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I have two local friends who hail from London: Rupert in Rancho Mirage, and Gillian in Palm Desert. They often laugh at how Americans react to their British accent.

“Well,” I tell them, “Americans can’t really differentiate between British, Australian, South African or New Zealand accents, let alone between North and West London. We just assume that if you have that accent, you must be smart and educated.”

Many of us have similar trouble differentiating between Vietnamese and Filipino, Japanese and Chinese, Saudi and Syrian, Egyptian and Liberian. They’re all either Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern or African—if we know enough to make those distinctions.

With what just happened on Nov. 13 (more than 125 dead in Paris), as well as what happened only a day before in Beirut (43 killed) and a couple weeks before that on a Russian plane (224 dead), it’s also difficult for us to differentiate between who is “us” and who is “them.”

I’ve written before about this tribal hangover in our evolutionary journey, whether about “mean girls” or political correctness or motorcycle gangs or the local “us” versus “them” in Coachella after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year. It feels urgent to me that we consider how important it is for Americans to not only preserve our sense of security, but also act based on our values. If we can be pushed into knee-jerk policies based on fear—not unlike the internment of law-abiding and loyal Japanese Americans during World War II—“they” will have already won. There should be no fear worth abandoning our basic concepts of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

After the most recent Paris attack—amid reactions that include concerns about accepting Syrian refugees, even if they’re fleeing death and destruction; rushing to commit troops to harm’s way; voicing political rhetoric without acknowledging the need for allies whose philosophies or way of life may be vastly different from ours; and a call to shut down American houses of worship (First Amendment be damned)—I had the great pleasure of interviewing Deepa Iyer, author of a new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. A South Asian American, born in India, Iyer immigrated to Kentucky at age 12. She has served as executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together and is a senior fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion, as well as an activist in residence at the University of Maryland.

Iyer’s book chronicles some of the shameful incidents that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, the massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, the violent opposition to an Islamic Center in Tennessee, and the demonstrations against building a mosque in Lower Manhattan. She also looks at public policies adopted after Sept. 11, like rampant profiling (as if we could suddenly distinguish between a Muslim and a Hindu—can you?).

Not coincidentally, we’re witnessing campus protests by young people who decry stereotyping, exclusion and hate crimes. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight institutionalized racism.

Iyer has a particular take on hate crimes: “Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted, but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong (to) the community being directly targeted.” She cites, as an example, the massacre in Wisconsin, where afterward, non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety and felt forced to change some of their behaviors.

Are home-grown hate crimes different from what ISIS is doing? Local bullies want a sense of power. ISIS terrorism is designed to frighten anyone who might be inclined to oppose their desire for power—including other Muslims. As a nation, if we react based on that fear by abandoning our principles and beliefs, including our historical willingness to integrate people from other cultural and religious traditions, then ISIS will have been successful in pushing their notion of “us” and “them.” ISIS wants to be seen as a legitimate state. Granting that status to ISIS is antithetical to defeating what we should recognize as nothing more than a worldwide hate crime being perpetrated by armed bullies.

In addition to our revulsion at indiscriminate killings, there is at least a smidgen of a desire to distance ourselves from the possibility that in each of us, there still lurks that tribal impulse toward violence against “the other.” Being “civilized” means we have mostly found ways to transcend those impulses; the choice of how to go forward must be informed by realizing that some members of our species are apparently still “uncivilized.”

We all have Uncle Joe or Cousin Amelia, whom we dread seeing because their behavior becomes obnoxious after the second glass of wine. Still, they are family—no matter how we might like to distance ourselves from the idea that we are in any way like them. It may not be all that different to fear seeing ourselves as capable of being at all like ISIS extremists. Yet abusive bullies live among us.

Despite political finger-pointing (Bush got us into Iraq; Obama pulled us out too quickly), we are where we are, and there are serious questions to be asked: Do we want to rush into combat for the sake of looking tough? Are we willing to once again increase American casualties? What about “collateral damage”—the killing of innocent women and children? Should we implement policies, created out of fear, that restrict the freedom of others, based on nothing more than what they look like, or which religious affiliation they claim, or where they come from? What are the consequences of both intervention and a lack of intervention? How much is already being done that hasn’t been made public? These are public conversations worth having, and we need coherent and nuanced responses.

We must resist the temptation to see even ourselves as “us” and “them.” If we can’t even distinguish one accent or one nationality from another, maybe it’s time to realize there is no “us” and “them.” We are all Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, Jewish, Scientologist, Mormon—and none of the above. We are Italian, Laotian, Moroccan, Polish, Jordanian, Irish, Iranian, Belgian, Ukrainian, Swedish. These are ways of distinguishing and identifying ourselves, but in the end, it’s all “us.”

The challenge is to educate ourselves about each other enough to not let fear turn us against our better natures. We can only hope that our more civilized selves represent the direction of our evolution away from mere tribalism.

We are all Parisian, Lebanese, Russian. Like him or not, Uncle Joe is also “us.” Alas, ISIS is also “us.” For better or worse, we’re all in this together. In the end, there is no “them.”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

As a political talk-radio host, I am constantly dealing with people who don’t agree with me.

Some callers spout nonsense conspiracy theories. Others copy tried-and-true applause lines from their political heroes. Still others simply yell and shout their personal prejudices, uninterested in facts or reasonable discourse. Even those who agree with me often have skewed reasoning.

What’s a responsible broadcaster to do?

I learned a long time ago that I will probably never change the mind of the person on the other end of the line. I’ve also learned that trying to over-shout someone just leads to noise and no light.

I also have the luxury of being able to hit the “dump” button.

Alas, there is no “dump” button in real life. In this ever-polarized political environment, national and local, I know people who refuse to attend family dinners because of, for example, the brother-in-law who sputters the worst politically incorrect characterizations in front of young children. I know people who won’t go to their card-game group because one member likes to stir the pot. I know people who are frustrated about how to respond when they overhear ridiculous points of view pontificated in the next booth at the restaurant or the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

My friend Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to ever throw in the towel on her outspoken support for causes and activism. So I was astonished to read a Facebook post by her recently: “Just like the alcoholic, the drug addict, the food addict, I have been binging on politics and I have literally overdosed. I am feeding on toxicity and it is taking me beyond where I want to go.”

