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Be My Guest Column by Steve Fox

Saving Ben Franklin

The Royal Mail is for sale. Reuters reported this week that the British government has authorized two investment banks to inititate arrangements for an IPO to sell the Royal Mail… it’s Britain’s largest privatization in the last 20 years. The state-owned Royal Mail could earn the government as much as $4 billion, and earn the banks a sizable commission.

The Royal Mail, founded in 1516 by King Henry VIII, is a major employer and the IPO is fiercely opposed by British postal unions. If the Royal Mail is sold, can the United States Postal Service (USPS) be far behind?

It would be a real shame to waste Ben Franklin’s greatest gift to us – the USPS.

Nowadays, the most famous riders associated with the USPS are probably Lance Armstrong and his bike racing team, rather than the Pony Express. Unfortunately, that scandal takes attention away from the more important news that the Postal Service is set to run out of operating capital in October. It’s been losing a reported $25 million a day, $16 billion during 2012, despite the fact that it raised the price of a first class stamp to 46-cents.

 Running out of operating capital means no money to pay workers or buy fuel for trucks, so no mail delivery. There’s already talk of severely cutting back the Post Office, which is on the verge of bankruptcy due to burdensome retirement fund costs and decline in regular mail because of the Internet. Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the Post Office from cutting Saturday mail delivery, which would have saved $2 billion a year.

Postmaster General Pat Donahue blames Congressional inaction for most of the financial problems. According to a recent story in US News & World Report, Sally Davidow, a spokeswomen for the American Postal Workers Union said, “Congress is killing the USPS, forcing it to the brink of bankruptcy.” The 112th Congress adjourned before passing a proposed law to cut costs and plug losses. The USPS is a government agency. It’s supposed to be self-sustaining, but it’s regulated by Congress, which keeps voting down proposed postal rate increases.

When I drive around my neighborhood in Norhern California, it brings a smile to my face to see Post Office trucks here. To me, it means the government is still alive and doing the people’s business.

I know many people complain about the Post Office, but it’s better and cheaper than the alternative in any country I know of in the world. A letter mailed on the West Coast will get to its destination, even on the East Coast, in a couple of days. Mail delivery to foreign countries doesn’t cost us a lot more and is also dependable.

The USPS carries mail by pack mules to the Havasupui Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Mailmen on snowmobiles take it into the wilds of Alaska. The mail gets delivered to 160 million American homes 6 days a week. According to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine: “It may be the greatest bargain on earth.”

The answer to keeping the Post Office alive is simple and easy.

Let the Postal Service charge more for their stamps and other services. In fact, they should charge a lot more for the 84 billion pieces of junk mail Americans got last year. Instead, the Postal Service recently cut a deal with a major junk mail provider giving them a 45% discount over standard mail rates. Let the USPS raise prices and see what the market will bear. Politicians should stay out of this.

The Post Office has more than 700,000 employees, despite 60,000 layoffs last year. In exchange for keeping their jobs and the Postal Service alive, postal workers can be asked to do more than just deliver the mail. They already have a fleet of federal vehicles and knowledge of local neighborhoods. They could, in order to keep their jobs and benefits, be put into service as early assessors of damages in emergencies

They already know the neighborhoods and most of the residents. My bet is that they would be happy to do this, both to keep their jobs and also because they are – in the true sense of the words – civil servants.

Seeing the mail trucks disappear or come less often would be a terrible loss, both in practical and cultural terms. It would be worse than seeing the milkman trucks disappear, the ones that used to deliver fresh milk, butter, cream and eggs daily, which they did when I was a kid in the Midwest.

A retired postmaster wrote recently that “the American people built the postal network,” not Congress.  The American people can also save the Post Office, by telling their Congressional representatives to focus on doing something this term before adjourning once again with nothing accomplished.

The USPS serves us well; it’s reliable and an important source of jobs. It’s up to we the people to save it before Congress fails to do its duty once again. They should at least consider the legislation that’s already been drawn up. If Congress was as efficient as the Post Office, it wouldn’t be suffering the low approval ratings it is.

Some conservatives have suggested “privatizing” the Post Office. I’d suggest “privatizing” Congress, but it often seems that’s already happened, given the influence of lobbyists and business interests.

