Saturday, November 27, 2010

CIW’s Modern-day Slavery Museum visits Montgomery

"I THINK there's a typo here." The woman is pointing to the date in the caption: 1996. On display, there's a dirty, bloody shirt that visibly holds a poignant significance. The shirt belongs to a 17-year-old Guatemalan farmworker; he was beaten because he asked for water. Twice. The crew leader thought he deserved a lesson.

No, there's no typo. The incident occurred in Immokalee, and contrary to what the woman thinks, Immokalee is in the United States.

Fourteen years have passed since the incident, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been able to significantly change the culture that dominated in the Florida fields up to the 1990s, where the growers and their supervisors acted with impunity.

The week before Thanksgiving, the CIW's traveling Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum visited Montgomery, Ala.--once capital of the Confederate States of America, later fulcrum of the civil rights movement.

After touring the state of Florida and the Northeast, the CIW's museum--whose exhibits are mostly hosted in a large cargo container, a replica of the one used to keep workers captive overnight in a recently uncovered slavery operation--embarked on a journey through the Deep South. The tour initially took off in October, but the truck's engine broke down in Tallahassee, and several dates had to be rescheduled.

The Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum finally arrived at Auburn University in Montgomery (AUM) on November 17. AUM students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to talk to CIW and Student/Farmworker Alliance representatives. The day after, the truck was parked in downtown Montgomery, at the Court Square, which once served as a location for the slave trade.

The museum visitors were engaged in a type of conversation that Alabamians rarely have: about power structures, corporations' accountability and workers' rights. Even in academic settings, these issues are hardly ever discussed, and when they are, they often find either a hostile or a skeptical audience, imbued with beliefs and attitudes that have been articulated by religious discourses in such a way that these topics have been either cut off from the conversation or highly demonized and labeled as anti-American, communist and the like.

As a result, it was to the museum visitors' surprise to find that slavery still exists today in the fields of Florida and the Southeast. Now it's called "modern-day slavery," but the name alteration doesn't reflect a substantial change in the basic definition of what slavery is: the condition of not being free.

What has changed is the fact that the ones who practice slavery today need to hide it; they need to make it invisible. Only the state (with the aid of more and more private contractors...) is allowed to decide upon the deprivation of liberty of its residing members (citizens and, to a certain extent, noncitizens with detention centers) and the termination of one's life (with the death penalty) in a rather socially accepted and rarely questioned way.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, Southern farmers and forest industry firms had to find alternatives to the once large populations of available free labor. Then, the convict-lease system was created, and labor exploitation in the fields went on. It's worth noting that "Florida and Alabama were the last states to abolish their county lease systems in 1923," as we read in the CIW's companion to the exhibit.

Farmworkers--on the East Coast, poor whites and African Americans--began to follow the harvest to make a living. They were paid meager wages for their labor and lived a life of misery, with little hope that their children would be able to have a better future, as Ed Murrow documented in his 1960s Harvest of Shame, a CBS report on the plight of the migrant workers.

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WHAT THE CIW's exhibit does is inform its visitors about lesser-known histories; as Douglas A. Blackmon's book Slavery By Another Name (2008) shows, the exploitation of African Americans continued well beyond the legal abolishment of slavery.

In addition, as Blacks moved up north and relocated to urban areas, new subaltern groups (primarily from Mexico and the Caribbean in the Southeast) were exploited through the establishment of guest worker programs that were intended to supply a cheap and submissive workforce to the agricultural industry. The Bracero program between Mexico and the U.S. was finally terminated in 1964 due to the many abuses perpetrated against the participating workers.

For U.S. growers, the creation of Labor Importation Program and the successive guest worker programs was doubly profitable: domestic workers were no longer able to negotiate their wages up, and foreign workers could be easily repatriated and replaced. As a result, a more domesticated agricultural labor force was created, and the exploitation in the fields continued.

Guest worker programs are divided today into the H-2A agricultural program and H-2B non-agricultural program. As the Southern Poverty Law Center's report Close to Slavery (2007) illustrates, lack of employer's accountability, little enforcement of labor and human rights, and, ultimately, lack of awareness of the existing legal protections available to temporary unskilled workers make foreign labor force easily exploitable.

Migrant workers have no or little ability to enforce their rights, and abuses of power are the norm. As a result, slavery still occurs in agriculture as in other sectors of the national economy (forestry, landscaping, meatpacking, seafood processing and construction), and exploitative conditions are the norm. The situation is particularly harsh for women who need to deal with near constant sexual harassment in the workplace.

