Happy Birthday Rosa Parks

Rosa ParksToday is the Rosa Parks birthday and the day we celebrate her tremendous contribution to liberty and freedom in the United States. Her humility and bravery are an example to people struggling for dignity and human rights around the world.

I was reminded of the importance of knowing her whole story by a TED Talk by David Ikard (also a podcast on TED Talks Daily 2/3/20). Professor David Ikard recommends reading Rosa Park’s autobiography, and I purchased it this morning from Powells. She is much more interesting than the abridged version usually told in the 30 seconds we generally give history.

The Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama is also a must see.

Happy Birthday Rosa Parks.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Penguins

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Today most Americans are observing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It is also Penguin Awareness Day and at first glance there seems to be no connection. There is a through line between the justice Martin Luther King, Jr. sacrificed his life to achieve and the existential threat facing penguins. Allow me to make my case.

I have a new travel guide for creating your own civil rights crawl in Alabama. It explains how Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher’s son from Atlanta. He married Coretta Scott, who was from Marion, Alabama and he was the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery when he became politically active. You can visit the church parsonage and learn more about his early adult life. You can see the bomb damage on the porch from an explosive (no one was injured, thankfully).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a7cYou can also travel to the the Safe House Museum in Greensboro, Alabama and learn about an incident when the black community members kept Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hidden while the Klu Klux Klan terrorized their neighborhood looking for King. This was just a few months before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. At this time in his career King was preaching about the need to address poverty and structural economic inequity. Just as old testament prophets were not popular, King and his message were unpopular. He was asking people to look beyond the gross injustice of sheriff’s with dogs and fire hoses to see the injustice we are all complicit with everyday in our economic interactions, which are shaped by our laws and regulations–all within our power to change.

The “march continues” as long as we continue to ignore the ways in which we externalize the real cost of our choices. There is a terrific interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviewing Bryan Stevenson about the Legacy Museum. You can listen to it as a podcast or on the website (1/20/2020). The Legacy Museum, featured in the travel guide, helps visitors to interact with the horrific human rights violations that happened during slavery, afterward as Jim Crow laws were solidified, and then with mass  Alabama is celebrating Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day today, so there is still a dialogue needed.

“Until we reckon with history we are not going to get free. I actually think we need an era of truth and justice in this country; we need to have truth and reconciliation; we need to have truth and restoration. And it’s not because I want to punish America that I want to talk about these things. I actually want us to be liberated. I want to get to a better place. I think there’s something better that’s waiting for us that we can’t get to until we have the courage to talk honestly about our past.” Bryan Stevenson, Fresh Air, 1/20/20 (around 28:00)

The climate crisis is similar in that we externalize the real cost of our choices. Someone else, usually someone poorer than me, pays the price for my lifestyle. I drove to pick up my mail today and the fossil fuel in my gas tank contributed to the global warming that is increasing the intensity of fires in Australia, warming the ocean and making it more difficult for penguins to find food. I have a bumper sticker that says I love Penguins, and I have done so little to curb my own greenhouse gas emissions.

And yet penguins continue to make us smile and to live their quietly heroic lives.

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Whatever you may have heard of the The Green New Deal, it is rightly linking the need for  a whole sale change in how we power our economy and social justice. I hope we have the vision in 2020 to elect new leaders and write new policies that give us and penguins a shot at a livable future.

Just Mercy Delivers a Gut Punch

 

As the film opened in 1987 on a rural highway in Alabama, I began to sweat as I realized that I wasn’t prepared for the suspense involved in watching Just Mercy. The film tells the start of real-life Bryan Stevenson’s career as he discovers his calling to work on systemic injustice in Alabama. This movie focuses on his first cases and Jamie Foxx stars as Walter McMillan, one of his early clients who was falsely accused of murder and awaiting a death sentence.

CivilRightsCrawl_COVER-ThumbHow do you make a legal case dramatic? Pick relevant topics: unequal judicial systems largely because of race and poverty, the importance of truth and the rule of law. Then tell the story in a way that we can root for the characters played by an excellent cast. Michael B. Jordan produced the film and plays the founding attorney of Equal Justice Initiative with such stoicism and self-control.

For Stevenson is a man to be admired and his work, not just in working with people wrongly accused, but also in working for systemic change in the judicial system for children tried as adults and given life sentences or death penalties, makes him heroic. Add to this writing a powerful book, Just Mercy, and then creating the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. This was the draw for my Civil Rights Crawl and inspired me to write my travel guide. Thank you Mr. Stevenson.

There are many tough moments to watch in the film. I squirmed at various points, and dove under my sweater as it became clear that we may see an electrocution on death row. I don’t know what was finally shown because I had my eyes shut tight. It was intended to be horrifying and succeeded.