Stern, a long-time desert resident, was born and raised in Chicago. She and her husband, Marv, were originally snowbirds here, but they have now lived in the Palm Springs area as permanent residents for more than 18 years.

“I’m very blessed to be in a financial situation where we’re able to be comfortable—but I didn’t grow up that way,” she says. “I lived in public housing and went to public schools.”

Stern became a buyer and marketing executive at Sears, a male-dominated environment where, she says, “I had to prove myself—but at least I had the chance.” That experience got Stern involved in support for affirmative action. Her subsequent involvement in other causes included opposing the Vietnam War, working on the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, supporting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and participating in the March on Washington.

“I’m no activist, but I’ve been active my whole adult life,” she says, without appreciating the irony. “I got energized by the candidacy of President Obama, after a long hiatus of not really being too involved, and went to Nevada to work on his campaign with a couple of friends.”

In the Coachella Valley, Stern’s involvement has included participation with the Democratic Women of the Desert, the Hike for Hope and the Jewish Film Festival.

A few years ago, she became involved with Planned Parenthood. Stern and her husband agreed to host an event at their home featuring Sandra Fluke, the young woman who spoke out passionately about women having access to contraception—and was subsequently vilified by Rush Limbaugh, who publicly referred to Fluke as “a slut.”

The following year, Stern hosted another Planned Parenthood event, “and I realized the organization had no fundraising arm here in the valley.” October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in the Coachella Valley perform more than 1,800 breast cancer screenings each year.

“The group’s opponents have done a very good job of painting Planned Parenthood as a ‘one trick pony,’ focusing solely on abortion, when 97 percent of their activities are not abortion-related,” says Stern. “You don’t get to make up your own facts.”

That led her to help organize the Reel Women’s Movie Marathon, a local film festival designed to highlight Planned Parenthood’s focus on breast-health programs, featuring diverse films about women—from the “barefoot grandmamas” of India, illiterate women being trained as solar engineers, to stories of forced marriages and women fighting gender discrimination both abroad and in the U.S. The first festival was held last year; at this year’s second event, attendance doubled.

With this background, what led Stern to her post on Facebook?

“We can all become as entrenched as anyone on the other side of an issue,” she says. “I recently attended a political event for a local candidate and got into an argument with someone with whom I didn’t agree at all about a key issue. I’m not normally a confrontational person, but every time she tried to talk, I cut her off, and it kept escalating. I embarrassed her, and I embarrassed myself. I knew afterward that the way I handled it was over the top. It was so not me.”

That incident led to Stern’s post on Facebook.

“I post a lot,” she says, “so it seemed the most appropriate way to handle my feelings afterward.”

Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to stop standing up for what she believes in. And the truth is, she hasn’t. Her Facebook post led to so many responses—mostly supportive and encouraging her not to step back—that she was astonished.

“I always try to be respectful,” she says. “I try to post facts and not make it personal. I don’t want to offend anyone.”

Stern’s heartfelt post is both cautionary and encouraging. “I am finding myself at odds with others, many of whom I never was at odds with before,” she posted. “I cannot allow myseIf to binge on it, lest it make me intolerant. I will try not to engage others in debate on what we do not agree with. I will fight for what I believe in, but in my heart I am a peacemaker … I am going to weigh and measure my political input just as we all strive to weigh and measure our lives.”

We need more people like Eileen Stern, who care passionately about issues and are willing to take an active role in the community, who constantly self-monitor to stay positive, listen to others’ points of view, stand up for what they believe and make a difference. Lucky for us, in spite of her Facebook post, Eileen Stern hasn’t given up.

On the radio, I’ve developed the philosophy that if I can at least convince others that there is a civil way to respond to those spouting off, and respect differences of opinion—to disagree without being disagreeable—then I’ve done my job.

Of course, for me, there’s always the “dump” button.

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 at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

My mother always used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

I don’t remember being bullied when I was in school. I do remember there were cliques, and it was pretty clear who belonged to which group, and how the groups were ranked socially. There were the popular girls who were most likely to date the jocks. The artsy kids hung out with other actors, musicians and writers. We had the natural politicians who led the clubs, ran the social events and held school office. We had outlaws who smoked and drank and cut classes and wore leather jackets or long, dangling earrings.

There were some students who were overweight or too smart or socially inept. They got called derogatory names. There were girls who were tagged as “easy” (although some of my friends who were outwardly prissy got pregnant before those they disparaged). And of course, there were always some who got chosen last for the team.

I was mousy, mouthy and smart. My authoritarian father kept me from going to parties, so I hung with a crowd that was in the middle of the pack. However, there were times when I felt like a total outsider—insecure and undesirable.

It was a simpler time. Things have changed. There are still social castes and group identification—but technology has allowed name-calling to be taken to new levels, and girls are specifically targeting others, using media as their weapon. Today, it’s not just about something said in a snippy tone behind someone’s back; it’s about being instantly able to characterize someone negatively to the whole world, and putting someone on the defensive without any justification.

We’ve heard the stories of “mean girls” taking on and then discarding friendships and alliances based on the whims of any moment. We’ve read about the young people who feel compelled to end their lives because of the shame and stigmatization they suffer at the hands of others. Yet how many of us have talked to young people personally who are willing to tell us about their own experiences and the impact bullying behavior has had?

This brings me to a recent local production of The Secret Life of Girls, a play by Linda Daugherty which was performed locally for students and the public by Coachella Valley Repertory.

CV Rep is a theater company whose founding artistic director, Ron Celona, is a 17-year resident of Rancho Mirage. The company does at least one program each year aimed directly at young audiences. Why this play?

