Monday, October 31, 2005

Beyond FUNDRAISING: Spectrum of Hope

I’d like to end the month with some good news from the Mile High City. On October 23, a resource fair called Spectrum of Hope was held on the old Lowry Air Force Base campus to help victims of Hurricane Katrina who’d been relocated to Denver. Sponsored by the monthly newspaper Urban Spectrum, the event not only featured free food and entertainment to provide brief relief from the daily worries these people endure, it brought together financial planners, job recruiters, and counselors to help some of our town’s newest residents plan for their futures here. In the spirit of Bill Penzey’s advice to reach out to hurricane victims in our midst, the good people at Urban Spectrum not only set out to offer their condolences or monetary contributions, they set out to provide opportunities through which hope can take root and individuals—people with families to feed who have lost everything they’ve ever known—can see some real progress in their struggles to get back on track.

“The effects of Katrina will be around for a long, long time,” said Spectrum of Hope co-chair and Urban Spectrum publisher Rosalind “Bee” Harris-Diaw. “We’re in this for the long haul. And we will support (the survivors) for as long as they need. We want them to get to know us and we want to get to know them—and let them know there is hope.”

Friday, October 28, 2005

Beyond FACE VALUE: The Price of “Painting with a Broad Brush”

Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer puts a pertinent spin on the general condemnation of Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry’s regrettable observation regarding black athletes. At a recent new conference, DeBerry stated that “Afro-American kids can run very, very well,” a comment that brought him and the Academy significant negative national attention. In his column published today, “Swift Foot in Mouth of Prejudice,” Jim Spencer points out that, in addition to using “Afro-American,” a term from the ’70s that most now consider demeaning, DeBerry stepped out of line by falling back on age-old stereotypes.

“The problem with old…stereotypes,” Spencer writes, “is not what African-Americans are expected to be, but what…they’re not expected to be: Doctors, lawyers, and architects.

“DeBerry screwed up by painting with a broad brush. (His) trouble stemmed from the root of all racism: limits.”

Spencer adds that he’s wondered whether a similar uproar would erupt if a black head coach were to make a statement identical to Berry’s. “But few black coaches would make the mistake of publicly equating race with physical prowess,” he concludes. “They know from experience, usually painful experience, that the comparison inevitably leads to an assumption of brawn over brain.”

Let’s all stop “painting with a broad brush” and consider instead the individual strengths of those around us. Maybe then regrettable, hurtful comments like DeBerry’s not only will become less common, but will cease to exist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Beyond FORTITUDE: Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Scholastic offers an overview aimed at 7th-grade readers coupled with an interview of Rosa Parks. For younger readers, consider A Picture Book of Rosa Parks by David Adler. It’s common for the story of Rosa Parks to begin and end on a bus. The entire life she lived is a testament to the fact that single acts of courage—often carried out with simple grace—can bring about great change.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Beyond FORTITUDE: Gregory Williams

Gregory Williams has received tremendous praise for Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black. Williams and his brother were young boys in the 1950s who had been “raised white” in the South until their mother left their family. They then moved with their father to Muncie, Indiana, learned their father (who had passed for a “dark-skinned Italian” for many years) was indeed biracial, and discovered that in their father’s home town, they were all considered black. The impact of their new classification was felt immediately and was not at all pleasant.

Widely used on campuses across the country to initiate discussions of prejudice, racial identity, and the persistent issue of troublesome assumptions based on appearances, Life on the Color Line offers an emotional look at the potentially devastating impact of discrimination. Williams fought to overcome the many obstacles he was forced to face so many years ago. He has multiple earned as well as honorary degrees, has served in various prestigious academic posts, and is currently president of the City College of New York. He’s also written a book that’s impacting the way many, many people think about race.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Beyond FOOD: Bill Penzey for President

Why not put a spice man in the White House? Bill Penzey, owner of Penzey’s Spices of Brookfield, Wisconsin, knows his way around the world. He’s gone to the source for many of the spices he sells, and cares about the people who work hard to provide us with the seasonings we love—and so often take for granted.

Bill’s note from his company’s Holiday 2005 catalog reveals once again that he understands what many politicians seem to have forsaken (and what this blog’s really all about): the golden rule. In this note, though, he’s writing not about spice suppliers in India or the Caribbean, but about another group of people who favor flavorful food: the people of New Orleans.

“We let the survivors down in the days after (Katrina),” he writes. “It is going to take a lot of love to fill the hole dug in those four or five days of desperation.”

Bill then goes on to suggest a surprisingly simple way to help: “If there is a silver lining to this hurricane it is that now people across America are getting a chance to meet their fellow Americans from the Gulf Coast in a way that never would have happened without this storm. Chances are there are many of them in your town right now. See if you can’t find a way to spend some time with them. Speaking from my experiences, both from travel and the decades of interacting with our customers in the region, I think you will find them a remarkable group of people. In some ways, their saving grace, the reason that they will get through all this and rebuild, is that what they value the most can’t be washed away in a flood. For this part of the country, maybe more than any other region of America, it is not objects, but relationships that define a good life. Their tremendous love of spending time together with family and friends, oftentimes over really good food, is something we could all use a little bit more of in our lives.”

