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Know Your Neighbors

16 Jul 2014
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We’ve seen lots of reminders of 1964 this year—partly because it was 50 years ago, a nice milestone, and partly because we are facing issues today that eerily echo the issues of that year. Maybe history does always repeat itself. Maybe we just keep making the same mistakes. I recently watched a documentary about 1964’s Freedom Summer project, when college students volunteered to register black voters in Mississippi, an effort that got three young volunteers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—killed. That summer’s activity broke the back of Jim Crow laws in the South, but only after 35 shooting incidents, six activists murdered, 80 beatings, and 65 houses and churches burned. It was also the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, originally proposed by President Kennedy and signed by President Johnson. It abolished racial segregation in education, workplaces and public accommodations, and outlawed discrimination based on race,…
02 Jul 2014
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Alejandra Franco is a remarkable young woman. She’s heading into her senior year at Desert Mirage High School, but first, she is excited about her trip this summer to study at Yale University in their Global Scholars Program for high school students. “I kept getting emails from Yale and other colleges trying to recruit me,” she says, “but I want to study at Yale, so this was a wonderful opportunity. I didn’t expect to get picked when I applied, because there are so many other talented students out there. Then they offered me a full scholarship. I just had to find a way to pay for the plane ticket, and got help from the local migrant program. I’ll be studying politics, law and economics.” How does a young woman living in Thermal, in a school district often portrayed as underprivileged and underperforming, find the way toward becoming the first in…
18 Jun 2014
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My dad couldn’t wait to retire. He started working at 14 and had done whatever he could, without an education, to support his family. I remember when he worked three jobs a week: running a catering truck, collecting coins from vending machines, and working in a gas station on weekends. He budgeted and saved to make sure he and my mother could have a comfortable lifestyle once he stopped working. He was proud to be able to retire—to do, in his view, “nothing.” I can’t help but compare my dad’s notion of retirement with what I see playing out every day here in the Coachella Valley—particularly the women in second and third careers who make a difference for their neighbors. The Democratic Women of the Desert recently presented their 2014 Women Honoring Women Awards. I was one of the recipients, given the Voice of Women’s Rights Award, partly for my…
04 Jun 2014
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If you belong to any local business or social organizations, you’re familiar with the practice of honoring students by giving out scholarships at this time of year. Almost every group raises money to support education for local students. Some groups identify students to be honored based on a student’s volunteer time with that organization. Others accept applications from all students and evaluate their achievements to select scholarship recipients. Yet others require students seeking scholarships to show their understanding of or support for the group’s interests. The Palm Springs chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, required applicants to write an essay detailing their support for women’s rights and their intention to use their continuing education to further that support. When I led that group in the early 1990s, we instituted the Barbara Wade Salm Scholarship, endowed by a former member, which is currently administered through College of…
21 May 2014
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Unless you’re one of those people targeted to receive vitriolic mailers from candidates blasting other candidates, you may not even know there’s a primary election taking place in California on Tuesday, June 3. Even if you do know about the election: Are you one of those who doesn’t think it really matters—and might blow off voting? Midterm elections are notorious for low turnouts, largely because the hype isn’t as great. They’re the elections in which nasty low blows and last-minute revelations dominate, yet they are often the elections which affect us most: city council members, judges, county supervisors, sheriffs and school board members are chosen. These are the offices closest to our everyday lives, and yet only the most ardent citizens follow these elections. In the Coachella Valley, we have a couple of really interesting races, especially in light of the new open primary that means all candidates are in…
07 May 2014
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Just before my brother’s wedding in the early 1980s, I got a death threat from my father. He said if I showed up at the wedding with my live-in significant other—in front of my grandparents—he would kill me. He may have thought he meant it. Did I mention my guy was black? My brother called and pleaded with me to come without Milt, to keep peace in the family—in spite of the fact that he and Milt were quite friendly, and we had often socialized as couples. “After all,” he said, “this is the only time I’m going to get married.” I finally agreed, with Milt’s support, to attend the ceremony, but to make a statement by skipping the reception. My brother is now very happily married to his fourth wife, and I have forever been ashamed that I caved. Another wedding just took place. My oldest granddaughter married a…
23 Apr 2014
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At this time of year—when Passover, Easter and Earth Day are upon us—we tend toward reflection on rebirth, resurrection, the passion for freedom, and the hope for preservation and continuity of our species. Some do this reflection through religion; some do so through nature; others do so through an honest belief in the triumph of reason and the power of knowledge. William Edelen is one of the latter. Born in West Texas, Edelen was originally ordained as a Presbyterian minister after studies at the University of Chicago, but he migrated to the Congregational church more than 30 years ago. Why the shift? “The Presbyterians were always looking over my shoulder, listening to what I was preaching to make sure I was doing the dogma,” he says. He has ultimately come to see himself as a humanist. How did that come about? “Just through thinking.” Edelen taught comparative religion at the…
09 Apr 2014
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I recently attended a seminar on technological literacy in K-12 classrooms, held at California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. It was conducted by one of the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, Jessica Pack, from our own James Workman Middle School in Cathedral City, along with Derrick Lawson, principal of Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle School in La Quinta. Soon after, I received an amazing book, Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, about what he sees as an attempt to destroy public education. Let me explain how these subjects are connected. Jessica Pack is one of those teachers we would all remember if we had been lucky enough to be in her classroom. She teaches language arts, social studies and technology to sixth-graders. Her enthusiasm about…
26 Mar 2014
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It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can coincidentally coincide. I recently wrote about Cathy Greenblat and her stirring book, Love, Loss, and Laughter, featuring photographs of people with various types of dementia and reminding us that “someone is in there.” Cathy has inspired a local coalition of individuals and organizations to make Coachella Valley into a “dementia-friendly community,” patterned on similar projects around the world. And now for something seemingly unconnected: The Board is a group of men, mostly of a certain age, that gets together monthly for lunch to gab, exchange stories, listen to speakers and generally socialize. They also occasionally have an event where womenfolk are invited. I recently attended just such an event, the day after attending a meeting of the “dementia-friendly” group, where one of The Board’s members, Larry Delrose, showed a film he wrote and co-produced, called Night Club. Delrose’s film includes such film stars…
12 Mar 2014
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Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.” Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid. Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community,…