“People don’t realize the impact of bullying on young people,” Celona explains. “CV Rep focuses on presenting work that provokes rather than just entertaining. There are programs in schools, but they’re not being done through theater, which can involve the audience in a more emotional and purposeful way.”

The Secret Life of Girls, written in 2007, is based on interviews with girls, both bullied and bullies, about the damage of “cyberbullying.” The author has encouraged those performing the play to update the technology—from instant messaging and email, used when it was written, to the now-ubiquitous texting, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

The play opens with Abby (played by Cecilia Orosco, a Palm Springs High School senior) saying to the audience, "I'm going to tell you a secret—and I don't want you to tell. The secret is about me—about my life—how it will never be the same again."

Director Nicole Dominguez, a Los Angeles resident, does a youth-oriented production somewhere every year. “Ron wanted a female to direct, and I’ve learned you can’t get young people to share their experiences and feelings unless you go first.”

Had she ever been bullied? “I had red hair, freckles and a mouth full of braces. I was like a walking target. It’s important to me that the kids take something with them that gives them some confidence, and I believe if you treat young people as if they were grown-ups, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

Dominguez also believes in the importance of involving students directly in theater productions. “Young people are the future of theater. Even if they don’t pursue it as a career, it teaches them the confidence to speak in public, and it’s about learning how to be a human working in a group environment to produce something of value.”

One of the eye-opening realizations in the play is the constantly shifting alliances among the girls, along with the pettiness and bullying that accompanies those shifts. I came to realize that some who are bullies may end up being bullied when alliances change, and that adults are often completely unaware of what’s going on.

Maybe cyberbullying happens because of the availability of social media as a way to compete for attention and notoriety, or maybe it’s about girls jockeying for social position. (Boys have bullying issues of their own, particularly involving physicality or sexuality as measures of power and success.)

For Celona, presenting this play is consistent with CV Rep’s mission of presenting challenging subjects via local theater. “We want to give audiences information and provoke discussing topics with others afterward.”

We did just that after the performance I attended. All of the young actors gathered onstage to answer questions posed by the audience. It was clear that some audience members were unaware of the depth of the problem, and many wanted to know what they could do that would make a difference.

What has been the impact of presenting a play on this difficult subject to young audiences? Celona recalled one performance to a particularly unruly group. They were noisy during the performance, and surly or deriding in challenging the actors during the discussion afterward. Katie Nolan, a senior at Rancho Mirage High School (who played the character of Chandler), finally had enough. She looked straight at the rowdy audience and said, “You’re bullying us right now!” There was silence, followed by productive discussion.

That’s the message of the play writ large. Speak up. Have confidence in yourself. As director Dominguez says, “You send something out there, and it’s there forever. Life should be about improving each other if we can.”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I remember my friend Jean every time I hear about the suicide death of a young person.

Jean found her 17-year-old son, shot dead by his own hand, in their living room. Although I have known others who lost a child (a reality I can thankfully only imagine), it’s Jean who stands out. The impact on her family was devastating.

That was the first suicide involving somebody close to me; sad to say, I’ve had others in my life. It was also the first time I heard the adage: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in ERs across the country. HealthyChildren.org says that suicide is one of the three leading causes of death for 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of four deaths every day.

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts with a firearm are usually deadly, while people who use drugs or other methods have a greater chance for survival. About 45 percent of young people use firearms to attempt suicide, and boys are more at risk to die: 81 percent of deaths are males—because they are more likely to use firearms.

“Even in the best of circumstances, when you’re in adolescence, you feel different,” says Palm Desert resident Carol Bayer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who counsels many teenagers. “Depression and despair can come from betrayal or rejection by a best friend, the end of a love affair, family conflicts, or just feeling isolated, alone, and without family support or coping skills. Even if they want to reach out, they assume others will say they’re just being ‘dramatic’ and tell them to get over it. But they don’t believe they have options other than ending the pain.”

A recent effort, specifically targeted toward LGBT teenagers, is the” It Gets Better” campaign, which uses videos—featuring people ranging from normal, everyday folks to high-profile stars—to reach out to bullied young people.

“Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are,” says the website. Organizers ask people to join their campaign and to pledge: “I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.”

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner is shining light on transgender suicide in her new reality TV program.

But it’s not enough to just tell kids it gets better. An analysis by Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates that for every age group across the country, “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide. … The vast majority of adolescent suicide guns come from parents or other family members.”

A 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund indicates the gun death rate for children and teens is four times greater in the United States than in Canada (the country with the next-highest rate), and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain. Even more disturbing, public health researchers found that 43 percent of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm.

The Children’s Defense Fund also reports that in 2008-2009, an estimated U.S. 127 children died from gunshots in their homes, and dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. More than half pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another child. At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured; 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, with 50 of them in homicides. The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

Research by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when doctors consult with patients about the risk of keeping firearms in a home, it leads to significantly higher rates of handgun removal or safer storage. Yet the National Rifle Association has fought against such policies, backing the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which prohibited doctors, even pediatricians, from asking patients about firearms in the home.

When a 2-year-old gets access to his dad’s loaded gun and shoots himself, or a 13-year-old gets hold of an unsecured rifle and blasts a 9-year-old in the face, or a 2-year-old is shot in the head before her father turns the gun on himself, or two young children shoot others and then kill themselves—when we have apparently become inured to the death of children at school, or we take as the new normal random killings in movie theaters, have we at last lost our ability to be outraged and insist that public policy respond to limit these horrendous events?

Even as violent crime rates overall have declined steadily in recent years, rates of gun injury and death are climbing. In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of doctors wrote: "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people or that people kill people with guns—the result is the same: a public health crisis.”

Meanwhile, Congress, under the aggressive and well-funded lobbying influence of the NRA, refuses to allow funding for federal medical research to study firearm deaths and injuries as the public health issues they clearly are. According to Mother Jones, “Political forces effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: (There have been) no relevant studies published since 2005.”