Steve Fox is a former national correspondent for ABC TV network  program Good Morning America. He has also reported for other ABC News programs, such as 20/20, Nightline and World News. He covered stories ranging from the Fall of the Berlin Wall, drought and famine and genocide in Africa, the Olympics and U.S. national elections and political conventions. He started his career as a local TV news anchor and reporter in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and a newspaper reporter in Southern California. He has won Emmy Awards and other industry accolades. Following his 30-year career in journalism, he worked briefly as a public relations executive for a global firm and taught multimedia journalism at a San Francisco University. He is currently a freelance writer.

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Be My Guest Column by Eric Pryor

The Value of Creative Classrooms to Education and the Economy

In 2010, IBM released the results of a survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, The surprising result? “Chief executives believe that — more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision — successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.”

Learning to think creatively begins in the classroom. What does a K-12 education that prepares children for college and career really look like?

Much of the current discussion about education revolves around the Common Core State Standards, developed as part of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and adopted in 45 states.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills recommends the development of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and — here it is again – creativity as a way to meet Common Core objectives. At The Center for Arts Education (CAE), we maintain that the arts can not only develop creativity, but can also develop the other three, as well. Think of the group discussion needed to put on a successful theatrical production or the command of words needed to write poetry or the depth of perception needed to analyze a classic painting.

Moreover, think about what happens when these skills are developed not only in a dedicated art class, but when kids produce their own musical about American history or create a collage about the Women’s Rights Movement.  It is not just more art classes that are needed, but art thoughtfully integrated into the curriculum.

A new and growing movement that addresses this opportunity takes STEM, which is an acronym for educational emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and expands it into STEAM — the “A” being the integration of Arts. In the inaugural issue of Claremont Graduate University’s newly-launched online journal STEAM, president Deborah Freund writes, “Innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics thrives on the very imaginative skills that are cultivated in the arts.” At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where students have the option of taking the Theatre Arts and Technology bachelor’s or pursuing a dual major in combination with another discipline, editor of NJIT Magazine Dean L. Maskevich notes, “The industries that rely on creative and technically astute professionals are valued at many billions of dollars, and they are generating a growing number of jobs.”

At the federal level, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici from Oregon’s 1st District is leading a STEAM Caucus in the House of Representatives. Rep. Bonamici writes in a guest editorial with Oregon State Representative Chris Harker, “Education must evolve to emphasize the importance of integrating the arts and design into all learning, especially in fields vital to the future of our economy.”

As the Executive Director of CAE, I see firsthand the positive impact that the arts have on student and school success. We take a unique comprehensive approach, using school programming, professional development, parental involvement programs, advocacy, policy recommendations and research to educate not just parents and educators, but also legislators, business leaders and the community in general on the value of arts in education. When a student is stimulated by the arts, you have a child whose confidence and self-esteem grow, a child who is excited to learn, a child who wants to be in school.

To further advance our mission, we signed on with A+NYC, a coalition of 50 of the city’s strongest organizing, policy, advocacy, and educational service providing organizations. The goal of the coalition is to use the 2013 campaign for New York City mayor as an opportunity to inform and frame the discussion about education both for the candidates and for the general public.

It is telling that after a citywide bus tour by A+NYC to collect feedback from parents and community, integrating arts and music into the school day emerged as third in a survey of the most important issues facing schools, trailing only the expected concerns about testing and funding

The A+NYC site also provides a policy hub with research-based solutions on numerous obvious and not-so-obvious school challenges. The Arts Education section, written by CAE Director of Research and Policy, Douglas Israel, compiles a wealth of data that clearly points to the impact of arts on a student’s education. This is not just theory; it is quantifiable.

Across the country, many cities have recognized the value of arts education. In Chicago, The Board of Education gave final approval to an Arts Education Plan that would ensure that every school has at least one arts teacher on staff and one partnership with a local cultural institution. The L.A. unified school district approved a measure to make arts education a core subject and increase funding for arts education over the next five years. And in Portland, OR voters approved a referendum that would fund the hiring of arts teachers and provide grants to schools and arts organizations for education partnerships.

These are only a few of many examples, but we are still falling short for too many students — especially in New York City, where the latest Arts in Schools Report from the city Department of Education reveals that almost 20% of students – tens of thousands of children — are leaving middle school without having fulfilled the state requirement for arts education.

Susan Riley asks in a blog post for Edutopia, “Are we creating cooks or chefs?” Do we want to graduate students that have acquired knowledge only through rote memorization? Or, do we want to graduate students that have the creativity to take that knowledge in unexpected directions? We must not lose sight of the whole child, and the demonstrable value of the intangible in preparing that child for the 21st century workplace.