There were many stories in the book that could have been the focus of the film. It is interesting that the screenwriter chose to focus on Mr. McMillan’s story as it is set in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird). At one point a cheerful denizen of Monroeville asks Stevenson if he’s been to the Mockingbird Museum in the old courthouse. “You can see where Atticus Finch stood.” At this point the irony is hip deep.

The Equal Justice Initiative’s work is ongoing. Stay till the end so you can see the “where are they now” facts as the credits role. The corrupt sheriff featured in the McMillan case was re-elected six more times before retiring in 2019.

This is one of a series of occasional reviews of resources you may want to check out before visiting Alabama for your Civil Rights Crawl. Not everyone finds reading pleasurable, so it is good to be able to watch this 2 hour and 16 minute film. It is rated PG-13 and would be suitable to watch with groups of people 13 and over with discussion afterward.

Alabama Civil Rights Travel Guidebook Available Now!

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Paperback available on Amazon or wholesale from Ingram Spark

With a great deal of nervous excitement I am pressing the “go” button to launch my first for-sale travel guide. I know I am more anxious than I realized because I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I should launch given that we may soon be at war with Iran. Just another example of how thoughts in the middle of the night should be re-examined in the morning.

This is a personal milestone on several levels. I’ve been writing this blog (and other blogs since 2011. I wrote a mystery with National Novel Writing Month in 2011, but decided it wasn’t ready for public sharing. I kept writing and searching for my voice. I am continuing this quest, and I’m ready to share my first travel guide. Other than academic writing I did about 30 years ago, this is my first published book!

I am writing under the pen name of J.A. Pieper in part to set my blog and travel writing apart from my work as a consultant. Also, I am using Pieper because it honors the little girl and avid reader who wanted to be a fiction writer or a journalist someday. I had a thin skin so when I received lots more encouragement from my art teachers than my english teachers, I moved toward the visual arts. Today my skin is thicker, although not as tough as an elephant hide, so I am willing to risk more.

I don’t suffer any delusions about publishing. I am not quitting my day job (besides it is very fulfilling). Just as I love creating visual art, I love the process of exploring a place, blogging about it, then writing a guidebook, asking a colleague to edit (thanks Jane), then figuring out the design with a colleague (thanks Rebekah), then working through the publishing decisions with another colleague (thanks LK). And then collaborating with my daughter Sarah on the launch. It is really lovely to work with such positive people.

I am still on a learning curve. I have more to learn about the promotional side of bookselling. I want people to go on this civil rights adventure, so I want to get the word out.  Let me know if you have ideas on this score.

There is a press kit on the On Your Radar Media Co. website.

Books are available on Amazon or if you a wholesaler at Ingram Spark.

E-books are available on several platforms: Bookshout.com and Kobo.com.

Go while the history is living!

 

 

 

Dear America, You are Beautiful!

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Somewhere in Alabama or Kentucky…

One of the biggest blessings of my road trip from Greensboro, AL to Omaha, NE is the realization, again, that the United States of America is a beautiful place. Of course I started my trip thinking that my home state, California, is the most beautiful. I might have even expected that other places were going to be a little bit ugly. This is not based on lack of exposure. When I’ve driven from say Boston to Washington, DC, there are long stretches of unattractive industrial landscapes.

Not so in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. First, it is super green. The snow and rain that flooded the Missouri and Mississippi rivers also keeps middle America verdant. Wow! The planters at gas stations and strip malls were bursting with coleus and flowers–plants that couldn’t survive outside in our Mediterranean climate of California. There are also great swaths of trees along most highways. The dead animals along the roadways are a kind of confirmation that there is a lot of life in the woods of middle America.

There are ways we can be better in taking care of the land–especially our soil–and water. America is still so open, so rich in resources, with relatively little population pressure. We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to see. I have two states left to visit and I will have been to all fifty! Montana and South Dakota in 2020!

 

Happy Anniversary Project Horseshoe Farm!

IMG_8207Project Horseshoe Farm (PHF) in Greensboro, Alabama celebrated the 10th Anniversary of their Community Health Fellowship program. The best and brightest of their generation–young people interested in medicine and public health–apply to come and work for a year in rural Alabama and learn what holistic, community medicine is all about.

This year 19 fellows joined the Project Horseshoe Family. I was able to be there for the celebration, sing-off and party.  It is inspiring to speak with the fellows–like Winona who is heading off to medical school next fall. I also met a few of the women who live in the supportive homes provided by PHF and lots of the community members who support the program, including by serving dinners to hungry fellows.

IMG_8217Congratulations Dr. John Dorsey and the growing happy band of alumni!

It was also the kick-off to my #MiddleAmericaTour. I pointed my rental car north and I’m excited to see what I can see in the next week.

 

Greensboro, AL is a Great Small Town

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My visit to Greensboro was more fun because I had Petrea, Cordelia and Romy’s company.

If you are looking for a small town experience that matches the romantic notion of small town life, look no further than Greensboro, Alabama. So many small towns in America are dying or struggling to survive. Greensboro was almost dead 12 years ago and is now on the rise.

