Archive for January, 2009

>Healthcare, Poverty, Homelessness…and Matt

January 30, 2009

>Thank you all for the suggestions about getting My Book published. Maybe it will be in print by the time the anniversaries of the historic events portrayed occur. That means about 6 weeks.

Do you remember your third grade crush? Well, Matt does…later in this post.

U. S. News and World Report focuses on Health and Wellness in their February 2009 issue that came the other day. It will take a while to read all the “good stuff,” but a couple of things already stand out.

There is a listing of the nation’s “Least Fit Metro Areas.” This is based on per cent of residents who follow expert’s advice and exercise 150 minutes per week. Birmingham is number 6 least fit(39.5%). Chattanooga was the # 1 least fit (37.3), and Mobile and Tuscaloosa followed B’ham at number 7 and 8. The most fit Metro area is Boulder, Co (67.1). No southern cities are in the “most fit” top 10. All 10 “least fit” are in southern states.

The magazine also offers “12 Most Effective Prevention Measures,” things like smoking cessation, colorectal screening, pneumococcal immunization…and others. Since I score the maximum on all of these (two had to do with women’s health and do not apply) shouldn’t my health insurance cost be lower than average? A lot lower? Well, it’s not.

Tomorrow, New Baptist Covenant is holding their regional meeting in Birmingham at the Civil Rights Institute and historic 16th Street Baptist and Church and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. The theme for the day will be Good News for the Poor. Bobby and I are registered to attend and look forward to hearing Dr. Wayne Flynt speak on “The History of Poverty in Alabama,” a documentary “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism,” and a worship service with President Jimmy Carter. There are lots of other sessions to choose from, but we can’t attend them all.

Today, remember the free BeatLads concert on the roof of Church of the Reconciler. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or a coat to benefit the homeless .

Oh, people are apparently missing the music videos, so here is one. This guy, Matt Alber (already claimed by Homer as his new internet crush) has a wonderful voice. Listen to “Monarch” the first song that plays on the Matt Alber link (or watch the video below). He’s got a little Rufus Wainwright sound to him.

Then watch this. He performed the alto soloist in Handel’s “Messiah.”

Here’s how he describes it. “I performed Handel’s “The Messiah” as the alto soloist with the world renown baroque orchestra Musica Angelica in Los Angeles, directed by Chunguk Lee.Singing with these players was one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. This is a challenging aria, but these players provide the true fire with which to fly upon. Thank you, Chung, for an experience of a lifetime.”

At the Matt Alber link you can listen to several of his songs…including song #3, Field Trip Buddy, about his same-sex third grade crush. Hmm…I remember mine… (Big sigh)

Here’s his video for Monarch:

>My Book

January 29, 2009

>I have basically finished my book that I have been writing for the past few months. I still have some editing to do, and I want to tweak the ending a bit. I also have to get a couple of permissions to use materials that require such.

Now comes the hard part. Publishing.

If anyone has any advice, email me.

In the meantime, I have to consider self-publishing or finding a literary agent, those types of things. E. Lynn Harris, the author of Basketball Jones who will be in town Friday(The Book Seller, St. Vincents (11-1) and Books-A-Million, Wildwood, (7 PM), self published his first book and sold copies out of his trunk. Now he’s on his 11th novel and has had 5 New York Times best sellers. I don’t really want to sell books out of my trunk. I drive a pick-up and there is no trunk.

Other popular self-publishers are Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box), Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence), Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen(Chicken Soup for the Soul). Oh, and James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy).

So, much of selling a book seems to be marketing, and creating anticipation and that type of stuff. So here is the first publicity regarding my book. The genre is historical fiction. The time is 1965. The setting is Washington, D. C. Here’s a preview.

Those Others
Navigating “The Riddle of Homosexuality” in 1965

In January and February of 1965 The Washington Post published a major series of 5 articles (titled “Those Others”) dealing with homosexuality. (They really did, my uncle, who lived in D.C. at the time, sent me the articles last year which were given to him by a friend in 1965). These articles play a major role in the book.

My main character, 18 year old Michael, is sent from Tennessee to Washington by his family to find direction for his life under the guidance of Senator Ross Bass (Tennessee’s junior senator at the time).

