A book only teens could write

Two Princeton high schoolers — Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi — have published an important book that helps classroom teachers engage students  in the often difficult to discuss subjects of race and ethnicity. They had help from experts in the field, but because it is chock full of personal stories of children, teenagers, and young adults, it’s a book that only teens could write. The Classroom Index, on sale for $20, will be discussed on Wednesday, December 14 at 6 p.mlabyrinthpanelat Labyrinth Books (122 Nassau St, Princeton)

The 220 pages, with color illustrations, are organized beautifully for teachers — with intros on how to initiate discussion and clever indexes by tags. You can look for stories by identity (Latina,   Asian, African American) or by topic (economic, interpersonal, aesthetic, residential, familial). Teachers can use this trove of stories to bring new layers of meaning for any subject from physics to phys ed.

I found it fascinating for a different reason.With so many different stories from so many different kinds of people, I can be a voyeur. I can find answers to the hard questions that I might be afraid to ask.

If I were to live in a place where everyone looks like me, it would be hard to be friends with someone different. And even those of us who live in a diverse community — maybe we can’t get up the nerve to talk about sensitive topics with someone of a different background.

Some of these stories are raw and pungent. Some poignant. Some funny. The authors put each story in a useful educational context. As here:

“My substitute teacher caught two girls talking to one another. He automatically thought the Hispanic girl was asking for help from the White girl, but it was actually the other way round.” The comment: “Racial stereotypes and prejudice go hand in hand. Disregarding the dimensionality of members of one race and placing them into constrained boxes can cause harmful psychological effects….the number of Hispanics enrolled in two- or four-year college has more than tripled since 1993.” 

The panel will be moderated by the authors,  Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi, co-founders of  CHOOSE.  They are also members of the Not in Our Town Princeton boardDr. Ruha Benjamin, Not in Our Town’s lead racial literacy presenter will be on the panel, and she wrote the introduction. The panel also includes Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane, who supported the project. Also former Princeton High School English, History  Supervisor John Anagbo, and Princeton University Associate Dean Khristina Gonzalez

If you can’t go, buy the book to read and then give to a classroom teacher. The Princeton school have purchased many, but I’m betting there aren’t enough to go round. And then ask –is it being used?

Post-election Rx for the Workplace

Tom Sullivan, in a Princeton Partnersullivans column, had some good ideas for how to deal with post-election stress in the workplace. “Use your company as an agent for change,” he says. Here is a five-step strategy, and for details  on the first three, click through to the post/ 

  1. Find a favorite issue:
  2. Identify a common cause:
  3. Share ideas:
  4. Take the first step: This can be scary, because inertia is hard to overcome. You can overcome that inertia if you have a strong team willing to take that first step together.
  5. Be humble: Be gracious and helpful when you engage with others who are already engaged in the cause you seek to assist. Ask questions, offer assistance and recognize that you will be more effective if your primary strategy is to build trusting relationships.


Sassy Latina? Maybe not always.


alicia 2

“I am inspired by lessons from the Caribbean that underscore creativity, resilience and the capacity for both resistance and celebration in the midst of difficulty,” says Alicia Diaz, a professional dancer who grew up in Princeton. She will participate in an unusual lecture demonstration this Friday afternoon  at Princeton University. Entitled “Diasporic Body Grammar: an encounter of movements and words,” it will be December 2, 2 to 5:30 p.m. in the Wilson College Black Box Theater.

Asked, in an interview, whether she struggles with stereotypes, Diaz brought forward the stereotype of the “sassy Latina.” “Here ethnicity, gender, and sexuality come together to be consumed and dismissed at the same time. I struggle with rejecting the stereotype and its negative implications while also acknowledging and owning its potential power.” 

Diaz, assistant professor of dance at the University of Richmond, will perform with her partner, Matthew Thornton. Here is a video of her work. Also participating will be a Brazilian artist, Antonio Nobrega. For information, contact Pedro Meira Monteiro pmeira@PRINCETON.EDU



Taking Care of Seniors


“The rich fragrance of steaming beet borscht wafted into my apartment from Alexandra’s kitchen, awakening memories of my mother’s incomparable version of the famous Russian soup.”

Libby Zinman wrote this evocative account of living in the Harriet Bryan house for U.S. 1 Newspaper’s cover story this week. Describing her apartment there:
 “It had been designed by architects whose esthetic sensibility had brought the outdoors into the apartment’s living quarters, allowing the woods, luxuriantly clothed in the red and golden leaves of autumn under a brilliant blue sky, to become part of my everyday life.”

Zinman had traveled widely and spent much of her professional life in Vietnam. She found wide diversity in her new home. “A milieu like this offered rich opportunities to understand other worlds and foreign cultures, a reality that also gently nudged us all to practice, more thoughtfully, the gentle art of tolerance every single day.”

She also covered how senior housing works in Princeton. In this sidebar, she testifies that “the Harriet Bryan House is one of the outstanding successes of Princeton Community Housing, which offers different programs for seniors unable to afford the increased cost of purchasing homes or renting apartments.” 

