Friday, December 31, 2010

-30- (The End)

There are lots of ways to mark "the end" (such as the journalistic device I am using as the title of this blog), but one of the most frequently occurring is the year-end list of "bests."

December 31 is considered the end of the year, but it is really just an arbitrary marker on a calendar created by human beings. Best-of lists are entirely subjective, based on individual tastes. So I'd rather close 2010 with a few of my favorites, things that I appreciated more than ever during this hectic and volatile year.

The King's Speech - There's a good chance I'd fall in love with Colin Firth starring in a dog food commercial. He's just that good. In this film, his fully realized, understated performance as George VI, the man who wasn't supposed to be king, is totally mesmerizing. Firth stars opposite the marvelous Geoffrey Rush as the man who helped the king find his voice, and Helena Bonham Carter as the radiant, loving, fiesty Queen Elizabeth (before the world knew her as the Queen Mum.) No car crashes or punch-outs needed for this film to be fully engaging. An absolute must-see.

"Tried & True," Clay Aiken - Despite the recent cash grabs by a couple of singers past their prime, singing the standards isn't played out. You just need someone with the voice and the artistry to do great songs justice. That someone would be Clay Aiken, who knows his way around smart pop, with traces of rock, soul, jazz and country, and the best of Broadway, as well. From the perfectly retro-styled album cover to every tune on the playlist, Clay brings his warm, clear tenor to some of the most popular songs of the mid-century, with the authority needed to demonstrate why another take on them is worth your time. His versions of "Misty" and "Mack the Knife" are especially strong, "Unchained Melody" features an eye-popping "what the hell was that?" vocal climax, and "Suspicious Minds" rocks, struts and snarls in a commanding nod to Elvis. Clay also duets with Broadway star Linda Eder for a stirring version of "Crying", and is supported by Vince Gill's brilliant guitar work on "Moon River" and David Sanborn's muscular saxophone on "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Gorgeous, top-flight orchestrations, arrangements, and musicianship highlight this first-class production that should have been rewarded with multiple Grammy nominations for traditional pop.

Also available is the DVD of "Clay Aiken: Tried & True - Live!", the recent PBS special featuring Clay's concert versions of these songs. It includes several can't-miss bonuses, especially a wonderful rendition of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" (Catch the PBS special for the touching "In My Life," which is not included in the DVD, perhaps due to licensing issues.)

Habitat for Humanity - There when storms strike, there when a family needs a new start, always there to serve humanity and help people help themselves. From Los Angeles to New Orleans to Haiti, Habitat responds during natural disasters and during the everyday economic emergencies that hold families in poor housing. By helping Habitat, you help families earn their way into a better life, through sweat equity and giving back. I've been a supporter for a long time, and Habitat has helped a lot of people find their way home, transforming every dollar given into a bright future for families, here and abroad.

"Genuine Negro Jig," Carolina Chocolate Drops - I was blown away when I saw this band on Tavis Smiley's PBS show earlier this year. The Drops, a trio of African American musicians whose training ranges from classical to rock, have produced a CD of infectiously engaging roots music. (Check out this article from Paste Magazine for more information.) The music isn't mainstream, it's just damned good. Fortunately, the Grammys noticed this one and gave it a nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album. Try a little something different and check out the sweet sounds of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) - Supporting safe school environments for all, GLSEN has worked to educate the public about the value of all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, created programs to ensure that school is a safe space for all, and worked to enact anti-bullying and other legislation to support safe learning environments. In a time of tragic headlines about harassment of LGBT youth, sometimes leading to suicide. GLSEN is here to make sure that no young lives go to waste.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Simply put, Jon Stewart provides the best political and social analysis available on any network, in the guise of a comedy show that started out as funny "fake news." Jon and the "news team" make me laugh, of course, but this show has grown into a real source of information, of strong, well-thought-out opinion, and as an occasional call to action, such as with Jon's coverage of the recent Republican stonewalling of a bill to support health funding for 9/11 first responders. I wouldn't miss an episode.

Just a few highlights from my arts and activist life.

And now: what are you doing New Year's Eve? Something better than writing a blog, I hope. Here's Clay Aiken at several stops on tour, performing the Frank Loesser classic.

Happy 2011, everybody.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who the Hell Do You Think I Am?

I should have known it would bite me in the ass eventually.

Again, for the too-many-eth time in my life, I have been typed.

You see, while I was making movies, traveling the world, rocking out at concerts or trying to find a still center, learning new skills, hanging with friends, being the change and enjoying my life, I slipped past forty --- and kept on going.

And while I barely noticed, apparently, as a woman in mid-life, I don't matter anymore.

TV execs believe I'm either wrapped up in children and spouse (great pursuits, but I have neither) or concerned with little beyond the latest fashions, cellulite cures and celebrity gossip.

That's interesting? Give me a freaking break.

Radio programmers, obsessed with their second childhoods, elevate tween idols and one-trick ponies to a status far beyond their talents. (Yes, I know that it's really all about the greenback dollar.) Those who realize I'm still breathing are quick to offer me nothing but soft and easy, thinking I'm content to stroll down memory lane while I crank up my victrola.

