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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Back when it first came out, I went with one of my best friends to see the movie “The Help.” I recently just re-viewed it in the hopes of trying to catch some of the more subtle nuances that I might have missed in the first viewing. I have also now read the book on which the movie was based and can tell you that it is as good as the movie. I will try not to spoil anything in the plot  – but if you haven’t seen it or read the book, you might want to wait to read this.

The setting of the story is the Jim Crow South in the summer of 1963. Not only a dangerous time in American history but also a dangerous topic for moviemaking – Spencer1especially in our politically-correct, hyper-sensitive, still-racially-charged society. I admire any film maker that can tackle these subjects in any way and, while I do admit to some flaws in the movie, I still think it was one of those movies that made you stop and <gasp> think!

This is not a character review or a literary analysis of the storyline – I will leave that sort of thing to the experts. What I want to do is examine the issues raised in this movie and ask the important question – how far have we really come? What advancements have we made, as a society, since the moments captured in this story?

Race Issues

  • The Home Health Sanitation Initiative created by Hilly, to encourage separate bathrooms and sanitary areas for blacks and whites, is the perfect example of prejudice and intolerance shrouded in ‘science’ and ‘governmental policy’. Not unlike the Patriot Act or some of the anti-immigration legislation of our modern times, these types of policies are designed to create a sense of exclusion and delineating the differences between “us” and “them.”
  • The Sanitation Initiative hinges on the idea of ‘protecting your home, protecting yourself’ from those who simply look different – fear-mongering at its most hypocritical, considering that those people who you are trying to “protect” from are in fact serving daily in your home. Again, not unlike the anti-immigration laws which try to exclude those (and ‘protect our borders’) from those that serve us every day in restaurants, grocery stores and thousands of other businesses that we could not survive without.
  • Hilly’s mother, after one of Hilly’s most vitriolic and apalling statements towards Minny (her black maid), states that “Daddy ruined you” – implying that the father was the openly racist parent in the home. This illustrates what psychologists have long theorized – prejudice as a learned behavior, not an inherent personal trait. Children are taught to hate and usually will be intolerant towards the people that their parents hate. This should sound familiar to our generation – the prejudice now extends beyond blacks into Muslims and Hispanics. Think about what you hear parents say to their children about people who look or act differently – then wonder what lessons those children are really learning?
  • Threaded throughout the movie are those awkward moments in which Skeeter forgets that she can’t share normal everyday events with her black friends in public in the Jim Crow South. The social stigma attached to ‘intermingling’, even during such mundane activities as sharing a meal, riding in the same car, or even conversing on matters other than groceries and cleaning was tantamount to social suicide for those caught doing it – on both sides of the racial divide. Interestingly, as the former wife of a black man, I am fascinated by this particular concept – I can’t even comprehend that there was a time when it would have been illegal to even share a meal (let alone a bed) with a black man. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream that one day we could “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” This intermingling is now no longer illegal BUT I find that there are still some serious barriers up between the races – we can legally sit at the same table but how often do we do it? Are we still confining ourselves to our own communities and missing the opportunity to enrich our lives with diversity?
  • Minny asks Skeeter, who is writing the book from the perspective of the help, “what makes you think colored people need your help?” For whatever motivation Skeeter has for writing the book (other than her obvious goal to be a serious writer) the assumption was there that her actions was some sort of perverse philanthropy to the black maids. Fast forward 30 years to the creation of affirmative action – which you may or may not agree with – and the presumption that this racially-based assistance is a reparation system for past evils. What makes us white folk think that the minority communities need their charity or their help?
  • Hilly, who is perhaps one of the most cartoonish icons of the suburban white housewife with the prejudices of a common hillbilly, tells Skeeter that she is no threat but that she needs to be careful because “there are real racists in this town.” What truly makes me giggle is that, in Hilly’s mind, she isn’t a raging racist herself – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. But how many times have you heard someone make an off-color racial joke or call someone a derogatory name – and then follow it up with “but I’m not a racist or anything”? We somehow think that prejudice is on a sliding scale and that we MUST be on the lower end compared to, say, the Klan – and that we’ll be ok as long as we don’t start burning crosses. Hilly may be genteel and well-mannered in her prejudice – but that doesn’t make her (or us) any better than the charming skinheads in their white sheets.
  • The sight of Aibileen and Henry running for home and safety after the assasination of Medgar Evers sickens me – what is it to feel that sort of abject terror? What must that be like, to know that your life is endangered for something as inconsequential and uncontrollable as the color of your skin?
  • When Yula Mae is being arrested, Aibileen tells her not to fight, to go quietly. I don’t think this was any sort of homage to Dr. King’s message of nonviolence and peaceful protest – this is, I am sure, Aibileen’s purely practical advice on not riling the white police officers. Aibileen lived enough in the real world to realize that blatant resistance to authority will, at best, be an exercise in futility and, at worst, lead to violence or death. Have we really improved our relationships with our authority figures to no longer fear the system? As a woman who deals daily with “the good old boys’ club” and the bullying of a well-connected man, I can tell you that it is easier and safer to shut your mouth and suffer silently. People all over this country are stuck in abusive relationships, financially crises, and helpless situations because those in authority can’t or won’t help them.

