Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Tribute To Angela Williams

I recall the day I first met Angela Williams.  It was about 10 years ago at a U.E. Homecoming weekend.  It was a crisp cold but sunny fall morning in Evansville. The leaves on the trees were turning into the orange colors of fall.  I had parked my car and was walking across the circle to sign in at the outdoor alumni table that had been set up in what I had previously known as the Union Building.  I noticed Sylvia DeVault at the table that had been equipped with hot apple cider to serve the alumni and keep the table workers warm.  Then I noticed that there was an African American woman sitting next to Sylvia!  So, I'm straining my eyes to see who is this?  I then found myself jogging in slow motion over to the table, thrilled at the prospect of an African American being added to the alumni office.  It was like a scene out of the movie "The Color Purple" where the Whoopi Goldberg character is in the field playing patty cake with her friend.  I was mentally clapping my hands and playing patty cake while jogging over to the table in slow motion.

I make it over to the table and compose myself into professional alumni mode.  I give Sylvia my professional alumni greeting and then turn to introduce myself to Angela Williams.  Now, I felt like saying "what's up sister girl?" But, I maintained professional alumni mode.  Angela was wearing the purple U.E. colors as she always did.  Angela always wore the school colors well, better than most alumni or U.E. staff.  I sometimes wanted to ask her, "Where do you shop at?"  Anyway, I recall Angela's first words to me were, "So, what brings you back to U.E.?"  Over the years I would joke with Angela that her first words to me were "What you doing back here fool?"  That would make her laugh, showing that big smile of hers.

Back in those days I was doing some research on the history of black students at U.E.  Each time I came to campus I made it a point to stop by and say hello to Angela and invite her out to lunch. We were about the same age and shared our life history with each other and the variety of challenges we had faced.  I discovered that her life had been more challenging than mine.  I recall one day I told her let's do dinner and a movie this time.  After a nice meal, we wound up just making it to a showing of the movie "The Bucket List" starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.  Well, the plot of the movie has several emotional moments and between Angela and me there were tears being shed.  So, Angela reaches into her purse and gives me some tissue to wipe my tears!

One day I noticed she had signed an email with the name Honey Angela Williams.  I asked her "is Honey your nickname?"  She explained that was her real first name and that only family called her Honey.  I told her one day I was going to walk into her office, when Sylvia was present, and say loudly, "Honey, let's go to lunch!" and then I would turn to watch the reaction on Sylvia's face.

I was always impressed by Angela's devotion to her daughter and Angela's strong faith in God.  I recall after a Dr. King march from the U.E. campus Angela was overseeing her daughter on the bus back to campus.  It was clearly evident her motherly love and devotion to her daughter was very strong.  With my job changes and relocation I lost track of consistent communication with Angela.  When we did reconnect it was very apparent to me that her faith in God had gotten stronger and I made that comment to her.  I recall one time I sent her a message through Facebook asking a religious question.  After several minutes she responded to my question.  Her reply must have included quotations from 10 scriptures!  I said to myself, "She should be a minister!"  It was during that time when Angela published her book of poems.  I eagerly ordered a copy to support this woman of God.

I found out in February through the UEAAA Facebook page that Angela had left this world. Ironically I had just put myself on a self imposed 2 week vacation from Facebook.  But, I kept seeing notifications pop up from the UEAAA page and wondered what was going on.  Angela worked at U.E. for a long period.  While some came and went, Angela remained at U.E.  Always loyal, always devoted to getting the job done.  I recall talking to her late last year in a teleconference about the mentoring program.  Her bubbly voice, would make you smile if you were having a bad day.

This world needs a million people and more like Angela Williams.  I was saddened to hear she was gone. But, I know her faith has her in the ultimate place we all aspire to be when we must depart this life. She earned it.  Well done Angela.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Voting Reform - Make It Easier to Vote

Election Day.  Or even on early voting days.  Long lines at the polls.  The self proclaimed greatest country in the world has yet to develop a system that eliminates long voting lines at the polls.  So what is the answer?  Devote more resources to the current systems?  Create a hacker proof system of voting that uses state of the art technology?   Recent legislative actions related to voting have only resulted in additional types of personal identification being required prior to a person voting.  Some say those laws have simply made it more difficult for people to vote.  The intent of these "voter ID" laws supposedly was to reduce instances of voter fraud.