When undocumented, workers are even more vulnerable and apt to be exploited by cruel employers. Over the years, the twisted logic of maximizing profit at any cost has led all the major players in the food chain to cut labor costs to the point that in Florida, farmworkers still earn an average of 45 cents per bushel of tomatoes, a rate that has not risen much since the late 1970s.

However, things are about to change for the better. In the last 15 years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has raised awareness around issues of labor exploitation and human rights in the fields, mobilized college students and religious communities across the country, and pressured other thousands of consumers to call fast-food chains and now supermarkets to task.

It's a winning strategy--on November 14, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) signed a historic agreement with the CIW. The accord ends a 15-year old obstructionist stance of an organization that represents over 90 percent of the state's farmers. Perhaps it's a sign of the beginning of new times for U.S. agriculture.

As did several other high-ranked representatives of corporations, FTGE Vice President Reggie Brown went from saying that the CIW's methods are "un-American" to agreeing to implement the organization's proposed Code of Conduct.

So the FTGE eventually came around. In February, the organization lifted its sanctions against growers who decided to comply with the "penny-per-pound" tomato program. At the height of the Burger King campaign (in November 2007), the FTGE had threatened to fine up to $100,000 any member that agreed to pay the pickers one cent more per pound, and thus comply with agreements signed with Taco Bell and McDonald's.

The FTGE then launched a New Social Responsibility Program. But it didn't meet the Coalition's standards since it totally lacked worker participation.

According to the newly signed agreement, participating farms will implement the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which also enables the CIW to educate workers about their rights and tomato pickers to express concerns over safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation. FTGE member farms "will pass through the penny-per-pound from participating purchasers and cooperate with a financial audit of the penny-per-pound funds," according to a joint press release from the two organizations [2].

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SO, YES, slavery still exists in the United States. What doesn't is the awareness of it, especially in certain areas of the country. Here in the Deep South, people think of slavery, and the past yet vivid reality of the African American experience comes to mind. Most whites don't want to be reminded of that, and Blacks prefer not to talk about it in the company of whites. It's a taboo issue: religion and politics combined. Both groups, however, are largely unaware of its contemporary manifestations, victims and its very existence in this country.

Around here, conservatives (read the vast majority of the population regardless of their party affiliation) attribute to Latino immigrants a series of stereotypes based on little statistical or logical support (they don't pay taxes, they take American jobs,they don't want to learn English, etc., etc.)--without acknowledging (but I should say knowing) how U.S. policies expediently created a demand for foreign labor to meet the requests of big growers, and, more recently, contributed to the rise of immigration flows from Central America by signing the 1994's NAFTA agreements.

Most Latino farmworkers today are economic refugees; too many are here because the land they or their families once owned had been confiscated in their country of origins and made available to corporations for large-scale agriculture. Instead of committing suicide in mass numbers like in India, they decide to migrate to better provide for their families.

In fact, what's rarely discussed in the public discourses is that illegal labor serves the interests of corporations and big companies: it helps to hold down wages for the U.S. labor force in ways resembling how convict-leasing was once depressing wages for free workers. Right-wing talk about "illegal immigration" resorts to scapegoating practices intended to divert public attention to from real problems the country and the rest of the world are facing.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform--which pompously promoted itself as FAIR, deploying a strategy not so different from the "Fair and Balanced" slogan of Fox News--is now supporting a restrictionist approach to immigration known as "attrition through enforcement." Following the logic of Arizona's SB 1070, the approach is intended to make the lives of Latinos in the U.S. nearly impossible.

Such as a solution to the problem is based on a culture of suspicion that disregards people's humanity and accepts the bottom line as a guide for one's daily conduct. A recent National Public Radio report showed how a behind-the-scenes effort to help pass the law was pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit member organization of state legislators and other private big companies.

According to the NPR report, one of ALEC's longtime members, the Corrections Corporation of America, practically lobbied to pass the legislation, which would clearly benefit the private prison industry by creating opportunities to build more correction facilities for "illegal aliens" in the state of Arizona and wherever else a similar legislation was passed--so far, similar bills have been introduced in five states.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has done a remarkable job of fighting the logic of profit by promoting a culture of solidarity. Its recent victory and efforts to redress the public understanding and history of slavery and labor exploitation in the Southeast are inspiring and should remind us all that, yes, we might have a long way to go, but change is still possible.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Quick Trip to Macomb

I get to Monroeville on a late afternoon in May. Spring came and went quickly here, as South Alabama seems to be already experiencing the stickiness of its damp summers. I don’t mind the heat and the humidity. I actually feel released as I got out of the air-conditioned car and a pleasant, warm wind brings me the overwhelmingly intense smell of honeysuckle and almost makes me dizzy.