Guess again.

I am entirely uninterested in the shades of Stewart and Manilow grinding out yet another anemic, label-mandated take on the American songbook. (I bet Rod's rumored blues album might have been worth a spin, though, and twenty-five years ago Barry did have the voice to do justice to some classic tunes.) But if I listen to standards now? I prefer Diana Krall and Peter Cincotti and Clay Aiken ("Tried & True"): singers who can sing, artists who can interpret, musicians who put something fresh into those oft-repeated songs.

If I want a smoother, modern groove, I've got the vibrant John Legend, the quirky Jason Mraz and the passionate Alicia Keys. When I want to listen to some of my favorite musicians from the Stone Age, I'll pass on the automatons stuck on nothing but greatest hits and take The Eagles or Neil Young, still writing and performing new music with the energy and invention they had when they were half their current ages.

I still look for what's new, and I appreciate the back catalog, which contains the roots of "now." My playlist has some Arcade Fire, a little Plain White Ts, a bit of Lady Gaga and much more, while reaching back to Bob Marley, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole by way of Chris Isaak, U2, Tracy Chapman and The Clash. Absent are Welk and Liberace and Lombardo, all names I have seen music critics use to dismiss the taste of adult women. (That was my grandmother's era, but not her taste: she was all about gospel, where my parents listened to Brook Benton, Billy Eckstine, Cole, Sinatra, classical and the occasional Broadway cast album.)

Some in the media have pushed me into a premature walker, if not an early grave. I'm supposed to be toothless, addled and frail, I guess, and so terminally out of touch that I can't even notice the contempt they heap on my old grey head.

The truth is this: every one of us who doesn't die prematurely will age, will likely be diminished in one or more capacities and will eventually pass on. God help the ones who think this doesn't apply to their lives.

Though time passes inexorably, it isn't a requirement that anyone give up an inquiring mind as the hands of the clock turn. It's always possible to learn something new and to try something different. And innovation isn't the sole province of the young.

I have noticed that some people who are called old are among the brightest minds, the most liberal thinkers, the most adventurous spirits --- and I have seen people who haven't reached thirty be rigid, timid and embrace the most life-limiting tenets I've seen in decades, adhering to some truly fossilized notions.

I don't yearn for Eisenhower or the faux innocence of the Happy Days era of the 1950.

I am too young to have been a hippie or to have gone to Woodstock, but I grew up in the echo of those times.

I didn't burn my training bra, but I learned a lot from my older sisters-of-the-spirit about demanding our place at the table.

I heard the voices of Stonewall, and knew that equality must be extended to all.

And I said it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.

So I wonder what kind of fool would think I am interested in a homogenized life now? If anything, I search the edge, I scan the distant vistas, even more than I did in the days of my youth.

I think about the stereotype of the complacent, docile, middle-aged woman, and then I look at my friends. An award-winning general education teacher who advocates for inclusive classrooms. A noted television director, with "Lost" and much more on her resume. A geologist for the National Park Service. An opera singer and teacher at a major Los Angeles university. An event coordinator who plays all over the tri-state area and beyond in an all-woman rock group. A newspaper columnist, a real estate agent, a builder of schools in Africa, an assistant director of film and television. Yoga instructor. College professor. Activists. Travelers. Sky divers. Rock climbers. River rafters. Lovers of life.

None are tucked in a corner, rocking away and knitting shawls. None have blue hair, baggy dresses and sensible shoes. But what if they did? What if they'd chosen to be traditional homemakers, grandmothers doting on their children's children, baking cookies, wearing lavender and lace, listening to soothing music? Their lives, their choices, right?

What's it to you, to dismiss or criticize them?

Where does this mockery and loathing of women over 40 come from?

Too often, it's from men over 40, describing not what it real but some distorted imagining of fifty years ago. They forget that the grandmother of their youth might have been Rosie the Riveter, playing a vital role in the defense of freedom, or active in the movement that sacrificed health, freedom and reputation to bring voting rights to both genders. Or perhaps this earlier generation of women "simply" worked to feed, clothe, house, educate and comfort the long-ago young incarnations of these men who speak ill of women today. I doubt that most of these men would talk about their own mothers and grandmothers with such contempt, but it is apparently alright to do so when it comes to other women.

Don't be so tiresome. Grow up. Stop it.

Some people will age well, I know, while others will not. Some will stay engaged in life, while others drift and dodder. Some are strong and healthy, while others spend years or even decades in declining health.

I'll pass no moral judgment on any of them. I know that Life can be one hard-hearted s.o.b. but I am not the type to give up and give in.

Here in the middle of life, I continue looking toward the far horizons. I love my life, and I stay engaged in it.

But when I am old, I will not be silent. I will not sit quietly just because someone somewhere expects me to.

I plan on having a loud, clear voice and a crazy mane of white hair, worn as a banner of achievement. And, by a life lived fully, I will be well prepared to kick some ass.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Clay Aiken on Pakistan Floods

From UNICEF USA on YouTube:

"Singer-songwriter & UNICEF Ambassador, Clay Aiken, calls for more help for children affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan."