Michael is forced to deal with issues regarding his sexuality, and he uses the information in the newspaper articles to further his understanding. But the mis-information of the times also leads to confusion.

Michael also confronts his lack of understanding of race issues, and he befriends two college age civil rights workers from his home state who are in DC lobbying for passage of the Voting Rights Act, and in March, joins them and thousands of others in the Selma to Montgomery March, where he learns from certain high profile speakers about equality and human rights. But that trip is not without conflict and drama as well.

1965 was a turbulent time and Washington saw the first large scale anti Vietnam War demonstration (25,000 people) and the first gay rights picketing (10 people), which both occured on the same day, April 17. That was the day before Easter, and Michael’s family was in town visiting for the first time. Things did not go well.

Woven through this is the story of Michael and his first lover, Alan.

The historical figures in the book include Senators Ross Bass and Al Gore,Sr., Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Viola Liuzzo, and Frank Kameny (who I spoke to about this work).

Doing the research on the Selma to Montgomery march, Bayard Rustin, and Frank Kameny not only helped create the basis for this book, but also increased my own understanding of history. And this, at a time during which so much history was being made, made all the research and time spent well worth it.

>"Humans have Values"

January 28, 2009

>Be sure to read my column from The Western Tribune, which follows this.

Update: Mother and son released from detention , will not be deported.

Had a certain comment regarding Muslims not been posted on yesterdays blog, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. But this blog believes that, yes, humans do have value. All humans. Yet comments continue to come in that slight Muslims, blacks, gays. (Some of those comments I refuse to post, some I post reluctantly, so I can counter).

But this isn’t really about Muslims or religion at all. It’s about respect and values. So yes, I would have posted this.

Imad Mohammad and his mother are facing deportation. Imad is a Spain Park High School grad, in college, but he and his mother are being held in a “detention center” (the quotes are because we know about the detention center in Etowah county) in Louisiana.

“Why?” You ask.

His father, mother and he came to this country, it seems, in 1993, fleeing civil war in Lebanon. Imad, 18 now, must have been around 2 years old. They were ordered to leave the country in 2001. Being Palestinian, they don’t really have anywhere to go. They were picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for still being here.

Imad’s father, Mohammad Mohammad was released so he could care for his other five children, who are all U. S. citizens.

Why did they flee to the United States? “Here, humans have values. That’s why I came here,” Imad’s father said.

But isn’t it sad when a father has to speak to his son by phone and apologizes for bringing him here. I mean, this kid has had all the opportunity in the world. His high school English teacher said, ” I’m not exaggerating when I say that he is among the top, top students I’ve ever taught or expect to teach.”

He was the track captain at Spain Park. What seemed like a promising future now seems bleak.

Of course laws are laws and immigration laws are no different. But immigration laws are ignored about 12 million times, so why pick the brightest kid around to make an example out of?

Thursday is the deadline set by a federal judge for the feds to show just cause for holding the mother and son.

In a story in The Shelby County Reporter Imad had this to say, “I’m holding up the best I can. I don’t want to break down because my family will break down too. If I start complaining and crying then my dad is going to start getting more antsy. If I’m strong, they’re strong.”

After this experience Imad wants to become an immigration attorney. Well, if he gets to stay.

We will see tomorrow whether that “values” thing holds true in this country. We’re pulling for you, Imad.

>Western Tribune Column January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009

>Restoring a historic home does not happen overnight.

Fortunately there are dedicated individuals in Bessemer who understand the importance of preserving these sometimes simple, sometimes grand, structures. Slowly, historic Bessemer is being restored.

Restoring the liberties, rights and protections granted by our Constitution will also take some time.

Fortunately our new president understands our Constitution and international law as it relates to human rights and has taken some initial, important steps toward that goal. He has issued several executive orders that set a new path toward an America we can be more proud of.
His orders include shutting down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and putting an end to torture as a means of extracting information from detainees.

The orders are not that simple, however. He understands that some of those being held may be dangerous, some may need to be returned to other countries, and some may need to be held in detention here in the United States. There are evaluations to be made and new policies to be developed, and for this reason he has established an Interagency Task Force to handle the details. It may take up to a year to complete the task. But the world immediately recognizes the change and a little respect is regained for America.