Some small town southern cliches were actually walking around on four legs. This is Fred the bloodhound and the locals said he goes where he wants. As dog people, we thought he was a great ambassador.

The Pie Lab was the first restaurant to open on Main Street, perhaps the first business too. Seven years ago it became an important gathering place for the Auburn University Rural Studio architecture students and the Project Horseshoe Farm fellows. Plus people in town who were driving to Marion and farther flung places for dining out.

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We stayed in this five bedroom AirBnB. The girls were THRILLED with having a room of their own and LOVED the pool. It was good to remember what it was like to travel when you are 9 or 12 years old. They also were interested in local history.

We visited the Greensboro Safe House Black History Museum on Saturday by prearranged tour. Then on Sunday we walked around the grounds of Magnolia Grove. The latter stately home was a wealthy mansion (not a plantation home) in town and has volunteers staffing it Tuesday-Sunday (but not in the morning when everyone is in church).

There is a fabulous coffeehouse, The Stable, also on Main Street. They have a bookshelf (take one, leave one) and the library is less than a block away. I could envision a relaxed week of reading, swimming, cycling and eating. I’m betting on Greensboro’s future.

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Some people questioned why we were traveling to Alabama either because of their shameful track record with recent voter suppression or their abortion laws. We actually encourage coastal folks to visit en masse! We can learn and they can learn. And we can agree on pie and coffee!

#BookStrong! Alabama Booksmith

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It’s not easy to spot Alabama Booksmith (trust your GPS) and it is off the beaten track, yet totally worth the effort to find.

I’ve launched my #MiddleAmericaTour. I landed in Birmingham, Alabama, picked up my rental car from Alamo, scooped up friends Petrea, Dia, and Romy, and headed to the bookshop, Alabama Booksmith.

IMG_8187It is featured in the postcard collection of best bookstores in the world. The painting on the postcard is accurate–that is very plain. Until you walk in. Then, voila, a beautiful collection of books, all signed by the author. If you look at the top shelf in the photo above you’ll see a blank spot where we bought the last two copies of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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Kevin  provided good book recommendations and shared his favorite coffee place–Revelator Coffee. We made a beeline and it WAS good! 

Even though I’ll be going to Parnassus Books in Nashville later in my trip, I bought a signed copy of the book Lambslide by Ann Pachett. I would have gladly bought more! Romy and Dia each separately picked out a YA book by the actor Octavia Spencer. They are sharing on their road trip.

Stocked with books to read, and fueled with coffee, we headed out to Greensboro, Alabama for our next adventure.

P.S. I’ve started the hashtag #BookStrong to support independent bookstores.

Honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

The day we observe Martin Luther King Jr. day in California is a day for marching, a day for service, or a day for relaxing. Some people still have to work, but most have a 3 day weekend. In Alabama, where Reverend King began his ministry and his public service to the civil rights movement, they celebrate a day for King and a day for Robert E. Lee. Yes, sad isn’t it?

I took the time today to reread Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” from Why We Can’t Wait (1963). Like the Apostle Paul, Reverend King wrote from jail to his fellow clergy both a clear argument for why he joined the direct action in Birmingham, and he invited them to join them, as men of conscience, as men of faith, as citizens. Here are some sparklets from his letter:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the inter-relatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live in the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

“We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

May you find the inspiration for creative action and the courage to always do what is morally right.

B’Ham More than Civil Rights Destination

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One view of B’Ham from the Vulcan monument.

On our last day in Alabama, we had a full Monday to explore. Alas, many places including the Sloss Furnaces and the Museum of Art are closed on Mondays. We were staying at a Hampton Inn close to Mountain Brook. Birmingham is a relatively new city formed after the Civil War to take advantage of the ore deposits in the tail end of the Appalachian mountains. Mountain Brook is one of the first “planned communities.” If Birmingham (B’Ham) has a specialty, it might be producing real estate marketers.

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Church Street Coffee and Books

I was thirsty for a real cup of coffee, so I looked for a coffee shop near me and hit the bonanza! Church Street Coffee and Books offered two of my favorite things (it’s just missing yarn). I found my way there and enjoyed both the coffee and the latest Brene Brown book. Most of the books offered were either ones I’d read or ones I’d like to read. Whoever does their book list is my kindred spirit!

I zipped back to the hotel so Phyllis and I could go to Vulcan Park. We followed a class field trip of 4th graders up the elevator to the spectacular view at the top of the Vulcan statue monument. Then we took in the small museum that tells the story of Birmingham.

img_5756We were also close to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and we decided to spend an hour looking at the beautiful gardens. My favorite was the native woods. The gift shop was fun to browse in too.

Birmingham is a place that visitors could enjoy even if you weren’t focused on civil rights places and events. We were ready to go home to California, and we enjoyed our time in Alabama.