With more than 20% of Pakistan flooded, millions of women and children have been displaced and are at extreme risk due to lack of food, clean water, shelter and medical aid. Please help the children and families of Pakistan by making a secure donation on the UNICEF USA YouTube page. (Link to donate follows the video.)

Or donate by texting "floods" to 864233. $10 will be charged to your phone bill.

For more information, read UNICEF USA's Fieldnotes blog, Alyssa Milano and Clay Aiken speak for UNICEF and Pakistan.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

More Than Words

When I started this blog, I thought I'd use it predominantly to share my interest in all things art-related. Instead, this year I've written mostly about some of the causes I find important, a better use of my limited time.

I have also blogged less than I thought I would. I love writing, love the act of putting words together in just the right way, love sharing my thoughts and ideas with the wide world (or a few of its denizens who happen across these pages.)

But as John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Family concerns have dominated my life, so my reactions to an early spring PBS concert television taping, the new music I've been listening to, the films and television shows I've watched and the books I've read haven't been featured much on these pages. Neither have my travels with my sister, always a highlight of my year.

Life is more than words, and certainly more than the social media that dominates some people's time.

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter have their place. They can be fun and, every once in a while, they can be important.

But I'd rather talk to a person than text them. I can't imagine a few abbreviated words on a tiny screen being more important to me than the sound of a voice or, better yet, the company of those I enjoy, admire and love.

And as much as I take pride in what I write here, this blog is a pale substitute for the life I actually live.

Summer is almost over. I have a bit of time at last, so Living in Turnaround is back. Glad to see you here when you have time...

But it's a lovely day. There's a breeze blowing in the window, and I hear some birds flitting through the trees that line the hill.

Enough words.

I'm signing off and going outside, where life is.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Grooving with Roy Hargrove at Yoshi's

My musician brother James visited from Italy a while ago. I took him to hear some music.

I write for fun as well as for a living; James' "busman's holiday" is going to hear other musicians work it out. In this case, it was trumpeter Roy Hargrove at Yoshi's San Francisco, with special guest Pharoah Sanders.

I knew Roy's work from playing around on the Decca Records website and was happy to have a chance to see him live, and James was particularly happy also to see Pharoah Sanders again. My brother is the kind of guy who always knew what he wanted to do when he grew up, and started making a living as a working musician in his teens. During those years, he also saw every cutting edge band of the day live in concert. So while I was at home watching cartoons, he'd seen Jimi and Zappa and The Who and Miles and The Doors and Pharoah, that madman of the tenor sax.

Yoshi's San Francisco (the newer of the two clubs in the Bay Area; the older original is in Oakland) was packed. It was sold out on a Thursday night, though Roy was in residence and would play eight shows over two weekends. I've always loved the crowds at these shows. The audience is full of people who know and love music but who are not too cool to show their appreciation --- and damn, everyone, old and young and in-between, "presents" so well.

There was casual conversation around our table: some chatting about previous Hargrove concerts, a table debating the relative merits of the new breed trumpet players, an older couple who had heard Pharoah play with his mentor, John Coltrane.

Roy was playing with his quintet that night, and as he entered, I thought, "That is one dapper cat." His attire was retro-modern, and for a moment it was like I was flung back to a club somewhere in the early '60s, watching this artist grooving to the sounds of the other musicians before he lifted his horn to his lips.


It was off to another world.

Hargrove lives in the grooves. His style is smoky and fluid and cool at one moment, then bursts into staccato energy, then turns bold and bright. Versatility is a hallmark of the Grammy-winning artist, and I considered myself privileged to hear not only his talented quintet, but also his brief collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, of another generation and school of jazz. I was engaged in every tune in the 90 minute set.

I don't know the title of everything that Hargrove played, but the set list included:

Speak Low

After the Morning (by his mentor, John Hicks)

(Pharoah Sanders then joined the group)

John Coltrane's Transition

[A new song, as yet untitled, that Hargrove said he composed on the plane coming west]

Serenity of Solitude


Writing about music is like dancing about color: I can't summon the words to describe how great the evening was and, since I am not a musician, I don't have the technical vocabulary. (For what it's worth, James came away impressed and entertained.) Fortunately, from what I have heard to date, Hargrove's recordings capture much of the intensity of his live performances.

So check out these sites, and see the man for yourself when he comes to your town. I'm sure glad I did.

The Roy Hargrove Quintet's recent CD is called "EarFood." It's aptly titled: an evening with Roy is indeed an aural feast.

Indulge yourself.

Roy Hargrove Decca Artists Page

Roy Hargrove Store at

Yoshi's Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant (Oakland and San Francisco)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Smokers and Republicans

Last week I wrote a blog about equality for people who are gay. It’s an important idea, founded upon basic American principles.

I gave my impressions of the speeches made by Clay Aiken and Meredith Baxter at the Human Rights Campaign’s “We Are All Made of Stars” gala dinner in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I joined in endorsing marriage equality for LGBT citizens, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the enactment and enforcement of hate crimes laws, and the promotion of programs that would foster understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, protecting them from harassment by other students (and sometimes by faculty as well), and allowing them to learn along with their straight peers in a safe school environment.

