Friday, February 01, 2013

Discovering Stories Waiting to be Told

Community residents gathered with CWRU students to hear Pulitzer Prize
winner Jim Sheeler talk about immersion journalism and the new media

Immersion Journalism at Eliza Bryant Village

Prof. Sheeler talks about journalists first
earning the right to hear a person's story
“She was a florist and a butcher,” was the one-line dispatch of a concluded life that came across the wire to then cub reporter Jim Sheeler.

The terse admixture set Sheeler on a path to discover and reveal the uncommon lives of ordinary people. Sheeler’s journey has taken him from his rookie reporter days writing obituaries in Colorado to a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, with adventures along the way like an unforgettable meal with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. 

Since 2010, when he became the Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing in the Case Western Reserve University, he has been teaching students of all disciplines eager to learn how to catch and tell the amazing stories that all around us.

CWRU journalism student listens to
Eliza Bryant Village resident
Yesterday, Sheeler shared with a diverse audience of students and an engaged assortment of area residents and lifelong learners, how his immersion journalism/multimedia storytelling class has worked with seniors at Eliza Bryant Village, a Cleveland treasure and the nation’s oldest continually operating African American nursing home. He showed video clips and slides that revealed vibrant collaborations between Case undergraduates armed with video cameras, microphones and cellphones, and Eliza Bryant seniors armed with life stories and revealed wisdom.

Sheeler used the story of Eliza Bryant resident Andrew Bailey’s devotion to his wife Ethel, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, to illustrate how a reporter has to earn the right to tell a person’s story by a willingness to listen deeply and patiently. There was beauty in the details of the Bailey marriage, including the 220 steps Andrew took each way in his 10-12 daily visits to see and care for his wife [a mile a day!].

Screenshot from Sheeler's talk showing the Dalai Lama
at a meal with Desmond Tutu [not seen but sitting opposite].
Reporter Sheeler is shown kneeling.
There was lightness in Sheeler’s talk as well, as when he shared being present at an intimate dinner where the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu sat across from one another wisecracking about their health issues, including a prostate surgery one of them had recently undergone.

“They were joking as if they were in a coffee shop,” said Sheeler.

Tri-C student Rashe'd Watley asks a question
about senior citizen interaction
University Heights resident Amy Rosenfield
puts a question to Professor Sheeler

Many community residents were in attendance for this first Spring 2013 Baker-Nord series on the humanities. Next up in the series will be “A Conversation with Daniel Stashower”, author of The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War on Monday, February 4 at 4:30.  The event is free; the public is invited. Details here.

For more information on the interaction between Professor Sheeler’s immersion journalism class and Eliza Bryant Village residents, click here.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Riding the Waves: Soledad O'Brien and Warren Ballentine

I’m generally not a big follower of TV and radio news personalities but two stories this week have caught my eye.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien
First I learned here that Soledad O’Brien’s morning show on CNN is being canceled. I didn’t even know she had a morning show so what troubles me is not that she lost it [the ratings were pretty low, it seems] but that the big shots at the network were upset that too many of her viewers were ethnic

Don’t you just love this post-racial America?

Hey, if they don't want people of color to watch their network I'll be glad to help spread the word.

"The People's Attorney"
The second news personality, Warren Ballentine, not only lost his nationally syndicated radio show, but also may be on a fast track to lose something of far greater value: his freedom. It seems that Ballentine, an Illinois attorney, was indicted last week in connection with what federal officials are calling a ”$10 million mortgage fraud scheme.” Source

Chicago feds seem to think “the people’s attorney”, as Ballentine refers to himself, conspired with others to obtain nearly 30 bogus mortgage loans via fraudulent documents between December 2004 and May 2006.

Ballentine, 41, is scheduled to appear at a US Courthouse in Chicago on Feb. 5 on six counts of bank fraud, false statements and mail and wire fraud. He has proclaimed his innocence on Facebook and elsewhere.

I wouldn’t ordinarily have paid much attention to this except that Ballentine was a featured speaker last year at a Cleveland State University program I attended. He professed a fondness for our fair city and I think he professed Ohio roots. I hadn’t heard of him before that appearance but discovered he had a fair number of local listeners. I listened to his show once or twice and moved on.

Here’s hoping "the people’s attorney" does not represent himself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

East Cleveland citizens turn out in force to question mayor; council AWOL

East Cleveland residents arrive at citizen forum looking for responsive, civil, and intelligent government

About 80 East Cleveland residents showed up in assertive mode at New Covenant Lutheran Church near the corner of Hayden Rd. and Shaw Ave. last night. They were angry at proposed cuts to the city’s police force, the proposed shuttering of its treasured Helen S. Brown Senior Center, and the city’s return to fiscal emergency.

When the citizenry gets aroused, politicians either typically either pay close attention or head for the hills. Both reactions were in evidence last night.

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton showed to take the questions. Not a single one of the five East Cleveland city councilors showed up, even though they had two weeks notice.