This is not just an issue for parents or educators or Executive Directors of education-related organizations. How we educate our children will determine what kind of community leaders we’ll have in coming years, how successful our businesses will be, and whether our country will continue to compete at the top of the global economy.

It all begins with creative classrooms.

Eric G. Pryor is the Executive Director of The Center for Arts Education (CAE). Previously, Eric served as Director of the New Jersey State Museum and, before that, President of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. An accomplished artist in his own right, Eric worked as a college arts professor for more than ten years, has exhibited his paintings extensively, and participated in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit project, creating and installing 29 faceted glass windows at the Franklin Avenue shuttle station.

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Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on Newtown

As I sat in church on Sunday, my mind wandered as it often does there, as church for me is a place that offers an opportunity for reflection both back and forward. This past Sunday was no different as I thought about the minister’s prayer of comfort and guidance in response to the shooting last week in a town in Connecticut, where it was not suppose to happen. My thoughts this past Sunday was about a student who attended Medgar Evers College.

Her name is not important. She was a mother who took her sick child to the hospital . While there, as her daughter was waiting to be seen by the doctor, she left the child with its father and stepped outside where she was senselessly shot to death. Her name is not important here, but to her daughter, her family and to her classmates and members of the Medgar Evers College family, she was a valued and loving human being.

This mom will be grieved by family, friends and the community which loved her. She will not be mourned by a governor, president or the world. She will only be mourned by the people close to her because she was a black woman who lived in a community where these things are suppose to happen!

I remain deeply disturbed by the continuing descriptions of the ‘horrific loss of life” in communities where these things are not suppose to happen. No child should be senselessly torn from its parents and family by acts of violence that have come to characterize to many of our urban communities. And no child should have to suffer the loss of a parent whose life has been snuffed out by an act of violence.

I am tired America, of grieving families, neighbors and communities who say that it is not supposed to happen here. It should not happen anywhere.

Dr. William Pollard is the President of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York

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Be My Guest Column by Herb Boyd

Obama Mauled in the First Round

If the first showdown between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney Wednesday evening in at the University of Denver was a boxing match, then the verdict would probably be a split decision with Romney getting the nod for aggressiveness.

This was akin to a championship fight with Romney the challenger having to wrest the title from Obama, who seemed content just to keep a defensive mode, warding off blows and pulling his punches.

There were ample opportunities, plenty of openings for Obama to slip a telling left hook or right cross, but he passed them up, apparently unwilling to risk not looking presidential.

Romney’s aggressiveness was merely an arsenal of lies, the kind of mendacity that has characterized his campaign, and neither Obama nor moderator Jim Lehrer chose to rebut them.

Many Obama supporters were waiting futilely for him to counterpunch Romney’s assertion about the charge the president had cut $716 billion from Medicare. And Romney battered away with this attack, which he has stated again and again, indicating that the reductions would come from current beneficiaries.

But there was nary a word about this or the 47 percent allegation Romney made earlier about this segment of the population dependent on government handouts.

Romney slammed with everything from the elimination of PBS’s Big Bird to Vice President’s Biden comment about the “buried” middle class, a comment largely taken out of context to impugn the Obama administration.

The challenger claimed that Obama had doubled the deficit, which is another falsehood. When Obama took office he was already facing a $1.2 to $1.4 trillion deficit for 2009. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit for 2012 is expected to be $1.1 trillion, an appreciable decline in the overall percentage of the economy.

Obama had gaping openings on Romney’s comments about the 23 million unemployed, which is again not true; the federal debt, and the repealing of Obamacare.

But Obama, in what many pundits claim was a lackluster performance, failed to take advantage of these distortions and lies, hoping that Romney’s attack would not be enough to close the lead, if we can believe the recent polls.

After all is said and done, to keep the fight metaphor alive, this was only the first round and there are two more to go and it’s to be seen if the champ has learned anything at all from this first round mauling.

Herb Boyd is a New York based educator, author and journalist.

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Be My Guest Column by Herb Boyd

AG Holder Under Fire

Still smarting from setbacks a week ago, the Obama administration received another withering blow from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday when it voted 23 to 17 to favorably report a contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder was cited with contempt of Congress over statements made regarding Operation Fast and Furious, in which agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rather than confiscating illegally purchased weapons chose to track the weapons to the traffickers with the purpose of dismantling their networks.