We drove two hours from Montgomery, down south on I-65 and then still southward on the rolling State Route 47. The scenery outside reminds me of the reasons why the state’s appellation is “Alabama The Beautiful:” infinite green fields alternate with many kinds of trees of different shades of green that make me wish I’d pay more attention to nature documentary so I could have the words to better describe them. Grazing cows punctuate the lateral landscape. Picket-fenced properties delimitate few houses and fewer farms.

We came to attend the annual theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird put on by the local company. It’s the 20th year anniversary of the stage adaptation of the novel, but most significantly, the city of Monroeville has organized multiple events to celebrate another important anniversary: the 50th year release of Harper Lee’s book. The novel, set in Macomb/Monroeville, has sold over thirty million copies, has never been out of print since 1960 and has been translated in over forty languages.

I look up and see the white pinnacle of the County Courthouse framed in Alabama’s sapphire sky. That’s the courthouse, I think.

People smile at me and I smile back as I am taking pictures around downtown main square. Everybody seems happy in Monroeville.

Monroeville, almost 7,000 population, has, however, its depressing traits of any other rural American town: the large decaying building of a Wal-Mart, and plenty of inventive yet apocalyptic church signs welcome the visitors as they approach the town along 47.

“It’s unlikely there will be a reduction in the wages of sins.” –This one struck my imagination and attests the hardship that the congregations must be undergoing. As I begin to talk with the locals, I found that the area has been badly hit by the current economic crisis. Timber covers over 70 percent of the state of Alabama and wood products are a big part of the industry in the southern part of the state. When people stop building, other people stop cutting trees. Twenty-two percent unemployment in Monroe County and the neighboring counties, informs me Tim Vaught, a local architect and artist who considers Monroeville his second home. It’s one of the highest in the entire country, he continues. The national crisis is still hitting hard in one of the poorest states.

In 1998 Monroeville was designated Literary Capital of Alabama by the State Legislature. The town reached world’s fame thanks to native Harper Lee and her Macomb, the fictional name she used as a setting of her Pulitzer Prize awarded novel. Although Lee has repeatedly downplayed the autobiographical references in her book, the town has tried its best to take advantage of the notoriety of the novel. Furthermore, Monroeville is also hometown to another great American writer, Truman Capote, who was Lee’s best friend during her childhood and afterwards—Lee followed him to Holcomb, Kansas, while he was researching the murder of a farmer and its family, work that lead to Capote’s masterpiece, his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.

The play begins. The first act takes place outside the courthouse. A few people in the audience are fanning off the evening heat.

It’s Macomb, 1935. The front porches of the Finches, the Radleys, Miss Maudie and Miss Dubose make up the set. In the stage adaptation of the novel, Miss Maudie narrates the story and embodies the spirit of Macomb. An antique car drives up to the stage as Atticus is guarding Tom Robinson outside the jail. A bunch of drunken white men has come to kill the detainee and only little Scout’s innocence will prevent the worst from happening by reminding Mr. Cunningham that he is a father and a family man before being part of an irresponsible, angry mob.

For the second act, the audience relocates to the second floor of the old courtroom, which was used by the citizens of Monroe County between 1904 and 1962.

As I go upstairs, I end up mistakenly climbing one more floor and find myself up in the gallery along with part of the cast: the ones who were not allowed to sit in the central rows of the courtroom—the kids (Scout, Jem and Dill) and “the colored people.” The second act is about to begin and I am okayed to stay in the balcony. The smiling usher nods at me and invites me to go and sit all the way down, past the cast, on a side bench located right above the stage. So I find myself watching the rest of the play looking down at the front of the courtroom. I don’t feel like a spectator, but as if I were an external, transcendental being who was granted the privilege to witness the trial as it is happening.

After the verdict of the all-white men jury that condemns Tom Robinson for a crime he never committed, the black women sitting on my left stand up and start to sing Let my People Go (Go Down Moses). The powerful voices of the choir reverberate in the old courtroom. They speak of the struggles that came after the novel was released, and of the longtime suffering that proceeded those.

As we leave Monroeville, I think of the many places I wanted to see in town and I decide this was a nice but too brief visit. I will be back soon. I might even bump into old Nelle Harper Lee next time, and see for myself whether she really lost her mind as the rumor in town goes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Beloved Community of Tomorrow

April 12, 2010

Ralph D. Abernathy Auditorium – Alabama State University

Naomi Tutu strides to the stage. She wears her African dress. Bright colors. The colors of courage, the colors of the Earth.