These are not conservative positions, but I believe they are the right ones, the ones in accord with the constitutional protections that should be afforded all Americans.

Reaction came from an unexpected source. No, not religious conservatives: there was just one comment invoking the wrath of God.

There were eight comments, out of approximately fifty, that concerned fourteen words in a two thousand word blog...

A joke about smokers and Republicans.

Here’s an excerpt, for context:

You see, I don't care that Clay or Meredith or TR or Neil or Wanda or Ellen or fill-in-the-blank is gay.

I don't care who is Native American or Jewish or who has a disability...

Hell, I'd say I care more if you are a smoker or a Republican!

A lot of things will inform my opinion of a person, but sexuality isn't one of them.

I was writing about irrational prejudices, as crazy in my mind as hating someone simply because they smoke or vote for the GOP.

I went back and read my blog, trying to see how it was possible for anyone to seriously believe that a person in favor of equal rights for everyone, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender or disability, could possibly be in favor of discriminating against smokers and Republicans.

For those who might be wondering, of course I am not. The “lot of things that will inform my opinion of a person” include every form of exploitation: violence, sexual abuse, drug dealing and other predatory crimes, especially against children.

No, I am not a smoker. It is knowledge, information, and life experience, not bias, that led me to choose to avoid a product that has no safe use.

Besides, I live in Los Angeles. With the air quality here, smoking would be redundant.

Smokers in my life? Almost no one in my extended family, and just a few of my friends, smoke. Some have quit. Some have died.

Some smokers are people I admire, like John Lennon… and Barack Obama.

Adults get to make their own decisions, but I am glad that most of the people I care about most don’t embrace a habit as potentially deadly as this extra weight I’m dragging around.

Yes, I am a Democrat. There’s no prejudice or bias there, either: that was a careful and considered choice, based on what I believe will help create and support the best lives for both majority and minority populations.

I loved my father, even though he was a Republican, as most African-Americans once were.

I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, Independents and a variety of third party candidates, based on my opinion of who would do the best job for the people they represent. I take voting seriously, because women fought far too hard for me to be cavalier about elections, and people who look like me died for the right of franchise.

I am all-too aware that the leaders of my party sometimes resemble the Keystone Kops --- that is, when they are not channeling Beavis and Butt-Head, sitting across the aisle from the loyal opposition, lead by Snidely Whiplash.

There is far too much heat in politics today, to the point where there is little room for light.

Polarization has gradually eroded the ability to hold intelligent discourse on the most pressing needs of America and the world --- but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

I have friends across all of life’s spectrums, and the same is true of the people with whom I work. For all the people I don’t know who fall under whatever label, I am not inclined to judge them unless they give me reason to do so. I’m funny that way: my default setting for people is “decent and deserving.”

Imagine the fun when I wrote and co-produced a military documentary. It was 1992, and I divided my time between supporting the Clinton/Gore campaign and working on the documentary with Chris, a 20-something Reform party activist for Perot, and Wes, a 50-ish retired Navy man who smoked like a chimney, voted Republican and listened to Limbaugh.

We had some lively conversations, to say the least.

I love them both dearly.

I’m laughing about this a bit, but no serious comparisons can be made about discrimination against smokers and Republicans, in context of the issues raised in a blog about extending equal rights to all.

What a shame if a sense of humor also falls victim to these polarized times.

Let's not work so hard to find offense.

Laughter is not the same as trivializing important issues.

It might hurt a smoker’s feelings, or tick them off, if someone complains about tobacco's odor or if laws limit where a person can light up because of evidence of the dangers of second-hand smoke, but no smokers are being tortured and left to die, strapped to a fence in a field in Wyoming.

Republicans pass in and out of power, and in my life there has been a Republican president nearly twice as many years as there has been a Democrat in office. People who are Republicans have representation in every branch of government. Even when not in power, neither party rises to the status of oppressed minority.

Republicans, Democrats and independents alike can marry, buy property, decide medical and legal issues together, adopt children, work at a job without fear of being terminated solely because of their political affiliation and express their love of country by serving in the military. Perhaps an exception can be found somewhere, but in 21st century America, political party is not cited as the reason for tying a person to the back of a truck and dragging him three miles down the road until he is dead.

There’s a reason the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named after Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., not after Joe Camel.

My blog had a serious intent, but like many before me (including Aiken and Baxter in their remarks to HRC, and writers far better than I am, from Jonathan Swift to Jon Stewart), I occasionally leaven seriousness with humor. I wonder: in the interest of clarity, next time I write about a serious issue, should I consider avoiding all jokes?


Perhaps in my next blog, I’ll write about the thoroughly inexplicable things people believe in, and I want everyone to feel welcome…

Even if you’re a vegan or a Democrat.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Clay Aiken and Meredith Baxter: At HRC Gala, The Boy and Girl Next Door Are Gay

Singer Clay Aiken, Actor Meredith Baxter Promote Equality at the Human Rights Campaign's Carolinas Gala in Raleigh, NC

- Clay Aiken addresses HRC Gala. Photo courtesy A. Cotton

Seven years ago, a lamppost thin young man with hair looking like it had been styled by an eggbeater stepped into the public eye. He was Clay Aiken of Raleigh NC, a student teacher working on a degree in special education.