The experiment went awry when agents lost track of the weapons and one of them apparently was used in the slaying of U.S. border agent Brian Terry.

Basically, Holder was cited with contempt for failing to turn over documents requested by the committee, though during the year and half investigation, the Justice Department reportedly submitted 7,600 documents, including details of Operation Fast and Furious.

But the furor arose because the Department at first denied the botched experiment of “gun walking” (tracking the illicit movement of the weapons) and this triggered a further investigation by the committee.

On the heels of the committee’s vote, President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold the documents the committee is seeking, documents that are generally off-limits to Congress.

“The president has asserted executive privilege,” wrote Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter to Issa. “We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests.”

Rep. Darrell lssa (R-Calif), chair of the committee, said Obama’s action was “an untimely” assertion of privilege.

On Tuesday, Holder and Issa met for 20 minutes without reaching any kind of resolution on the dispute.

Holder insisted that he would not turn over documents related to the gun-smuggling probe unless Issa consented to another congressional briefing on the Department’s material. He wanted some guarantee that the transfer of records would be enough to stand down the subpoena.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), appearing Wednesday evening on PBS’s Newshour in a debate with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), both of whom sit on the committee, took strong exception to the contempt charge.

“I think we have to look at the totality of the Constitution here,” he asserted. “Congress has a right to compel the production of papers and to compel witnesses before the committee. That’s an Article I right. At the same time, the administration, Article II, has the right under the Constitution to say, look, we’re invoking executive privilege — that doesn’t mean just the president, the executive branch privilege — and say, we’re not going to produce that for our own reasons.

“Now, the next step then would be to go to the court. And I would hope that, if we can not resolve this that the one concession that would be made is that we not pursue by resolution a criminal matter. We can pursue a civil matter, have a court make a decision, saying, OK, produce the documents, and then we come back to the court enforcing a resolution of Congress.”

The next move was the House of Representatives findng the Attorney General in contempt. This action is unprecedented in American history and could force further negotiations.

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Be My Guest Column by John M. Palmer, Ph.D

Violence is as American as Apple Pie
The title of this guest column says it all, but in case you haven’t been paying attention to the world outside your door, let’s take New York City and the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

The nineteen year old boyfriend of a woman with a twenty-two month old boy reportedly admitted beating the child until he stopped crying. The beating lacerated the child’s internal organs killing him. This past weekend a veteran US soldier reportedly admitted shooting over a dozen Afghan people. It turns out they were mostly women and children and they were reportedly killed in this incident.

A couple of weeks ago the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce hosted it’s Second Annual Urban Health Conference. During the four day event, one session was dedicated to the public health problem of violence. Some of the facts shared during the session at the Harlem State Office Building included; Between 350 and 700 calls are fielded on a city run domestic violence hotline daily; 67% of women killed in domestic violence incidents, in New York City, have not had in contact with the NYPD or the judicial system; most of the people shot in Central Harlem are black male youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years.

Do we have an epidemic of violence in this city, country, world? The term epidemic conjours images of infectious disease running rampant, killing the unprotected and vulnerable. Surely such an epidemic would alarm those whose citizens, neighbors, friends and kin were found to be victims. Research would be undertaken to develop an antidote, vaccine, treatment or effective intervention to stop the spread of the disease.

Authorities, leaders, responsible stakeholders would decry those who had been ineffective in stopping the grim reaper’s sweep through our communities and a unified, standardized approach would be developed and refined until the epidemic was quelled

Duh?! What happened?! Where is the leadership on this issue? Where are the standards of behavior that should be practiced by all of us at all times? Where is the call for decorum, polite discourse, humane comportment of all? Where are the resources to attack and eliminate the symptoms?

We have the aftermath of violence addressed. Ambulances to pick up the dead and battered. Victim service programs to help heal the victims, are funded. Hospitals have become expert in detecting and treating violence. We can even predict where it might happen. Why haven’t we developed the will prevent it???

Is it in our national interest not to make to big a deal of this issue? If we are too successful in questioning violence, as an acceptable response to any provocation, will it diminish our will to fight to protect our rights? Will the recruitment for our armed forces be affected if we are proactive and mandate conflict resolution as the fourth R? Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and conflict Resolution?

Will we see our athletic competitions become less popular? Will colleges have to figure out other ways to make money if football becomes less popular? What will Vegas do without it’s Mega fights? Will hockey degenerate into figure skating with sticks?