Gender Issues

  • Skeeter, the young female protagonist, is a recent college graduate who is excited to be taking her first job in what she hopes will become a burgeoning journalism career. Unlike her lifelongfriends, who have become wives and mothers, Skeeter envisions a life for herself in which she makes something different of herself than that which society expects. As Aibileen tells us in Skeeter’s introduction, Skeeter has “no man, no babies” and that is how she is defined as a person. When told that she is unlike any other woman because she says what she’s thinking, Skeeter does not cower or apologize – she states that she has plenty to say! Yet the women around Skeeter (until after the book comes out, when her mother appears to come around) spend a lot of time trying to silence Skeeter’s voice.
  • Then there is the idea that motherhood is not only an ideal rite of womanhood but one that women should compete to achieve quickly. “Once Miss Hilly had a baby, every girl at the bridge table wanted one too.” And while that has stalled a bit in modern times, we are now just encouraged to wait until later in life, not to abandon the idea of motherhood altogether if we want to. We are told that we’ll want babies someday and to just be patient – we are NOT told that it’d be ok if we just go through life spoiling someone else’s children.
  • “Eugenia, your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?” What is so great about dating, let me ask you? I’ve done 2 different rounds of it at 2 completely different phases of my life and it isn’t all that fun. No single female ardently desires to do the bar scene and the meat market, no matter what they may tell you! And that famed biological clock ticking mentality is still alive and kicking – we are told we must find someone before we get “too old” or “too worn out.”
  • And, of course, when Skeeter explains that dating (with marriage as the end goal) isn’t a priority, her mother then immediately begins to question if she is a lesbian. That still happens, don’t be fooled. As an almost-middle-aged woman, I have to be careful to refer to my other half as my BOYfriend, otherwise people make the assumption that my life partner is a woman. Because, of course, a woman that chooses to remain single and independent must be a lesbian <insert sarcasm here>.
  • Skeeter’s mother’s almost-obsessive emphasis on clothes, hair, and other elements of physical beauty has not changed either. Skeeter is considered the social oddity, considered so different from her peers because she is not wrapped up in hair, makeup, clothes or catching a husband. Sound familiar to any of my generation’s women?
  • Stuart admits in one breath that he admires Skeeter’s outspokenness, her quick mind, and her independence but then remarks that she is like no other woman – seems to be a backhanded compliment to me. He compliments her on her writing but, when her book is published and she is a successful author, he leaves her. Why is it that, even in fiction, a smart woman can’t win the handsome prince?

Some of the themes in this movie are relatively universal for all women, regardless of what time period and what socioeconomic or racial communities they came of age in – sister-friends, bonding through food, cattiness and competition, and facing the ‘mean girls’. The Hilly character is perfectly crafted to be the adult version of that one girl that we all hated in high school – primarily because she represented the worse elements of humanity possibly.