That’s Princeton.

Each photo with a story

Lunching at the Empire Diner, Chelsea, New York

In these fraught moments, when some rejoice and many despair, I find comfort in Duncan Hartley’s photographs.

 Hartley had pursued several careers. Most recently he was in charge of multimillion dollar donations for prestigious health institutions. But he began as a photojournalist in high school, and continued ‘shooting’ for 50 years. The photographer’s “eye” that could tell the story behind a face helped him breach the facade of deep-pocketed givers.

Hartley is readying a book of his New York photographs from then and now. “Then” was 1957 to the Bicentennial. “Now” is as recent as last September, when he revisited the Feast of San Gennaro for the umpteenth time.  Paging through his work, online now at duncanhartley.com, I am struck by the contrasts between despair and joy even in the supposedly halcyon days.  In black and white, a man in a tailored suit, nicely groomed, bent over bags of newspapers gleaned from trash cans.  Passing by a legless veteran playing the accordion in Times Square are two haughty women, described by Hartley, in the language of e e cummings, as having “comfortable minds.”

In contrast to the harried commuters and the desolate staircase at Grand Central Station and the man with the Armagedon sign — is the 1974 photo of an African American couple — he in bell bottoms, she in a kilt skirt, facing each other, holding both hands, titled “Loving Couple Enraptured.” And the 1976 color image of a jubilant crowd in the bleacher ready to welcome the tall ships — with the twin towers in the background.

Hartley documents the passage of time. At Grand Central, men look up phone numbers in the display of telephone books and we people watch at the now defunct Empire Diner. He shows us how Little Italy – with Canola Man and Pretzel Man — has gradually accessed Chinatown, by picturing a gaggle of girls from different ethnic origins and an elderly Asian couple lost in the San Gennaro crowd.

I take photos. I come from a family that placed a high value on photography. I grew up in Baltimore, where we revered the work of A. Aubrey Bodine. I like to take photographs of people. I like to think I have “an eye” for a good shot. And I am in complete awe of these pictures, each with its compelling story.

He shows us poignant. He shows us despair. He shows me that — no matter how fraught I think today’s political situation is — life will go on. New York will go on. We will all get through this.

Full disclosure: the photographer is a friend and compatriot at my church. But I am among the last and least in a queue of experts and luminaries who offer fulsome praise for his work.

Mix cricket with honey – or eat crow

Alternate 11-9 Cover & Front (1-8).indd

“In Trump’s America, don’t look for lurid conspiracies in the shadows. Beware of the dull ones that are right out in the open.” 

So says Diccon Hyatt in a column about conspiracy theories in a November 16 column in U.S. 1 Newspaper one of the more rational of the florid post-election conversations. “The Podesta e-mails revealed a truth that was much more frightening than a conspiracy. Most of the e-mails were routine campaign strategizing, and it is in these e-mails that a picture emerges. The campaign had no idea how to beat Donald Trump.”

Richard K. Rein also commented on the national politics on November 9 and November 16. 

Politics?? I tell people I meet,  at the chamber and elsewhere, that U.S. 1 “doesn’t do politics” and then I have to add “except when it does.” Back in the day we did a cover story on Rush Holt. And though the issue went to press on the DAY of the election Tuesday, Rein put prognosticators Sam Wong and David Daley on the cover.wang_pic

Wang has always been one of my favorite researchers to listen to and write about. As a Princeton University neuroscientist, and the author of books with broad appeal like “Welcome to Your Brain,” he doesn’t put on airs. One of his several passions is his effort to expose the bad effects of gerrymandering. “So no matter what the outcome of the national election, Rein wrote, “expect Wang to continue his work on the gerrymandering issue, which he shares with the public at gerrymander.princeton.edu.

The cobbled-together story in U.S. 1 combined excerpts from Wong’s blog at Princeton Election Consortium with quotes on Wong from David Daley’s book on gerrymandering plus bits from Wong’s lectures to alumni. But it was a way to cover national politics from a Princeton perspective,  so it worked.

Wrote Rein: “So if Wang is wrong in this tumultuous year, he will not only eat a bug (as he promised to do in 2012 if Romney had upset Obama), but he will surely go back to the statistical drawing board, to figure out where and what he and the collective public opinion polls had missed.”

Here is the New York Times column today where he explains why he had to eat the bug. Here is the CNN video of Wang eating the bug. It was a cricket, mixed with honey, as Wang noted, in the style of John the Baptist. Would it be unkind to suggest that his sources, the pollsters, eat crow?


Beethoven: An edge of aggression and danger


For Princeton University Concerts today, the Takacs String Quartet played for a stage-full of people who came to meditate while listening to Beethoven. This session — free including sandwiches afterward — helped to celebrate the 6-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet played the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 18 #2 (it was on the first program, Tuesday) and the adagio from the E-Flat Major quartet, Opus 127, which is scheduled for the 4th program, January 19.