Well now it's time to reduce the time it takes to vote.  There is no reason why a person should have to wait in line several hours to vote.  If we can stream television shows into our televisions and personal devices anytime we want, I'm sure there is a way to allow people to vote without having to stand in line for hours or to even leave their home or place of work.

What will it take for the current systems to be changed?  Apparently we are waiting for a massive failure on a larger scale than what happened in Florida during the 2000 Presidential election.  For those of you to young to remember, use your favorite search engine for a recap of a failure that decided the political direction of our country.

I would love to vote from the comfort of my home through a secure website, while I'm watching the morning news, or favorite television show.  Wouldn't you?  We can send people to the moon but can't create a tamper proof technological voting system?  Something is wrong with that statement!

Urge your Congressperson to seek national reform of our voting systems.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Diversity Not A Concern - Images on the Wall

Several months ago I became a member of a nearby fitness center.  The Center is under the umbrella of the Hancock Regional Hospital.  The facility is equipped with the latest fitness equipment and also includes a pool, basketball court, and sauna rooms.  My main reason for joining was to take advantage of the indoor track, especially in the winter time.

During my initial visits to the center, I noticed that most of the clients were older people like myself.  Unlike me they were more on the European American side of the human being equation.  My ears quickly picked up that the background music being played as people worked out was music that European Americans like.  In response to my asking what satellite radio station was being played, I was told that it was a Pandora "classic rock".  That explained why the only song I heard by a black artist was one by Jimi Hendrix, legendary guitarist from the 1960s early 1970s.

My eyes quickly noticed that the photographs on the wall around the indoor track all depicted young European Americans exercising vigorously.  It was in direct contrast to the older European Americans and myself who were the normal clients of the center.  So, I sent a letter to the manager of the facility pointing out that the images prominently displayed along the wall did not reflect the reality of the paying customers who are using the fitness center.  The response I received mentioned the music being played reflected the demographics of the inhabitants of the community.  The photographs I was told were based on the design of an architect and reflected his/her vision.

The architect's vision obviously did not see minorities or older people using the center.  Anyone who uses the center will notice the giant photos and get the message quickly.  The architect apparently believes that the world consist of only youthful looking, thin European American life forms.  The response I received from the center did not express any urgency to modify the images on the wall.  Their was no acknowledgement that maybe I had a point and that other images should be added along the wall.

My conclusion was the response basically was saying, "yeah, you're right, but we like the images on the wall and don't plan to change anything."  It's nice to know what to expect.  When I stop by the center, I always have a set of headphones to play the kind of music I want to hear.   When I walk into the center I quickly note that every day the clientele are older adults, some likely retired like me, who are just trying to keep their bodies in shape.  When I do jog on the track I ignore the photographs of the youthful European Americans and focus on what I am doing.

I find it amazing that a simple decision on placing images on the wall of a building could exclude acknowledging the diversity of people in a community.  It lets me know the thought processes of the architect who designed the interior.  It just shows that even the educated still have much to learn.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

10 Years of Mentoring

I recently stepped down from an active roll as a mentor.  For the past 10 years I participated in mentoring programs with high school, elementary school and college boys/men.  The interactions had mixed results.  Most of my mentoring efforts was "group" mentoring through the local chapter of a national mentoring organization focused on mentoring black boys/teenagers.  I served as a mentor (with another partner) to mentor a group of boys in the 5th and 6th grades in the local Indianapolis Public School (IPS) system.  We conducted our sessions once a week inside the schools during lunch hours.  We typically had 5 to 15 boys in our group.

Dealing with disciplinary and behavior issues of students took up a lot of the 1 hour a week we spent with the boys.  I often felt like the distractions of misbehaving kids prevented the program from truly impacting the boys who attended the sessions.  But, what kept me going was the desire to "give back" to others.  I hoped that maybe through interacting with me, the young boys would see that they can aspire to have a good life.

