through plays meant to entertain and educate, how to identify ERW and report it to the emergency hotline so teams can immediately respond.”

Project RENEW claims that more than 850,000 square meters of land have been cleaned up and released for safe development, with more than 30,000 cluster bombs, grenades, landmines and other ordnance safely removed and destroyed. However, the group also estimates that in Quang Tri Province alone, 83 percent of the land still has landmines and other unexploded ordnance. Benson says it was originally expected that it would take as long as 100 years to remove and/or disarm all remaining ERW, but through the work of Project RENEW and its 3,000-4,000 demolitions each year, they estimate that within 5-7 years, almost every square meter of Quang Tri Province will be safe.

“Do you know what a cluster bomb is?” asks Benson. “It’s made up of small components, each of which is a separate little ‘bomblet’ designed to disperse and kill. I remember a lovely school with walls covered with bright painted pictures in one village. At the edge of the playground, a couple of the boys pushed through a wooded area and spotted something. One stayed there so no one else could get hurt while the other boy ran back and reported it through the emergency call system. When the call came in, we got to see how they broadcast through the local area to keep people away, and then the Project RENEW team mobilized to retrieve it and explode it harmlessly.

“It’s frightening to think what could have happened to those children, and rewarding to see how the educational outreach program makes a difference.”

Quang Tri alone has had 8,000 casualties from ERW accidents, and 31 percent of the victims are children. They also claim that Quang Tri alone has more than 15,000 victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, including 5,000 children born with birth defects.

Benson has visited Vietnam more than 15 times. “We’re so proud of the work being done to help the people,” she says. “They had been bombed for so many years and left with a shattered economy and a shattered society. We and other volunteers wanted to do what we could. Lots of veterans have also gone back and been inspired to be involved, doing things like planting ‘peace trees’ to reclaim deforested land.”

Project RENEW claims to have provided new, artificial limbs for 1,000 amputees injured by bombs, and to have assisted almost 700 disabled bomb-accident victims to earn income from raising animals and crops and making products.

“We expect Project RENEW to be a model for other provinces,” says Benson. “We can’t forget that there are still bombs throughout the rest of Vietnam as well.”

Perhaps the most compelling part of this story is Benson’s experience of the Vietnamese people.

“Most people are stunned by how open and forgiving the Vietnamese are,” she says. “They say it was our government that caused what happened there, not the American people. And Project RENEW is doing its work with educated and highly committed young Vietnamese whose own families have suffered from the war. I have such a sense of satisfaction at being involved in something like this.”

My mother always used to say: “If you made the mess, you clean it up.” Benson, Nichols, Hodges, MacPherson and so many others are setting an example of the difference accepting that responsibility can make.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

In his mid-70s, my late husband, a professional writer and avid reader, was diagnosed with macular degeneration. He had what is known as the “dry” type, which is progressive and can take many years to fully obstruct one’s vision. (There is also a “wet” type, which is fast-moving and can lead to blindness, but it can be reversed somewhat with a shot into the eye if caught quickly.) He eventually needed a magnifying glass to read the daily paper and had to give up driving after dark.

For several years, I’ve had those tiny black dots floating across my vision that seem to afflict everyone of a certain age, and I recently developed a “floater” in my right eye that is like a gauzy haze. Although it has been diagnosed as temporary, it is compromising my eyesight.

All of this became particularly pertinent when a friend who leads a class at the Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage asked if I could substitute for him while he was out of town. The class is a discussion group focusing on current events and politics. I was reminded of a time in my early 20s when I took a part-time job reading to a blind college student twice a week; the satisfaction that job brought me made me want to recapture that feeling of helping someone who couldn’t see. Of course, I said yes.

I discovered that La Quinta resident John Billings, a man I met a couple of years ago when we were both taking college classes, is the student adviser at the Braille Institute. Renewing his acquaintance led me to a far greater understanding of sight issues than I could have imagined.

Billings, 57, has always worked in human services. Originally from Long Beach, he moved to the desert about 14 years ago.

“My mom had died, and I was ready to move on,” he says. “One day, I saw a small ad for volunteers to help out at Braille. I called and got in within a week. I honestly believe everything happens for a reason, and my seeing that ad was one of those meant-to-be things.”