Naomi Tutu is the keynote speaker of the 4th Robert and Jean Graetz Symposium on Human Rights and Reconciliation presented by the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture and hosted at Alabama State University.

“The Beloved Community: Yesterday a Dream, Today a Hope, Tomorrow a Reality” is the theme of this year’s event. Tutu immediately points out that the last part (to make the dream that today is a hope a reality tomorrow) relies on us. And she talks about the possibility of the reality of a “beloved community,” an idea so dear to Martin Luther King Jr., his dream of love and solidarity, the dream of Heaven on Earth.

“We won’t answer hate with hate,” she firmly says. Tutu’s message is also one of love. Raised in apartheid South Africa, daughter of activist, Nobel Peace Prize Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tutu shares with the audience memories of childhood and hard-earned lessons.

“My parents had us children pray for our government every night,” she says emphasizing every single word in a way (as I will soon find out) characteristically hers.

Then, to further emphasize her point, Tutu shares an African proverb with us. First, she says it in her specific African language, then she translates it into English: “a person is a person only through other people.”

“Those who oppress, oppress themselves, the Tutus kept repeatedly to their offspring.

And Naomi, admittedly, couldn’t help but being skeptical. “Growing up,” she repeats, “I just could not see it. What I was seeing was… the whites were having a wonderful life! They had big houses, pools, their neighborhoods were nice and clean…But then my parents would say. ‘Believe you me: they are oppressed.’”

Their oppression was fear. They didn’t have much time to enjoy the privilege, she claims.

“We Black South Africans fought our oppression. White South Africans fought to maintain their oppression…with repression, killings, imprisonments. So, in a sense, they were doubly oppressed.”

That’s also why, she continues, the ones who have withstood abuse (like Black South Africans) “have been called to stand up to the voices of hate (…) to use our actions, our gifts, to stand for justice. To be those who remind our country, and the world, that a person is a person only through other people.”

She also acknowledges the inevitability of the beloved community, of living together in a pluralistic society. Because a community based on exclusion and discrimination, like the one the Tea Party people are advocating cannot last.

During the Q&A session, Tutu answers a few questions, grounding once again her beliefs in traditional wisdom.

In reference to personal attacks, she mentions the teachings of her grandfather who used to say: ‘raise the level of your argument instead of the level of your voice.”

She also reclaims the importance and beauty of diversity and the necessity of acknowledging it.

“I can’t stand when people say ‘I don’t see difference,’” Naomi says referring to people of different complexions. (…) “My mother is an avid gardener…Try to tell her that ‘you don’t see difference’ after she has worked on her yard for hours, planting new flowers, adjusting the flowers to make them look pretty.”

People in the audience appreciate the amusing metaphor and smile.

“We have to be the ones that show that true communities, strong communities, lasting communities are the ones that recognize differences as gifts.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Journey: Reflections, Regrets, & Roadblocks – Judge McPherson: An encounter

A few years ago Judge Vanzetta Penn McPherson decided it was time for her to retire. She was 59 and she wanted to dedicate the rest of her life to doing all those things she had to leave behind while serving as a United States Magistrate. One of this was writing.

The other one was fully enjoying her senior years with her husband Thomas.

“Since we are on a college campus," she started off, “I speak to the students, especially the women among them.”

Actually, not too many students were sitting at the round tables that had been set up for the occasion. I, myself, felt that an email to my Communication and Gender students was not going to bring them over during lunch time on a gorgeous Spring day: I should have known better. I regretted not having resorted to the trick of the extra credit.

Admittedly, Judge McPherson struck me right away as the type of woman I would have liked my students to hear talk.

And talk she did. For over an hour she diligently went over the three parts of the title assigned to her presentation by the AUM Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, as a good student who does not shy away from a challenging essay topic.

Judge McPherson talked about her reflections, her regrets and her roadblocks.

This is what you do, or, rather, you are asked to do, when you are in your sixties and have accomplished a lot in your life. But Judge McPherson made sure from the beginning that her was not going to be a speech on how to achieve notoriety or personal happiness.

Values, she talked about. Because, as she said, “your value system is what people will remember you for.” (…) “My knowledge and values often discuss but I compel them to reach the same conclusions,” her piercing eyes and austere demeanor softened by an azure-blue set of jewelry.