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a politician speak from the heart like that? I’m telling you, Bill’s our man.

Photo credit: © FOTOLIA garrigues

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Beyond FACTS: Health Inequalities in the U.S.

Our government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina has helped push the growing divide between the haves and have-nots into the media, at least for a time. Reuters ran this article, “Health Inequalities in U.S. Kill 84,000” today as a quick overview of this recent British Medical Journal editorial, “Left Behind: The Legacy of Hurricane Katrina.” Either piece drives home disturbing realities of race and class in our country. Hopefully someone is paying attention.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Beyond FREEDOM: DREAM Act in the News

We return to for an original article, “Students Push for DREAM Act.” Discrimination against immigrants is nothing new in this country, but in the past at least immigrants could hope to better their lives through the new opportunities they found here. Undocumented immigrants in the 21st century, though, face a whole new version of discrimination. While they’re welcome to live here and scrape by doing menial labor, once they set their sites on college, they’d better be ready and willing to pay up front. And if and when they graduate, they have a whole new set of barriers to overcome in their quests for gainful employment.

The DREAM Act would allow individual states to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. It also would include a provision allowing these students to become permanent legal residents upon graduation or after serving a certain number of years in the military. With such legal status, these residents would then be more likely to find work with major employers.

The DREAM Act sounds like a reasonable step toward inviting people who’ve lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and attended schools here for many years to become fully vested citizens in the country they love. I’m aware of the criticisms and the commonly held notions that suggest “illegal aliens” are here to take advantage of our generosity and abuse the system, and I disagree. More than 60,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools in the U.S. every year. Surely more than a few feel the same way about their limited choices for continued education as the author of the article, “Undocumented and Stuck in Community College.” This article is posted on New American Media, yet another resource I’ll be revisiting for future posts.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Beyond FRESHMAN YEAR: Racial Ambiguity, Educational Access, and Social Impact

In “Racial Ambiguity, Educational Access, and Social Impact from the Classroom to the Ivory Tower,” Lorri J. Santamaría, Ph.D., of California State University, San Marcos, offers an intriguing, personal look at her life as a multi-ethnic academic.

“Respect does not come easy in the ivory tower,” she writes. “At the beginning of every semester students beg to hear of my pedigree, in detail. Where did you get your doctorate? … How many years have you taught university students? Why do you speak Spanish? Which one of your parents is Spanish? Are both of your parents Black? The questions go on and on. I wonder if other young professors are similarly accosted.

“Rather than let students put me into their own self-contrived boxes and categories, I tell them who, why, and what I am. … Both of my parents, I share, are of mixed race ancestry (African American, Native American [Creek], Irish, and Creole). I explain that in an effort to improve the status quo for his little family, my father joined the United States Air Force. This simple decision changed his and our lives forever. We spent ten years in Spain, where I was born, and traveled the world over.”

Santamaría refers to the incredibly diverse American school she attended back in Spain when she was nine: “Lots of the children had parents who did not look alike or come from the same town or country,” she explains. “We learned and grew together not paying much mind or attention to who spoke what, where, when, how or why. We were a sophisticated little universe unto ourselves.” Then she contrasts that with her tricky transition to public high school in Southern California: “I made friends easily among the [varied] groups of students. No one questioned my allegiance. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was working a public relations campaign as a means of survival.”

Many of Santamaría’s current students in the College of Education at CSUSM will go on to become teachers. She’s proud and aware of the impact she’s making. “By semester end,” she concludes, “most students have come to appreciate my comprehensive worldview and educationally inclusive attitude. … I know that my work is critical and imperative for the success of students of color in American schools from kindergarten through higher education.”

In future posts, look for more from, the comprehensive site that features Santamaría’s insightful essay.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Beyond FASHION: Curls Hair Care for Multiethnic Women (and Kids!)

The Curls site is terrific for clueless parents (like yours truly) of mixed-race children who assume any shampoo will do for their kids’ curly locks. Those of us with stick-straight hair may fail to realize that curly hair actually requires different care. The customer reviews alone have me convinced the Curls products are worth checking out, especially the Curly Q line designed with children in mind. Curls founder and president, Mahisha Dellinger, is a multiethnic woman who was driven to her kitchen to concoct effective hair-care products she couldn’t find on the market. Dellinger turned her passion into a business and now sells her unique Curls line on-line and through salons in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Seattle, and Portland. Let’s hope as the market for her products continues to grow, so will the number of retail outlets that carry them. For now, though, on-line is fine! Check out the helpful page of curly hair-care tips, and don’t miss the wonderful photo gallery of young multiethnic customers who not only show off shiny Curly Q locks, but simply shine.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Beyond FACTS: Debunking Multiracial Myths

Doris Wright Carroll, a Counseling and Education professor at the University of Kansas, published a paper with the National Association of School Psychologists in May 2004 entitled Multiracial Children: Practical Suggestions for Parents and Teachers. Carroll starts by identifying “the myths or illusions that surround multiracial children and their learning.” I found it refreshing to see the following listed as myths that need to be challenged:

Myth #1: Multiracial children have low self-esteem.
Myth #2: Multiracial children are confused about or have ambiguous feelings regarding racial identity.
Myth #3: Multiracial children prefer one racial identity self-designation.

