Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Pride & Purpose Film Festival in Plainfield - Saturday, June 30! THIS COMMUNITY EVENT IS FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC


To commemorate LGBTQ Pride Month, Plainfield Pride 2018 will be presenting the "Pride and Purpose Film Fest: Art. Social Justice. Change" on Saturday, June 30, with workshops, a special screening of Patrik-Ian Polk's coming of age film, "Blackbird," starring Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington, workshops, a panel discussion with filmmakers on working in media and making social justice films, and screenings of new indie films "Not Yours," by Khairah L. Walker and "M.O.T.H. (Matters of the Heart)," by Nancy Vazquez. The festival will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, located at 724 Park Avenue in Plainfield. All the LGBTQ Pride events on this day are FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Sponsors include the City of Plainfield's Office of Community Development and M. Power Arts, Inc., with support from the Plainfield City Council and the Office of the Mayor. 

The day begins at 12:30 pm with an Opening Reception and showing of "Blackbird," a film by Patrik-Ian Polk, followed by Workshop Sessions at 2:30 pm. Refreshments will be served at 4:30 pm, followed by the panel discussion, "Art - Social Justice - Change" at 5:00 pm

At 6:30 pm, attendees will be treated to a screening of "Not Yours," by Khairah L. Walker and Nancy Vazquez's "M.O.T.H. (Matters if the Heart)." A talk back with the filmmakers and a closing reception follow the films. Those of you who attended last year's packed-house Plainfield Pride event know that you should arrive in time to get a good seat!  

12:30 - Opening Reception and Film Screening of "Blackbird," by Patrik-Ian Polk
2:30 pm - Workshop Sessions
4:30 pm - Refreshments
5:00 pmArt. Social Justice. Change - Panel Discussion
6:30 pm - Film Screenings: "Not Yours" by Khairah L. Walker & "MOTH" by Nancy Vazquez

Filmmaker "talk-back" and Closing Reception to follow!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Pride, 2018!

Brothers and sisters/
Being oneself is easy/
When God’s got your back. 

Happy Pride, family!

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Union County Kids Dig In!" Community Garden Grant Initiative

At Emerson Community School in Plainfield.
Union County Kids Dig In! is a grant awarded by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders to several schools across the county, given to create community gardens on school sites to teach children how to grow garden vegetables and herbs. On Friday, I stopped by Emerson Community School and Jefferson School, both in Plainfield, to see our kids in action. At both sites, the kids really "dug in" to this wonderful project. A special thank you also goes to Jackie Park Albaum, the Farm and Garden Director at Groundwork Elizabeth, who provided fun gardening lessons! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

In Memoriam

"It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination." 
                                                                    --Marlon Riggs

Two years ago, 49 of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters were gunned down (and dozens of others injured) in a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida , victims of hatred and homo/transphobia. We held a vigil on the steps of city hall to offer prayers and support in the face of horrific violence. Let's just take a moment to remember.

Life's evanescence/
Demands that we love wholly/
And with constancy.

Circled are the faces of two of the youngest victims of the Pulse mass murder--Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22, originally from New Jersey, and 18 year-old Akyra Murray. As I stated two years ago, at the vigil, I cannot right now articulate why they stand out so clearly for me...perhaps because they remind me of my students...may they rest...but still haunt our collective conscience as we fight to end gun violence [and homophobia and transphobia]. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tennis, Everyone...the Legendary Donald Van Blake (1921-2018)

Plainfield's last WW II "Buffalo Soldier," 2017.
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Donald Van Blake, a living legend and one of Plainfield's greatest treasures. Donald (he insisted that I call him by his first name) was a multi-talented man--an educator, beloved coach, wonderful singer, and community advocate. Below is an update of a remembrance that I wrote on the occasion of Donald's 90th birthday party, a fun and swanky celebration at the Antique Castle.

 Back in 2011, I wrote and introduced a resolution honoring Donald Van Blake on the occasion of his 90th birthday and for his contributions to the world of tennis; the resolution a but also for his contributions to civic life in Plainfield. Many Plainfielders who went through the school system knew Donald as their former shop teacher at Hubbard Middle School, but many also know him as one of Plainfield's living legends. 

At his 90th birthday party with lovely Barbara Wallace.

I had met Donald very briefly during the formation of the New Democrats for Plainfield grassroots political club back in 2002, when I worked as a volunteer on the successful city council campaign of his great-nephew, Rayland Van Blake, but I got to know him better when I curated an oral history/photo exhibit called "At the March: Plainfield Remembers," while serving as the Educational Program Coordinator for the Historical Society of Plainfield in 2003. As I interviewed him, I learned a great deal about what Plainfield was like for young African Americans growing up in the 1920s and 30s, and about those who consistently advocated for change. 

Donald with Barbara Wallace & Patty Bender, Fall 2017
As Donald reflected on his growing up in Plainfield, he spoke very frankly and very emotionally about the pain he experienced due to racial segregation. I remember one part of the interview where he explained how it was back then...he became very quiet as he reflected on how he was not allowed to use the pool at the YMCA. I stopped the interview for a moment so that he could collect himself--even seven or more decades later, the hurt and rage he felt still brought tears to his eyes. He went on to state that the "old" Plainfield was what got him involved in community activism, and he worked with the local NAACP (along with other notable Plainfielders at the time) to bring buses down to the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Donald remained involved during the intervening years, working on school desegregation and other civil rights issues.

Earlier in the year of the interview (2003), as a member of New Democrats for Plainfield, Donald was elected as a Democratic Committeeman, serving for 15 years. A few years after that initial interview, Donald contacted me with an idea he had for a civic, sports, and educational complex to be built here in Plainfield. We discussed this idea at great length, and he remained committed to seeing it become a reality. When I decided to run for city council later on, I was honored to have Donald serve as one of my Campaign Chairs.

Teaching tennis. Photo:DVBTEF.
But...most folks knew Donald as the greatest advocate for tennis many of us had ever met..."Tennis, tennis, tennis...tennis, everyone!" was his mantra. Donald founded (with the help of the USTA) the Plainfield Tennis Council, which organized community tennis programs through the city of Plainfield. 

Donald's exuberance and energy remained unflagging, and folks may remember him at last year's Memorial Day observance wearing his Buffalo Soldier uniform from World War II--it still fit beautifully. I feel like my life in Plainfield has been made infinitely richer through knowing Donald. 

My deepest condolences go out to Barbara Wallace, to Donald's children and family, and to Clare, Rayland, Gentry, and all the other family members. 

All best,