Program Report: Offsite at the Levin Jewish Community Center – Peace Scholar Rachel Rafferty

PeaceScholarWOne summer when I was much younger I used to bike ride with a couple of elderly Jewish gentlemen around Byrd Park in Richmond. The treat was that we would finish with a breakfast of bagels with lox and cream cheese, prepared by the wife of one of them. I knew bagels and I knew cream cheese but lox was something new to me. If texting had been invented then, my reaction would have been “OMG!”

So when I saw the menu for our “off site” meeting at the Levin Jewish Community Center, my mouth watered and I knew this was a meeting that I couldn’t miss. I wasn’t disappointed…and it wasn’t just the food. It was my first peek at the LJCC, or the whole complex off of Cornwallis Road for that matter, and I was stunned at how impressive the facilities are. The hospitality extended by Executive Director Steve Schauder, our club board member Bob Gutman (who also helped with the menu), Durham Sunrise Club President Larry Rocamore (who co-chaired the fund raising committee that raised the money to build the LJCC) was wonderful. President Don also recognized our executive secretary, Sharon Lassiter, who worked with Erin Biggerstaff, the LJCC manager of corporate sponsorships and rentals. They made the logistics of an off site meeting seem way too easy.

The bright spring day also enhanced the background for a visit and presentation from Rachel Rafferty, a Rotary Peace Scholar from the nearby Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution, one of six such Rotary Peace Centers around the world and the only one located in the Americas. The first image that Ms. Rafferty shared with us was not so pleasant, however. It was a bombed out town square from her homeland of Northern Ireland from the time of the “Troubles.”

Rachel is an educator and the essence of her work revolves around how we acquire the myths that perpetuate conflicts and the potential role of educators to alleviate hatreds through curricula with more objectivity and sharing of both sides of a story. She noted that there were many obstacles to achieving success in this endeavor not the least being the political opposition of leaders who whose power is dependent on fear created by these myths.

Northern Ireland has resolved its problems but there are many, many conflicts on the international stage that will drive the need for more study and work by peace scholars for as long as any of us will live. But there are many conflicts of a much less global nature that can benefit from the same principals Ms. Rafferty described. Not the least of these is the current debate in our country about guns. I suspect that the image of a gun owner in most of the rural areas of this country is that of a responsible citizen that considers a gun as much of a tool as a means of protection or sport. I learned recently, somewhat to my horror, that my youngest brother, perhaps the gentlest man I know, not only has a gun but has used it on occasion to put down a dying animal. If your influence is an urban environment, the image of a gun owner is more likely to be a spaced out kid peddling dope on a street corner or a hate crazed neo-nazi with a basement full of clips and ammo.

Submitted by Jay Zenner
This culture clash could benefit from some of the insights developed by Ms. Rafferty but it also faces some of the same obstacles such as politicians stoking the fears to consolidate their own power.

Here are some links to explore some of what we were treated to on Monday. More information about the LJCC is at www.levinjcc.org and the Judea Reform Congregation at www.judeareform.org. The Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center is at www.rotarypeacecenternc.org and they have a very active Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DukeUncRotaryCenter. Rachel Rafferty’s profile is at http://rotarypeacecenternc.org/peace-fellow-profiles/current-fellows/class-10/.

Program Report: David Robbins – Richmond Virginia’s Model for Improving Literacy

 DavidRobbinsWhen David Robbins, novelist and teacher of creative writing, was asked by a friend in the Richmond, Virginia, court system to look at the city’s public schools to see if there was some missing ingredient that might offer an alternative to incarceration of wayward youth, David made a startling discovery:  Not a single high school or middle school in the Richmond school system offered courses in creative writing and none had a school newspaper or literary journal.  Convinced that writing and the creation of art in other media provided avenues for instilling a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem in youth, David set out to remedy the deficiencies in the schools.  This led—thanks in no small measure to David’s obvious enthusiasm and energy—to the creation of the Podium Foundation that has enjoyed remarkable success in advancing writing in the Richmond school system (www.thepodiumfoundation.org).

 Podium is not a mentoring program like our Reading Rangers which deals with a different, but related issue–to help students whose reading performance is subpar to get up to grade level.  Rather, Podium seeks to initiate a systemic change in the Richmond school system.  Additionally, it doesn’t use volunteers—that was tried early on but was found unsatisfactory—but instead puts paid staff members and Virginia Commonwealth student interns in participating schools.

The absence of any kind of writing program in Richmond had many explanations.  One obvious culprit was budget shortfalls.  Almost universally, what is the first thing to get cut when money gets tight?  Arts programs.  When David asked the Richmond superintendent of schools how it could be that writing programs were absent from the curriculum, the superintendent was quite blunt: No teachers, no teachers felt competent to teach writing skills, plus they were too busy “teaching to the tests.”