After volunteering for 2 1/2 years, Billings has now been a staff member for more than eight years. His job includes interviewing every student who comes to Braille for support and assistance. “We don’t call them ‘clients’,” says Billings, “because that sounds so clinical. I get to meet everyone and find out about their background, their family and their living situation, and to assess and refer them for whatever support services they might need. The first priority is to help people be able to live as independently as possible.”

My first lesson at Braille was to recognize the range of conditions with which the students live. The discussion group I led included some individuals who were “legally blind,” meaning their vision is 20/200 or worse in both eyes, and others who were only “vision-impaired.”

“There are a wide variety of degrees of sight,” says Billings. “Some see only shadow and light, while others merely need brighter or more strategically placed lights, reading glasses, magnifiers or devices that can help them use their computers and be able to access online resources. We can order specialized devices, and some are recycled back to be made available to those who cannot afford to purchase them. We also have trained specialists who can help people understand what their current status is and what to expect. Often, these conditions are so gradual that people don’t even realize what’s happening.”

One of Braille’s most important services is instruction in independent living skills: how to identify money, closet organization, cooking, eating techniques, exercise and balance, shopping skills, sensory awareness, what students’ rights are, and how to access resources in the community. The center offers classes in dancing, memory improvement games, classic movies, guitar and piano lessons, and peer-support groups.

“Our students range in age from 18 to over 100,” says Billings. “We have anywhere from 250 to 300 people a week coming through. Maybe the most important thing we offer is the opportunity for people from every background to come together with a sense of camaraderie and community. Without Braille Institute, that might never happen for most of our students.”

Braille also has a “mobile solutions van” that goes out into the various communities served—in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties—to assist people who live in outlying areas and/or cannot come into the Rancho Mirage facility.

Braille offers access to books on tape, and offers programs in schools to assist with individualized education plans for students who are vision challenged. Classes are also available to learn to read using the six-dot Braille cell.

The Braille Institute has only a small paid staff; 90 percent of those assisting students are volunteers.

“We need people to host discussion groups, teach hobbies like knitting and do limited administrative work. We have a craft fair at holiday time and art projects that people cannot believe were done by individuals with limited sight,” Billings says. “For some, these projects allow them to express images they can only recall, and you would never believe they were done by people who cannot see.”

The Braille Institute is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and all services are free. The center, located at 70251 Ramon Road, gets no government funding other than books on tape, which are funded through the Library of Congress and mailed free of charge. Otherwise, all support is through donations. Call 760-321-1111 for more information.

As always, when we volunteer, we tend to get more than we give, and we usually learn more than we could ever teach.

“I’ve learned how to ‘see’ everything differently,” Billings says. “I have the best job!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

We live in a time when the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is being targeted by his own party (via the Republican Principles PAC) with a depressingly accurate TV advertisement that quotes the various derogatory expressions Donald Trump has used over the years to describe women.

It’s also a time when a Lane Bryant ad featuring “plus size” woman resulted in a backlash—including two major networks, ABC and NBC, refusing to run it.

This means it’s time to address an age-old issue: the objectification of women, and its resulting impact on women in particular, and society in general.

Sure, there are lots of examples of how badly some nations around the world treat half of the population—horrors like genital mutilation/female circumcision; burning women alive who are suspected of violating cultural norms like having extra-marital sex (including having been raped); the sex trafficking of young girls; and practices like arranged marriages of minor females, a lack of access to birth control, culturally accepted “domestic” violence, not allowing women to start businesses or work outside of their homes, a lack of education for girls, etc. etc. etc. While practices such as these make us wring our hands with a sense of outrage and frustration at not knowing how to begin to fix it all, we tend to overlook the objectification of women right here at home—and its impact as a violation of American principles of equality and dignity.

Issues like a lack of equal pay for equal work, and women being denied positions of power in major industries, are all too often met with sound-bites about women taking time off to have children (in an industrialized nation that still offers no mandated paid leave), or choosing careers that are about taking care of others rather than pursuing big money. We also often here how much progress has already been made, with claims that we can’t change too fast, or that women are surpassing men in getting higher education, so we’ll see much more of a payoff in the future.

I, for one, am tired of waiting. Women are still fighting sexism, objectification based on appearance and sexuality, and disparate standards for judging performance. (“She’s too pushy/loud/strident,” some say about Hillary Clinton, while when a male politician acts similarly, they say: “He’s a strong leader.”) I was someone who raised these issues more than 40 years ago, and it’s disheartening to see young women—assuming that equality would await them out in the “real world”—realizing that, in fact, little has really changed.