He was a singer with a powerful and pure voice.

Clay was the good man in a world of bay boys: honest, humble, sincere, intelligent, devoted to family and to God. Some might have thought he resembled the guy from your church or school choir who you just knew would make it big some day.

From the start, he was an advocate for inclusion, a champion of children with disabilities who had been shut out of activities enjoyed by their typically developing peers.

There was just a hint of humor in his early comments, but it would become obvious a while later that he was wickedly funny. He was also thoughtful, engaging and more complex than he seemed.

Above all else, though, it was clear that Clay was a profoundly talented vocalist with enviable stage presence.

Yes, Clay Aiken was the boy next door, and more.

-Meredith Baxter speaks at HRC Gala. Screencap from Pam Spaulding's video

I remember Meredith Baxter being on television for as long as I can remember. She was the epitome of the girl next door: when I was a girl, she was the young wife on "Bridget Loves Bernie" (starring with David Birney, who would later become her real-life husband), then the flaxen haired beauty of "Family", and later the liberal and loving mom on "Family Ties". Never relying simply on her beauty in an industry that can be looks-obsesssed, her performances were often thoughtful and complex and compelling.

Both Clay and Meredith, as entertainers, were accepted and embraced into the lives of many in the United States and beyond. Now both have another role: to educate, enlighten and advocate for change.

Neither Clay nor Meredith has a reputation for being edgy or avant garde; in fact, I'd hazard a guess that both are considered by many to be well within the mainstream. Familiar. Relatable.

The boy and girl next door.

But in the case of Aiken and Baxter, the boy and girl next door are gay.

Aiken's disclosure of his sexuality a year and a half ago, at the age of 29 (he'd begun coming out to family and friends about four years earlier) and Baxter's, three months ago at age 62, elicited a range of reactions, from acceptance to scorn.

Growing up in a progressive environment and growing into a liberal social activist, my personal reaction to Clay coming out essentially boiled down to "Oh, really, didn't know that" before wondering if I could make it to New York to see him during his second run in "Monty Python's Spamalot."

You see, I don't care that Clay or Meredith or TR or Neil or Wanda or Ellen or fill-in-the-blank is gay.

I don't care who is Native American or Jewish or who has a disability...

Hell, I'd say I care more if you are a smoker or a Republican!

A lot of things will inform my opinion of a person, but sexuality isn't one of them.

It's been a long time since I was idealistic, but I still embrace the idea that diversity is good and that minorities have as much to offer society as members of majority populations do.

So I don't care. In fact, I embrace you. Sit down here with me and tell me about your life.

It shouldn't matter who is gay and who is straight, other than being a point of information in the picture of the whole person.

And yet I know that almost all of us who are members of a minority far too often have to fight for respect and equal opportunity, and sometimes have to fight for our livelihood and our very lives.

That's tragic, and that's wrong.

I think it's wrong that Clay Aiken or Meredith Baxter or anyone who is LGBT has anything to fear by coming out, but far too often I've seen people who are sexual minorities face mockery, discrimination, hatred and violence.

And though I deeply believe that the timeline for a person to come out belongs solely to them, I am always pleased when a person in the public eye does so.

To come out in the media is to give notice that this familiar face, this person you liked, this voice you admired, this actor you enjoyed, this regular Joe or Jane, this boy next door may differ from who he was thought to be in one aspect, but what was likable, admirable, enjoyable about him remains.

I have seen that one act of coming out change hearts and minds, and sometimes even open a person to the "radical idea" that a LGBT person who is not as mainstream as Aiken and Baxter might be deserving of equal rights as well: even if you don't like them, even if you don't "approve," because in a country founded on the idea of certain "unalienable rights," equal rights for all should not be subject to a vote.

When I say I couldn't care less about a person's sexuality, it is not to imply that I don't appreciate the courage it takes to come out.

It is merely to say that I find it almost incomprehensible that there could be even the smallest degree of negative impact on one's opinion of a person one admires simply because that person is gay.

I know that some people completely reversed their positive impressions of Aiken and Baxter and others when they came out. I think that is ludicrous.

As an African-American girl growing up, the concept of racism was so monumentally preposterous to me that I could barely believe a person uttering a racist statement wasn't kidding.

I know, all too well, that racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance are real.

Last Saturday night, the Human Rights Campaign held its "We Are All Made of Stars" fundraising gala in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was not the first time I was reminded that the boy and girl next door were now an exemplary man and woman.

Meredith Baxter is known and respected for her insights into living a sober life and her advocacy for curing breast cancer. In her first speech about LGBT issues, she began her address by joking "My big public moment was a big news item for about five minutes... I owe a major debt of gratitude to Tiger Woods."

Talking about coming out, she continued "It's a very strange thing to do this official coming out to the world. To tell you the truth, I've never heard of a straight person do that. They just make you guess. They drop hints, some innuendo, the way they walk."