David realized there were at least two distinct issues to be addressed. One was overcoming student attitudes.  Podium would strive to replace the prevailing “stupid is cool” with “writing is cool” as the new norm.  Another matter was how to convince teachers that writing is important, that it can be incorporated into the curriculum in many ways and that they were perfectly capable of mentoring (“teaching” is probably not the right word) students to write creatively and expressively.

To deal with the last point, three years ago Podium established workshops titled “Teaching The Teachers.” Held at VCU in the summer, these intensive four day workshops for thirty high and middle school teachers are designed to provide skills, knowledge and confidence to “teach” creative writing and to see how creative writing and art can be used across the curriculum.  Teachers who have gone through this program are unstinting in their praise: “I realized how much I enjoyed writing and learning new techniques to inspire/motivate my students,” wrote one representative teacher.

To arouse student interest, Podium created a literary journal whose content, editorial work, illustration and design is wholly student produced.  Podium clubs with 20-25 members in each school provide the nucleus of the program, but submissions by a broad cross-section of the student population testifies to the reach of Podium and the development of writing programs in Richmond schools.  Writing and expressing oneself in other media has indeed become “cool.”  For example, the first issue of the Podium literary journal received 400 submissions.  This year the number will reach about 2,000, meaning that nearly half of all high school students in Richmond will submit a poem, short piece of fiction, personal memoir, opinion piece or artwork for consideration.  The print journal has become so popular that an online journal has been created (see www.podium-online.org).  Some teachers have started using the journal as a text.  Why is reading Melville or Reynolds Price a better way to learn about metaphors than reading the writings of peers?

Podium relies heavily on corporate and individual sponsorships.  An especially fruitful partnership is with the Richmond Times Dispatch that publishes student written opinion pieces several times a year.

Mark Lazenby introduced David Robbins whom he has known for many years.  David is a graduate of William and Mary College and UVA law school.  Some years ago, David abandoned the law practice to become a free-lance writer and, later, a full-time novelist.  Perhaps his most famous work is “War of the Rats,” an epic story of a game of cat and mouse between a Russian and German sniper that inspired the 2001 film “Enemy at the Gates.”  David has taught creative writing at William and Mary and at Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

Rotary Against Drugs Speech Winner Shaza Gaballah

ShazaWebShaza Gaballah did our club proud by winning the District 7710 Rotary Against Drugs speech contest and then last Sunday winning the multi-district contest.

Thanks to sponsor Melissa Mills, we got to hear the winning speech at last week’s meeting. She proclaimed at the outset that, “This is a generation that has stopped caring.” OK, Shaza, you have our attention. She went on to describe her efforts to combat that trend. She founded a club at the School of Science and Math that tries to help people struggling with substance abuse to get help, raising money to support their treatment.

Our club can’t be accused of apathy, so Shaza’s inspiring proactive response to a problem among her peer group makes her a worthy representative. Her speech got a much-deserved standing ovation, something President Don noted isn’t exactly par for the course: “This is a tough room.”

Program Report: The Durham Symphony – Maestro William Curry

symphonyweb

I don’t want to say conducting’s easy,” Maestro William Henry Curry told us last week, “but it is.”

We proved his point a moment later when, at his command, we all raised our spoons and bobbed them up and down in time with a phantom orchestra.

“Genius!” the Maestro proclaimed.

He was being modest about his profession by way of plugging a fundraising opportunity wherein a lucky raffle winner will get to conduct the Durham Symphony Orchestra in a performance of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

But the fact that Curry, who also conducts the North Carolina Symphony, got all of us to raise and lower our spoons in unison is a testament in the leadership he’s shown in putting our hometown orchestra on the map. (President Don said no one has gotten that much coordinated audience participation out of our club since Coach David Cutcliffe led us in a snap count – good company, to be sure.)

The Durham Symphony was created 37 years ago by our own Vince Simonetti and has been performing steadily ever since. It’s been described as Durham’s best kept secret, but Curry came in four years ago to help change that. He has coordinated performances that reflect our city’s diverse people and musical tastes.

The symphony has performed with KidZNotes, the orchestral program for at-risk kids. It has performed Martin Luther King Day concerts at the Durham Armory. It does regular pops concerts outdoors. And has an upcoming concert April 14 at The Carolina Theatre.

“I am so proud of this orchestra,” Curry said.

“It really has risen to every kind of challenge I’ve given them.”

Curry has led orchestras in New Orleans, Taiwan, Chicago and L.A., and now he’s bringing that “world-class” ethos to Durham.

What a gem for our city. Let’s commit to support it, to spread the word and let everyone in on our little secret.

Submitted by Matt Dees.