Opponents cry that we don’t need these terror suspects on U. S. soil, but what they really seem to be saying is they don’t trust the federal detention system. If our prisons are not secure enough to hold the worst of these would be terrorists, then should we trust them to hold the murderers and rapists that are held there now? If the prisons need upgrading, let’s fix them now, to protect from both the terrorists and the murderers.

As for torture, it’s odd to me that the same people who claim to value the very essence of life seem to believe that it’s OK to perform inhumane acts on living humans. Even more surprising is that they still hold those beliefs even when shown that torture does not work.

A civilized society, just as it would not put humans to death as a form of punishment, also would not torture.

And with less inhumane treatment of individuals, the world is made a better place.

>Inspiring Through Song

January 27, 2009

>Who said this:

“It is our routines and our comforts that allow us to ignore social issues. For some of us, it is our privilege to be ignorant. This video tells the story of social issues challenging our privileges and entering our routines making them impossible to ignore. Social injustice cannot be ignored when you are forced to deal with them. That is the idea behind this video.

What would happen if you were forced to deal with something that you may think has nothing to do with you? If suddenly the world’s problems came into your own home? You would have to realize that you are connected to everything and everyone one earth.”

Last night we visited WorkPlay and heard (and saw) Brett Dennen. Thanks to Live 100.5 for bringing Brett to Birmingham. You can listen to yesterday’s interview with Brett at the 100.5 link.

Brett is one of those singer/songwriters whose songs have meaning, and inspire. Brett was describing this video with the words above.

Brett was recently on Current TV with this video about bringing change.

He says we shouldn’t leave it all up to the politicians, which is true. It’s going to take all of us working together to bring positive change to this country, and our President challenged each of us. We can already see that President Obama is doing his part (Obama lays first piece in Energy Policy puzzle ). Environmental change, social change, it’s all important. It’s all necessary. Let’s join in.

>Birmingham Interstates

January 26, 2009

>A couple of weeks ago I posted this about Inaugural Festivities and in the comments, in defense of Birmingham’s $50,000 party, I wrote this:

“Since taxpayer money went toward spraying fire hoses at Birmingham residents, and toward police dogs attacking children who wanted their rights, and taxpayer money went to build an interstate that was designed to break up neighborhoods and destroy as many black churches as possible, don’t you think we can use a little taxpayer money to show how far Birmingham has come? “

Another comment followed by a retired Highway Department employee who wrote this (and more…go read):

“I am retired from the Ala Dept of Transportation (Highway Dept). The comment above about the interstate system targeting black communities and trying to break up black churches is a complete myth…”

I responded with some quotes from some research done by Raymond Mohl, a UAB professor who has studied the situation extensively, including (from this document ):

“In Birmingham, Alabama, where three interstates intersected, a black citizen’s committee complained to the Alabama state highway department and the BPR in 1960 that proposed interstate freeways “would almost completely wipe out two old Negro communities [in] eastern Birmingham with their 13 churches and three schools.” “


“The route had been chosen by the Alabama state highway department and approved by the Bureau of Public Roads, Whitton wrote, “based on a thorough evaluation of all engineering, economic, and sociological factors involved.” If that was the case, then it would seem that the destruction of the Birmingham black community was indeed a planned event.” “

Now it doesn’t take a genius to understand what “sociological factors” means in reference to 1950’s and 60’s Birmingham.

But I knew there was another reference, and I found it in “The Most Segregated City in America” City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920-1980, by Charles E. Connerly, a professor at Florida State University. (The book can be found at the Birmingham Public Library , several branches have copies, and you can have one delivered to the branch near you by going to the library web site and pasting the book name in the search engine and just follow the directions.)

This book explains the racial zoning regulations that we had to live with since the 1920’s. African Americans were greatly restricted in where they could live in Birmingham. The book has maps that show the areas zoned for blacks.

The book also shows show show the original interstate plan for I-59 through Birmingham took a straight route, bypassing black neighborhoods, but how curves were added which allowed the interstate to bisect several black communities, and form a barrier between black and white neighborhoods in other areas. Oddly enough, these interstate “barriers,” on I-65 as well as I-59, fall along the same racial zoning lines that had been declared unconstitutional.