Class Issues

  • The Celia Foote character paints a painful picture of exclusion based on her “white trash” status in the community. It is painful to watch how isolated and alone she feels, how she struggles to try to adjust to being wealthy and interact with people who go out of their way to show her what “place” they think she belongs in. If you ever think that we’ve evolved as a society beyond this, spend an afternoon at a country club or a yacht club or visit places like The Hamptons or Talbot County, Maryland – the elite can still make you feel as though you don’t belong.
  • Statements like “with them, it’s all about money” is simply a way to justify keeping people in positions of servitude and menial labor. In the movie this is said about the black maids but I think, if we listened long enough, we’d hear that phrase in our present day to describe the hispanic population.
  • And sadly, the Hilly’s of the world still exist, trying to make those that they feel are beneath them feel it – the humiliation tactics, the thrill of inspiring helplessness, the emotional abuse inflicted simply for amusement, the superciliousness and assumed superiority. Is anybody else thinking about our President right now…?

But there’s hope…

In case you fear, my gentle readers, that I walked away from this movie with no hope of redemption for the human race, fear not.

“You is kind, you is smart, you is important” – this simple phrase taught by Aibileen, the black nurse, to her young white charge Mae Mobley – I think we ALL could benefit from this daily reminder.

There are some of us, like Skeeter, who do care about their fellow human beings, who are uncomfortable with accepting things as they are. As Skeeter says, “maybe things can change” and I’d like to think I’m not the only one that hears this cry of hope as a call to action. Skeeter, in her quest to give a voice to the voiceless, to share their perspective, should serve as an inspiration to all of us. I understand the maids’ reluctance to help her as it truly was “a hell of a risk” and the danger of repercussions was very real. But they all soldiered on and refused to cave to the fear and intimidation and personal loss.

The maid Constantine was right when she observed that “ugly is something that grows up inside you…”. The key, though, is to overcome that ugly, to be stronger and braver and not let the hate win. Actually, Constantine is one wise lady as she also asks  “Am I going to believe all them bad things those fools say about me today?” She can overcome hate and prejudice by sheer force of will – I’m jealous of that strength, honestly.

But it is Aibilieen who most defines the courage needed to make changes: “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

The life lessons to take away from this movie: courage is to be admired, never let others wound your spirit and your soul, ignorance won’t ever go away but you don’t have to blindly accept it, decent people do still exist in the world, mothers come around to accepting our lives, mean girls will get their comeuppances in the end, true friends come in all colors/shapes/sizes, people are grateful for the kindnesses you show them, and strong independent woman do not need a man!

THE END

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Last weekend was my once-yearly trek to the EMS conference in the boondocks. Last year I learned to birth a robotic baby, this year’s highlight was watching my good friend Jay, who 6 years ago was battling cancer, stand up strong and confident and present on professionalism in fire and EMS services.

Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Jay. He is my ex-husband’s best friend (they grew up together and have the war stories to prove it) and I met Jay and his family about 10 years ago. He is now a paid firefighter/paramedic in Fort Myers, Florida and teaches at the local fire academy and the high school votech program. He was diagnosed in October 2005 with Burkitt’s type non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a blood disease so rare that only about 100 people are diagnosed each year. Jay, his loving wife Rhonda, and their six wonderful children fought the disease for over a year.  I have learned a lot from Jay – how to deal with the hand that your dealt no matter how unfair it is, how your attitude can effect the way your battle goes, how important it is to be courageous, how good people will receive good support. Quiet dignity and courage are the two best ways I can think of to describe Jay – and I struggle every day to live up to that example.

Jay and Rhonda both have been wonderful to me through the course of our friendship and my divorce. Despite what could be expected in terms of loyalty, they have not walked away from being my friend – like so many others have. They are at the end of the phone line or the Facebook message when I need them. I am grateful for that.

This EMS conference is now one of the most difficult events for me in my post-marriage life. I have to gird my emotional loins [on a side note, what a greatly colorful phrase, just saying] to attend. This conference is one of the few things my ex-husband and I ever did together. The fire service (along with baseball) was one of the few shared interests we had – and so we did things like this as a couple. And this particular conference was and is always filled with our mutual friends and fellow fire/EMS providers. For those of you who aren’t in the fire service, it can tend to be a very tight knit, close community. Which, when the shit hits the fan, is the best thing in the world – you know that it is your friends and pseudo-family members who are going to come to your aid. But, when your life has fallen apart, it also means that they are ALL going to know about it – and when your ex is also a beloved member of that same pseudo-family, it creates an abondanza of awkard moments. None of your mutual friends want to refer to The Breakup, yet they all know (or think they know) what really happened.