More information about the Durham Symphony, the raffle and the concert on April 14 premiering “Southern Lights” by Stephan Jaffee is on the symphony’s website at  www.durhamsymphony.org.

 

 

Program Report: Michael Goodman – The Future of Durham

michaelGoodmanweb.News alert at the Monday lunch:

Expect major announcements “over the next two or three months.”  Yes – that was “announcements” with a very prominent, encouraging and intriguing “S.”

Breaking that welcome tidbit was our featured speaker, Michael Goodman, vice president of real estate for Capitol Broadcasting. Michael and his father, Jim Goodman have make Capital Broadcasting a major player in downtown Durham’s past, present and continuing economic development and cultural renaissance.

“I’m happy,” Goodman told a near full house of Rotarians as he wrapped up an unscripted, far-reaching speech about the future of downtown Durham.  Invited by this week’s Club correspondent to provide added color (within the stringent disclosure constraints that typify all such negotiations and potential announcements) Goodman responded with a flat “no” and chuckled that it was an easy question.

This sounds serious. And encouraging.

In fact, much of Goodman’s presentation was characterized by serious and encouraging facts and opinions about the region’s accomplishments and challenges ahead.

Among his encouraging points:

  • Regional rail is coming to the Triangle region.  “Let’s link it, let’s do it in a really productive way.”
  • American Underground, the Durham incubator to attract, launch and ultimately retain successful entrepreneurial ventures “has really bubbled up.” He described small business start-ups as “a really magical community” that illustrates Durham has “a really good opportunity to keep fostering entrepreneurship.”
  • The RDU region is expected to grow by more than a million people over the next 20 years.

Goodman said he was “distraught as hell” about the serious challenges facing Durham in two areas that our Club and its membership have long worked to improve:  Crime and Education.

“If we can’t get our arms around that we are never going to be the community we can be,” Goodman said, noting discouraging statistics that show widening racial and socioeconomic disparities in educational achievement.

“We should be mad about this,” he said. “We should be working really hard on this.  If we are not working hard on it, we ain’t going to get there.  We have a lot of work to do.  Education is a silver bullet and I truly believe that.”

President Don closed the March 11 meeting by recognizing Goodman’s and his father’s vision, planning and execution reaching back to the earliest days of Durham’s re-emergence.  “You just have to say Wow.”

(Submitted by Mark Lazenby)

 

Rotary Minute: Mark Higgins

MarkHigginswebFrom Animal House to Art Collector.  A good humored delivery has marked many of these Rotary Minutes, so what kind of humor should we expect from the leader of Hall-Wynn Funeral Service and Crematory? Not what you might think. Imagine if you will Mark in an impeccable blue suit and helmet on his motor scooter, Zorro. Or a bunch of college guys making a dorm of the basement of a mortuary. Only once did my eyes catch the eyes of a table mate with the question “what did he mean by that?” when Mark declared that he collected art but mainly he collected people. But he was quick to clarify with a Eudora Welty quote, “I work at keeping my friendships in good repair.”

Mark, we’re glad you chose Durham as a place not to grow up in.

Below is the full text of Mark’s Rotary Minute.

“Where did you grow up?” I am often asked. Answer: I haven’t done that yet. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Or, to the question, “where are you from?” Answer: My 3 siblings and I were born in Evanston, IL on Chicago’s north shore, where we lived until I was 12, when my father, a Time Magazine exec, was transferred to Pittsburgh, so I was raised in both wonderful cities. Clueless about career, I figured liberal arts were safe, so I went off to Hope College in Holland, Michigan and majored in Communication. Within weeks, I was in the chow line with a fellow student in uniform, and learned he was a paramedic with a local funeral home that ran a sideline ambulance service. They employed college students to man evenings and weekends. With a possible job opening, I was invited to stop by and go on some calls. At 18, lights and sirens sounded like a blast, so by Thanksgiving I took training and was hired, moving into the basement of the funeral parlor with 5 other students (think, Animal House) to the utter horror of my parents, though quickly buffered by the news they’d be saving on dorm cost. Shortly thereafter, I became intrigued by the upstairs activity of the funeral home and thus began my career discernment. By sophomore year, I was settled on coming into this profession, visualizing myself in a human service endeavor where I might make some difference to people in crisis. Upon graduation I sought an internship in Greensboro, as I had a slew of friends down this way from having been a camp counselor below Charlotte through college summers. I then completed studies at Pittsburgh Institute of Funeral Service and re-joined the firm in Greensboro. A year later, I took a position with the leading Int’l trade association in my field, moving back to my native, Evanston, IL. I stayed 10 years as a consultant and Marketing Director, but with a lingering desire to one day have my own business and work again as a practitioner. During that decade I made incredible contacts, covering 46 states and 8 of 10 Canadian provinces. I am blessed to have friends just about everywhere.

[Read more…]