President's Blogs: 2009

Independence Day/Weekend

July 5, 2009


Dear All,

On July 4, 1776, a new country was born. Oh yes, the land existed before 1776 and before the early 17th century when Europeans first stepped foot here. Before that time there were (and are to this day albeit on reservations) many nations who lived here.

When I think or talk about this weekend and the meaning of Independence Day here in the U.S., I do state that I am glad the U.S. exists. Why? Because, in spite of our less than perfect track record, we do have freedoms here that are denied to others in many other countries throughout the world. Of this, I am proud. However, no country has a spotless record, including the U.S., so on this weekend, I also think about the countless number of people murdered and or enslaved in the founding and development of the United States. I do so not because I'm not glad that I was born here or live here, but because I believe it is important to look, honestly and openly, at our history.

I think about the religious freedom that brought those people from England to the U.S. and I think about while they were yearning for freedom many of them were insensitive to other forms of worship or other religions. I think about that yearning for freedom, and think about the number of people brought here from Africa who too only desired freedom. In looking at that I also look at the strides we have made in terms of religious freedom (separation of church and state, thereby giving no religion official authority over another) our political gains whereby (although not perfect) women and men from different races and religions serve our (comparatively speaking) fledgling country.

I think about, what is the meaning of freedom and I bring this into the classroom. What is the meaning of freedom and what progress has been made towards equality and freedom for all?

1. The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, just this month, passed resolutions apologizing for slavery. Yes, they are different versions. Yes, this should have been done years and years ago but better now than waiting another 10, 20, 50 or 100 years. An apology does not undo the damage that has been done, rather, it puts into print something that should have been and in some cases has been uttered for many years: Slavery was a horror. Slavery was unconscionable. Slavery was perpetuated by many "g-d fearing people." Never again should we enslave or cause the enslavement of people anywhere for any reason.

2. A movie that I saw when it first came out and that I have been teaching with and from since 1992, Mississippi Burning, was about three slain civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. Last Sunday, while watching the BET awards, the host, Jamie Foxx, introduced a man whose name was not familiar to me: James Young. I didn't quite catch who he was but then later this past week, while watching CNN, I found out. James Young is the new mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, (population 8,000, 55% of whom are white) that same town (like countless others) where hate and horror combined with the KKK, kept its grip throughout the 1960s and beyond. OK, so the city has a new mayor, so what? Well, James Young, who grew up surrounded by all those white hoods, to whom hate and lynchings were not long ago and far away, is black, the town's first black mayor. Does this mean progress? Should it have come earlier? Well, yes and yes. Does this mean, anymore than Barack Obama's election as president, that racism is dead and buried? Of course not but does this mean progress? In my opinion, yes. Keeping that progress going to where we don't even think in terms of progress but of true equality, well, that, my friends, is up to each and every one of us.

3. Five out of the six young men of "The Jena Six" plead "no contest" on June 26, 2009. So what is progress? As these young men were first charged with attempted murder and ultimately, battery and conspiracy, warped it maybe but changed charges for sure. Probably because of the public outcry, non-violent protest can, most definitely, be effective. What is interesting in reading more about this is that the five defendants not only apologized for their actions but actually said that they did not hear the young white man, whom they were accused of attacking, actually utter any racial slurs. Now, as in many cases when I wasn't there, I have no idea whether Justin Barker actually did or did not utter a slur. I have no idea what these six young men heard on that day or on any other day of their young lives (but yes, I can imagine). What was and is obvious is what started this whole thing off: who can or cannot sit under a tree! In 2006 not 1906! Looking back, think of the role of the following "cast" members and think of the messages the principal, school board and the teachers in the school sent to the student body by their action and inaction.

So now, in thinking of the Jena 6, what is progress? The fact that so many people, of "different" races, all members of one race, the human race, spoke out loud and often about the underlying facts of this case: the inequality and the inherent racism. Will there be similar cases in the months and years ahead? I'd like to say no but am fairly sure the answer is yes. What I am also fairly certain of is the more we hear about these cases, the more we stand up for equality the fewer travesties of justice and inequality there will be. Going forward, think of what you would do or will do when faced with the same or similar situation. Stand up, anyone?