There are two types of gun-related public health costs. First, there are direct costs, exceeding $8.6 billion, with the largest portion being long-term prison costs; about 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. Second, there are indirect costs, adding up to at least $221 billion, including lost income, losses to employers, and losses based on court costs and awards to victims and their families. One would think that based on cost alone, Congress would be willing to act. Of course, that’s not the case.

As overwhelming as all these statistics may be, and as helpless as we may feel to impact public policy, there are ways to get involved and make a difference:

  • Moms Demand Action has a local chapter and needs volunteers who are willing to spread the message that we must act to protect kids from accidental or deliberate use of guns. Palm Desert’s Dori Smith (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the local representative, reminds us: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”
  • California law requires that guns in homes with children be kept locked away, preferably with trigger guards, with ammunition stored separately.
  • Never assume that children don’t know where guns are, or that they are unable to access them—they do, and they will. Grandparents, this means you, too.
  • Ask parents of your children’s friends about the status of firearms in their homes before your child spends time there. Better safe than sorry.
  • If your teen becomes depressed, and you have any concern about access to firearms, get guns out of your house for the time being.
  • Take seriously any thoughts of or mention of suicide, and immediately seek professional help. Go to the emergency room if no other option exists.
  • The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors an annual Out of the Darkness Walk, a chance to be with others who can share their experiences and coping skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Tell your elected representatives that you want medical professionals to be allowed to study and then implement firearm-related public health policies.

Most survivors of a suicide attempt are glad they were saved. Unfortunately, those who make that attempt with a firearm are usually successful. I can never erase from my mind the agony of my friend Jean when she found her son’s body. No parent should ever have to face that.

We must never accept this as the new normal. These are our children.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

June is graduation month, and there was one ceremony that had a particular impact on me: The graduation of Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School Class of 2015.

The ceremony was held at the Indian Wells Tennis Club on a hot evening. The ceremony began with students in pairs holding large wire bowers covered with flowers, to make a path for the senior class to enter. And enter, they did—wearing white robes and caps for the top scholars, with red for the rest of the class. Many graduates had hand-decorated messages on their mortarboards, and robes festooned with bright floral leis or sparkling lights. As they circled the grass court to their assigned seats, families and friends cheered as the graduates struck poses or danced their way along the floral pathway.

It’s well known that I cry easily, and my tears began as I scanned the half-full stadium, full of proud parents, grandparents and other relatives. I particularly focused on the young brothers and sisters who were getting the chance to participate in a rite of passage where children learn what’s important to their families. I could see the pride and excitement as each family stood to shout encouragement as their graduating student walked by, waving and beaming.

This graduation has particular significance for me. I’ve written about Alejandra Franco before—she is a remarkable young woman who demonstrates how second-generation immigrants have embraced the American dream. In this case, Alejandra is the valedictorian of the graduating class, with a GPA of 4.39, and has been accepted to attend USC—apparently the first student from Desert Mirage to have that opportunity.

The vast majority of these graduating seniors are of Hispanic heritage, and in many cases, Spanish is still the primary language spoken at home. While I could not understand all of the conversations taking place around me, the joy and pride exhibited easily transcended language barriers.

Desert Mirage’s principal, Stephen Franklin, welcomed everyone in both English and Spanish. All stood for the presentation of colors. Then the national anthem was sung by senior Alondra Ibarra, as the audience, hands over hearts, stood respectfully. My tears began again as I listened to the a capella voice of this angel. Wow!

Salutatorian Everett Rivera-Meza, with a 4.34 GPA and heading for UCLA, gave his speech in English and Spanish. “Always follow your dreams,” he said. “Don’t let the noise of others drown out your voice. Wherever we go, our roots are strong.”

Then it was Alejandra’s turn. Her valedictorian address offered was entirely in Spanish. “I had a time limit of three minutes, and was originally going to give it in English and Spanish,” she explained, “but I had to choose, and I chose Spanish because I wanted my family, most importantly my parents, to fully understand.”

Alejandra told two stories in her speech. The first was about “connecting the dots and finding our purpose,” where she linked her father’s immigration difficulties some years ago to her passion for getting an education. “Imagine,” she said, “at 12, getting home after a usual day at school like any other—but then your mom tells you that your father has been taken by (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and you see the desperate look in her eyes is screaming, ‘What are we going to do?’ Then to have your little brothers get home from school and ask why Dad has not arrived from work; having to grip all courage possible to be able to answer with a smile that he is away working. The days pass by, and you witness how Mother is doing the impossible. Being forced to lie to your little brothers and tell them everything is fine, and having to send them to bed with the hopes that father will be back tomorrow. Keeping a straight face at school, but knowing once you get home, you will be confronted by reality. Doing everything possible to be of use, whether it be taking care of my brothers, doing chores around the house … having to wait for everyone to be in bed in order to be able to do homework, staying up late and ... not setting aside education, and not failing your parents.

“At 12 years of age, I was trying to understand: Why did my family have to suffer all of this? Perhaps in that moment, I wasn’t able to understand, but now, almost six years later, I connect the dots and realize that all the suffering was rather a blessing. Because of what happened, my father can live at peace, as he was given a second chance, but I also discovered my vocation: I clearly see my purpose is to go to a university, educate myself, and come back to my community to offer services to families like my own.”

Alejandra’s second story was about there being no excuse for not achieving success. “Hemiplegia is total paralysis of half the body that affects the center motors of the brain and its development—that was the path that was chosen for me at birth. ‘She will never walk; she will never be normal; she will not even live past her first birthday.’ I would become no one.

“Nonetheless, life gave me amazing parents who did not consider me a lost cause, even when all the odds were against us. My parents fought to give me the opportunity to live. Having crossed the border with nothing and sacrificing everything, even going days without any food or water, they risked everything to offer us a better tomorrow.