Baxter turned serious when talking about the harassment of a New York boy: "Students said that he ought to die, and one of his teachers told him that he ought to be ashamed. You have to ask, 'What kind of society creates these harassing students and these unsympathetic teachers?' Our society. And when you look at some of the laws of our society, it's not hard to see why."

One of those is laws Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Baxter said, "When our government discriminates against gay soldiers, then our citizens, our everyday folks, are given a federal validation to harass their gay neighbors."

Clay Aiken delivered a message that began with humor, but he delivered it with passion and purpose. Referencing his personal journey, he told the audience at the HRC Gala that "the decision to talk openly about your sexuality is a really difficult and confusing one. And I know that, sometimes I think more than anybody. But I also know that the power of truth and living honestly is very liberating. So what the hell took me so long?"

He then launched into a ringing refrain, that "It's about damn time" that every American be afforded the same rights, in fact as well as in law.

As happens so often with Aiken, hundreds of media outlets picked up the story of his HRC speech in his home town. Oddly, some members of the mainstream media as well as a number of bloggers seem to think that this is the first time Clay Aiken has raised his voice in support of gay issues since coming out in September 2008. Aiken's speech at the HRC Dinner was at least his third appearance promoting equal rights for the LGBT community over the past year.

In February of 2009, he was the presenter for Tyra Banks' Excellence in Media Award at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. Writing and delivering the speech to introduce his good friend, Clay mentioned that Tyra was being honored for "(giving) air time to some of the issues that our community cares about most, like marriage equality, gay and lesbian people of faith, and transgender people. She includes, embraces and celebrates... because she knows it's right."

In April 2009, the Family Equality Council, honoring Clay as a positive public face for gay parenthood, presented him with the Equality Circle Award at their dinner at Tavern on the Green in New York City. Clay deflected recognition of himself, concentrating on the trailblazers who had come before him and the work that still needs to be done.

"I've only been doing this for eight and a half months, and so the hard work, and the most important work, has been done by many of the people in this room... I'm just humbled to be a part of this group and to be a gay dad," Aiken said.

Then, addressing the importance of allies, he continued, "I think it's just as important nowadays when we have individuals who are straight and are being activists for gays and lesbians and transgender and bisexual people... It really is going to take a lot of effort on your part as well."

(Parenthetically, Clay has also been an active fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS going back to his appearance in Heather Headley's "Home" in May 2004, continuing through his performance of "The Prayer" with "Spamalot" co-star Hannah Waddingham at the 2008 Easter Bonnet Competition, and with two years as the top fundraising entry for Broadway Bears.)

He's still at the beginning of his LGBT advocacy, but he's off to a good start.

Some are also expressing surprise that Clay wrote his own speech, which includes the powerful catchphrase "It's about damn time." I am not surprised at all.

I had the honor of writing the master and mistress of ceremonies' scripts for four galas for the National Inclusion Project (formerly Bubel/Aiken Foundation) and I can testify to the fact that Clay wrote all of his own speeches for those occasions. I only wish I could have written for him but, as HRC's speechwriters found out when Aiken declined their assistance, you can't put words in the mouth of the kind of person Clay Aiken is. He is an eloquent and gifted writer, a thoughtful, inspirational and funny speaker and I think it is obvious that, for the things to which he is deeply committed (inclusion for children with disabilities through the Project, support for children in crisis through UNICEF and now support of equal rights for the LGBT community), Clay speaks perfectly well for himself.

Clay Aiken is finally being recognized for his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his humor and his dedicated activism for the causes he believes in.

It's about damn time. ;)

I applaud Clay Aiken and Meredith Baxter for their powerful advocacy of equal rights for all. I am humbled and honored to count myself as a straight ally of the LGBT community. Your message resonated with me, and I hope with many more who aren't LGBT.

As an African American and as a woman, I am still in the struggle for equal rights. I recognize myself in you.

Your cause is just and your lives are of value.

You are not alone.

Your struggle is mine.

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?
--- Rabbi Hillel

The time for equal rights for all is now, and it's about damn time.

Transcript of Clay Aiken's Speech

Some of you were thinking when you saw my name on the billing tonight…It’s about damn time.

Whether you make the decision to… whether you come out to your family or to your friends, or make the decision to come out in a supportive group like we heard about in Providence Day School in Charlotte, or to do so on the cover of a magazine --- the decision to talk openly about your sexuality is a really difficult and confusing one. And I know that, sometimes I think more than anybody. But I also know that the power of truth and living honestly is very liberating. So what the hell took me so long?

I was waiting, like so many folks are waiting, for change --- for attitudes to change, for laws to change --- and I realized that the time for waiting has passed. We've seen throughout our nation's history that all the major civil rights movements, and major milestones in civil rights movements in our country, have come after a lot of waiting and a lot of hard, long-fought battles. Thankfully, while many of us have been waiting, the Human Rights Campaign has been fighting to ensure that LGBT Americans have the same rights that straight Americans take for granted.

As HRC's name implies, our battle is about something much larger than the LGBT community. It's about that most American of notions: that all men and women are created equal. That is, that's with the exception of my son, who is brilliant... but for tonight we will assume that all men and women are created equal.