Ultimately, what I get from Independence Day, what I get from "freedom" what I get from the word "progress" is that although we can't and shouldn't stay mired in the past (that turns bitter and angry real quick and stays with you throughout your life) we must study, remember, teach and learn from the past. If we celebrate the founding of the United States, we must also remember how we came to be the United States, warts and all. It is not a contradiction to both love your country and to be able to look at it objectively. Yes, this is my country "right or wrong" but I'd prefer to keep it marching in the best direction for all our countries: with equality, respect and peace for all.

Please note: Articles on all the recent news stories as cited above will be coming to you later today on the listserv. Read them, download them and share with your students, your friends and families. Pose these questions to you and others in your orbit: What is freedom? What is progress? Where are we now and what can I/we personally do to get us to where I'd/we'd like us to be.



On PBS Tonight: Independent Lens "Don't Ask"

June 16, 2009


Dear All,

This past week we have "witnessed" yet again, what hate can cause, evidenced by the tragedy at the Holocaust Museum. That is prejudice and hate in its worst form as it resulted in murder. Today I was talking to international students about the U.S. hate crimes laws and who it covered. Interesting discussion. Even more interesting in thinking about prejudice and its more basic level which, in my eyes, is the subject of tonight's Independent Lens program at 10:00 PM on PBS.

The program is entitled, "Don't Ask" and it looks at the policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell which restricts gays and lesbians to serving in the military only if they are not open about who they are. Put yourself in the shoes of these people who serve or who want to serve. Although personally I cannot imagine volunteering in the military that is not the point. The point is, or in my mind should be, that anyone who believes that military service is their "calling" should be allowed to serve. Let's be real here. There are men and women serving together - something of a more recent development. Could "something" happen between a man and a woman? Yes. Could "something" happen between two men or two women? Yes. Should that have anything to do with barring someone from military service? No. Pure and simple no. I'm saying this because again, let's be real. What are the objections? That someone could get "hit" on or that it goes against someone's religious beliefs? Most people who serve don't get tangled up in a relationship of any kind. Religious beliefs? Many religions say "thou shalt not kill" yet soldiers run the risk of violating that one everyday. Goes with the territory.

Please read below from the PBS website for this program. Even if you can't watch the program, think about the words and ask yourselves, why would anyone be against having a person who wants to serve in the military be barred from doing so because of his or her sexual orientation?

To me, quite honestly, it doesn't make any sense.



On PBS Tonight and on your computer anytime: Dishing Democracy

June 8, 2009


Dear All,

On PBS tonight is a program which first aired in July 2007, which I had recommended on this listserv way back when. . .it is called Dishing Democracy and is airing again tonight at 10 PM EST. In the wake of President Obama's speech in Cairo this past week, it is interesting to view this program - how much has changed in the past two years and how much remains the same. How much of what we in the west or even in the east or middle east hear, is what people feel and how much is hearsay or censored?

FYI - It is never a one-size fits all. Many of my Saudi students have told me that their favorite programs at home in Saudi Arabia are Oprah and The Tyra Banks Show along with Grey's Anatomy! Media does travel and it does inform.

For those of you who live in an area where you can't view the program, you can watch it at

With eyes wide open, I'll be watching. . .again,


Ted Olson & David Boies Team Up To Overturn Gay Marriage Ban In California

May 29, 2009


Dear All,

I just forwarded an article on the above to the listserv. If you would like to watch the actual interview on Larry King Live with both men, and I have seen it, please visit:

The bottom line is, these two men, who have very different political backgrounds, have united to fight for marriage rights for same-sex couples because this is not about politics, this is about equal rights.

Why not bring this into your classroom and discuss? You can (and should, dare I say) certainly use it to discuss same-sex marriage but you can also branch out and discuss the meaning of the word "ally" and how, in their opinion, this "alliance" does (or does not) illustrate the definition. You might also ask them for examples of times in their lives when they have either found an ally or been an ally for someone else. Nothing like making people, young and old, think!