“Even after all the hardships suffered, I understood that there is no such thing as ‘impossible’ or any obstacle that serves as an excuse to not continue striving forward. Not only did I win the battle to keep living, but I also triumphed over death itself when it knocked at my door. And that is why I speak to all of you as living testimony that with the same perseverance and determination as our parents, family members, friends, teachers or whomever guided us through these years of education, we must keep pushing forward with the purpose of demonstrating our full potential, not as Latinos or Raza, but as the wonderful human beings we are, creating the better tomorrow we see engraved in the callused and hardworking hands of our parents. It is our duty to demonstrate to each and every one who is present that they have not come to celebrate us in vain.”

My tears flowed.

This graduating class will be attending nine University of California campuses, 11 Cal State colleges, and schools in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and New York. Many graduates will be continuing their education at College of the Desert, at technical schools and in the military.

Many, like Alejandra, are the children of immigrants. They should be celebrated as a welcome addition to the American story that they are helping to write. They deserve our support, our admiration and public policies that support their participation—out of the shadows and in full pursuit of the American dream.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

One of the joys of writing a column called “Know Your Neighbors” is the freedom to share some of my own experiences. I am, after all, your neighbor.

I’ve written before about pet peeves, including my greatest irritation—people who talk during movies. I’ve also written about how we regrettably see those unlike ourselves as “the other,” against whom we feel somehow justified in harboring prejudice and fear. Some of the hateful comments on all sides after the recent trouble in Baltimore epitomize this phenomenon.

Once in a while, however, we get the chance to see ourselves as “them”—in other words, we, ourselves, become like those people to whom we feel superior, those people who don’t know how to behave the way we believe they should. It happened to me recently, when those two earlier themes collided.

I decided to go to the movies early on a Tuesday afternoon not too long ago to see Kevin Costner in McFarland. Our busy season is all but over, so I assumed the theater would be almost empty, assuring I could enjoy a pleasant and blissfully quiet experience. I got my popcorn and soda, and walked into the small theater—which was amazingly more than half full. The lights were still on, because the previews had not yet begun, and before I even started down the aisle, I thought perhaps I had made a big mistake.

The people seated throughout the room, except for a few random couples scattered about, were clearly a rowdy bunch, talking trash to each other, being loud and boisterous, and shouting across the room to loud laughter with coarse language. The mostly male group had tattoos and leather jackets. My first thought was, “Oh, my God, a motorcycle club must have decided today was a good day to go to the movies. Maybe I should leave right now, traipse around the mall for a couple of hours, and come back to a later show, or ask for my money back and call it a day.”

I paused a moment while I considered what to do. I already had my popcorn, so what would I do with that if I left? And if I walked around the mall, I would surely spend money I really didn’t have to spend. Even in that short experience of the audience, I knew this would not be a crowd that would react well to the “Shhh!” at which I have become quite the expert. No, these were not the type of people I would want to confront.

Then it occurred to me that this might be the best possible environment in which to confront my knee-jerk reaction to people who talk back to the screen or who can’t seem to control their need to question what’s going on. (“Why did he say that?” “Isn’t that the actress who was in that TV show?” “What’s he going to do next?”) This might be my chance to grow as a person and learn to incorporate in my movie-going experience the reality that I have to share the theater with others who haven’t learned good manners. Wouldn’t that make me the truly superior one?

As I found a seat, one of the members of the “gang” made a comment about how I had chosen exactly the right row to sit in; I just half-smiled and sat. I began to listen to the banter floating around the room and gleaned that these were not bikers; rather, they were members of the Coachella music-festival crew, waiting out jobs for the following weekend at Stagecoach. They were either stagehands or security, and it sounded like most were vagabonds who move around and work shows across the country.

When the previews of coming attractions began, the comments around the theater changed to responses to what was on the screen. Some were downright funny, and I laughed along in spite of myself. My favorite was when a new movie with Helen Hunt was previewed, and the closing shot was of her saying to her love interest, “Just use my body until I’m through with you.” The group hooted and hollered at that one!

The lights began to dim; the feature film was about to begin. I settled in and told myself I could learn to incorporate the raucousness and still enjoy the movie without feeling it was my job to keep order and appropriateness in the environment.

As the lights went dark and the opening credits began to roll, from somewhere toward the front of the theater, I heard a loud, “Shhh! It’s starting!” Amazingly, the entire room went silent.

It stayed that way throughout.

McFarland is a good movie with a good message. It has quality production values, fine acting and an engaging cast, and the after-credits feature images of the real people who were part of the actual story, and say where they are now. I admit to a few tears (but I also cry at parades and football games).

Perhaps the best review of the film that I can give is that just before the final credits rolled, when the film ended, the room exploded with applause. I was, frankly, stunned. How often do you hear a movie audience show that kind of appreciation?

My prejudice about the guys in that theater, and my snap-judgment stereotyping, filled me with fear. I almost turned tail and ran. I’m so glad I didn’t.

People who don’t look and act like you do are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, even if they travel in “gangs.” Obviously, blue-collar gypsies (talk about a stereotype) ought to be respected, not feared, and presumed innocent until actions prove them guilty of something.

When you come right down to it, we’re really all the same: We just want to spend an afternoon enjoying a good movie. Just don’t talk while the movie is on!

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 at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

One category of gun deaths goes beyond even National Rifle Association-inspired “no restrictions on guns” inanity: when small children get guns and accidentally shoot someone.