Let’s start with the networks turning down the ad from Lane Bryant, a women’s clothing retailer specifically catering to “plus size” women. The ad features a range of women of various sizes celebrating the female form. Each shares what makes her proud about her body, with tag lines like: “This body was made for being bold and powerful”; “This body proves them wrong”; “This body is made for life”; and a new mother saying, “This body was made for love,” while breastfeeding her infant.

NBC claimed the ad violated a “broadcast indecency guideline” standard. The Federal Communications Commission says indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium (my emphasis), sexual or excretory organs or activities.” According to TMZ, a 2010 ad from Lane Bryant was also turned down by ABC and Fox.

By comparison, networks have no problem with showing promos for the Victoria’s Secret annual “fashion show,” or beer ads featuring scantily clad women. We see women’s bodies used to sell everything from cars to tools to food. We have dolls in leather miniskirts with feather boas and thigh-high boots marketed specifically to girls, and thong panties for little girls with slogans like “eye candy.” We see Victoria’s Secret models dressed like angels strutting down the runway on primetime TV.

But we seldom see women’s bodies as they really are. According to WebMD, the average American woman today wears a size 14 and weighs between 140 and 150 pounds. By comparison, over the past 20 years, fashion model sizes have dropped from size 8 to size 0.

A new campaign, Stand Up, is specifically focusing on the way girls are constantly encouraged to be body-conscious, resort to elective plastic surgery, and flaunt themselves as if equality includes risking being labeled a slut. (Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.) The campaign launched an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures from people all over the world, and features men also “standing up” for the women in their lives—mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.

In part, the petition says: “Every day women are bombarded with advertisements aimed at making them feel insecure about their bodies, in the hope that they will spend money on products that will supposedly make them happier and more beautiful. All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty. It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”

Victoria’s Secret, which took heat for their “The Perfect Body” ad featuring typically skinny models, responded to the backlash by changing their tag line to “A Body for Everybody”—but they didn’t change the visual image.

The American Psychological Association released a report in 2007 addressing the “sexualization of girls in the media,” and the result was that women and girls are not seen as fully functioning individuals, but rather judged primarily as sexual objects. This has an impact on boys and how they see girls, and on men and how they view women in society. The APA report says, “The findings proved girls are portrayed in a sexual manner … that implies sexual readiness. … With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.”

According to the APA, “Sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men.” Objectifying girls and women, and even sex itself, has become integral to definitions of masculinity, and “these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.” This applies also to how men see women in the professional world.

A joke currently making the rounds is that Caitlin Jenner is the only person clamoring to be woman over the age of 50—a clear reference to the fact that women “of a certain age” are no longer considered desirable. Ray Moore, head of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament held in Indian Wells, publicly apologized and then resigned after saying the women of professional tennis are “very, very lucky” they “don’t make any decisions,” and should thank men for their success, despite all their years of hard work and outstanding athleticism. He describes these powerful women as “physically attractive and competitively attractive”—implying their looks are an integral element in their success on the court.

Which brings me to Donald Trump’s descriptions of women as quoted by the Republican Principles PAC ad. Trump’s actual quotes include his disparaging characterization of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (“Who would vote for that face?”); comments about Rosie O’Donnell (“a fat pig” and “a dog”); his ongoing animosity toward Fox broadcaster Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her … wherever” and “a bimbo”), and general comments like: “For a person who is flat-chested, it’s hard to be a 10”; “It doesn’t matter what they write (about you) as long as you’ve got a beautiful piece of ass”; and my personal favorite, said to a contestant on The Apprentice, “That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

Trump’s response to CNN when asked about all this? “Some of my words are just show business … Nobody respects women more than I do.”

Yeah, and some of my best friends are (fill in the blank). This man could very well become president—proving that women will continue to be objectified until we all, women and men, speak out and stand up.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

In the course of a normal life, we meet people—yet seldom do we meet someone who impresses us immediately, someone we know will make a difference in our lives. I was lucky enough to have such a meeting a couple of years ago—and sadly, there was not enough time to wring everything I could out of the relationship.

I met Cathy Greenblat in connection with a showing of her extraordinary pictures of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and I wrote about her in January 2014. She and her husband, John Gagnon, were then fairly new residents in Palm Springs—both retired academics who were trying to get settled in and establish lives here after several years living in France.