More power to Ted and David and all others fighting for equality,


First, Second, Third. . .Firsts

May 3, 2009


Dear All,

Good morning! As we throughout the world, watch the spread of fear and illness, which I will call the swine flu (my apologies to pigs) for now, it is also good to reflect on a number of "firsts" which have taken place in the U.S. recently. What are they?

1. The surviving Tuskegee Airmen had front-row seats at Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009. For too long victims of prejudice whose achievements were overlooked, these men were where they belonged: front and center in the U.S. capitol. Front and center for current generations of students to respect and learn from. Long denied far too much, these survivors could witness and know change.

2. The first Passover Seder was held in the White House on April 9, 2009. I am an advocate of separation of church and state, my primary reason for moving back from Germany to the U.S. For years I watched "prayer" meetings in the White House and quite honestly, cringed. Holding a seder (which is not a prayer ceremony but a commemoration), a time for remembrance and thankfulness, a time when we would look to the past, the present and the future, and having someone realize that in this multicultural world sharing a holiday with friends and family of whatever faith (or not) and learning what it symbolizes, is absolutely inclusive not exclusive, is a step in the right direction.

3. Telling leaders and citizens of Turkey (and in so doing, really telling the whole world), on April 6, 2009 that the U.S. "is not at war with Islam" was to me an evident truth yet one that needed to be articulated. I have had many students from many different countries, tell me that just hearing those words had them breathing a sigh of relief. If words can hurt, and we know they can, they can also heal or help heal. Words in and of themselves are not a panacea yet they have much to convey. I always tell students and yes, educators, when I give a workshop, that they don't have to like everyone, just don't base whom you like or dislike on the color of their skin, their religion, sexual orientation,etc. Form your opinion based on an individual's personality or the content of their character. Why am I saying this? Because, in fact, while the world may be at risk from extremists (and every country has their "homegrown" variety as well as those from other countries) we can never and never should label a whole group of people. . .not based on race, religion, sexual orientation or any other "label". . .

4. A bust of Sojourner Truth was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol on April 28, 2009. Who was Sojourner Truth? A slave who became one of the most respected abolitionists and women's right advocates. This woman who gave so much to all people is now rightfully being honored. (Please see article to follow - sent via CNN).

Why am I writing this to all of you? No, it is not a love letter to Barack Obama for I do not believe anyone is perfect (and there are certainly issues with which I disagree) nor do I believe we should follow any leader blindly. What these actions demonstrate, in my humble opinion, is creating a nation of inclusiveness, where one is not favored over the other, where all have a seat at the table. Where those not in the majority can rest a bit easier knowing that they too have not only a voice but a concrete example or examples of recognition that they too are here, whether here is in the U.S. or around the world.

I do not, on these pages, advocate for one politician over another, nor one policy be it economic or otherwise, over another. That is for each of us to decide to support or not. What I am trying to do is to call attention to what has made the last few months a huge step in a different direction.

What should we all do with this? Bring it into our classrooms and discuss it with our students! Do they support these "firsts" and do they feel they are important? What do the above four examples have to do with combating prejudice and discrimination for after all, that is the basis of TAP. Let them do research on the four events above and allow them to draw their own conclusions but bring it in. There are many of us, and certainly many students, who are not aware of these "firsts" or maybe only one or two. Again, this is not meant to be a lovefest for the president. However, what it may be is an example of someone following words with action. It is what we ourselves should, each in our own way, demonstrate and it is what we want our students to demonstrate, to come to in their own way. Maybe, just maybe, we can use these "firsts" to raise a generation in which we know that history does have something to do with us and that honoring and respecting each other can go/goes a long way to creating a better world.

In reflection,

PS An action can seem small but it can have major impact and can echo. This morning at 5AM, EST, 11PM last night in Germany, my father-in-law, or I should say my "ex" father-in-law, passed away. I never really thought of him as "ex" anything. He was Fredi, shy and quiet, but always there. From the first time I met him back in what I think was 1985, and back then I spoke very little German and he never spoke a word of English, to the last time I saw him a few years ago, he made me feel welcome, even after I had left Germany with his only grandson, my son David. When Fredi found out I was pregnant with David he brought me a teddy bear, didn't say much, just handed me that bear and looked at me. I still have that bear and that memory. This gift of a stuffed animal (and he knew how much I loved stuffed animals especially bears) still lives on not only in my heart but in my home. This gift of a bear from a former Hitler Youth (and he was one in his youth) to a young woman, a young Jewish woman, resonated beyond the simple act of giving. This man, who had much in his head and heart that he never talked about, opened his home and in his way, his heart to me.