Areas in particular where black neighborhoods were destroyed include Ensley where the interstate cuts off part of Tuxedo Junction and separates that area from Ensley Highlands, the white neighborhood (of the time) to the south.

Also, in east Birmingham, a ridiculous curve was added to I-59 in order to bypass (white) Woodlawn (a route favored by the Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce). This created a dangerous sharp turn in the interstate that requires slowing. I’m sure you have driven that stretch. Your lives are jeopardized because of targeting black neighborhoods to save white neighborhoods.

“In 1960, Mrs. Lala Palmer, a resident of eastern Birmingham and spokesperson for a community organization there, publicly decried the “many curves and twists” of the proposed interstate that resulted in the bisection of the East Birmingham and East Lake black neighborhoods. Her preferred alternative, she noted “is practically straight, yet both routes begin at essentially the same point and end at the same point.” According to a telegram Mrs. Palmer sent to the Alabama Highway Department, the impact of the “curves and twists” was that the interstate “would almost completely wipe out two old Negro communities [in] eastern Birmingham with their 13 churches and three schools.” (Connerly page 159)

It is worth noting that her suggested route approximates the original Alabama Highway Department and U. S. Bureau of Public Roads planned routes.

While the book repeatedly states that “no evidence” has been uncovered that these things were purposely done, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that with the racial climate in Birmingham at the time and an Alabama Highway Department director who was a known KKK* member, that racial issues were part of these decision.

*”A notorious racist, Alabama’s state highway director Samuel Englehardt served simultaneously as a high level officer of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and of the White Citizen’s Council, which organized against school integration.” (Mohl)

We have to live with the decisions of leaders of the past, whether we like it or not. Bringing this up is not to incite but rather to educate and learn. We can learn from our history…in this case we should learn that creating barriers and divisions, whether physical (such as zoning laws and interstates) or psychological (such as policies that create second class citizens out of GLBT persons) is wrong. Like unjust, un-Christian, unconstitutional and unfair. Fortunately, we have a leader now in Washington that understands that.

>Prayers for Bobby

January 25, 2009

>Yesterday was movie day. One at the theater, one at home.

We ended the day after coming home by watching Prayers for Bobby on Lifetime (check your listings, it repeats several times over the next few days). Here is the movie Bobby, played by Ryan Kelley. Sigourney Weaver plays his mother, Mary.

This movie is based on the real life and death of Bobby Griffith, a young gay man whose rejection by his Christian conservative mother led to his suicide. His mother Mary, then realizes that her understanding of the Bible was wrong, that her lack of compassion and understanding of her son was the reason he killed himself. Here is a picture of the real Bobby Griffith.

His mother, Mary, went on to become an advocate for gay equality, but look at the cost she paid for refusing to accept the truth. For refusing to even listen to the truth. Oh, his father didn’t help much either.

Ryan does a great job of portraying the emotions that a gay kid might go through as he struggles for acceptance. I want the readers of this blog, especially those who are so outspoken about gays, to imagine if they have a child who reveals he or she is gay, how they would react. Would they still love their child? Not the fake, “love the sinner” type love demonstrated in this movie and that we hear so much about.. But real, true, Godly love, where you love your child because of what he is, not in spite of what he is. Or would they reject their child, drive their child away from home, drive their child to suicide.

Here is a preview. There are more on the site.

This movie is likely to earn some Emmy nominations. Watch it.

If you are visiting this blog, in search of answers about your own sexuality like Bobby, and are approaching a crisis point, visit The Trevor Project , or call 866-488-7386, where you can find help. the Trevor project is a round the clock helpline for gay or confused youth.

I guess that is enough for today. The other movie review will have to come later.

>Free Concert…and Weekend fun

January 24, 2009

>On January 30, 1969, The Beatles surprised the people of London with a free concert from the rooftop of their Apple Building headquarters.

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Beatles’ Rooftop Concert, local Beatles tribute band
The BeatLads will hold a concert from the rooftop of Church of the Reconciler as a benefit for the homeless of Birmingham.