Just when we have been able to get our females interested in knocking each others heads of for the Olympiad, in the ring, and in the hexagon!! Will they balk?

What will happen to the television and movie industry if we talk about the damage violent movies and television programming may do to support violent acting out, fighting , killing, etc?

The Soap box is there, the bully pulpit is available. No one seems ready to take the leadership. Is there still a resounding shame of a nation that would allow it’s most ardent use of non-violent tactics be murdered?

How often have we heard this issue being uttered as a vital political issue that should be addressed by candidates for the highest office in the land? How many solutions initiatives or programs have been proposed by our President or those who would become President? It’s the economy stupid? How much does a gunshot wound cost anyway? How about 1million dollars? Is our economy doing so well we can afford ignoring these current rates?

How much does it cost in human pain and suffering to deal with the aftermath of a woman murdered despite the order of protection she had against her spouse/lover/boyfriend? How many geniuses have we lost in their infancy as the victim of a caretaker that didn’t know how to control his/her temper?

When are we going to do something? Don’t wait! Start today! Take some effective action to stop human on human violence. I don’t want to suggest that we should love our neighbor or turn the other cheek, or ask” why can’t we all get along?” It’s been said and done to some effect – Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.

John M. Palmer, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. He has served as the Executive Director of Harlem Hospital Center and Renaissance Healthcare Network in Harlem, New York, as well as Executive Director of Kingsborough Psychiatric Center in Brooklyn, New York. He published a health and wellness column in Positive Community Magazine from 2007-2011.

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Be My Guest Column by Michele Ashley

“Katherine” the Great
Having the Confidence of a Child

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of informally interviewing a young lady of noble character. In my life it has been my good fortune to have met many amazing, beautiful, innovative, inspiring and brilliant people. On occasion I’ll meet someone that inspires me and moves my spirit. Let’s just say, I’m not easy to impress. To my amazement, such was the case recently when I met such a young lady—“Katherine” the Great. Since I’ve never been one to advocate exploitation of young folks, especially when it comes to social media, let’s just call her “Katherine” for the sake of this post.

I first met “Katherine” on a fluke, through her father, while she was in transit to Brooklyn, N.Y. to visit her grandparents for summer vacation. On first impression you instantly warm to her congeniality and genuine openness. Though at first she appears soft spoken, her hearty laughter and quick wit shines through in no time.

She even successfully carried off an English accent for an entire hour and it wasn’t until days later her father revealed to me it was all for show for me. Katherine and her family live in Upper Marlboro, MD – “in the meadows,” as she jokingly puts it. Trust me she lives far from the “meadows”—tipping cows is not on this young lady’s agenda.

What makes “Katherine” so special you may ask? Well, for starters if you were to lay eyes on her you might think it was the beauty of innocence etched on her mocha complexion or the loveliness of her hair void of chemicals, virgin in its cadence that she normally wears in a ponytail — but that’s not it. What makes “Katherine” so very special is her utter confidence in who she is as a person, and how she intends to move through this journey we call life.

Ok, not very special you think? Well…did I mention my “Katherine” the Great is 12 years old? Right – take a moment and keep reading.

When the opportunity to “interview” Katherine presented itself several weeks had gone by since our first meeting and so it was only our second time together. Despite this fact, her spirit had only grown more endearing to me. You see Katherine is that rare young girl who still maintains the innocence of a child while remaining inquisitive of the world around her. Not only is she respectful and easy-going, but she moves with the spirit and “knowing” of one far beyond her years. She is what you might call “an old soul”. They are rare and when you meet one it truly is magical.

Though you will catch glimpses of her youthful energy while she enjoys activities such as playing soccer, walking a tightrope for fun, canoeing with her Dad, playing miniature golf, and on occasion acting as her father’s personal fitness coach (yes, they even have a video to prove it!), it’s when you sit to speak with “Katherine” that her true self unfolds. To speak to “Katherine” is to forget she is only 12 years old.

Like poetry in motion, when asked questions like who inspires her (her answer: Michelle Obama – 1 point for “Katherine”—my favorite as well) and where does she see herself in 10 years (her answer: very successful, powerful and brave), she responds effortlessly as if she had actually read my mind and had only waited patiently for me to realize my questions. Her answers were clear lacking any confusion or hesitancy. Her face bright with the knowledge that her vision would not one day be her reality – but her reality was in the now.