The flashbacks are staggering, those moments when you time travel back to happier days, when you can forget that things have changed. When you run into an old friend who doesn’t know you’ve divorced or you come out of a class and want to share your new knowledge with your life partner. When you go through your skills evaluations and want to celebrate your successes with your husband like you used to. I know that I’m not the first to experience this – those moments of forgetfulness are probably pretty common for anyone who has suffered a loss – but they still twist the knife of grief. I am haunted by the ghosts of lost friends, sad memories, and a firm place in the support system of the local EMS community – no longer can I consider myself a full member of the team because I have lost half of who I was. And the ghost of the Ex lurks around every corner, waiting to slam into me – will he be there? Will he come to the conference and will he bring his new woman? Rationally, you ask yourself – why do you worry if he appears or what he does? Yet emotionally you worry at every moment about the ghosts of him will come out to haunt your present.

So this year’s conference, with Jay as one of the keynote speakers, was one of the most difficult yet. I adore Jay – see the above description – but I also can’t ignore the fact that he is one of my ex-husband’s best friends and has been for over 30 years. How to greet a good friend who, understandably, has loyalties to the man who destroyed my life? How to face a friend who has probably heard every bad thing that my ex can construct about me? How to look in that friend’s eyes and not beg for forgiveness for not having been good enough for his buddy?

The good news is that I learned a lot at the conference. Not just the practical skills-based knowledge on pharmacology and airway management or the new technology for battling ‘dirty war’, not just the steps for a good radio consult with the trauma center or about the protocol updates in Maryland EMS. I learned that I am truly a different person now than I was before. I am damaged goods, yes, but I am also able to stand straight and hold my head high. to ignore the whispers of gossip and to make jokes about the bumpy road I’ve travelled. I am not better for the experiences of the last 2 years – but at least I am stronger.

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In putting together my post for MLK Day 2012, I have spent the week pondering the oft-ignored import of it as a national holiday. It is more than an excuse for stores to have more post-Christmas sales or a reason for kids and teachers to enjoy a day off. It is not just a token federal holiday intended to appease the minority voters. In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed the national holiday into law, he was acknowledging the important work that Dr. King did in bringing equality to all citizens, a fundamental belief on which this country was built.

Back in January 2009, the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first American president of ‘color’ (or however the heck you state that in a politically correct manner), Mr. Rick Warren, popular minister of the 22,000-member Saddleback Church, gave the keynote address at the annual birthday service for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

The whole thought of Rick Warren speaking on Dr. King’s day made me absolutely sick. I support Mr. Warren’s intent to bring God into the national conversation, to make religion a part of everyday lives. I admire his chutzpah in forcing political leaders and celebrities to discuss and confront issues of faith. And I admire a religious leader who calls for Christians worldwide to confront the global problems of AIDS, extreme poverty, climate change and disease in third world countries.

But I do not and cannot support his call for the social, political, and religious exclusion of those he (as a flawed human being, just like the rest of us) deems unworthy. In my own personal formulation of Christian behavior, I cannot condone the messages of intolerance and judgement that seem to be very much a part of his very fundamental Christian beliefs. For all of you fundamentalists out there, put away the poison pens – I just don’t happen to have the same world view as many of those churches. My own personal framework of beliefs is much more liberal, that is all. I would like to think that I will be judged by my Father, not by a human being who runs a superchurch and holds sway with newscasters.

I have written before about my mixed-race marriage, on my stance on gay marriage and about the importance of diversity in our world. Dr. King’s work alone has inspired 3 of my posts, all hoping for a more equal, just world. Obviously, I am very much a student of the lessons that Dr. King taught about equality, justice, and freedom. I have also been struggling with a major crisis of faith since the collapse of my marriage – yes, I am divorced and therefore subject to Rev. Warren’s derision – and have been doing a lot of soul-searching about the meaning of God’s forgiveness and what it means to be a Christian in the modern world.

Jesus himself healed blind men and lepers, kept company with prostitutes, beggars, and thieves. If our Lord was able to treat those people as equals, with the right to be treated respectfully, why can’t we do that? What makes any one human being feel that he is better than anyone else, good enough to judge others?