When I meet with book clubs to discuss my novel and the issues it covers, most readers ask about the impact of “biracial,” “mixed-race,” or “multiracial” labels on my children. There are those who still believe children in mixed-race families are impaired in some way, but I disagree. As long as a child has all the basic necessities and is loved and made to feel secure, he or she is going to flourish. Skin color and the differences inherent in one’s own family may make someone stand out, but that should be okay. (In an ideal world, such differences would be celebrated!) Special challenges faced by children in mixed-race families ought to be considered opportunities for discussion and awareness rather than dreaded as difficult and unfortunate obstacles.

Doris Wright Carroll also offers suggestions for parents and teachers concerned with the education of multiracial children. Most are simple as well as practical; all are based on respect for differences and awareness of the possibility that some multiracial children may have special concerns regarding identity. Let’s not assume all multiracial children have identity issues, though. Let’s not assume anything about anybody and we’ll all be better off.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Beyond FUN: Kidlink Multicultural Calendar

“Making Our World Better” by 11-year-old Nastia of Belarus

For more than 10 years, contributors from all over the world have helped build the Kidlink Multicultural Calendar, which highlights international holidays and how they are celebrated. Some entries include recipes for holiday foods, historical backgrounds for particular holidays, and traditional ways in which holidays are observed. With options that allow searches by holiday, country, or month, visitors can scan a list of world-wide celebrations for the month of October, or look up Rosh Hashanah to see how that holiday is celebrated in the U.S. and Israel. Learn about Sports Day in Japan, discover the Hindu Festival of Lights as it’s celebrated in India or Malaysia, or read that while Mother’s Day is celebrated in May in many countries, it’s celebrated in September in Panama and in October in Argentina.

A “non-commercial, user-owned organization based in Norway,” Kidlink provides “basic life-skills training of children using free educational programs.” Since the site’s inception in 1990, children from 164 countries have participated in various Kidlink programs. The site can be read in more than 30 languages and offers teachers lesson plans for programs with titles like “Who Am I?” and “I Have a Dream.” By inviting individual contributions to projects like the Multicultural Calendar, Kidlink also encourages children from around the world to network with new friends they'll probably never meet, but from whom they can learn a great deal.

“Our calendar is rich in local customs that perhaps cannot be found in books,” the Kidlink site reads. I’d say it’s rich in cultural collaborations and worldly wisdom, too.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Beyond FAMILY: offers a terrific article, A Bridge Between Cultures: Jewish Couple Adopts Biracial Children, on Reena Bernards and Tom Smerling and their two biracial children, Ami and Talia. The story features memorable, insightful quotes from both parents, including this one:

Parenting biracial children has affected his life profoundly, says Smerling, director of the Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center. “We became overnight a multiracial family and part of a minority. And every moment now, I see the world through not just Jewish and male and Caucasian eyes, but also through African-American eyes. And the world looks very, very different.”

Sunday, October 02, 2005


William Bennett’s comment regarding black babies and the crime rate has been called many things, from fine within the context of his spiel to inappropriate to insensitive to inexcusable. Whatever your take on his choice of wording (and its context), consider the possibility that the current hot topic of race and crime deserves your attention. Then check your library for THE COLOR OF JUSTICE by Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn, and Mirian DeLone. All the authors are professors in the Department of Criminology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, recently listed as one of the top ten schools of criminology in America by US News & World Report. One of the authors, Cassia Spohn, has just been named chairperson of that prestigious department.

While I’m certainly no expert on race and society, I can’t help but connect the desperate conditions of our inner-city schools (see the September 20 post on Jonathan Kozol’s SHAME OF THE NATION) with the disparate rate of people of color who live in poverty, behind bars, or on death row in our noble country. This can’t be corrected overnight, but it seems a few simple things can be done to put us on the right track to a viable long-term solution: Let’s put funds back into neglected early eductaion, intervention, and counseling programs in our communities. Let’s cut through the red tape that’s made the No Child Left Behind goal a pipe dream. And let’s give children in every demographic decent schools where they not only learn but are loved and learn to love. While we’re at it, let’s support abused women and their children and show the world how compassionate we can be. Maybe then we can some day reduce the number of people in our own country who feel so disenfranchised and abandoned that they become criminals.

You can quote me on or out of context...all you like.