The first time I met John was when I was invited to their home for dinner. I knew he had retired as a professional academic, but had no clue what he had achieved during that career. I was, however, struck by a quality that I have found in very, very few people: John had a highly disciplined mind, and he knew how to listen. During a discussion during our first evening together, during which different opinions and ideas were being thrown around, he sat back quietly and silently. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was really “present”—it was almost as if he were somewhere far inside his head, and had tuned out the conversation.

After much back-and-forth among the others at the table, John all of a sudden sat up in his chair and began to talk. He had a slow, mellow voice that made it clear he had heard and internalized all points of view. He then cogently identified the gist of the discussion and came forward with a clear statement that moved everything forward with remarkable insight. He didn’t pontificate; rather, he was “dazzlingly brilliant, especially in spontaneous extemporaneous settings … sardonically funny, and intellectually generous,” in the words of an old friend and collaborator, Cathy told me. For me, it was an astonishing performance, indicative of the kind of mental discipline one seldom encounters.

After learning about John’s background, I had even more reason to be impressed. He was a distinguished professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a lifetime fellow at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. He had academic appointments in psychology and psychiatry, but his primary achievements were in sociology, specifically studies regarding sexuality. John spent several years at the Kinsey Institute and is particularly remembered for his book with co-author William Simon in 1973, Sexual Conduct, which introduced the “social constructionist model” for understanding sexual identity. The American Sociological Association annually presents a Gagnon and Simon Award.

John was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, among many other academic honors.

John’s work was described by Glasgow’s Dr. Pamela Gillies as “groundbreaking” in that it was pivotal to helping those in public health craft appropriate prevention responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic: “John consistently reminds us all of the need to dig deep into our humanity and sense of ourselves to drive the debate of the still hugely important global health challenge presented by HIV/AIDS, in a more coherent, compassionate and intellectually articulate direction.”

Gillies also said of John: “Conversations with John Gagnon are like exciting conspiracies. They allow us to ask all of those difficult questions of life and ourselves that seem almost too strange, too disruptive, or too uncomfortable to explore … Blessed with a beautiful vocal tone, he is also a pleasure to listen to, but he has the gift of listening.”

My experience exactly.

John was an avid reader with a vast knowledge of art, history, literature and psychology. According to Cathy, he knew where every famous painting was housed, when it was painted, and what made it special. Yet he came from humble beginnings: His father was a miner, his mother a hotel maid. After moves across country amid Depression-era poverty, John by the age of 10, had not only discovered the library, but had already read his way through the entire children’s section. In 1990, he wrote, “Books, particularly books that were not true, became and remain the most important source of knowledge in my life.”

After his father’s death, John was on a trip across country, and at the age of 14, he saw the University of Chicago and announced: “I’m going to go to that university.” Although he scored in the top three on the entrance exams for Stanford, John did end up at the University of Chicago, including graduate work that led to his doctorate in 1969.

John’s design in the late 1980s of the first comprehensive survey of sexual behavior since the 1948 and 1953 Kinsey reports provided reliable statistical information and an in-depth assessment of sex in America, including gay male behaviors that were critical to a better understanding of how to structure and implement health interventions regarding HIV/AIDS. He also found that most married Americans were monogamous and not very adventurous about sex.

In a New York Times interview in 1994, John said, “We have had the myth that everybody was out there having lots of sex of all kinds. That’s had two consequences. It has enraged the conservatives. And it has created anxiety and unhappiness among those who weren’t having it, who thought, ‘If I’m not getting any, I must be a defective person.’ Good sense should have told us that most people don’t have the time and energy to manage an affair, a job, a family and the Long Island Rail Road.”

John died Feb. 11, at home with Cathy, his wife of 38 years, by his side. He knew of my work on end-of-life choices, and spoke to me privately about his fears and feelings. I truly regret I will not have the chance to experience that mind again.

John Gagnon made a difference for me, even in the short time he was a part of my life, through his ability to articulate about what really matters: “The critical posture to maintain is that the future will not be better or worse, only different.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

When it comes to learning about black history, it turns out the best place to begin is right here at home.

The cultural history of this area is reflected in the names of streets honoring celebrity residents like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore, and streets honoring Native American history, like Tahquitz and Arenas.

One name not as well-known is Lawrence Crossley, the namesake of Crossley Road. He’s an African American who arrived in Palm Springs from New Orleans in the late 1920s and went on to become a successful and influential developer and businessman.