It happens far too often:

  • Elmo, Mo.: A 5-year-old found his grandpa’s loaded gun and killed his 9-month-old baby brother with a shot in the head.
  • Emerson, Neb.: A 4-year-old got a rifle from a gun case underneath a bed and shot his mother while playing with it. The bullet went through a wall and a recliner, hitting her in the side.
  • Newark, N.J.: A 9-year-old girl was shot by her 12-year-old brother playing with a handgun in their home. The mother faced child-endangerment charges.
  • Hayden, Idaho: A 2-year-old killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart. She had a loaded weapon in her purse and a concealed-weapons permit. 
  • Tulsa, Okla: An Army veteran, 26, was killed after being shot in the head by her 3-year-old son. The child found a handgun and fired one shot.
  • Louisville, Ky.: A 4-year-old accidentally killed herself when she grabbed a handgun left by a relative on a piece of furniture. Charges against the relative were dropped.
  • Cleveland: A 1-year-old boy was killed by a 3-year-old family member when he picked up a gun, which went off. "It’s a sad day for Cleveland," said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams on newsnet5, an ABC affiliate. "This fascination we have with handguns … in this country has to stop. This is a senseless loss of life." The person responsible for bringing the weapon into the home and leaving it where the child could get to it was said to likely face charges.
  • Detroit: A 30-year-old Michigan mother was charged with second-degree child abuse after her 4-year-old son shot himself in the thigh. She apparently fell asleep on the couch after returning from a shooting range, leaving her handgun in her holster.

Locally, deaths and injuries from guns are in the news virtually every day, and the headlines are cumulatively alarming. Statistics show that more than 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns—and as many as 1.7 million of those homes include guns which are loaded and unlocked. More than two-thirds of accidental shootings by children could have been avoided if guns had been responsibly stored, according to Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“Nearly two children are killed in unintentional shootings in America each week,” Watts wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post. “America’s epidemic of gun violence has been sustained for so long that even toddlers and children shooting children is becoming a terrifying new normal.”

Moms Demand Action is the national organization Watts began after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn. The group is dedicated to demanding action from lawmakers, companies and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun-law reforms that protect children: child access prevention (CAP) laws. Although the NRA says such laws infringe on Second Amendment rights, polling shows that about 82 percent of Americans—and 81 percent of gun owners—favor allowing charges against adult gun owners if a child gets a negligently stored gun, and death or serious injury results. 

Dori Smith, a Palm Desert resident since 1999, feels we’ve gone backward since Sandy Hook.

“Part of what we loved here, coming from Connecticut with lots of time spent in New York, was how safe we felt,” she says. “But now, murders—particularly gun murders—–are seemingly increasing even in our beautiful valley.” 

Dori decided to join Moms Demand Action and start a local chapter. The kickoff meeting was held in a park with about 15 local residents: a retired rabbi and his wife; a former NRA member and proud gun owner who wants smarter laws to protect children; an elder-law lawyer and his wife who believe we need common-sense laws that hold adults responsible; two retired teachers who are concerned about guns on school grounds; and others with specific connections to gun violence. One person has a son who was held up at gunpoint; another has a mentally ill cousin who bought guns in a state with lax laws; another has a friend who was shot.

Marlene Levine, a 12-year resident of La Quinta who has been in the desert for 35 years, recalls an incident when her son was in the second-grade and was with a young friend—who wanted to show off the gun in his lunch box.

“To this day,” she says, “I remain thankful for the alert playground aide who saw that something odd was happening.”

There are no federal CAP laws or any national requirements for gun owners to safely store firearms. California is one of 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have enacted criminal liability on persons who negligently store firearms where anyone under 18 could get access, regardless of whether the minor actually gains access or uses the gun. 

These laws do make a difference. A 1999 study found that more than 75 percent of the guns used in youth-suicide attempts or resulting in unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend. CAP laws resulted in lowered suicide rates among 14- to 17-year-olds, as well as a decrease in unintentional injury in homes with children. In 12 states where such laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23 percent among children younger than 15. 

Dori Smith wants to expand the influence of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here in the Coachella Valley.

“This is an issue that should transcend politics,” she says. “It’s about keeping our children safe.”

As Moms founder Shannon Watts says, “There is no such thing as an accidental shooting when it involves a child shooting himself or herself or another person with a carelessly stored gun. It’s due to an adult gun owners’ negligence.”

We should not be satisfied that California has stiff CAP laws when children in other states are at risk. As a nation, we can surely do better.

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 at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Thursday, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day—devoted to encouraging you to fill out an advance directive indicating who should speak for you if you can’t, and what end-of-life treatments you do and do not want.

If you’re someone who doesn’t want to think or talk about this … KEEP READING! Also, I’m not just talking to aging coots and crones—if you’re a legal adult, 18 or older, I’m talking to you!

National Healthcare Decisions Day is an “unofficial” national holiday—a collaborative national, state and community initiative to ensure that the information, opportunity and access needed to document end-of-life healthcare decisions are available to all adults capable of making informed decisions. It’s meant to educate and empower you about your rights and the importance of your wishes being respected.

Some quick background on the law: The first major decision about a constitutional right to refuse treatment was way back in 1891, when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a common law right to “possession and control” of our own bodies. In that case, a guy had suffered injuries in a work-related accident, and his employer wanted to surgically “search” his injuries to see if his claim was justified. The court said no, and this became the precedent for many later decisions, including the right to privacy and the right to refuse unwanted treatment. In essence, the court said you “own” your own body, and you can exercise certain rights as a result—much like the ownership of land. Your body is yours, and it cannot be violated by others—even the state—unless there is a really good legal reason.

In 1914, Justice Benjamin Cardozo reconfirmed that notion, writing, “Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient’s consent commits an assault.” That formed the basis for requiring “informed consent” for medical treatment—those pesky forms shoved at you right before surgery that list all the horrendous worst-case possibilities.

Two later cases gave additional constitutional support. In 1986, a California Appeals Court said that a “competent adult patient has the legal right to refuse medical treatment … and, whenever possible, the patient himself should then be the ultimate decision-maker.” In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court said that “a competent person has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment.” Also in 1990, Congress got the message and passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, which instructed each state to develop forms for individuals so they could name someone to speak for them if they were unable and to document their own wishes about treatment. Free forms are available in each state and can easily be located online.

Unfortunately, the public-education portion of the Patient Self-Determination Act was never funded. Instead of an effective public-service announcement (“This is your brain on drugs …”), we got 50 different forms and laws. If you had an advance directive in one state saying you wanted no extraordinary measures taken to prolong your life—for example, after a severe auto accident—that didn’t mean it would apply in another.