Would our Lord truly think it appropriate that any church (purportedly operating in His name) run websites, online chat rooms, television interviews and major media campaigns to ostracize these people? This church’s scope of national publicity is astounding – and very upsetting to those of us who happen to believe that God loves all.  Reverend Warren, and many others like him, teach lessons that include the exclusion and vilification of  homosexuality, divorce, abortion, sex outside of marriage, and a variety of other behaviors. I am not arguing that those behaviors are or aren’t morally, Biblically, or ethically wrong – I am arguing that we as human beings and children of God have the right to NOT be publicly ostracized for our actions. As my friend Pastor Drew has told me a number of times, Jesus went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, big and small.

In reading back on MLK Day 2009, it turns out that I was not the only one opposed to Revered Warren’s participation in the King’s Center’s events – that day, about 100 protesters with signs reading “No bigotry in MLK’s church” and “We still have a dream” gathered outside of Dr. King’s former pulpit. I think there were much more appropriate selections that could have been made for the keynote address – perhaps one of the thousands of civil rights protesters that had marched in Selma or took their turns as Freedom Riders; perhaps one of the millions of black Americans that have lived in a world much different than their ancestors because of Dr. King’s work; perhaps one of the many celebrities that actually knew Dr. King personally. So many other, better, less offensive choices!  I was so disenchanted with The King’s Center’s choice in speakers in 2009 that I actually put pen to paper and wrote a personal letter to Mr. Dexter Scott King. In thinking about my article on Dr. King for MLK Day this year, I got to thinking about that letter. I want to share it with you now because I still (after 3 years) feel so strongly on the topic – Mr. Dexter Scott King may not have been affected by my words but maybe someone out there in the great internet cosmos might be:

19 January 2009

Dexter Scott King, Chairman

The King Center

449 Auburn Avenue NE

Atlanta, GA 30312

To the honorable Mr. King and the board of directors for the King Center;

I am writing to you today to express my incredible disappointment with the King Center’s choice for Rev. Rick Warren as the keynote speaker for their annual celebration of Dr. King’s birthday in 2009. How unfortunate that a man who actively campaigns against gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose was chosen to commemorate a man who gave his life to protect our rights.

Although I personally do not condone abortion, I firmly believe that all humans have the right to choose what is medically best for their body. And while I cannot say that I have done scholarly research on Dr. King’s spiritual and political beliefs on matrimony, I would like to believe that he would have supported any human’s civil right to enjoy the equal opportunity to be legally married. Fifty years ago, I myself would have been in a marriage that was considered socially and legally inappropriate – I am a white woman married to a black man. I owe Dr. King a personal debt of gratitude for the efforts that allowed me to publicly declare my love for whomever I choose. How then, in Dr. King’s  honor, can the King Center overlook one man’s actions to block the civil rights of any human being and select him as their keynote speaker?

Does Mr. Warren not realize the incredible hypocrisy it took to stand on the pulpit of Dr. King’s church and speak about Dr. King’s struggle for equality – and then return to his activities to prevent equalities for entire populations of American citizens?

I am disappointed in the King Center for having made this choice. With so many notable and active people in America struggling for racial, social, ethnic, educational, and economic equality, I believe there were many others who would have and could have made a more effective and less divisive impact. I suggest you take the time to listen to Colin Powell’s speech that he gave in Minnesota yesterday – what a truly remarkable tribute that was!

On this most auspicious occasion, as we stand on the eve of inaugurating our first United States President of color, what a true shame that the keynote speaker for the King Center was one who regularly preaches exclusion and intolerance under the cloak of fundamentalist morality!

I have a very deep and very sincere respect for Dr. and Mrs. King and the legacies that they have left behind. I can only hope that their hard work will continue through the efforts of the King Center. Thank you for what you do to keep the King memory alive.

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As Collin Hay wrote, “sometimes I wish I was born in another time.” I suppose that’s why I went into history as a profession – a desire to connect with and recapture days gone by. We, as a society, tend to glamorize the past and to forget that it was hot, dirty, inconvenient work to build this country…not to mention the major groups of people that were oppressed throughout the years.