The belief which this nation was founded on is the cornerstone of our movement and, as I said, it's been the cornerstone of every major civil rights movement in our nation's history.

In 1920, when the 19th amendment was passed, ensuring every American woman the right to vote, it was about damn time.

In 1954 --- even though some idiots on the Wake County School Board would disagree --- when Brown vs. Board of Education desegregated our schools, it was about damn time.

In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, banning discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, it was about damn time.

And last year, when the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed, it was most certainly about damn time.

Now, thanks in no small part to supportive individuals like you, LGBT Americans can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly but surely --- and forgive me for using a sports metaphor at a gay event --- we're moving the ball down the field. We're seeing an overwhelming shift in the attitudes of younger generations. LGBT youth are feeling empowered to come out in higher numbers than ever before and they’re finding acceptance with their friends and their families like never before.

The LGBT community has seen and attained unprecedented visibility and legitimacy in mainstream America. We have a great deal more work to do to ensure that LGBT individuals and families have the same rights, benefits, same freedoms that all straight Americans have. And I know that my son's world will be a better one, because no one, no matter how hard they try, can stop our progress.

And like those civil rights movements that came before, our message is the message of fairness, of righteousness, of decency. Our message is the message of the future.

Our time is now, and it is about damn time.

Meredith Baxter's Speech:

For more information on the HRC Carolinas gala, equal rights for LGBT citizens and other issues, visit the Human Rights Campaign website.

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)

Family Equality Council

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

My sincere thanks to Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend for her first-rate coverage of the HRC Dinner, which includes video of Clay Aiken and Meredith Baxter's speeches. I am adding Pam's House Blend to my list of Hot Box Office: Essential Sites linked on the right side of this blog: anyone interested in human rights issues, written with humor, grace and intelligence, should bookmark Pam's site and visit it regularly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mother and Child Reunion: Help UNICEF Win Kiwanis Support to Save Lives

Support UNICEF in eliminating Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus!

Posted using ShareThis


A personal appeal from Living in Turnaround:

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away...

I have seen it in Haiti.

I have been a witness, in Indonesia, in Mexico, in Congo.

I have seen a mother cradling a gravely ill child, babies being born amid chaos and destruction, and children all alone, wandering desolate streets in search of anything resembling the familiar.

I have seen tears and sorrow, pain and anguish.

Oh, little darling of mine,
I can't for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be
But it just don't work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again...

And through it all, I have seen hope.

Hope arrives wearing a powder blue t-shirt, armband or beret.

--- UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Cecilie Modvar speaks with children who are living in a makeshift camp in CanapĂ© Vert Plaza in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. © UNICEF, Photo by Roger LeMoyne

For over sixty years, hope has been spelled "UNICEF."

I have seen the human toll of natural catastrophes and scenes of conflict through the eyes of UNICEF staff, field workers, volunteers and Goodwill Ambassadors like Clay Aiken, Lucy Liu and Danny Glover.

I have seen something more, something better. I have seen UNICEF save lives.

Every four minutes, a baby dies from tetanus, a disease that is highly preventable. With your vote, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF could receive a $110 million investment by partnering with Kiwanis International to eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus.

Working in over 150 countries across the world, UNICEF has proven results in bringing "effective, low cost solutions" to crises that have an impact on children's health and survival. UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization, delivering essentially needed supplies, clean water, food, medicine and medical care, shelter and more despite "war or conflict, disaster or disease, geography or logistical complexity."

Source: U.S. Fund for UNICEF

UNICEF is ready to go to work to end deaths from tetanus. Here's how:

The investment of $110 million from Kiwanis International will support the elimination of Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus over the next 5 years, protecting 129 million women and their future babies from the deadly disease. Together, we will achieve zero.
--- from UNICEF Fieldnotes.

So don't sit there idle: get into motion and vote for UNICEF's Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus program at Kiwanis International. With your help, there is real hope to end this deadly disease.

Vote HERE now!

But I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
When the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away...

--- "Mother and Child Reunion" by Paul Simon

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

UNICEF: Haiti Earthquake Emergency Alert

I'm reposting this information from UNICEF on the Haiti eartquake and UNICEF's mission to provide immediate relief to the victims. Please follow the link to read the full story, then act immediately to help save lives.

Donations are urgently needed for earthquake victims following a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and many more injured, homeless and still trapped in the rubble. UNICEF has more than sixty years of proven results in acting quickly and effectively to help victims of natural disasters, without regard to race, religion or country of origin, and completely free of political interests.

Please go here to make a secure donation at the UNICEF site: Earthquake in Haiti: Donate Now




UNICEF gears up relief efforts for earthquake-stricken Haiti

PANAMA CITY, Panama, 13 January 2010 – Despite heavy damages to its own offices in Port-au-Prince, UNICEF is ready to provide immediate support to the victims of the unfolding humanitarian crisis following the earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday.

"While relief efforts have begun, communications are extremely difficult and accurate information is still scarce," UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in a statement this morning. "It is clear that the consequences are severe and many children are among the victims," she added. "Our hearts go out to the families whose lives have been so terribly impacted by this tragedy."

