Summary by Bill Thedford with Responses Collected by Lydia Bogar
This week, the Social Change Working Group presented a well-attended 2-day program on the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment, dated 1865, abolished slavery for all but criminals. Avi Bernstein opened the session on Wednesday 7/12 with Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed film “13th” from Netflix. The film exposed the expansion of criminal prosecution as a means to disproportionately subjugate the black population to coal mining, field labor, “chain gangs” and other low cost labor. After the film, Professor Smith collected questions from the attendees as a basis for Thursday’s talk.
On Thursday, Avi introduced Professor Doug Smith who presented examples of State and Federal criminal laws as well as court rulings leading to the incarceration of poor and predominately African American people. These laws effectively utilized this criminal exception in Amendment 13 to provide cheap labor and business opportunities (e.g., to independent prison operators and even corporations). The discussion on the second day expanded the scope of the talk to include the role of police in this process. The process was widened by Nixon’s war on crime and drugs and has expanded or continued through all succeeding administrations. It was observed that the number of African Americans in Federal and State prisons today exceeds the number of slaves in the U.S. before the Amendment was added to the Constitution.
No solutions were proposed, but the potential value of home release programs and volunteer youth mentoring were discussed. In addition, Michael Burns, a member of the Social Change Working Group, has created a bibliography of materials on the issue which can be accessed by clicking here: BIBLIOGRAPHY. The group has also compiled a list of action opportunities which BOLLI members might choose to explore. Click here: ACTION.
What BOLLI members say about 13th…
BETSEY ANSIN: “A Riveting, pounding film that forcefully presents the generations long dehumanization and punishment of black men, and their families. Carried some scenes with me all day and will convincingly talk it up! Would show this to my grandchildren over the age of 10.
CRIS ARONSON: My eldest son is an educator teaching in an ethnically diverse primary school. HIs students include those of Asian, African American, Latino and European backgrounds as well as those born and raised in the US. When Mal first joined the school district, he was looked upon with trepidation to say the least. Why? Because he is racially mixed (most people saw Black), sports an earring and is extremely fit. Parents weren’t certain they wanted this man teaching their children or being an integral part of the school. That was 19 years ago. For the past 10 years, he has been the most requested teacher in the school, receiving numerous district and State awards and is given more gifts at the end of each academic year than most children get for Chanukah or Christmas!
My point: once people have the opportunity to get to know someone on a personal level (especially true of “the Other”), prejudices based on superficial ifrst impressions and stereotypes can give way to honest knowledge and appreciation of that individual.
AVI BERNSTEIN: This is the first time that I have seen this inspirational, beautifully constructed film. The big question is what we do next and how.
ABBY PINARD: Nothing in it came as a surprise, but the film connects the dots to powerful and painful effect. Should be required viewing … I’m not an educator, so I wouldn’t presume to recommend for younger kids but at least high school.
SUE WURSTER: So powerful…and so disheartening. Our general lack of knowledge about so much of this makes me feel even more determined to push for significant change in our teaching of our own history in our schools.
LYDIA BOGAR:Touring restored plantations in the South Carolina, I presumed that slavery was a closed book. Reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and watching this film has awakened me to the nightmare and reality of Black Lives Matter. I am horrified and need to know more.
The remaining events in this series, New American Political Realities, are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20, from 10:30-12, when the focus will be on “The Politics of Supreme Court Nominations.”
Please be sure to leave additional comments and/or questions below–whether you were in attendance or not!
I write to you from Florida, the state where a lot of people have moved when they retire. Why not? After all, the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay are beautiful, the weather is terrific, and here in Sarasota, cultural pleasures are sophisticated and plentiful. Even life-long learning programs abound. The easy path is for retirees to sit back, read the papers, watch TV news, critique the world from their armchairs, and then share those critiques only with those whose politics agree with their own. After all, retirement has its rewards, and some might believe that inaction and armchair “jawing” are among them.
A certain caution is discernible here in Florida when people meet one another for the first time. Is it “safe” to discuss politics? (And what other subject is so front and center these days?) We don’t, after all, want to offend and argue. Who among these strangers voted for Trump and who voted for Hillary? Who didn’t vote at all? Who watches with complacency and agreement as liberal institutions in government and in society are attacked and dismantled? Communication across the great political divide not only grows more limited but is increasingly full of disbelief and rage. What are we to do with our passionately held beliefs and accompanying angst?