Luckily, individuals and organizations have stepped in to fill the void. One group, Aging With Dignity, has designed “Five Wishes,” a booklet that is accepted in more than 40 states; in addition to the two legal questions (asking who will speak for you if you can’t, and what you do or don’t want regarding treatment), the form offers other questions that are not legally binding, but which may help open lines of communication.

If you were unconscious, and you loved classical music, would you want acid rock played in your room? Is there someone you absolutely do not want there? Is there something unsaid that you want someone to know? “Five Wishes” offers the opportunity to write down things that state forms don’t cover.

There are groups that facilitate discussions about end-of-life decisions, including those catering specifically to young people, who usually don’t think this is their issue because the end of life seems too far away. Just Google “Advance Directives,” and you’ll be amazed at the wealth of information and support you’ll find, much of it free.

Studies have consistently shown that more than 60 percent of us want our own choices respected, but only about 20-30 percent of us have ever filled out forms. Since forms are not valid if you’re incompetent to make a decision—for example, after a severe brain trauma or advancing dementia—it’s important to have these conversations and get forms completed before you’re facing a crisis. You don’t need an attorney or even a notary: Any two disinterested people (not family members or health-care providers) can witness your signature.

National Healthcare Decisions Day offers the opportunity to focus on doing something you should do anyway. What are you waiting for?

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..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It used to be a commonly held belief that if someone graduated high school and couldn’t get into a “real” college, they went to a local junior college.

Stereotypes included students who had barely made it through grade 12, those who had gotten into trouble, those who had little family support (let alone money), and those who hoped to make up for low grades and take courses that could eventually transfer to a four-year institution of “higher” learning.

If you still hold these views of what are now called community colleges … boy, you are behind the times.

I was recently privileged to participate in a grand tour of College of the Desert (COD), led by Peter Sturgeon, a Palm Desert resident who works on institutional advancement on behalf of the College of the Desert Foundation. The foundation was established as “a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to provide financial support from the private and public sectors to help underwrite programs and facilities at the college that cannot be funded through other means.” In practical terms, that means influencing the community to support the school programs necessary to meet the needs of students.

COD offers programs well beyond the stereotypical “make-up” classes that can prepare students for success; students can earn certificates that qualify them to immediately seek jobs and start their careers in areas like administration of justice (law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities); agriculture (landscaping and irrigation, environmental horticulture); architecture (building inspection, drafting, construction management); automotive technology (emissions, engine management, general automotive services); business (accounting, computer systems, golf management, human resources); culinary arts; digital design and management; early childhood education; health services; fitness management; music; public safety (fire, police, EMT); and more.

My interest was piqued when we walked into the large, well-equipped automotive technology building and were greeted by instructor Dorothy Anderson. A woman in charge of teaching how to fix cars?

Anderson, 37, a Hemet resident, started taking automotive classes at Mt. San Antonio College; she wanted to change her life, so she completed her certificate there. Why automotive? Anderson had previously learned how to change her oil and rotate her tires, and she says she asked herself, “What can I take that would be interesting and save me money on my education?”

Only about 1 percent of auto technicians are women. She says she was asked if she wanted to teach at COD, particularly because administrators wanted their program to appeal to young women as well as men. That was in 2008—and she has never looked back.

“I love teaching,” says Anderson. “The teachers I had made it fun for me, and I wanted to provide that for other students. I like the fresh brains—when they think they already know what they’re doing, and you have to un-train them to get the old thinking out of their heads.”

When I asked her why women don’t tend to go into her field, Anderson says it has to be stigmatization. “I can’t see any other reason. Not all automotive work is difficult. You don’t even have to get dirty. I’ve managed not to even break my nails this semester!”

Anderson says she has been surprised at how few people can diagnose what’s wrong when their cars have a problem. “Even the guys can barely understand how to do more than just pump gas. It’s so self-satisfying when you have a car that’s running badly, and you can fix it yourself. Why should we pay someone else to do what we can do for ourselves?”

The automotive technology program, which began at COD in the 1960s, operates on several levels. Some students pursue a certificate that allows them to get the training needed to go directly into a facility and work. Others take automotive classes along with core classes that help them advance toward a full four-year college degree. The program takes about 25 students each in 20 classes, and is designed to appeal to those already working who want to advance their careers. High school juniors and seniors are also eligible for concurrent enrollment to take classes free of charge. Students who want only practical training can complete two or three certificates in two years.

When you see how well-equipped the COD facility is, an obvious question comes to mind: What kind of support does the program get from the local automotive community? Chrysler is one major partner and supporter, and other major dealerships and independent repair facilities also support parts of the program. Local businesses often hire students who have completed the programs, and there are even paid work-experience programs available while a student is enrolled in classes.

“People don’t realize how much can go wrong with cars made after 1996 because of the sophistication of the computers installed,” says Dorothy. “You’re not even supposed to jumpstart a newer car from another car. Results of computer diagnostics and operating parameters have to be interpreted, because problems may be coming from the engine, a sensor, wiring or specific components. All of it has to be taken into account, and then you have to make sure you don’t mess up another function while you’re fixing what you found.”

Where do the cars come from on which students work? Some cars are donated; for example, Chrysler has given a hybrid car. The school accepts some cars needing repair from the community—the owner will purchase the parts, and the students will do the work. However, the facility is state-of-the-art, so cars older than 10 years old are not candidates.

“We are not a shop, and we don’t want to take away from businesses in the community,” Anderson says. “Whatever we do has to fit the curriculum.”

One specialty students that can study is emissions control, based on state and federal standards. Specialized “referees” who are smog check experts working with the state are assigned to 30 stations, all located at community colleges; they determine whether cars that have failed a smog test can be fixed, or whether they may qualify to be excused from complying. Referees have to complete a 300-hour program, and they may offer students opportunities as interns. One of the referees assigned to both Mt. San Antonio College and COD, Mark Ellison, is now Anderson’s husband.