Judge McPherson is the kind of person that doesn’t pretend to be what she is not. She immediately spoke of the necessity of a two-parent household, made up of a mother and a father because she had been there, raising her son by herself, and it wasn’t easy. She never claimed to have been poor, she added later on, because her family was not.

Judge McPherson reflected upon her upbringing, how she came up, as people say here in Alabama.

Her grandparents have taught her a lot of what she still holds as true today. What it means to have a husband and what a husband is supposed to do.

And that knowledge is power. She grew up, she said, in an atmosphere of academic excellence. She was raised in the church during the 1950s and 1960s when the church was “literally the social annex of the home.” Learned to appreciate the arts so you know what to do when you’re bored, she joked. Learned to appreciate the value of a story. A good reason why I don’t like reality television, she claimed. “Because stories force you to synthesize, to listen and remember.”

“Stories are good for academic and psychological development whereas with reality TV you can tune in any time and know what is going on.”

She then talked about the importance of having a creed (for her it has always been I also “What I Live For”) and of getting out of yourself (which she did thanks to the presence in her life of two genetically retarded ants, who were the reason why, she admitted, she initially decided to pursue a career in speech pathology).

Regrets. “I abhor regrets and I don’t have many. “Reason is,” she said scanning the audience with her unyielding eyes, “I tend to say what’s on my mind when it’s there.”

“Rent and watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ if you wanna know about regrets,” she added.

She wisely praised the importance of participating in organized sports. She traced back her deficiency in managing failure to not having participated in any team sports when she was in school, “in those pre-Title IX years.” “If I had, I am sure I would be able today to measure success in increments instead of by its final product.”

“I regret being a deficient student of the Bible, which actually contradicts my academic approach to knowledge.”

“I regret not having had a second child.”

“And I regret not having big calves!” she jokingly repeated more than once.

She encouraged the audience to embrace resilience but also change sometimes because “in relationships as well as in careers, when the track record doesn’t change, it’s time to move on, she said implicitly referring both to her decision to retire from the bench after not having obtained the Art 3 status (read, lifetime assignment) as a judge, and to her other decision to divorce from her first husband.

Roadblocks. “I look at racism as an earthquake and at sexism as a hurricane. Earthquakes destroy the foundation, while hurricanes destroy the order.” When you are black and a woman, you learn to cope with abuse, Judge McPherson suggested. However, she warns the audience never to use either racism or sexism as a crutch.

“In celebration” of Women’s History Month, she then focused on sexism

Men are afraid of women, especially the ones they love, she said. “So you engage in this continuous dance of assuring them that we mean no harm.” Contrary to the dominant idea, men are highly dependable on women because we constantly outwork them.

“I had a coworker who was very tall. He would always stand up every time I would walk into his office. He would, albeit unconsciously, use his height to show me he was in power. I said ‘unconsciously’ because men are socialized to be in charge.”

At the end of her speech, Judge McPherson took a seat between her husband and her longtime girlfriend. She shed a tear leaving to the audience the interpretation of that gesture—she had just talked about women and half-jokingly encouraged their strategic deployment of tears.

“Race and gender are not caterpillars”, she said in response to a comment coming from the audience, “but you also have to give other people the chance to accept difference. Without partnership and collaboration, change just doesn’t occur.”

At the end of the Q&A session, she gave the last commonsensical yet disarming piece of advice. “In the end, try to be good people. That’s how you will honor your parents’ wishes and set the examples for your children,” she concluded.

Judge Vanzetta Penn McPherson visited Auburn University Montgomery to share her life experiences with the AUM Community as part of the Journeys in Common: Women's Empowerment Series.

Judge McPherson is a former U.S. Magistrate Judge, former Assistant Attorney General (AL), former President of the Montgomery’s Federal Bar Association and former President & Vice President of the Alabama Lawyers Association. Judge McPherson is currently a guest columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser; her socio-political, even controversial articles often ignite robust discussion throughout Montgomery.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflections on MLK Day

After a long break, I am getting back to my blog. For the record, I have been sick without actually being sick (according to my standards—which means no fever, in all this) since Christmas. The fact that I went to run in the rain on Christmas eve didn’t surely help but who knew I was gotta get into all this? The cough, which kept me up at night, seems to be almost gone but. On my forth visit to the third doctor (Italian family doctor, Italian friend who is a doctor, Canadian doctor in Cloverdale) I have been told I might have broken one of my ribs. From coughing too hard. X-rays will tell.

