Friday, May 21, 2010

Relay for Life: I Am Walking with a Purpose

Tomorrow, Plainfield will be participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life annual event at Hub Stine Field (Woodland Avenue and Randolph Road). I will be relaying as part of the New Democrats for Plainfield Club Team, along with many other residents. I will be walking on behalf of three individuals who lost their lives to cancer. 

My dad, Richard Williams, lost his life to renal cancer back in 1985 at the age of 54. He suffered tremendously, albeit briefly. To honor his battle, as well as the struggle of my family and his other loved ones to carry on is spite of such a great loss, I will be walking for him. Although my dad died 25 years ago, and treatments for the type of cancer he had have improved since then, renal cancer is still devastating and deadly. I miss him every single day of my life. 

My dad was a jazz musician, a trumpet player, who played in a number of bands--he was a member of Mingus's innovative band in the early 1960s, as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and those of Clark Terry, Lionel Hampton, Yusef Lateef, and others. He made over 500 recordings--but only one under his own name, titled New Horn in Town, considered a classic by jazz buffs. 

I treasure the fact that his legacy lives on today. I have captured video of his playing days in vintage clips on YouTube, and many recordings he played on are available for download. In addition, just the other day, as I was out canvassing for my political campaign, I met a jazz musician in the Second Ward who had played with Lionel Hampton for ten years--he knew my dad! I have provided a link to the Wikipedia entry on my dad: Richard Williams, Jazz Trumpeter

I will also be walking for Al McWilliams and Jo-Ann Sloane, two dear friends who were very well known to Plainfield, and who were loved and are missed by us all. I will be walking and remembering Al the friend, husband, father, and Jo-Ann--friend, sister, aunt,  daughter.

In addition to the walk, I have partnered with GreenFaith, a non-profit interfaith organization whose mission is to inspire, educate, and mobilize people of diverse backgrounds for environmental leadership.  GreenFaith has a strong environmental justice focus as well, believing that "all people deserve a healthy environment, regardless of their race or income." Partnering with other groups and organizations that focus on sustainability is part of what GreenFaith does. 

President Obama has asked us all to do what we can to lower our carbon footprint, and toward that end, we will be giving away FREE energy-efficient light bulbs under our tent on behalf of GreenFaith. These 60-watt light bulbs last for nine years and use four times less energy than standard light bulbs, so I hope you will stop by our tent to pick up your free light bulbs. These bulbs are one way to help the city--Plainfield can show its commitment to sustainability! We will have light bulbs for everyone who stops by, and those in attendance will also be invited to sign up for a free energy audit of their homes. Here is a link to GreenFaith's web site so that you can learn more about them. GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment

I hope to see you all at the Relay--we all know that "cancer never sleeps," but all work hard to put it to rest permanently!

All best,


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plainfield Public Library Clean Up

Yesterday, a bunch of us got together and picked up, raked, and swept the exterior grounds of the Plainfield Public Library--we collected about 15 large bags of trash and debris from the hedges and parking lots--food waste, paper garbage, bottles, cigarette stubs, fast-food containers--you name it, we found it! The library belongs to all of us, my dear Plainfield family, so we must treat it with the respect, care, and concern that it deserves. Library Director Joe DaRold sent this message of thanks to us yesterday afternoon: 

Dear Rebecca, 
Please thank your hard-working crew (including yourself) for the fabulous job they did on the library clean up. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the support from all of you.



Many thanks to Will, Cricket, Dr. Lewis, Adrian, Jim, Gabby, Carmen, Paul, Genevieve, Lamar, Carrie, Gigi, Amelia, Alan, and all the other volunteers who came out last weekend and this weekend to help with the cleanup of the Plainfield Public Library, our city's MOST TREASURED resource! On Sunday, May 15, our collective efforts over the course of 3 hours resulted in a cleaner, more attractive welcome to the library. Here are just a couple of photos--I will post more in the coming days!

3rd Ward Councilman Adrian Mapp works with two of Plainfield's youngest volunteers to clean the Plainfield Public Library's exterior grounds.

Rebecca, Adrian, Cricket Cardozo, and Genevieve work on the front grounds of the Library.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to Dear Jo Jo

Today, May 7th, marks the birthday of our dear friend, Jo-Ann Sloane, known affectionately as "our JoJo," who passed away a little over two years ago, on February 3, 2008. For the past three years, whenever this day arrives, I take an extra moment to reflect on JoJo. I think she is smiling down right now at the fact that I am now in the midst of the Democratic primary fray myself--I am sure she would have a lot to say, with her amazingly sharp wit.

This past March,  the lobby of the Plainfield Area YMCA was renamed in JoJo's honor, and a dedication ceremony was held at which her commitment to the Y(where she helped coordinate homeless services) was honored. In addition, Jo-Ann worked as a patient advocate at Lyons VA Hospital, where she was much-beloved, and she contributed tirelessly to grassroots activities and events in Plainfield.