Anderson is a passionate advocate for the automotive program. “Our equipment is expensive and must be updated every year, so support from the community to keep upgrading the program is essential. I’ve worked really hard, and I love what I’m doing. I love my students. If I won the lottery, I’d donate money to the automotive department, and I would still teach.”

When pressed, she also admits, with a broad smile: “I’d also follow up my hobby and breed horses.”

COD is a valuable resource for the Coachella Valley, with locations expanding into the east valley and Palm Springs. If you haven’t been on campus for a while, you will be amazed at the varied core-curriculum courses, the comprehensive early childhood education program, the hands-on training for public safety and agriculture, the awesome kitchen for culinary arts, the arts departments, and, of course, Dorothy Anderson and the impressive automotive-technology facility.

Community support for COD is necessary if its high-quality programs are to be continued and expanded. Tours are available by contacting Peter Sturgeon at 760-773-2561.

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..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

This Christmas Eve, I went to the service at Palm Desert’s St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. The following Sunday morning, I attended First Baptist Church in Palm Springs.

I was born into a Jewish family. My mother was the descendant of Russian gypsies, some of whom came to the U.S., while others—who managed to escape the Holocaust—landed in Israel and participated in the fight for independence. Mom always had great antipathy toward any organized religion, but she would say, “The world will always consider you a Jew, so you must be proud of your heritage.” And I am.

My upbringing left me with agnostic doubts and no desire to affiliate officially with any organized religion. That being said, I’ve always enjoyed attending different religious services—particularly at holiday time, when church leaders tend to put their best foot forward.

St. Margaret’s offers an impressive edifice, the embodiment of Christmas-card images: high-beam ceilings, abundant floral arrangements, a robed choir (with a beautiful soprano voice soaring above all the others) and clergy wearing grand gowns. The first thing I noticed at St. Margaret’s was how beautiful the church looked—and that the lovely floral arrangement stage-left looked exactly like a red high-heeled shoe. Having once seen it that way, it was almost impossible to not see it that way for the rest of the service. I felt so irreverent.

Entering the church, warm greetings were freely offered, along with battery-operated candles. In prior years, the Rev. Lane Hensley would get laughs from the crowd when he explained how to light the real candles while avoiding getting hot wax on hands or clothing (or the carpet!). This year, he referenced those previous warnings by saying, “I was so tired of giving that speech,” and then went into detail about how to work the battery-operated candles to warm laughter throughout the church.

The service was preceded by lovely harp and organ music,; I sang along with the Christmas carols. After we all sang “Silent Night,” the lights in the church were dimmed, and the candles turned on. The moment was particularly beautiful and moving; I cried.

Hensley’s sermon was, like him, warm and genuine: “I don’t mean it as criticism, but there are a lot of you I don’t see here all the time,” he said to laughter throughout the church. For some folks, this (service) may be all that you hear. ... Is it my responsibility now to answer everything for you?” He then encouraged those with questions or seeking to explore their own beliefs to reach out to him personally. He means it. The overall message I took away: “God is with you always. I am here. I am with you. I am in you. I never go away.”

The congregation was orderly, standing and sitting as one. St. Margaret’s service was not so far from a Catholic service, with communion, members crossing themselves, and incense being swung down the center aisle. The word I’d use to describe St. Margaret’s: “solemnity.”

It did not escape my notice that the hundreds attending the St. Margaret’s service were almost exclusively white. That got me thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Thus, on the following Sunday morning, I decided to attend First Baptist Church, a largely African-American church in Palm Springs. I went to First Baptist occasionally many years ago when the Rev. Jeff Rollins Sr. presided. He was a friend and ally, but he is long gone. The current pastor is the Rev. Rodney S. Croom.

The church is small and unpretentious. The welcome received at the door was, like St. Margaret’s, very warm and friendly. The choir includes only 10 people, but their joy and fervor pulls one in from the stage. Congregants sang, swayed and clapped along, as did I. The congregation of about 50 that morning included many small children, avidly participating along with their parents,

The Rev. Croom’s message was that the church is “a place where love is displayed, and the word is proclaimed.” He reminded his flock, “You don’t have to live to please men, but to please God,” and, “You don’t back down from who God made you to be.” The overall message was about authenticity, holding true regardless of obstacles.

I’m convinced there must be a special class that black preachers take in divinity school where they learn that cadence, that intonation, that rhythm that builds to a crescendo and brings the congregants to their feet with applause. The organ and drums came in at just the right point to put an exclamation point on what the Rev. Croom was saying. It was dramatic.

Where St. Margaret’s parishioners responded only when cued, at First Baptist, attendees engaged in call/response at will. They lifted their hands toward the sky and were encouraged to participate, shouting, “Amen!” and, “Tell it like it is!” The older ladies still wore elaborate hats; younger members, while in their Sunday best, have loosened the rules a bit. All participate in an environment that I describe as “spontaneity.”

The historical reasons that black worshippers have a very different church environment than whites are many. A recent book by Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, claims that while opportunities for whites to develop their own sense of identity, including racial identity, are plentiful, such opportunities for blacks “need to be established and protected, since racial otherness is the norm” of their experience.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was planning to go to a black church, her reaction was, “There’s a black church in Palm Springs?”

I responded: “Don’t you know there’s a predominantly African-American community at the north end of Palm Springs, as well as communities in other parts of the valley?” Sadly, she didn’t.

Recent work by Michael Emerson, a sociologist at Rice University, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no single racial group constitutes more than 80 percent. He found, using that standard, “that only 8 percent of all Christian congregations in the U.S. are racially mixed … (including) 2-3 percent of mainline Protestants, 8 percent of other Protestant congregations, and 20 percent of Catholic parishes.”

Perhaps Sunday morning segregation actually serves an important purpose, providing unity and reinforcing identity. However, I support the idea of congregations combining for special services to bring disparate church communities together.

You can begin that process all by yourself. Break out of your comfort zone, and share your experience of faith. It will enrich you and you will enrich the experience of others. After all, you all believe in the same God.

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.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors