CHANGING CORNERS: A Young Adult novel based on racism in 1950s New York

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Bobbie doesn’t believe the southern attitude toward people of color applies to her northern world. Phillis lived in Mississippi and endured the worst effects of racial hatred, generating a mind filled with fear, distrust, and bitterness. Friends when they were five years old, the two reunite in a late 1950s Long Island high school and find that an interracial friendship is not as easy as it was when they were unaware toddlers. Phillis longs for the innocence she once had, but she must convince Bobbie to confront the reality of racism even as they fight for the right to be friends.

With humor and drama, Phillis, Bobbie, and a diverse group of teenagers wage battle to change their corner of the world. At first they succeed. They share high school highs and lows and first romances: Phillis with Leonard and Bobbie with Frank.

Outside influences interfere and the girls end up facing the obstacles Phillis foresaw and Bobbie never expected, from hateful words, to vandalism, to outright violence. Their lives collapse when officials accuse Phillis of arson, a riot ensues, and police arrive, guns drawn. The two girls and their friends must bind together in an intricate plot to trap the true culprits and clear Phillis’s name before she faces undeserved years in prison.

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1950s teenagers are often called the “do-nothing” generation. Consumed by their cars, poodle skirts, and dance parties, they appear to be an unconcerned lot. However, their seemingly nonchalant, selfish lives had more to do with lack of awareness than lack of caring. Many, when confronted with the truth about racial inequality, became activists in civil rights issues—sometimes with tragic results.

Now, in the 21st century, the struggle continues. There are parallels between the underground racism in 1950s northeast United States and the behind-the-scenes prejudice of today. It was there then; it is here now. We can’t fight it if we don’t own it and accept that it exists.

An Open Letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… end of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1 Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
2 I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3 I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual unseemliness – Lev. 15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4 When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev. 1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5 I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6 A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
7 Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8 Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9 I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10 My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev. 24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
Your adoring fan,
James M. Kauffman, Ed. D.
Professor Emeritus Dept. of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

A PROUD MOMENT

A PROUD MOMENT

A few years ago I was asked to launch a theatrical program in Baltimore City’s middle and high schools. In one high school, I was not welcomed with open arms. In fact, the authorities seemed to resent my involvement. They reluctantly agreed to take part in the program and told their teachers to send a couple of students from each of their classes to participate. I later learned some of the teachers took advantage of the opportunity and sent me the most difficult and most disruptive kids they had. It made for a challenging group.

At the first rehearsal, twenty sullen and unmotivated teenagers slumped into their seats, arms folded. They were glad to be there—anything to get out of the classroom—but firmly opposed to participating in a program that might open them up to peer ridicule and derision.

I asked them what kind of music and dance they would like. Their answers were predictable: Rap and Hip Hop. I told them I was not trained in either, but we would include them in our program along with other music they might enjoy. I promised I would find someone to teach Hip Hop, and they could write and perform their own raps. I kept my promise and found a professional Hip Hop teacher willing to volunteer her time. She came once. The kids were so nasty and uncooperative she never came back.

We plugged on. I found the kids’ exposure to music was limited to Rap and TV commercials. Slowly, I introduced other genres: classical, rock, Broadway… In spite of themselves, toes started tapping. They particularly liked the Beach Boys beat. For a long time I didn’t tell them the group was composed of a bunch of white boys. They also liked the Bee Gees and their disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I didn’t tell them Beethoven was popular in the 19th century. They really went for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. I didn’t give them any details about George Gershwin, either.

Gradually, a show came together: an eclectic mix that proved to be as wonderful as it was strange. We began to bond a bit, to trust each other. At the time I was directing another show in a community north of Baltimore. Bad traffic made me late for rehearsal. When I finally reached the school the place was empty, except for one of my kids sitting alone on the steps. She ran to my car and stuck her head in the window.

“They told me not to bother to wait,” she said. “But I knew you’d come.”

The kids did their show for the school. It was a difficult performance. I had never had a group so full of stage fright. But the kids did a beautiful job and their peers showed appreciation for their talent and courage with a standing ovation.

We decided to take the show on the road.

It wasn’t hard to find gigs; everyone loves a free show. The kids performed for elementary schools, community centers, retirement homes, and churches. Our last performance was at a hospital that specializes in children with birth and traumatic neurological disorders. I made reservations at a local pizza place for a celebratory cast party following the show.

We arrived at the hospital and went to the room reserved for the performance. The kids stopped at the door and looked in. It was not a pleasant sight. The patients in this hospital are some of the most physically challenged children in the medical world. Their birth defects and traumatic injuries cause jerky, palsied movements. Their attempts at speech often result in moans, high-pitched squeals, and stutters. Most were in wheelchairs; some were in cribs with guardrails pulled high.

My kids turned and fled.

I found them in the parking lot, huddled around the bus.

“No way we’re going in there,” one of them said.

“They’re a bunch of freaks,” another added.

I was furious and made no attempt to hide it. “Those children are waiting for a show and you’re going to disappoint them?”

They wouldn’t look at me.

“You’re afraid of them,” I said.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” one of the boys said.

“If you don’t go in there and give them the show you promised, you are cowards,” I told them. Actually, my words weren’t that polite.

Finally, they agreed. “We go in, do the show, and get out.”

So, we set up and did the show. During the performance there were several places where the actors went into the house to interact with the audience. Several of those moments passed before one of the braver performers approached one of the children. The child smiled when he came close. Others followed, and soon all of the actors were in and out of the audience, touching the children, playing with them, and making them laugh.

After the kids took their final bow, I started on the laborious task of loading out our equipment: flats, set pieces, props, sound system… After a few minutes I realized I was alone on stage—unusual because the actors always helped with the task.

I looked out at our audience. There were my kids, playing with these sick children, teasing them into smiles, returning their smiles with big grins.

I finished the load out alone. When I had everything packed up, I called for my kids. “Time to go, guys. Our reservation at the pizza parlor is for 4:30.”

One of the girls stopped hopping a frog up a giggling boy’s shoulder long enough to say, “Can’t we stay? We can have pizza anytime.”

I’ve had many proud moments in my career. This one is in my top ten.

FACES Imprisoned Women and Their Struggle with the Criminal Justice System
FACES Imprisoned Women and Their Struggle with the Criminal Justice System

AFTER THE CRIME

The names are changed, but the story is true.

Even as I was working on this piece, I was questioning my reasons for writing it. After all, it’s not an unusual story in our turbulent times: a beautiful young woman murdered by her immature? drug addicted? mentally unstable? jealous? boyfriend.

But maybe the fact it is not unusual is the best reason. What does it say about our society when we read the newspaper’s page 18 one-paragraph account of another tragic murder, and our only reaction is to turn the page?

When did we stop caring?

**********

Twenty-five-year-old Lily was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter. In 1996, her twenty-seven-year-old boyfriend, Casey, murdered her.

In Lily’s obituary, her mother, Katherine, wrote

She was warm as the sun, caring as a human being, free as a spirit, and so full of life.

She sometimes moved fast as the wind.

Most of all, in a world full of violence, little morals nor values, Lily was a lady. She loved to take care of people that could not help themselves.

Lily loved to dance, loved to write and read, and write poetry. Lily modeled sometimes, and yes, was always colorful!

Three weeks before the tragedy, Lily left Casey and moved in with her mother.

Three days before the tragedy, Lily went back to Casey.

One day before the tragedy, Lily spent the day at her mother’s house. As Katherine was leaving for work, Lily said, “If I leave a Phillips Seafood glass on the dining room table, you’ll know everything is all right.” When Katherine got home, there was no glass. Frantic, she called her daughter. No response.

The day of the tragedy, Casey told Lily he was going to a training session for his job and needed a ride to the airport. No one knew the training session, if it existed at all, had been cancelled.

Lily called Katherine. “I’m looking out the window. Casey and his sister are in the car. They have a gun.”

“Leave!” Katherine screamed into the phone.

But Lily didn’t leave and, at 3:00 that afternoon, there was a knock on Katherine’s door. It was the police. “There’s been an accident.”

“They all came in,” Katherine said through tears. “It was like a TV show. Then they told me: ‘Your daughter has been killed.’

“At the morgue they tried to stop me from going to Lily. There was no stopping me. I felt like an undershirt pulled inside out. All my skin came off my body – like somebody threw acid on me. Lily’s face was smashed and swollen. After Casey killed my daughter he threw her into the car like trash and dumped her on the highway. I told the police to take me to my grandson.”

Donnie, Lily and Casey’s seven-year-old son, was home when Casey returned after shooting Lily and dumping her body.

“Daddy’s shirt was bloody and he told me something bad happened,” Donnie told the police.

Casey took a shower, and then called the police. “I shot my girlfriend.”

“Donnie knows his mother’s dead and his father’s in jail,” Katherine told a reporter, “but he’s seven years old, you know. He still loves his parents.”

“I talked to Mommy last night,” Donnie told Katherine days later. “She says she’s okay and she’s watching over you.”

**********

At the trial, one of Casey’s attorneys said, “I can’t help Casey. He was uncooperative. He just kept staring out the window.” Casey’s lawyers tried for an insanity plea and asked for mercy. They called the murder a “crime of passion.”

The judge was not impressed. He told Casey he was appalled by the brutality of the crime. “I can’t imagine anything more horrible than what happened here,” he said.

“She was my daughter and my friend and you took her away from me,” Katherine screamed at Casey.

“I don’t even want to breathe the same air that he breathes,” she told the judge. “I don’t want to breathe any air without Lily.”

At first, Katherine wanted the death penalty. “But I didn’t want Donnie to lose both parents, so I requested Life Without the Possibility of Parole.”

Casey was sentenced to Life plus 15 years.

So those are the facts. Murder committed. Perpetrator tried, convicted, and sentenced to live the rest of his life in prison. The End. Cut to commercial.

**********

But the nightmare for both families was just beginning.

At first, Katherine asked herself the questions that plague so many victims’ loved ones: “Why?” and “What could I have done?