My beliefs and personality dictate action, constructive action. The question for me is, what kinds of action will be the most constructive? In other words, what will help to defang our present administration and re-establish a more liberal democracy that reflects our values as a welcoming, fair minded, constructive, and positive force in the world—- a Marshall Plan kind of world. Of course, some of you who read this will not agree with me, and so, I urge you to respond. Let’s communicate!
Two events that I attended here were heartening. The first was the Women’s March in January. Here in Sarasota, police estimated that 10,000 people marched! We women and men carried signs, wore pink hats, and shouted slogans as we marched along the beautiful Marina Bay and across the bridge connecting Sarasota to Bird Key. It was peaceful, and it was wonderful to be among so many like minded demonstrators. Clearly, they were not “retired” from politics and life.
This past Saturday (3/18), we attended a “town hall” where the local Congressman, Representative Vern Buchanan, held his 75th meeting of constituents since taking office five terms earlier. The Sarasota Herald Tribune said that this 75th town hall meeting (attended by more than 1,300 who packed Van Wezel Auditorium and an estimated additional 800 who couldn’t fit into the room) was unlike all his previous town hall meetings and would not soon be forgotten. We have seen television news reports of other town meetings with Republican congressional representatives and senators—full of people with strong opinions becoming raucous, erupting in chants, and even booing. That’s what this meeting was like. Retirees do not want their health benefits messed with, want veterans and people with disabilities cared for, want fair immigration policies, and more. And this meeting occurred in Florida, a state that voted for Trump.
We have been away from Massachusetts now for three months. I read The New York Times and watch MSNBC, which, of course, indicates the nature of my own political bent. I admit that I am not current with politics in Massachusetts where our citizens are overwhelmingly “democratic” and liberal, despite having a Republican Governor, Perhaps you don’t feel the need to watch your words or wonder who supported whom in the election. Perhaps you haven’t felt the need to become an activist, armchair or otherwise. Some of my friends, including BOLLI friends, are becoming active and have been eager to tell me about their involvement in church and immigration groups, grandmothers’ groups, civil liberties groups, and more.
I wonder if it is time to create a BOLLI clearinghouse for organizations and actions in this perilous time for democracy, a place where actions and activism can be discussed, and information shared. I know that beliefs and actions supported by like-minded others are more likely to be effective and succeed. Perhaps in my absence from BOLLI, a group has been formed and is already active? If so, count me in. If not, let’s do it!
I’m sorry. I’m just not all that into football. I come from solid, Cleveland area, die-hard Browns fans, and maybe that, in itself, explains my lack of interest. The Browns just never seemed to me to be a particularly stellar bunch. And then, of course, Cleveland was plunged into the depths of a dense, dark, clinically critical depression over what it still rancorously refers to as “The Move” (complete with shudder) – when Art Modell fired coach Bill Belichick and tried to move the team to Baltimore. (The Ravens are still considered by said die-hards to be “an extension” team. Like some sort of sports off-ramp.)
So, when Super Bowl season rolls around, I find it easy to ignore the hype. This year, though, the weeks of build-up to the whole thing was thrust into my face when coverage of how it was all going to go down was everywhere. It eventually supplanted one too many Jeopardy airings, and I shifted to PBS, exclusively, for the news.
And yet, this isn’t even what really got me—and continues to get me. I thought that, after the Patriots won and came home to a big parade and waved that big trophy around and flashed the rings, it would finally be over. But the whole thing just keeps dragging on. Last night, on the news, there was an item about people getting Patriots logo and/or Tom Brady (TB12) tattoos to commemorate the whole thing. (They actually even showed a guy having one done on his bum…) Really? This is news?
BUT I found a bright spot in the midst of all this hoopla–Malcolm Mitchell. This young man, in my humble opinion, is one Patriot who deserves even more attention.
Mitchell grew up in Georgia where he played football for Valdosta High School and, early on, caught the eye of a scout from the University of Georgia. He also caught the attention of VHS principal Gary Boling who helped the young athlete prepare for college by encouraging him to take on a more challenging course load and to explore his options for his college course of study. Mitchell says that Boling changed his life—but the principal wasn’t the only source of inspiration and help that set him on a unique path.