JoJo was also a founding member of the New Democrats for Plainfield, where she worked to help build our grassroots movement, becoming a "sister" in the extended political family of New Dems throughout our city. She also served as Al McWilliams's longtime treasurer, and helped coordinate all our political events, as well as other community events. 

Another side of JoJo was her artistic, creative side. Back in May of 2005, JoJo, Carol Anderson-Lewis, Will Jones, poet Hubert Reeder, and I, along with some other volunteers, got together to produce the hugely successful Plainfield Poetry Festival (Young Voices in Verse), co-sponsored by Plainfield United and the Plainfield Area YMCA. Al McWilliams delivered a proclamation commemorating the event, and nationally-renowned poet Eugene Redmond (Poet Laureate of East St. Louis) came and read some of his work. Afterward, Professor Redmond had all the young poets sign a huge (about 3 feet long!) birthday card that he would be presenting to his dear friend, Dr. Maya Angelou, whose birthday it was.

After the prizes were awarded in the various age categories for the students, JoJo presented flowers to our own guest poet, Taraka Gilbert, whom we named as "poet laureate" of Plainfield for that year. JoJo, who also wrote poetry (and recited spontaneous verse on occasion), was  incredibly pleased at the turnout for the event, where young poets from the Plainfield Public Schools read their work while their parents looked on proudly. That was a shining moment in Plainfield.

When Dan Damon wrote a blog post back in March about the dedication of the Y Lobby to Jo-Ann, I posted a comment, which I would like to re-post here. It captures well, I think, the compassion that Jo-Ann extended to all her friends, family, co-workers, and political family. 

I also attended the YMCA dedication to our dear Jo-Ann. As the guitarist sang "You've Got a Friend," I remembered back to November 2004 when, the day after the re-election of George W. Bush, Jo-Ann took me out to dinner. I was emotionally drained by the joy of seeing Ray Blanco (whose political campaign I managed) elected as the city's first Latino and first openly gay councilman, as well as the despair about the re-election of George W. Bush. I was quite teary and emotional about the escalation of the war in Iraq, and was just inconsolable, or so I thought. 

Jo-Ann, whose life work was dedicated to veterans, talked to me soothingly for a couple of hours over dinner, giving me an insightful perspective on the awful suffering of the soldiers and veterans, and the challenges that they faced upon their return home. Her compassion and deep sense of caring was evident, and it made me understand why she was so loved and esteemed by her VA compatriots. 

Of course, later on in our own friendship, the old Jo-Ann kicked in, and she called me a crybaby forever after when we recalled it. I didn't mind it, coming from her, because the affection and warmth that accompanied her teasing still came through. It was wonderful seeing her dear friends like Cookie, Carol, Roni, and others at the service. 

I miss her every day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Going Back, Back, Back to My Roots!

African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Today, I want to get back to "my roots," so to speak, in terms of blogging on humanities-related topics. In addition to my primary campaign activities, many of you know that I am also teaching a summer literature course titled "Major African American Writers." For the summer session, we will be examining the black intellectual tradition of radicalism, rebellion, and protest through the writings and speeches of authors such as David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Frances E.W. Harper, Lucy Parsons, W.E.B. Dubois, Richard Wright, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Marlon Riggs, Angela Davis, and others. 

In addition, we will be reading a total of four novels--two from the 19th century antebellum era, and two from the 20th century: Frederick Douglass's 1855 work, The Heroic Slave (the only novel Douglass ever published), Harriet E. Wilson's 1859 novel, Our Nig, 1929's Passing, by Harlem Renaissance era author Nella Larsen, and Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970 during the height of the Black Arts Movement.
The two antebellum works are available as e-texts--here are links to each:

At the end of this month, when we read Nella Larsen's Passing, which deals with racial passing and cultural identity, among other things, we will be watching selected scenes from relevant films as part of our discussion.

What follows are two scenes from the film adaptations of novelist Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life (clip misspells "imitation"). The first version, made in 1934, stars African American performers Louise Beavers (Delilah) and Fredi Washington (Peola) as the mother and daughter, respectively. The second adaptation, filmed in 1959, features Juanita Moore (playing the Delilah character, here named Annie) as the long-suffering mother, and Susan Kohner (renamed Sarah Jane) as her daughter. Interestingly, Susan Kohner is a white actress passing as a black woman passing as a white woman in this version.

Imitation of Life, 1934. Delilah (Louise Beavers) and Peola (Fredi Washington).

Imitation of Life, 1959. Annie (Juanita Moore) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner).

All best,


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I Love Plainfield: My Community

May Day, 2010 - Hanging out at Opening Day of the
Queen City Baseball League!

Rebecca with Amelia Mapp and Queen City Baseball League supporters
Genevieve, & Gabrielle

Rebecca with Nancy Jordan at Queen City Baseball League Opening Day
"A League for All"

Not quite 92 in the shade, but close!