Actions, be they concrete or in the former of a gesture, do echo, they do carry weight. For all those who think things can never change, know this: I have seen much in the world that has changed and in many ways for the better. Things can only change for the better when people step up, when people loudly or quietly, create change.

Forgive my personal posting today but please let me conclude by saying, rest in peace Fredi. You will be missed not only by your only grandchild, David, and your wife and only son, but I will miss you, too.


Museum Leads Nation in Holocaust Remembrance

April 19, 2009


Dear All,

Tuesday, April 21 is Yom Hashoah, Day of Remembrance. Tonight, on CBS, is the film about Irene Sendler who rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Remember Irene and honor her but also think about the millions, the 6 million others: children, parents, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, human beings. . .6 million human beings who were slaughtered, massacred, killed for no crime. They were simply Jewish.

This past Monday, during Passover, I had Matzoh on my desk. A student of mine approx. 30 years old from Saudi Arabia, with whom I have become very friendly came in to chat, saw the matzoh and asked me how long I had to eat this for. I replied until sundown on Thursday. He then asked me what was in the Matzoh. I told him flour and water and that was it. He then asked me if I was sure that it didn't have blood in it. I looked at him and though I'd say 90% of him was kidding, there was a part of me which recoiled. Of course showing this would have accomplished next to nothing so I asked him if he had learned/heard that at home. He replied yes that's what he was taught but since meeting me and now tasting the matzoh (which I shared with him and anyone else who wanted to try it) he was convinced that there was no blood in it and believed me.

While I believe that he no longer believes this my reason for telling you this is that this hateful lie is still in existence and that I am sure that there are others who still believe it. This Tuesday, I am inviting students to go with me to a Holocaust Remembrance service and intend to tie it in, post-service to genocides in Darfur and Rwanda. Yet, I also intend to focus on the Holocaust. Why? Because all these years later we still must ask what have we learned? We still must ask how a country, how citizens of a country, could follow Hitler or any leader for that matter, and kill fellow citizens, human beings killing human beings.

Yesterday, I was at an International Festival - a truly wonderful annual event filled with great food, fantastic entertainment and displays by students from all over the world. I kept thinking that all towns or colleges/community colleges/community centers/universities should hold these events, that if we spent more time breaking bread with each other and learning from each other, hate might just be a thing of the past. The father of one of my students, a great gentleman with whom I have had numerous long, long talks, remarked to me (when I stated that maybe this, hosting International Festivals and talking with each other was one way to end war and killing), "Ah Elise, war and killing is part of human nature." To which I replied, "No, Khary, these are choices we make. For if not a choice then how can we explain people who chose to say no, who chose to help innocent victims during times of war or of genocide? How do we explain people who do not go along with the crowd when people are being hurt either by words or weapons, who do not stand idly by" . . .and tonight, we watch the story of one of those human beings who did no go along because it was easier, who did not let hatred rule her. Let us remember the Irene Sendlers of the world and by the same token, let us not forget all those others, not in earshot of an Irene Sendler but rather within gunshot range of those who hate. While doing so think about not only what you would have done had you lived during World War II but think about your daily life today. What do you do every day to ensure that such horrors cannot, will not happen again?

If there is no Holocaust Remembrance activity or event at your school, than why not start one? For if you don't stand up and remember, who will?



This Coming Week on TV: Starting Tonight - Sunday!