On this particular evening, we had just finished watching the movie ‘Soul Surfer’ and I wanted to know her thoughts regarding the main character Bethany Hamilton. ‘Soul Surfer’ (for those who have never seen it) is a movie about a teenage surfer girl who summons the courage to go back into the ocean after losing an arm in a shark attack. When I asked “Katherine” what impacted her the most about the movie, she replied “…that she continued doing what she loved despite her disability.”

If only we all had the heart and spirit of Bethany (whatever your “disability get back in the water!) and the clarity of thought like “Katherine” (get clear – stay focused), how much further would we be in achieving some of our own life goals and plans. To have the confidence of a child is a remarkable thing—almost magical. For many of us we’ve forgotten how to grasp that kind of magic in our lives today.

Remember when you feared nothing, the world was your oyster and at bedtime your dreams were your haven to safely map your journey for your life? Remember when it was safe to dream big and planning for a better tomorrow was more than just a whimsical thought but a youthful expectancy for your life?

Remember when?

To a young lady with doe eyes and an unshakable spirit, I am grateful. I’m grateful to have met “Katherine” for reminding me what it looks like, feels like and sounds like to have the confidence of a child; to walk boldly and confidently in the direction of one’s dream. To visualize and speak that which has not yet come into existence but which you look for on the horizon with utter anticipation.

I have no doubt “Katherine” will do great things in her life mainly because of her spirit, her vision and her attitude. She’s a heck of a girl who is gracefully on her way to becoming a woman of substance. Here’s to all the youthful Katherine’s who surround us every day. Take the time to learn, feast and grow with those who will come after you.

Remember, in life inspiration comes in all shapes, forms and sizes. It’s not about the wrapping on the gift but what lies beneath and within. Life in all its complexities can feel daunting and challenging on any given day. Yet from the mouth of babes as “Katherine” put it: “I’m afraid of sanity. You could be crazy…just be whoever you want to be…just be yourself!”

Here is to insanity – may we all have the courage to be crazy enough to have the confidence of a child.

–Dedicated to a young lady who is far from tipping cows in Upper Marlboro, MD–

Michele Ashley is Founder and CEO of CORE Compass Coaching where she works as the chief facilitator of women empowerment coaching programs internationally.
Ms. Ashley serves as the Chairperson for WEST Inc. a non-profit organization based in New York City whose mission and vision is to build a diverse network of women through forums, projects, programs, workshops, and partnership initiatives. She is a member of the Women’s Information Network (WIN) and has recently been appointed the new Women’s Global Summit Event Director for New York City and Washington, D.C. for 2012. For information on CORE programs please contact Ms. Ashley at or .

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Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on 9/11

A quiet, bright, sunny, September morning.

People were going about their routine business. The warm sun’s glow seemed to comfort all.

Suddenly in a horrifying instant the peace was shattered — a loud explosion, screams, flames spewing out of windows, smoke clouding the streets obscuring vision amidst the panic and chaos.

Sirens screeched as police and firefighters rushed to the scene while people frantically searched for loved ones in the mass of confusion.

In that terrible moment more than brick and mortar, more than glass — even more than lives were shattered. Peace and hope and freedom from fear were also torn apart that September morning.

The Date: September 15, 1963
The Place: 16th Street Baptist Church; Birmingham, Alabama
The Dead: 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins; 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley;
14-year-old Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair
The Injured: Some 20 others, 10-year-old Sarah Collins who lost her right eye

This act of terrorism was by no means the first on American soil and far from the first in Birmingham, where there had been three other bombings in 11 days following a federal court order that had mandated the integration of Alabama’s school system. In the previous 18 years there had been at least 50 bombings there. It should come as no surprise that the town was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

Subsequent violence in the city led to the killing of two Black boys, one by police bullets, prompting the National Guard to be summoned in to restore order.

This came just thee months after the assassination of Medgar Evers, for whom the college is named. Evers was a civil rights activist and an NAACP Field Secretary.

As we mourn the losses of those who died on September 11, 2001, and honor those who were involved in heroic acts on that day, we should not lose sight of the fact that acts of terrorism in America did not begin on either of those September days.

The moral outrage over the vicious murder of four little girls who were sitting in Sunday school, led to outrage around the country. It helped provide a momentum of support behind the struggle for equal rights and end to segregation. Within two years there came passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.

What then has been the legacy of September 11, 2001? What can we point to that has spawned some lasting good?

Many may express despair with reports of acts of harassment and violence against Middle Eastern and Muslim people here in the United States. Or the feelings and attitudes of apprehension and suspicion that many harbor since the September 11 attacks. Those unfortunate facts cannot be denied.