But. But I didn’t start writing this post thinking I was gonna get into this, but that shows how bothered I am by the fact that I haven’t been feeling decently well in three weeks. Ok. This said. I am glad I made it through my introductory speech today. (Ok, there you go. That was the original idea and the opening line for my post today. And that’s where—see above—a stridently derailed train of thought brought my writing).

I attended AUM first MLK’s Reflection Breakfast organized by the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (which means Tim Spraggins for me).

“A Day on, Not a Day Off” was theme/slogan for the Breakfast and Service Day; students participated in a variety of on campus and off campus services projects as part of the event. The kids were also asked to pick one of Dr. King most famous quotes and comment on it. Undergraduate and Graduate AUM students from China, Malawi, Turkey,… had been chosen to recite the quote in their original language (a brilliant idea to show the reach and global inspirational power of MLK’s teachings). For similar reasons, I, the Italian in Montgomery, was chosen to give a brief speech and introduce the keynote speaker, Father Manuel Williams. I, instead, limited the Italian-ness I brought in to my accent and me saying “Buongiorno” (Good Morning) at the beginning of my speech. No proverbs or dicta from the old country came to me while I was preparing for the speech. Sorry Tim. If I had thought about that a little bit more, looking at what the foreign students did this morning, I could have quoted Father Lorenzo Milani, my other true inspirational role model while growing up, who was an unconventional revolutionary educator and an advocate of conscious objection. (Needless to say ostracized by the Church).

Anyway, I don’t recall having had to introduce anyone in a similar occasion. I have introduced scholars at conferences and when I was working as a film journalist, I might have occasionally presented actors, directors, and critics at film festivals. So this was, so I felt, somewhat a first time for me. I hadn’t met Father Williams until this morning, and the fact that I didn’t personally know him (all I knew was what I read in the little bio that was sent to me by Tim last Friday) troubled me quite a bit. So in my little speech I talked about Dr. King and introduced the speaker as one of the many people that daily either work and dedicate their lives in the service of others here in the Montgomery community. Father Williams turned out to be an excellent speaker. And, most likely, a person who needed a warmer, ad hoc introduction than the one I gave for him. A modern priest –he aptly made a reference to an episode of the Boondocks when Dr. King comes back on Earth and harshly commented on what he sees happening around him. A priest who is not afraid to talk about the necessity of doing hard work while pursuing your dreams and, most significantly, about the importance of being radical. Because love is radical. And without love dedication cannot be there.

"Everyone has the power for greatness, “said one of the students quoting Dr. King—“not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” In the end, greatness comes from an act of selfless love, and we all as human beings have the potential for that, Dr. King was right.

But lets go back to the roots, to the necessity of being radical today. Among other things, Fr. Williams brought up the need to have a conversation (at the very least) about the fact that President Obama was given the Nobel Prize for Peace in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. Back in the sixties, Dr. King was prompting America to see the “common moral roots” of the civil rights and the peace movements. Once you understand, heart and mind, the connections, it becomes easier to make sense of this crazy world of ours and see what should be and what shouldn’t be. You become a radical, and that’s really that’s what they scornfully call you until they get it.

As I was leaving the podium and walking back to my seat Father William shook my hand and whispered to me, “I like radical.” (So I guess it wasn’t all wasted after all).

Father Williams, Pastor of Resurrectionist Catholic Church in Montgomery, seems to be a radical. He’s very active in the community and has opposed municipal policies that threaten the poor. He is executive director of Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South and he oversees the administration of a hospital for children with major disabilities. He works with the youth and is committed to address the needs of African Americans living with HIV/AIDS—this last a topic I surely would love to have conversation with Fr. Williams about.

So I decided that I am going to give him a shot, and go to his church this Sunday. Now I can hear my close friends saying, “There you go, after all that researching Christian rock and the Evangelicals here comes the call.” As I said, I’ll give it a shot; plus, I am a writer with a soul. And in the end, as I keep repeating to the ones who ask about my religious beliefs, I am Catholic by default.

I believe in people and their power to fight for what’s right. That’s where my faith is if you wanna call like that.

In his closing remarks, Tim thanked the AUM community and the “off campus” guests. He said this Breakfast is just the first one of many to come. Because this AUM tradition will last forever, he repeated pronouncing clearly the word forever twice. Forever. Forever. (A bit awkward to say the least.)

While at the doctor’s office this morning, after the grits, the bacon, and the speeches, I reread Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. Tonight it’s time to make it up to you, Don Milani. Good night everybody, and good thoughts for you. (And yes, I didn’t get to volunteer today but I have been reflecting a lot.)