February 1, 2009


Dear All,

There are four shows that merit our attention on TV this week.  Two are documentaries, one is a series and one, a made-for-TV film. I would say something for everyone but I think that they are all relevant to us as activists/teachers against prejudice and discrimination, working towards building community and respect for all.
In this day and age, and in this difficult time, it is easy to be down or depressed.  Please remember, that as bad as it is now, there were and are many among us who saw adversity as an inspiration.  Let their examples guide us.
1.  PBS: Tonight in the NY, NJ, CT area at 10:30 PM EST In The Life: Documentary Stories from the Gay ExperienceAs we have added new members since my last mention of this series, I thought it was worth calling your attention to it again.  Tonight's episode is entitled, Mobilizing Hope.  If you go to this website: you can enter your zip code and find when this series airs on your PBS network. In addition, for those of you outside the U.S. you can go to the website and watch a podcast.  There are also resource pages on the website which can help with discussion on issues raised.
A note:  Having just seen The Laramie Project last night and Prayers for Bobby, last week, coupled with Alex's posting to the listserv yesterday, I thought it important to direct you to a program which features many stories from the gay community.  Makes no difference what your sexual orientation or those of your students.  This series is powerful.
2.  PBS: Tuesday Night at 10:00 PM, EST Independent Lens: Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey GreeneIn 2007, I saw a powerful movie based on the life of Petey Greene entitled, Talk to Me.  I wrote about it on the listserv.  Petey Greene was many, many things and the film Talk to Me was a faithful accounting of his life.  This documentary, the man, his life, his words and his power, should be seen by one and all.   I urge you to watch this broadcast and check out the website.  Bring it into your classroom and to your students.  It was Petey Greene's voice who quieted and spoke to those who were up in arms after the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  If you don't know of Petey Greene and Dewey Hughes, and there are probably many of us who don't, I urge you to learn about two men who didn't get much press through the years but deserve to be learned about and from.
"So grab your head and make a fist. Listen at me and remember this, that I'll tell it to the hot, tell it to the cold, tell it to the young and tell it to the old. I don't want no laughing, I don't want no crying, and most of all, no signifying."

—Petey Greene

Mixing gritty newsreel footage, present-day interviews and newly discovered archival tapes from the TV show Petey Greene's Washington, ADJUST YOUR COLOR: The Truth of Petey Green (narrated by Don Cheadle) captures the tumultuous era when America's melting pot was bubbling over and media paradigms were shifting.

His was a familiar trajectory for young African Americans living in poverty and despair. Born in 1931 to parents on their way to prison and raised by his grandmother in the Washington, D.C. ghetto, young Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, Jr. had numerous scrapes with the law, eventually dropping out of high school to join the army. He served in Korea, but was discharged from the military for heroin use. A heavy drinker and minor drug dealer, Petey was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 10 years at Lorton Reformatory in 1965. The story would have ended there, save for Petey Greene's gift for gab.

While in prison, Petey was allowed to speak to his fellow inmates over the public address system. His fast-talking, animated delivery, infused with street jive, was a big hit with prisoners and guards alike—the latter found Petey so entertaining that they refused to let him be paroled, even though he was eligible.

Foreshadowing his later showmanship, Petey convinced a young inmate to climb a water tower in the prison yard and threaten suicide. As pre-arranged, Petey talked the man down in just minutes, remarking afterwards, "It took me six months to get him to go up there." Petey's contrived act of heroism earned his release in 1965.

On the Airwaves

Dewey Hughes, program director for Washington, D.C. radio station WOL-AM, heard Petey's prison show while visiting his brother at Lorton Reformatory. After Petey's release, Dewey rolled the dice by hiring the ex-convict, whose show Rapping with Petey Greene was an immediate hit with the large urban community.

Have you ever been poor and cold and ain't got no heat? Have you ever been hungry, poor and can't get nothing to eat? That's real poor. You see, I was real poor. You see, some of you all was just jive poor. But I was real poor.

—Petey Greene

The public access show, Petey Greene's Washington, which began with Petey's signature, "Adjust the color of your television," soon followed and was picked up nationally by the fledgling Black Entertainment Television (BET), eventually garnering two Emmy Awards. Petey's show operated outside the box, entertaining viewers with skits performed by comedian—and Petey protégé—Howard Stern, who appeared in black face, and was challenged by Petey to say the "N" word on air.