“I sat in my room with a gallon of wine. After the fifth glass I threw the bottle across the room. The son of a bitch shot her. This was not a crime of passion. It was a murder – a killing. There was nothing I could do.”

Over and over she thought about Lily’s relationship with Casey.

“Lily was fifteen when she met Casey. He was seventeen. At first Casey was like another son. He had dinner with us, went to movies – lots of family stuff.”

But over the years the relationship changed. Casey had children by other women, two of whom lived with Casey and Lily.

“Lily neglected her appearance and that was not in character for her. She was a hairdresser.”

Katherine never saw signs of physical abuse, but she didn’t like the way Casey talked to Lily. “After a while, Casey was no longer welcomed in my house.”

She reminisced about her daughter’s dreams for the future. “Lily wanted to establish a ‘Hairdresser on Wheels’ business serving homebound people – maybe open her own shop someday. She was set to get her cosmetology license a week before she was murdered. She wanted to be a cop, too. She applied for the police academy.”

At Casey’s trial, the assistant state’s attorney told the judge: “[Lily] was someone who was definitely trying to build a life for herself.”

“Lily grew out of Casey,” Katherine said. “He was a good father, but he couldn’t handle Lily living her own life.”

Both families had to somehow cope with the murder. Some succeeded; others never recovered.

  • The evening of the murder, Katherine’s parents were at a restaurant waiting for her to join them for dinner. Katherine had to tell them what had happened. They are gone now, but they never stopped grieving for their beautiful granddaughter.
  • After years of suffering, Casey’s mother now dedicates herself to prison reform. She has nightmares about what is happening to her son in prison.
  • According to Katherine, “My other daughter and my son want nothing to do with Casey. They can’t believe he did that to their sister. My daughter is doing well. My son spent five years in prison on drug charges, but he’s out now and reclaiming his life.”
  • Katherine lost touch with Casey’s other children. She prays for them.
  • Casey remains in jail with little hope for release.
  • Growing up, Donnie was protected from the details about his mother’s death. When he finally learned the truth he cut off all ties with his father. He is twenty-six years old now and has yet to find his place in the world. He spent time in prison on drug charges, but he is out now and working. He is married and has two children: a girl, eight, and a boy, six. Katherine allowed Donnie and his wife to live rent-free in her town house for a year, but, according to Katherine, “they move around a lot.” To this day, Donnie talks to his mother.
  • Katherine went back to work. Her co-workers had no idea what to say to her in the face of such a devastating tragedy. Katherine had to be the nurturer. “I understood. What is there to say?” She went on with her life, earning enough money to allow her other daughter to graduate with a Masters Degree in Finance. Retired now, Katherine volunteers for an organization that assists ex-offenders with their reentry into society.

Lily is never far from her mind. As we talked, her tears flowed. “Lily had dreams—simple things. She wanted to get married, walk her son to school…

“I still wake up to my daughter’s face. My daughter and I would go to the market and hold hands. We always held hands. We had family time with hugs and kisses.

“I hug my children every day. We have to hug. If my son jumps out of the car without hugging me, he’ll jump back in.”

“I can breathe a little. But sometimes I can’t breathe at all.”

**********

Three months ago Katherine attended a meeting. She looked across the room and spotted Casey’s mother. Katherine hadn’t seen her since the trial nineteen years before.

Casey’s mother approached Katherine and asked to speak with her. “I didn’t know what to say,” Katherine said. “What do you say to the mother of the man who killed your daughter? I took the initiative and hugged her to ease the tension.”

The two mothers, both of whom, in different ways, had lost their children, bonded.

At home that evening, Katherine was “…outside of myself. But I began to see we have to have compassion for people. It takes truth and wisdom to get beyond the loss of a child. Every day I think of Lily. There is no loss like the loss of a child.”

Now Katherine wants to teach people to forgive and heal—to see crime through the eyes of other people. “We have to be gentle. We have to put our own feelings aside for the sake of the children.”

**********

Katherine concluded Lily’s obituary with these words:

Lily was only with us for a short time, but left a lifetime of love and memories. We will miss our beautiful wildflower.

**********

Lily had committed what was to Casey an unpardonable sin: she grew up. She was thinking of her future, of her son’s future. Katherine is right: she grew out of him.

But why kill her? We will never know. Casey’s not talking.

All we know is two families died that day.

 

THE WORLD’S LARGEST SHAVING CREAM PIE FIGHT!

THE MARCH 22, 2015 PIE FIGHT

WAS A HUGE SUCCESS!

We may not have broken the record, but almost 800 people attended and we raised $5000 for Bridges to Housing Stability.

Pie-throwers came early for the pre-fight family fun: Circus Shows, Music, Stilt Walkers, Juggling school, Balloon Sculptors and More! Everyone had a wonderful time.

PRESENTED BY

CENTER RING CIRCUS SCHOOL

Benefit for

Bridges to Housing Stability

Every Family Should Have a Home.

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6770 Oak Hall Lane, Columbia, MD 21045.

443-996-8197

centerringcircusschool.com

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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things