Veneman noted that UNICEF will deploy essential aid – including safe water, sanitation supplies, therapeutic foods, medical supplies and temporary shelter materials – as quickly as possible to assist with recovery efforts. "We will also be focusing on children who have become separated from their families to protect them from harm or exploitation," she said.

While confirming that all UNICEF staff in Port-au-Prince have been accounted for, despite severe damage to their premises and communication facilities, Veneman indicated that others in Haiti have been less fortunate. She said UNICEF was "greatly concerned for our colleagues from the United Nations mission, MINUSTAH, many of whom are still missing."

Constant struggle

The situation of children and women in Haiti was already marked by great vulnerability before the earthquake hit the island. Haiti is one of the poorest countries on earth. It ranks 148th out of 179 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index; is struggling to recover from years of violence, insecurity and instability; and has a long history of being struck by one natural disaster after another.

Read more at UNICEF, then make a secure donation at the UNICEF site: Earthquake in Haiti: Donate Now

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Revival House: "The Great Debaters"

Imagine this: a movie as exciting as any action picture, as harrowing as a top-notch thriller and sometimes as amusing as a classic comedy --- and it is about the power of the mind and the spoken word. "The Great Debaters" (2007), directed by Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington, is the overlooked gem featured in this edition of "Revival House."

Words can be thrilling and a mind, fully engaged, is one of the most riveting things of all.

Denzel Washington stars as Professor Melvin B. Tolson, a brilliant and charismatic debate teacher at Wiley College, a small college for black students in Marshall, Texas. In a time of crushing racial discrimination, lack of opportunity, and violent racial attacks, a group of young African American students prove themselves equal to --- and even better than --- the most honored debaters in the country.

Nate Parker portrays Henry Lowe, Jurnee Smollett is Samantha Booke, and Denzel Whitaker appears as James Farmer Jr. The film also stars Forest Whitaker as Dr. James Farmer Sr. Every performance is nuanced and authentic, and the film as a whole was nominated for and won a number of awards, including the Golden Globes, the Image Awards, the Christopher Awards and others.

Anyone who appreciates listening to Barack Obama's eloquent thoughts (or the speeches of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., a contemporary of James Farmer Jr.) will appreciate the film's word portraits and the supple intellect of these young people. I think I appreciate the film even more, in a current era where some people, even in the highest positions, prefer to play dumb, and even some of my fellow and sister African Americans think that to speak well is to imitate being white. Oh, hell, no --- the English language belongs to all, and only a person who strives to master his or her mind can make the most of life.

I love a brilliant mind.

This movie is not a dry recitation of events from the distant past. There are scenes in this movie where I as a viewer felt tension and fear, was moved to anger or celebrated vicarious victories, and times where I cheered or laughed out loud. Not to be overlooked: the insightful humor; the many moments where a character struggles to move forward and, after stumbling and crashing, learns to soar; the successes achieved despite appalling racism.

The film is "inspired by a true story." (Tolson and the Farmers were real, the other debaters composites.) The location of the climactic debate was also changed, but the accomplishments portrayed were no less real because of these few dramatic liberties.

"The Great Debaters" is a thoroughly entertaining film. Don't miss it.

For photos and film clips, visit the official site at

"The Great Debaters" is available at

"Revival House" is a recurring feature, spotlighting some of the first-rate, innovative and other noteworthy projects that were overlooked upon initial release.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day 2010: (Just Like) Starting Over

Here we are, on the first day of a new year and a new decade.

It's completely arbitrary, of course, that we mark this day with resolutions, promises for the future and plans to start anew. Yesterday or tomorrow, last month or five months from now --- what difference, really, would it make if we made our pledges now or then?

I guess it's good to have a goal, a time set aside, a catalyst for change.

So Happy New Year. I'm going to spend a little time creating a better me, being the change I want to see in this world and working to extend some of life's blessings to those who see too little joy, love and acceptance.

Hey, it's better than another useless pledge to lose weight.

Here's a song about renewing love, from one of my favorite musicians. John Lennon was one of my favorite people, too. Snarky bastard, rebel genius.

Let's make the most of our time.

I'm starting over.

Maybe I'll get it right this time.

John Lennon - (Just Like) Starting Over

Our life together is so precious together
We have grown, we have grown
Although our love is still special
Let's take a chance and fly away somewhere alone

It's been too long since we took the time
No one's to blame, I know time flies so quickly
But when I see you, darling
It's like we both are falling in love again
It'll be just like starting over, starting over

Everyday we used to make it, love
Why can't we be making love nice and easy?
It's time to spread our wings and fly
Don't let another day go by, my love
It'll be just like starting over, starting over

Why don't we take off alone?
Take a trip somewhere far, far away
We'll be together all alone again
Like we used to in the early days
Well, well, well, darling

It's been too long since we took the time
No one's to blame, I know time flies so quickly
But when I see you, darling
It's like we both are falling in love again
It'll be just like starting over, starting over

Our life together is so precious together
We have grown, we have grown
Although our love is still special
Let's take a chance and fly away somewhere

Starting over.