Princeton’s classical music audience is generally quite respectful. No unwrapping of candy, no shuffling of feet, coughers are embarrassed, sneezers more so. But rarely have I been in a listening group where everybody tried so hard to sit still. Today at Richardson Auditorium an overflow crowd filed into the auditorium, onto the stage, for Mindfulness and Music, a guided meditation. The posters overhead celebrated the Takacs quartet’s six-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet was surrounded with people sitting on chairs and kneeling on pillows. Matthew Weiner of the Office of Religious Life explained the rules and struck a gong three times. Long silence. More long silence. We all meditated our hearts out. Than the quartet began to play.

First violinist Edward Dusinberre said later that it was a whole new experience to begin from silence — no entering with adrenaline pumping, no prep to get ready, just — lift the bow and break the silence. “It was a fragile moment,” he said.

Andras Fejer, cellist, confirmed that – with this meditation group, so receptive, in such an intimate space, the quartet felt they could just present the music, with no need garner attention by ramping up dramatic contrasts.

Geraldine Walther, the violist, was nearly overcome with emotion as she described how, as she played (and I hope I’m being accurate here), she feared for the values that she held dear. Yet she knew that these values have survived since Beethoven’s time, for 200 years, and she found comfort in that.

Mary Pat Robertson, one of my long-time friends in the dance community, had this response. It was so moving to be able to experience chamber music up close, and with a group of people coming to the experience with a specific desire and intentionality to their listening.”

Robertson offers a way to think about how Beethoven can help us get through what many of us believe will be a period of national and international turmoil:

“When we think about music to meditate to, we might think of anodyne “spa” music.  Beethoven’s music has an edge of aggression and danger that are far from that.  It is music made in a time of uncertainty and political instability, declaring the power of the individual soul.”

beethoven-poster-img_2213“We have been living (up until now) in a time of great peace and prosperity, relative to his era.  Those of us who shared this experience together took away a heightened sense of the risk-taking of great art, and the importance of sharing our emotions with each other with the materials of spirit that are uniquely given to each of us.” 

“As one of the quartet said, “we are only the vessels.”


Top Two Buttons? Rein and Hilfiger

Rich Rein and Tommy Hilfiger (photo by DiGiovanni Photography)

I have my own story about meeting a celebrity at the Princeton Chamber event at the Hyatt but Rich Rein’s is better.

He interviewed Tommy Hilfiger about his book American Dreamer and muses on that experience in his U.S. 1 Newspaper column last Wednesday.  .

For the occasion, Rein had outfitted himself in a T.H. shirt and tie from Macy’s, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

You’ll have to ask me in person about my own embarrassing story, it’s not something I want in print. But I can heap praise on the spectacularly displayed goodies at the VIP reception

food2031and the enthusiastic crowd of 400 that filled the Hyatt ballroom to capacity. Fashion students from Philadelphia, attending on free tickets but buying Hilfiger’s book, were thrilled to be there, along with many many on the Chamber email list, some U.S. 1 readers, and people who heard about it on the radio (I polled those standing in the booksigning line that curled around the room.)philly-students-imgp2045

To my somewhat surprise, since I am not a fashionista, I liked the book, a tale of derring do. I particularly liked the part where one of his buddies recognized that the river would flood the town of Elmira, so they enlisted everybody — family and fellow high school students — to move inventory from the basement to the top floor. After the flood, the Hilfiger stock was the only dry clothing for sale in submerged Elmira. Everybody — grandparents and teens alike — bought and wore his tie-dyed shirts.

Hilfiger’s is a Horatio Alger story of overcoming — not poverty, but dyslexia. It’s just amazing how talent and focus — and maybe a little luck and grace — can conquer disability.

You’ll have to read Rein on the top two buttons. I can’t tell it as well as he did.


Nancy Duff: adding her Christian voice

Nancy J. Duff, associate professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, speaks at the United Methodist Men’s breakfast at the Princeton United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall on November 13, 2016 on “Called by God”

Nancy J. Duff quoted Leonard Cohen’s Anthem yesterday.

I can’t run no more/with that lawless crowd/ while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud/ But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud/ and they’re going to hear from me.

2016-november-umm-duffDuff, the Stephen Colwell Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, had a warm reception from old and new friends at Princeton United Methodist Church. (Her husband, David Mertz, had been the assistant pastor here.)

She talked about how Christians are ‘called by God to glorify God in all that we do,” quoting the well-known saying about how a shoemaker can make shoes to glorify God. “We are called into being for a divine important purpose — and we are called to make a space where others can glorify God.”

But, she cautions, if we go to far in claiming a divine calling, ‘this could keep us from being self-critical.”

Her response to the election turmoil — her call —  is to establish her own public voice.

She writes: I know that lots of Christians who are afraid of the policies that are about to hurt people – and are already hurting people – are going to find their voice. But we need to speak individually as well as collectively.

Here is the link to her very first post on her brand new blog, Speaking Up. 

Christians who disagree with those  radically conservative evangelicals who support Trump need to speak up. This blog will be my effort to add my Christian voice to the public realm.

Some write, some discuss publicly, some engage privately, some protect, some  demonstrate — each of us, no matter what our faith, can find a way. We all crave a community.   .