Their absence was lamented and denounced by several members of the audience during the public comment period that followed the scripted questions put to the mayor by Grannetta Taylor, president of the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope [NOAH], the forum convener and host.

One council confidant told me after the forum that none of the wanted to come because they considered the crowd to be “pro-mayor, and they didn’t want to come and get an a**-whipping.” When I pointed out that this was a public forum, to which council members could have brought their supporters, the response was the same.

Given that many in the crowd seemed to hold the mayor equally accountable with council for a relational hostility between executive and legislative branches that makes the last Congress look like a tea party [the old-fashioned kind], Norton would probably dispute that it was a mayor-friendly crowd. He did, however, take full advantage of council to show up and defend his administration.

Mayor Gary Norton defends his administration
as angry residents decry planned 70%
reduction in safety forces budget.
Norton suggested to the forum that council’s absence was characteristic, pointing out that they had repeatedly spurned his offer to meet with them on a weekly basis, and that when he was negotiating with the Cleveland Clinic in 2011 over compensation to the city for the closing of Huron Road Hospital, none of the council was willing to join in the talks.

Norton said that he has urged council to reconsider its 25% cut of the safety forces budget, saying it would lead to a 70% reduction in police street presence and that the cost savings would be minimal.

NOAH executive director Trevelle Harp
urges residents to attend
next council meeting 
The meeting ended with about 35 or 40 members raising their hands and promising to attend the next council meeting on February 5, where they will demand restoration of the safety budget, and that the mayor and council collaborate to find a way to keep open both the Helen S. Brown Senior Center and the Martin Luther King Civic Center that offers youth programming.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Art and Life: Strange Fruits

2013 Creative Workforce Fellow Gary Williams speaks with
textile artists Mary Diann Pinckney and Felecia Tinker at the CPAC awards
program last week at Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art

Cleveland has such acute civic, social and economic problems that it behooves us every now and then to step back and enjoy the vibrancy and potential of our cultural arts scene.

Last Thursday offered an occasion to do just that at a reception for 22 local artists who were recognized for the quality of their work with significant financial stipends from the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. Twenty of the artists received Creative Workforce Fellowships in the amount of $20,000 each, thanks to the generous support of Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture [CAC].

The artists were truly a diverse and unique mix of homegrown and immigrant talent, varying in artistic media, appearance, ethnicity, size and shape. As each came forward to receive their awards and offer words of thanks, the audience received a reminder of art’s universality and unpredictability.

The 2013 Fellows are Kristen Cliffel, Andy Curlowe, Gary Dumm, Virgie Ezelle-Patton, Colleen Fraser, Brandon Juhasz, Mimi Kato, Andrea Levy, Michaelangelo Lovelace, Christine Mauersberger, Liz Maugans, Valerie Mayén, Dru McKeown, Laura Paglin, Sarah Paul, Barry Underwood, Gary Williams, Gadi Zamir, Olga Ziemska, and Zena Zipporah.

Also recognized were artists Chris Comella and Todd Pownell. Each received a $2,500 Seth Rosenberg Prize.

CAC was approved by county voters in 2006, and since 2007 has approved more than $95 million in over 200 local arts and cultural organizations. For more information about the Fellowship Program, contact CPAC program manager Susan dePasquale at or 216.575.0331 x 127.

Other Arts News: Sundance, Ensemble Theater

Before there was Trayvon Martin there was Oscar Grant, a 22 year old African American shot and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer at the Fruitvale subway station stop in Oakland CA.

“Fruitvale”, a film based on this tragic and all-too-familiar story, has just won top audience and grand jury prizes as the best U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

Ryan Coogler, 2013 winning Sundance Festival director
“This project was about humanity, about human beings and how we treat each other; how we treat the people that we love the most, and how we treat the people that we don’t know,” said first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler, 26, who wrote and directed the dramatic narrative. [Read more here.]

Grant’s death, witnessed and recorded by many on their cellphones, led to widespread protests in Oakland and across the nation. The officer who killed Grant served a mere 11months of a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Variation on a Theme 

Closer to home, and carrying a similar theme, “The Gospel According to James” opened over the weekend at Ensemble Theater in Cleveland Heights.

The play is based on the true-life story surrounding the attempted lynching of three black teenagers in Marion, Indiana in 1930. One of the youths, James Cameron, was able to escape. The ugly incident contributed to the enactment of federal anti-lynching laws and also inspired the writing of “Strange Fruit”, soon made famous by the immortal Billie Holiday.

According to Peter Lawson Jones, the play “is a highly dramatic and provocative fictionalized account of Cameron’s return decades later to the town where his friends were lynched and of his encounter with the European-American woman who incited the events of that night.”

The play will run Friday and Saturday evenings through February 17 at Ensemble, which is located at 2843 Washington Boulevard in the former Coventry School.

Jones plays the title role under the direction of Celeste Cosentino, the theater’s artistic director. For show times, tickets, etc. visit here.