Petey's show also mixed it up with African American role models like boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard and the up-and-coming political strategist Donna Brazile. He invited politicians and bureaucrats to appear—and they did, invariably proving that they were no match for Petey's sharp wit and impressive drive for drilling down to the truth.

Petey Greene's commitment to his Washington, D.C. roots ran deep. A moralizing activist who proselytized over the airwaves and in personal appearances, Petey rallied the community against poverty, racism and drug abuse. He founded the nonprofit Efforts for Ex-Convicts to help former felons fit in and succeed. And he served as community liaison strategist for the nonprofit United Planning Organization, provider of human services in blighted neighborhoods.

Inspiring a New Generation

When riots erupted after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Petey waded into the fray to calm tempers and stop the destruction of property. Petey was so respected that he didn't need protection of any kind as he soothed tempers, quelled unrest first on the street and later on the airwaves.

Petey's larger-than-life persona inspired a new generation of media personalities and invigorated the African American community nationwide with a new mantra: tell it like it is.

From a man nearly destroyed by crime, drugs and poverty to an admired media icon and honored guest at Jimmy Carter's White House, Petey defied labeling. With his patois of street talk, Bible citations, rhyming rap, quotes from his grandmother and African American poets, Petey Greene was unique. His legacy lives on 25 years after his death in the outrageous banter of today's shock jocks, who consciously or unconsciously emulate the man who lit up the Washington, D.C. airwaves for almost two decades.


Dewey Hughes, the station manager of WOL-AM and the man who gave Petey Greene his first break, became a successful broadcast executive with NBC affiliate Radio One Network, going on to win a total of 10 Emmy Awards. Today, he lives in Venice, California, but has recently returned to Washington, D.C. to celebrate his 70th birthday. He is working on a spoken word tribute to Petey Greene.

Talk To Me, a feature film biopic about the life and times of Petey Greene, starring Don Cheadle as Petey Greene and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Dewey Hughes, was released in 2007. It is available on DVD.

3.  PBS, Friday, February 6, The History Channel, 8:00 PM EST:  George Washington CarverBelow, from the History Channel - visit the link for extended activities and discussion questions.  Please note: the program is available for purchase.

One of the most important inventors of the 20th century, named after the nation's first president, was born into slavery. George Washington Carver was born in rural Missouri in 1864 and despite the challenges of slavery, poverty, and becoming an orphan, he dedicated his life to using science and technology to advance the lives of everyday people. Carver's research and innovations eventually influenced and shaped a wide range of national industries, ranging from agriculture to automotive to aerospace. This inspiring episode in the Modern Marvels series traces Carver's life through his many experiments, inventions and novel ideas to reveal how this humble and quiet man became a primary contributor to the technological and economic life of the nation. Perhaps best known for his work with the peanut, few people know that George Washington Carver's stunning ability to find 300 uses for this crop was driven by a desire to lift his fellow African Americans out of poverty. Carver was determined to encourage the development of new crops in the South as the reliance on cotton pinned the fate of many ex-slaves to an unstable market. As a teacher at Iowa State University and Tuskegee University, Carver found that peanuts and soybeans had medicinal value, could be used as an alternative energy source, and that their oils could be used as a base for automobile parts and other valuable materials. George Washington Carver Tech highlights the longevity of these findings as Carver's inventions continue to have countless contemporary applications in variety of industries. This engaging exploration of Carver's life and work will introduce students to an amazing man whose simple and unassuming nature belied the enormity of his influence.


Curriculum Links: Modern Marvels: George Washington Carver Tech would be useful for History, Social Studies, American Culture, and Science and Technology Courses. It fulfills the following guidelines outlined by the National Center For History Education: Cultural Innovation, and Diffusion and Human Interaction With the Environment. It is an excellent resource for courses, events, and programs related to Black History Month.