Then came the 10th anniversary commemoration. I was stuck by the images of the powerful and tasteful memorial at the World Trade Center site, as well as the progress made on the new towers being built. It occurred to me that we are all in a rebuilding process.

It is a rebuilding of the spirit of America and of freedom that cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs. It is a freedom that the people in Birmingham and places throughout the south sacrificed so much for. They managed to build more than the buildings – they rebuilt their faith and dedication to freedom.

And that is what I see happening here in New York City.

When you look closely — when I walk the halls of Medgar Evers College and the streets of its Crown Heights community, I see something happening. I see a glass that is more than half full with students and faculty, and staff and folks on the block, learning, working, playing and living together. People who are trying to manage, people trying to succeed and excel.

The rebuilding is usually not a dramatic process, but it is evident in those most simple, routine, things.

After all isn’t that what freedom is — being able to go about your routine in peace? Shopping, working, playing, socializing, traveling – even going to Sunday school on a bright September morning?

And although there is still much rebuilding to do, when I look at Medgar Evers College’s diverse community I know that we are all sharing in the rebuilding Medgar’s dream and that of many others out of the some dark days of our past.

Dr. William Pollard is president of Medgar Evers College –

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Be My Guest Column by Renee Collymore

“Give ‘Em Hell, CWA”!

Two weeks ago, I made my presence on the picket line in support of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), as they fought for a fair contract against the corporate giant, Verizon.

CWA is one of the bravest unions in our City and I couldn’t let them fight alone. Am I biased? Maybe so, for they were the only labor union that courageously endorsed my candidacy when I ran against for the seat of Democratic State Committeewoman/District Leader in 2010. For days, I decided to join this strike to help defend the great working class people of our City as I also began calling on all of my political colleagues to meet us in solidarity.

As thousands of workers took to the streets, repeating the call-and-response chant “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like”, my mind began to recall the greatest labor struggle of all times, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters against the Pullman Company, which was led by Harlem’s, A. Phillip Randolph.

Randolph, along with friend and colleague, Chandler Owen, created several labor unions, of which the first was called the United Brotherhood of Elevator and Switchboard Operators, then formed the first black socialist political club in the 21st Assembly District in Harlem, NY

What I admired about the porter’s union was that, it wasn’t a large union and at it’s height of power and influence it had only 15,000 members, after which the membership dropped to 2,000. Nonetheless, their victory was not because of numbers, but because of the great leadership and the skillful ability of men, who were otherwise known to be “uneducated blacks”, to successfully implement the strategy of collective bargaining, as well as the capability to promote the idea of labor unionism amongst black workers in 1925.

45,000 CWA workers went on strike because ,although, Verizon has made record profits, according to the union, Verizon had refused to bargain. as well as attempting to slash sick days, to send jobs overseas and cut health benefits.etc. The demands of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters consisted of recognition of the union, a minimum monthly wage of $150, a basic work month of 240 hours, compensation for “deadheading”, and an end to “doubling out”, conductor’s pay for conductor’s work and that porters be treated like men,

Ultimately, the first-ever agreement between a union of black workers and a major corporation was signed and it called for a reduction in the work month from 400 to 240 hours and an annual wage package of $1,250,000. After the longest battle in American labor history, which lasted 12 years, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had been finally recognized. Not only that, but the Brotherhood had become a full-fledged member of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and also made it possible for blacks to win a place in American society, where the Pullman Company of old would never have imagined their victory in a million years.

The Labor movement was the first anti-poverty program and if it wasn’t for Labor, people would be selling apples on the street, for a living, like most folks did in the 20s. Union members represent the working people of our nation and without the working class, corporate giants, would not be where they are, without us.

As I marched over the Brooklyn Bridge with the members of CWA, I saw the victory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters as they struggled for basic and respectful rights, human rights within the workforce. I saw my friends, neighbors and relatives sacrificing their weekly paycheck, in unity, for right to be “treated like men”, and not work horses, but honorable members of a nation. The CWA strike of 2011 was a fight for the future of our country and will be remembered as a triumphant moment in labor, just as the heroic battle between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the corporate giant of that day, the Pullman Company. We must demand respect now, for the sake of our children and our children’s children.

Give’ em hell, ya’ll…Give’ em hell!