But, yet, I can’t help wishing that I lived maybe 125 years ago. That would put me in 1886, the height of the Victorian age – let’s have a brief history review. Queen Victoria reigns over the British Empire, including India and Burma, Australia and Canada, and South Africa. Grover Cleveland is president of the United States, all 38 of them, and Congress is investigating claims of hate crimes against former slaves by the Klu Klux Klan. Apache chief Geronimo ends the last Indian war, after more than 30 years of fighting the loss of western lands. Labor unions are beginning to form and strikes occur in Chicago and New York seeking better conditions for lower-class workers. Sears Roebuck begins to allow for long-distance commerce, taking orders via the telegraph. Karl Benz applies for the first patents on the motorcar and the first telephone directory is published in Chicago. The first toilet is invented by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper (no, I’m not kidding) and the first sterile surgical dressings are used in medicine. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, and Hires Root Beer appear on the market for the first time. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, a thrilling story of a man divided, is printed for the first time and Cosmopolitan magazine begins in Rochester, New York (of course, it wasn’t meant for women to read – that shift wouldn’t happen until 1965’s arrival of new editor Helen Gurley Brown). Ty Cobb was born and John Deere died. It was, as you can only imagine, a totally different world than we know.

Yes, I know that as a middle-class white woman in 1886, I would have been born to opportunities and treatment that most average people didn’t have. I would have studied at a female seminary and probably could have married decently. I might have had more commercial goods and exposure to more art and culture. I would have had to suffer through the daily donning of a corset BUT I would have had a bustle to conceal my ever-present ghetto booty. I would not have had the right to vote and, once married, I was considered property of my husband. I wouldn’t have been encouraged to do any heavy reading or deep thinking and my sphere of influence would have been mightily confined. Finance, politics, and technology would not have been on my radar – my social circle would likely discuss church activities, jam recipes, and neighborhood news.

But, you know, intellectual and material comforts aside, I do think in some ways I would prefer those simpler times. Chivalry hadn’t died and a man’s word was his bond. I would have been treated as a lady, with respect and decency, after a man had asked my father’s permission to court me. His top hat and morning coat would have been freshly brushed and pressed and a bouquet of flowers ever-present in his hands. My life would not be cluttered with the incessant ringing of phones, chatter of television, and the glare of the computer monitor . People honored and valued upright morals and those caught in serious infractions (adultery, lewd behavior, and dishonesty for instance) were socially shunned – and not celebrated for their lapses. Books and newspapers were read by people wishing to explore their world and music was made by your own two hands. Letters were penned with love and care and elocution (that lost art of effective communication) was taught to children early. And, most importantly, a declaration of honest emotion was to be believed and not just thought to be the most convenient way to get what you want.

Yes, I do believe I would have done well in another time….

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This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure to be present in my home church for a very special and inspiring worship service, one dedicated to the lives of American Baptist missionaries James & Charma Covell. These two people not only spent their lives spreading the word of God and ultimately died for their faith, they also lived a life of service that inspires me.

In 1920, James and Charma Moore Covell began teaching English and scripture at the Nanto Gakiun University in Japan. As the second World War was dawning on the horizon and Japan became more and more militaristic, the Covells became increasingly uneasy. Their Christian values, after all, taught them peace and love and not hate and war. As early as 1932, Charma expressed her increasing concern:

One thing I can’t but speak of is the fundamentally disconcerting fact of the attitude of Japan’s military in the face of world opinion. Perhaps you can imagine how it feels for one who is bent first of all on creating peace in the sense of cooperation as opposed to competing, to exist in this welter of nationalism – at any rate I can assure you that it is the sort of thing that scares the heart.”

The Reverend and Mrs. Covell refused to participate in the university’s increasing militarism – and as a result were removed from their posts and forced to return to America in 1939. This was, as you can imagine, a terribly upsetting moment in their lives – they had been in Japan for nearly 20 years and had developed a tremendous love and respect for their neighbors and their adopted country. They were fluent in not only the language but also the customs and traditions of Japanese culture. Not willing to give up their mission, after a brief sojourn in America, the Covells attempted to return to teaching in Japan – but were refused entry into the country. They had to settle for teaching in the Philippines, taking posts at the Central Philippine College along with 16 other missionaries. Their 3 children were sent to Manila and then eventually back to America for their educations – an action that would ultimately save the childrens’ lives.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the missionaries on their island in the Philippines met and decided to carry on with their missions as long as possible. The university was closed and many fled to inland towns. Seven of the missionaries (and five of their children) were captured and sent to an internment camp in Manila. The remaining eleven missionaries, including James and Charma, fled to a mountain hideout, which they named Hopevale. In that remote and desolate location, the missionaries gathered with American miners and their families and Filipino friends in a ravine setting they called “The Chapel in the Glen” for worship, hymns, and prayer.