The concert is free; however, those attending are encouraged to bring a blanket or a coat for the homeless.
The Beatles were about peace and love. Nobody in Birmingham needs more peace and love than the growing homeless population in our city. Come, bring a blanket or coat and help the homeless enjoy the day.
Date: Friday, January 30, 2009

Time: 1:00 p.m.

Location: Rooftop of Church of the Reconciler United Methodist Church, Downtown Birmingham, 2nd Avenue North and 14th Street
The BeatLads is a local Beatles tribute band that has been playing charity events and paid events for approximately five years.

Church of the Reconciler is a multicultural, interracial United Methodist Church in ministry to the homeless. Church of the Reconciler has offered the venue for this afternoon of music and fun.
For some weekend fun:
Visit The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks for a few minutes of fun. Or an hour or so. I never realized that so many people use quotes inappropriately. I mean, I know I do, …
Here’s a “sample”. Oops, I just did it.

>Presidential Biographies

January 23, 2009

>At the White House site there is a slide show of the 44 presidents with brief biographies of each.

I was looking through the pictures, noticing things like when the first photos were taken, wondering why some of the paintings (or photos of paintings) are in black and white, wondering why they don’t mention that James Buchanan, the 15th President, was gay.

What? Yes, gay. And it seemed pretty out in the open at the time.

In this book, Lies Across America, James Loewen disputes several things that we are taught in school, or brings up things that are true, but that are ignored.

One thing Loewen reveals is that at Wheaton, the historical home of President James Buchanan, his sexuality is denied. Buchanan was gay, and was partnered with Alabama Senator Rufus King for years. Read about it here . That link came from this post on Birmingham Blues about Tom Parker.

King was referred to as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” I can see that. Check him out.

While there are other writings that suggest Buchanan was gay, I like these snippets from the book.

When King was leaving for France in 1844 after being appointed Minister, he wrote to Buchanan,”I am selfish enough to hope that you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation.”

And then Buchanan wrote to a Mrs. Roosevelt, “I am now ‘solitary and alone’, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”

Of course the concept of “gay” or having different sexual orientations was not known at the time, and there were no organized anti-gay groups to rally against them. The D. C. elite seemed to take it in stride, using such terms as “better half” and “his wife” in referring to King in relation to Buchanan.

And Buchanan had other things to worry about as president. He certainly left a mess for his successor, Abraham Lincoln, (who, we now know, was bisexual) to deal with.

>Amazing Grace…and local folk

January 22, 2009

>The state senator that represents my district, E. B. McClain, was found guilty of money laundering, mail fraud and other charges. So was Rev. Sam Pettagrue.

I have not been a McClain fan since the controversial land deal that resulted in Lake Cyrus being in Hoover. Still, I hate to see the man convicted. Sentencing will be in May.

I wonder who our next senator will be.

Mary Orndorff reports in today’s Birmingham News that Tracie Jones of Bessemer was in D. C. this week but was unable to get tickets for the swearing in or the balls. But she did win the chance to go inside the White House yesterday for the meet and greet hosted by the President and First Lady.

“We just prayed, and thank the Lord!” she said as she shook his hand.

“Jones told Obama he was “beautiful” then corrected herself and said, “I mean, first lady, you’re beautiful!” according to the report distributed to news organization.

Amazing Grace

McClain and Jones might both be thinking about Grace these days, one of them needing some, the other thankful for it.

Here’s one more song related to the events of the last few days.

What do you get when you mix Anglican tradition and ceremony with Negro spirituals? This is from yesterday’s prayer service at the National Cathedral.

Dr. Wintley Phipps says that almost all Negro spirituals were written using only the black notes on the piano, including Amazing Grace, which he describes as a White spiritual, built on the slave scale (the black notes). Here he gives the history of the song, with its African roots and white slave trader author, John Newton.

Phipps uses this history to remind us that we are all connected through God’s Amazing Grace.

Phipps has an Alabama connection, having received his Bachelor of Arts in Theology at Oakwood College in Huntsville. He later received a Masters of Divinity from Andrews University in Michigan.

I heard one commentator say that Barack Obama was assuming the role of spiritual leader for our nation. Isn’t that something.