Far too many local residents don’t even know there is a long-standing and thriving black community here, nor do they know about the shameful circumstances that led to that community being located where it is, at the north end of Palm Springs. The history of Palm Springs includes the disgraceful episode in the early 1960s when residents, many African American, had their homes (shacks, really) bulldozed for an urban-renewal program. In many cases, residents were not even notified before they returned from work and found everything they owned had been destroyed.

Many of those displaced residents eventually relocated into a community of homes developed under the leadership of Crossley—and that is still where many black residents of Palm Springs call home.

Palm Springs after World War II was effectively a segregated city. Land had been previously allocated to the Agua Caliente and the railroad, in a checkerboard pattern of sections. The working-class residents lived on Section 14, many in shacks made of cardboard and tin. When the Agua Caliente, who technically owned the land, were finally legally able to offer 99-year leases on some of the land, the leaders of Palm Springs—many of whom had been appointed as conservators of the Agua Caliente, supposedly to protect the tribal members from being ripped off, but often corrupt and pocketing money that should have gone to tribe members—wanted to get rid of the low-income residents to develop that land. The city declared leases invalid and “evicted” residents in 1962, most without any notice, “which the state of California later characterized as a ‘city-engineered holocaust,’” according to a 2012 KCET report.

Jarvis Crawford, 40, is community center manager for the city of Palm Springs at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center. His family has been in the area for generations, and he is a graduate of Palm Springs High School. He and his wife are raising their two children here. Crawford remembers his own family’s connection to Crossley.

“He started as chauffeur to Prescott Stevens, the family name that graces the Francis Stevens Park in Palm Springs,” says Crawford. “But Crossley went on to be an investor in the old El Mirador Hotel, designed the city’s first golf course, managed the Whitewater Mutual Water Company and pioneered irrigation techniques, and eventually owned trailer parks, a restaurant, a laundromat and other businesses.

“My great-grandfather knew Crossley, and my grandmother lived in a Crossley home after blacks and others were forcibly pushed off the Section 14 land that is now the heart of downtown. Some of the uprooted residents created new black neighborhoods in Banning, others in Indio, but Crossley basically said, ‘I have some land, and you can come over here.’ He gave people another chance at living in Palm Springs.”

Crawford is on the city’s Black History Committee, which, together with the Unity Center (“the Mecca of the black community,” he says), sponsors many events and activities designed to support residents from Banning to Indio—exercise classes and computer training for seniors, youth programs and sporting events, and Black History Month events like the city’s annual parade and fair, happening this year on Saturday, Feb. 27.

“I went to Oklahoma to attend a historical black college, Langston University, and had the chance to learn there was a huge gap in what I really knew about black history,” Crawford says. “I wanted an in-depth knowledge of the truth. I wanted to learn more about me.”

Crawford worked at the Unity Center when he was on school breaks. “I studied computer science and business management, and James Jessie (a local activist for whom the center is named) influenced me to also focus on the leisure industry and physical education. He suggested I come back after I graduated and take time to get myself together,” he says. “He helped me get a job with the Palm Springs Parks and Recreation Department.”

But Crawford’s decision to stay in Palm Springs is probably directly attributable to James Jessie’s death during a camping trip to the Colorado River.

“We had what we called ‘Fishing With James,’ where we took kids from the community out to the Colorado River,” recalls Crawford. “On one trip, one of the kids slipped into the water. James jumped in and saved that kid’s life. I could see the kid sitting and shivering on the shore at the other side of the water, and heard him yell, ‘He hasn’t come up yet!’ I swam across to comfort the young boy while the other kids gathered in horror at what had happened.

“After the EMTs pulled James out, they were getting ready to pull out a black bag, and I asked them to just carry him out to the ambulance. I wanted to stop the kids’ fear and pain. I felt I had to take care of the situation.

“On the whole ride home from Blythe back to Palm Springs, complete with a police escort, I was talking to the kids. ‘Is he dead?’ one finally asked. I couldn’t say yes. The most I could do was answer, ‘Uncle James has a new life.’

“I had intended to head to Northern California to work in the computer industry, but that trip to the river is what got me to stay and work with the city. This is my community. I was one of those kids at one time.”

Jarvis Crawford not only works with the community through the center’s programs; he also gives presentations to local organizations influencing others to discover and embrace the cultural heritage of our area, and doing what he can to fill in the gaps about our own black history here at home.

It’s a good place to start.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.