In July 1942, the residents at Hopevale received word from their imprisoned colleagues in Manila that the invading Japanese army had vowed to kill all foreigners they found. The Hopevale missionaries, still unwilling to abandon God’s work, decided to stay in their makeshift home and to stay together to face whatever may come. 

On December 19, 1943, Japanese soldiers invaded Hopevale during their weekly worship service. Many of the mining families had fled just hours before. All told, only the 11 missionaries, 1 missionary’s child, 3 miners and 2 of the miners’ children remained in the camp. All scattered and the men stood a fair chance of survival but, with the capture of the women and children, the men surrendered and all were imprisoned overnight. Knowing the Japanese army’s plan for foreigners, who were assumed to be spies, James and Charma pleaded for the lives of the camp’s residents. The Covells, because of their years in Japan, spoke the language fluently and knew the culture of their captors. Captain Tai Watanabe, the commander of the Japanese forces, was so visibly moved by the Covells words that he radioed headquarters hoping (we presume) for lenience. Sadly, the next day he received a response that the Covells’ insistence that they had nothing to do with the war was to no avail: the anti-foreigner mandate must stand. The American residents of Hopevale would be put to death.

Knowing that their deaths were certain, the missionaries asked for their final hours to pray together. What could they possibly have been saying to God? Was it anger? Pleading for their lives? Sorrow for time lost? Thoughts of their loved ones back in America? We will never know what those last terrifying moments must have held for those brave souls. All that is certain (having been witnessed by several Filipino residents of Hopevale) is that one by one, each adult was taken to the very mountain top and beheaded. The children were stabbed there in camp. And all of the bodies were stacked into one of their huts and burned.

An interesting side note to this story is that another missionary and a local visitor would later visit the site “as soon as it was safe to do so” and interred the bodies in a proper Christian ceremony. While performing this service, the men noticed that Mrs. Covell’s body had apparently been afforded a special honor, having been wrapped and placed carefully. Was this perhaps a sign of respect from the foot soldiers responsible for disposing of the bodies, a tribute to Mrs. Covell’s obvious knowledge of their homeland?

Part of the Covell legacy is an educational scholarship in their names given away every year in the town of LeRoy. Selection for the award is based on “academic interests, service to the community, and commitment to Jesus Christ.” I am honored to have been chosen all those years ago – how much I wish that I, as a recipient of a scholarship in the honor of these amazing people, had known more about their lives and their service to humanity! How much of a lesson I missed when, at the self-absorbed age of 18, I had not realized what an honor it was to be presented with this award!

The First Baptist Church of LeRoy is my home church – as it was the home church of James Covell. Having grown up in my own home town, this man went on to do an amazing thing. The story of the Covells not only appeals to my inner history nerd, it brings forth questions of faith and commitment. The Covells were willing to die for their faith – how many of us can claim that? And, unlike the terrorists of 9/11, the missionaries of Hopevale died for their belief in peace, nonviolence, and hope. These amazing people lived their lives in service to mankind and paid the ultimate price for that service. How glad I am that I finally got to know the rest of this truly inspiring story!

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I have discovered the new career I want: an NCIS Agent Afloat. Yes, really. Think about it – a boat, blue water, world travel, crime-solving, and oh those uniforms!  I absolutely love “NCIS” and I’m thinking a career in naval service could be quite…interesting….

I have decided that when I grow up, I would LOVE to be Abby. She’s a strong, independent, intelligent, quirky woman – oh, wait, maybe I already am all of that! I don’t sleep in coffins or have the spiderweb tattoo or have the ability to even tell you what a gas chromatograph does but I guess I qualify in a lot of other ways. One of the guys at the firehouse told me the other night that I was stubborn and opinionated – and swears that those were compliments. Ha, guess I’ll take the positive outlook on that – I would much rather be smart and know my own mind (and how to express it) than to be dull-as-dishwater, meek, and submissive.