In the sessions of this past year I tried to share with the 5th grade boys how I grew up in a poor environment.  Despite my poor economic surroundings I tried to show them that through education I escaped those conditions of poverty.  I shared with them how I am now retired and that my income in retirement from my annuity was higher than the income of most people who are working at a full time job today.  With a 40 year difference in our ages, I of course struggled in understanding some of the things the kids were talking about.

This past year my main goal was to work with a new mentor in the program.  I had worked behind the scenes the past 3 years to support the program.  I performed administrative work that supported the efforts of the actual mentors.  But, there were fewer men volunteering to become mentors so I returned to the classroom this year.  My mentor partner was a young, black, pediatrician to be.  It was obvious from the first session that he possessed the skills to be a good mentor.  So, I stepped aside and let him conduct most of the sessions while I took care of organizing the room and taking care of administrative matters.

Over the years, the organization of the mentoring program had some problems.  I kept working through the disorganization and lack of clarity in the program as I felt the time spent with the boys was the key.  I decided earlier this year that this would be my final year working in the program.  The lack of improvement in the program was a continuing frustration.  Plus, at age 59 I believe there are younger men who can fill the gap.

I do believe the kids need to see younger men than myself involved in mentoring programs.  The dilemma has been that the younger men often can't get away from their jobs for mentoring programs that conduct session on the school's lunch hour.

I'm hoping the My Brother's Keeper (MBK) program started by President Obama will grow and become a viable force to promote mentoring of our youth.  Maybe I will get involved with targeted efforts where sharing my experiences can help some youth.  I look back on the past 10 years knowing that I at least tried to offer my skills for the benefit of our youth.  All my efforts were not successful, but at least I tried.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

No Rest for the Rested - NBA Playoffs With all Playing

I'm watching the first round of the NBA playoffs.  Why?  It's the only time when it's a guarantee that the stars of the teams will be actually playing for the ticket paying fans.  After hearing how a number of teams have rested star players during the season, I was surprised to hear that the NBA had another record breaking attendance season during the past year.  Those fans who value their money being spend wisely should be upset when they pay premium ticket prices to see the stars of opposing team.  This is especially important when many teams have raised ticket prices for those games featuring premium star teams such as Golden State, Cleveland, and San Antonio.  Several times these fans have put out the money, paid the high parking fee, and high concession prices, sat in their seat and then heard the announcement that the opposing team would be resting "so and so" for that game.

In such a situation what is a fan to do?  Go to the box office and ask for a refund?  Stay and watch the game featuring the replacement bench players?  After spending $100 plus you know the fans are not going to just go home empty handed.  So the fans hang around and make the best of the situation.

The NBA commissioner recently came out with some innocuous response to the issue of teams resting star players.  In the last week of the season the Brooklyn Nets who were out of playoff consideration actually rested several of their starters in a game that had some playoff considerations.

With all that resting going on, the NBA still broke an attendance record!  What does that say about the fans?  I guess for those able to afford the price of an NBA ticket, it's only money.  There does seem to be some level of disrespect by the players to the fans paying the high ticket prices.  As Tony Kornheiser of PTI said, "If there was a living, breathing, commissioner in the NBA, something would be done about the situation of resting players."

After attending NBA games for at least the last 10 years, I did not purchase a ticket to any NBA game this year.  So the NBA lost my money for at least 4 games.  But as the attendance figures show, the NBA probably could care less.  They got some other victim who paid full price to attend a Cleveland game where Lebron James rested.

Tips for fans who don't have the extra money to throw at the NBA.  If you want to see the star players, buy tickets for one of the first 10 home games of your team's schedule.  Most teams wouldn't dare to rest a player during the first two months of the season.  Avoid buying tickets at the end of the season, unless your team is actually trying for a playoff spot.  Teams notoriously rest star players once they have solidified a playoff spot.  After the first 10 home games you risk going to a game and finding out that a star player, in his 20's, is resting.

Or do like me.  Invest your money into a nice vacation by a beach.  You know the beaches where your star player goes to rest after the season is over!