4.  TNT:  Saturday, February 7 at 8:00 EST, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.  I admit, I had never heard of Ben Carson until a week ago.  I should have, but I hadn't.  Ben Carson, no, Vivian Thomas, yes.  What do these two men have in common?  They both Johns Hopkins overcoming tremendous odds to do so.  If you want more information on Vivian Thomas, then please see the TAP recommended film, Something the Lord Made.  If you want more info on Ben Carson, then please watch this film and go to

A frustrated young boy with problems in school overcomes the obstacles in his life to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon in the new TNT Original movie GIFTED HANDS: THE BEN CARSON STORY. This uplifting and inspirational JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION® stars Oscar® winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire) and two-time NAACP Image Award winner Kimberly Elise (The Great Debaters, The Manchurian Candidate). It is based on the true story of Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, whose lifelong journey led him to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, a best-selling author and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The movie premieres Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT), exclusively on TNT.  More info available at


Tonight on Lifetime: "Prayers for Bobby"

January 24, 2009


Dear All,

This evening, Saturday, there is a movie premiering on the Lifetime Network which seems to be right up the TAP alley. Based on a true story, Prayers for Bobby, is the story of a "profoundly religious wife and mother (played by Sigourney Weaver) who questions her faith following the suicide of her gay son."

I am including reviews/stories from two different websites below. While one of these describes the movie as being "too simplistic" not having seen the movie it doesn't mean it doesn't have value or shouldn't be seen. While we might think that most of us have moved beyond "fire and brimstone" the reality is that is not the case. In addition, if this movie allows access to issues on sexual identity and coming out, then that in and of itself will be worth it. To this day, young people (and older people) who come out risk alienation from their families and friends and not as dire but very important, job loss. The suicide rate for gay youth is also higher than that of heterosexual youth. To this day. In 2009.

I have always encouraged all of you to watch a movie or TV show for yourselves and form your own opinions. In my mind, there are not enough films which go to an area of our society which many would rather not enter: sexuality.

In the midst of reading the high school essays for TAP's annual essay contest, I can tell you that many, many students wrote in about sexual identity, GSAs (gay-straight alliances) and heterosexism. It is important and relevant to our youth as it should be important and relevant to us.

Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to open our eyes. Such was the case for the mother in this film, Mary Griffith. Hopefully, it will not take such an event in our own lives not just to open our eyes, but to internalize and fight for equality. I would record this movie and, until available for purchase, if you feel it important enough, show this film not only in high school classes but also to parent groups. Showing this film and having a discussion about it afterwards, with maybe one of you as moderator, can maybe, just maybe, reach one or two people who otherwise would not have been able to empathize.

To Bobby Griffith and all other young people who have struggled against overwhelming close-mindedness and negativity, we will use your story to fight for those still with us.



Tuskegee Airmen at Inauguration

January 14, 2009


Dear All,

Next Tuesday, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as president of the United States. Many people from all over the country, including TAP members, will be lining the streets. From all accounts, this might well be the largest assembly ever in the U.S. capital. Who will have front row seats? More than 200 surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Personally, I can think of no more fitting occupants of those coveted seats. I am sure or rather, I imagine, that many TVs, both in classrooms and in homes, will be tuned to this event. For others of us, we might be watching it stream on-line. I can tell you that at least one university and I am sure more than that, have delayed the opening of their "spring" semesters by one day so that their students can either watch or attend the inauguration.

If your family or your students will be watching, I ask you to share with them the article below on the Tuskegee Airmen. I am also sending you the link to a video interview with a couple of the surviving airmen. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen and what they had to endure before, during and after World War II should be told in classrooms across the country and around the world for, as with the Little Rock Nine, this is not ancient history.

Many of us are celebrating the election of Barack Obama. While that is appropriate we should also be aware of and celebrating the lives and sacrifices of these men, the Tuskegee Airmen. To those of these men who are still alive, we say thank you not only for their service and what they had to endure but also for not letting their story fade away for in learning their story we can prevent what they had to endure from having to be endured by others. Tell their story to your students and your children. Tell their story of bravery, as much off the battlefield as on. Tell their story, or rather, let them tell their story, for as is always the case, once their voices are muted by age or silenced by death it is too easy to relegate them to history or worse, to forget. We owe it to these men, the Tuskegee Airmen, and all others who have suffered prejudice, discrimination, segregation and worse to listen, not just hear but listen to their voices.

With thanks and respect,

Video link:


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