I had this friend in high school that was one of the smartest females I have ever met – book smart, people smart, street smart. And yet every time a person of the male persuasion was near her, it was like her brains fell out of her head. She had (consciously or subconsciously, I’ve never known) trained herself that she needed to play the brainless bimbo routine in order to make men like her. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever observed – a gorgeous, intelligent woman ashamed to be herself.

Anyway, I digress. If I want to be Abby, shouldn’t I want to work in a lab? Well, sure, but there are 2 problems with that: 1) I was terrible in science in school and couldn’t solve today’s crossword puzzle (let alone major crimes) with scientific equipment and 2) I wouldn’t get to….um…”experience” the navy that way. I admit it, I have a thing for men in uniform – how do you think I ended up married to a fireman? And if I were stuck in a lab all day, I don’t think I’d meet many of them.

The Agent Afloat, however, gets to be onboard a ship, surrounded by water and gorgeous men. And you get to visit exotic locales – AND serve your country! Throw in mysteries and the chance to meet a real-life Gibbs, Tony, or McGee – I’m in! I think I could be the next Ziva, what do you think? I would be one tough chick with a gun, a badge, and a ship full of uniformed personnel!!

P.S. – if you’ve read this entire post and have no idea what I’m talking about, then get yourself to a Blockbuster and pick up the DVD sets of “NCIS” right now – and shame on you for missing out on one of TV’s best shows! Next you’ll tell me you never saw M.A.S.H. or The Cosby Show….

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Intolerance and prejudice is not inherently born. Watch a group of small children sometime – they do not discriminate based on skin color or ethnicity; they will play with anyone who is nice to them.

Public schools are therefore, I believe, the ideal environments for re-training children to be tolerant of other people. I feel sorry for home-schooled children, who have a limited exposure to people with other backgrounds, beliefs, or identities. Are we doing a disservice to today’s youths by not forcing them to see the world through others’ eyes? Public high schools put kids (at an age when they are most impressionable) in direct daily contact with people who come from different backgrounds. Maybe they speak a different language or eat different foods. Maybe they have less or more money. Maybe they go to a different church or have differently colored skin. Maybe they are of another sexual orientation or come from a blended family. Maybe they cope with a disability or have different political ideals. Whatever their differences, the pre-teenage and teenage years are the times to teach kids to accept and embrace the differences in all human beings.

Yes, I guess you could say I’m somewhat rabid about this subject – I am sick to death of the intolerance and prejudice I see in the world. I was raised to believe that all people are equal, regardless of race, class, religion, education level, gender, ethnicity, etc.. I married a man of a different race and social background than mine. I lived with two lesbians in college and stood up for them at their wedding. I have 6 wonderful godkids who are a mix of colors. I have friends in the fire department from all professional and socioeconomic walks of life. I am good ol’ redneck with 2 college degrees, able to rope a cow and write a thesis in equal measure. I firmly believe that diversity is what makes our experience on this planet such a special experience!

Imagine if you woke up every morning and could only wear white clothes, eat white bread, drive a white car that looked just like everyone else’s, went to work in a small white cubicle, and only saw 1 other person (who was also white) ever.

Imagine if you never saw a colorful painting or a dramatic sculpture, never got to eat different styles of food, never heard music, could never travel to anywhere but your house and your job. Imagine if you only knew people who agreed with you on EVERYTHING, from politics to movies, fashion to philosophy. Imagine if you couldn’t go to school and learn about other histories, cultures, or ideas. Imagine if you couldn’t go to church and study the Bible in the way YOU wanted. Imagine if you never heard a foreign language or saw a movie or read a book. Imagine if you only had friends that looked, sounded, and thought just like you. Imagine if your television only got 1 station showing 1 program.

We live in a diverse world, rich with colors, flavors, textures, sights, and sounds. I love the fact that I don’t live in an all-white world. I celebrate my friends and loved ones who lead different lives than mine. And I pray that someday the world will learn that tolerance and acceptance of others are the positive keys to a peaceful world!

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