Malcolm says that, when he arrived in Athens and the University of Georgia campus, he was not a confident reader. So, he decided to focus on building his strength—by reading as much as he could. At one point, while in an Athens bookstore, Mitchell apparently asked a fellow customer for a book recommendation. Kathy Rackley was happy to provide suggestions and indicated that she was picking up a copy of Me Before You, her book club’s choice for their next meeting. They talked, and, soon, Mitchell left the store with a copy of the book—and an invitation to join the group at their next meeting, which he did.
It didn’t seem to matter to Mitchell that the group consisted of middle-aged women with whom he had little in common. The women were welcoming, and the books took him to new worlds and pushed him to think about new ideas. (Besides, in the club, there were no papers or exams. No wrong answers.) “The book club helped me grow into a better individual,” he said in a Boston Globe profile in last May, “a person who learns and grows throughout life in general,” he said.
He has certainly continued to learn and grow ever since. In fact, his love of reading led him to launching a program to promote youth literacy and book ownership among students in underserved schools. The program, Read with Malcolm is part of the Share the Magic Foundation and has expanded exponentially over the years. He has also written a children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, about a boy who discovers the magic of reading.
It is exciting to see this young man experiencing success on the field, but seeing him focused on helping kids the way that principal and those women in the Silverleaf book club helped him. Now, THAT’s just “super.”
To find out more about the Read with Malcolm program, click here.
For the May 23, 2016 Boston Globe article about Malcolm Mitchell, click here.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my father brought an old Remington typewriter home from a yard sale or auction and set it atop the desk he had recently refinished for me (which sits in my front hall now). My very own typewriter. The result? The laboriously typed (with carbon paper) Maple Street Gazette which informed the neighbors of such riveting events as the Harrisons’ new puppies, the Lanagans’ new patio, who dressed up as what at Halloween, and more. Every issue was sold out (at a whopping five cents per copy). I guess it’s in the blood…
Here we are at Logan Airport on this not-so-quiet weekend morning. Hundreds of women, some with daughters, some with mothers, some with both, some with strollers, and even some with husbands. This first taste of our strength is powerful but not intimidating. It is, in fact, heartwarming.
As newbies to National Airport, we walk through the baggage claim area and a construction zone to reach the Metro station which looks, strangely, like an egg carton. Emerging at Foggy Bottom, we see a mass of signs. Hundreds of signs.
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
We walk forward. Democrats and Republicans–black, brown, red, white and grey–faith in our hearts.
Music surrounds us–old folk songs that I know, some gospel that I learn along the way, songs of protest, songs of hope. Walking from the Ellipse, past Treasury and Commerce. The Washington Monument over our shoulders. We can no longer see the Potomac or the magnificent Lincoln Memorial.
KEEP HOPE ALIVE!
“He has to go,” people chant. Whether it is in song, chant, or cheer, we draw strength, courage, and pride from this community of united voices.
All around us, marchers take pictures. Of everyone. Of each other. Of us. Some have camera trouble and ask us to “Take one for me?”
Under an enormous oak on the Mall, I meet a woman I worked with in 1984. Joy spreads through our hearts and across our faces as we recognize each other. A blessing in this sea of faces and signs. Time stands still for five minutes.
WOMEN ARE ANGRY– NATIVE WOMEN, WOMEN IN UNIFORM, RURAL WOMEN…
As we walk back to the Metro, we stop at the Smithsonian Castle to use the bathrooms. Men and women hold doors open for each other, deposit pockets full of trash in barrels set up by the National Park Service, and wish each other a safe trip home. A lady from Arizona doesn’t seem to mind that she will miss her flight. “There will be another,” she smiles.
Our courage and determination have been energized by the men and women around us. We feel blessed by the challenges and friends that this day has given us. We talk about the friends and family we will educate when we get home. We aren’t even tired. Our hearts are strong, and our feet are focused on the path ahead. The date is April 5, 1992.
Twenty-five years later, marching again, we are surround by signs again. Hundreds of signs.
WE WON’T GO BACK!
Former English teacher and health care professional, Lydia Bogar says she’s still not used to this retirement thing. She joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.
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