Renee Collymore, president and founder of the Parliament Democratic Club in Brooklyn, is a leading rising star in the City of New York. She made her splash into the political arena when she ran for public office against an incumbent for which she’s earned the respect of politicians and power brokers alike. She’s continues to build recognition amongst her peers as she passionately fights for her coomunity. Renee can be reached on Twitter @reneecollymore and on Facebook.

Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Congressman Gregory W. Meeks

A Difficult Vote vs. Definite Default

In the dozen or so media interviews about the highly controversial bipartisan compromise to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, interviewers have been far more interested in the fact that I was the only New York City Democrat who voted yes than in what is actually in the bill. They seemed surprised by my comment that I do not base how I vote on how others are voting, but on whether or not a bill serves the interests of my district and is good for the country.

Even though 94 other House Democrats and 45 Senate Democrats agreed with me, while 95 House Democrats and 6 Senate Democrats did not, some commentators seemed surprised when I argued that the achievements of the Budget Control Act of 2011 outweigh its deficiencies.

Liberal critics of the bill contend that President Obama and the Democrats whose support supplied the margin for passage in the House “surrendered to hostage takers” (the House Republicans — many of them Tea Party Republicans — who tied raising the debt limit to cutting “trillions” in federal spending and refused to consider revenue increases under any circumstances). This argument works only if context and facts are left out.

Remember that the House vote occurred a scant 30 hours before the August 2nd deadline for raising the debt limit. The Senate voted the next day with about 10 hours to go. The President signed the bill into law with only 6 hours left.
If Congress had failed to act, the U.S. government for the first time would have defaulted on its debts. The results would have been catastrophic.

For example, the federal government’s August commitments exceeded $306 billion with only $174 billion in expected revenue. Without the legal authority to borrow the funds to make up the difference, although the federal government could have paid the interest on the national debt and covered its monthly Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid commitments, it would have had nothing left to pay veterans’ benefits, vendors, contractors, or fund federal agencies.

Default would have jeopardized the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government. Interest rates would have gone up for every level of government, every American with a credit card, car payment, mortgage or student loan, and for every business that relies on a line of credit to meet payroll and operating expenses. Pension plans would have been devastated.

There were no alternatives to the compromise bill that could pass both houses of Congress. Congress could either pass this bill or allow America to default.
Is it a perfect bill? Does it include everything I wanted and exclude everything I oppose? Like every bill to come up for a vote during my 13 years in Congress, the answer is no. But, did it raise the debt ceiling, avert default, protect key entitlements, and stop House Tea Party Republicans from repeating their hostage-taking performance during next year’s election? Yes.

In return for raising the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion over the next 18 months, President Obama and a majority of congressional Democrats agreed to cut defense and non-defense federal discretionary spending by a similar amount over the next ten years. The bill outlined $900 billion in cuts. The remaining $1.5 trillion in cuts will occur through a joint House-Senate committee process.

True, the bill does not include revenue increases. Instead it empowers a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to put everything on the table in proposing additional cuts: entitlement programs; defense and non-defense discretionary spending; and revenue increases, including reforming the tax code, closing tax loopholes, and eliminating tax subsidies for corporations and special interests.

This 12-member committee consists of three members from each party from both the House and Senate. In my view together with an enforcement mechanism also contained in the legislation, this committee creates a dynamic that will pressure both sides of the aisle to grapple with America’s fiscal reality and very well may become a vehicle for the kind of “grand bargain” President Obama has been seeking. How?

The committee must recommend $1.5 trillion in additional cuts to the full Congress by November 23 of this year. Congress must hold an up or down vote on the recommendations by December 23 of this year.

If the committee fails to reach an agreement or if Congress rejects its recommendations, an enforcement mechanism triggers across-the-board defense and non-defense spending reductions beginning in 2013. Half of the cuts must come from domestic programs and half from defense.

Social Security and Medicare benefits, other low-income programs, and Pell grant funding, are largely protected. Unlike the debt ceiling vote, the second round takes place on a level playing field of equal representation of Democrats and Republicans outside of the regular appropriations process.

This unique process which President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders insisted upon checks the power of the most extreme faction of House Republicans and the House Republican majority. It also offsets the filibuster that Senate Republicans have blatantly used to obstruct the President’s agenda.

The joint select committee, the up or down vote, and enforcement mechanism could and should help Democrats and Republicans who are open to a balanced compromise succeed in reducing the deficits in our budget and our politics.

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks represents the Sixth Congressional District of New York and sits on the House Committee on Financial Services and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.