Sunday, April 29, 2007


It seems like that in the last few weeks, we have had event after event that has caused me to pause and wonder a lot about our current human condition. These events, both locally and nationally, have been gripping in their media appeal and ability to dominate the cable news, talk radio and grab the headlines in the print media.

But as one event knocks off the prior one for the top spot, I keep asking myself, what is that we’ve learned? I know that there is no law stating that we have to learn anything from any event, but for a community of thinking people with enormous intellectual capacity and who seem to value social progress, it seems to be a reasonable expectation. It’s as if we must be a living testament to George Santayana’s oft quoted line, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Let’s look at two examples. First, the Duke Lacrosse case, or the stripper false allegation case as some call it. When the case first broke in the media, the uproar was deafening and the responses were certainly predictable. Anger, disgust, outrage, hate, and repugnance were evident and came through in media reports loudly and clearly. The lacrosse players and their coach, and those defending them, appeared to have little support.

People firmly on both sides of the case accused those of us of all sorts of things when cautioned that in situations like this it was best to wait for some facts to come in before reaching a judgment. So when people called from all over our country and asked about the case, I responded that it had all of the ingredients that the media loves: race, sex, class, an elite university, and disreputable employment.

When the North Carolina Attorney General declared the three young men innocent, reactions were just as loud. Of course, some argued that they knew it all the time and others claim that you can’t be innocent when you have a team party with alcohol being served to underage teens while watching an “exotic” dancer. But the key point is that those who knew what they knew in the beginning were just as adamant when this development became public.

Then comes Imus and his non-humorous attempt at humor (he claims) and the Duke story is no longer number one. Again, we have race and a verified assault on a group of young women. People who supported Imus referenced the 1st Amendment and his opponents argued that he had no right to do what he did to those young ladies. No attorney general declared him innocent or guilty, the marketplace did.

When the broadcast sponsors were bombarded with complaints from the public, the TV and radio networks went from a suspension to a firing, but not because they really didn’t like what their star jock said, but because the market forces aligned against them.

What troubles me in this situation is that we didn’t get to discuss more fully the issues raised in this case. In particular, how much discussion has there been about the rest of what Imus said, that the University of Tennessee girls were “cute?” What was he saying? Was it solely because of the absence of tattoos or was it because of straight hair and fair skin? Note that this is not a new race topic that we can’t seem to discuss openly or honestly.

Do you see a pattern? We know what we know and the facts, whenever they surface, are not going to keep some of us from our rush to judgments in hot button cases. There are so many outlets these days like blogs and chat rooms where we can express whatever opinion we have without having any responsibility to know what we are talking about. After all, we have a right to our opinions and therefore the right to be 100% wrong.

But when it comes to both sides of the hot buttons of race, class, sex and other captivating topics, why is it so hard for even people of goodwill to have candid and honest discussions? Hence, I must keep wondering what it is that we’ve learned from these cases. It’s interesting that 30 years ago when the TV docudrama “Roots” first aired, we seemed to be on our way in making some progress towards being able to discuss hard topics. Now, I’m not sure we’ve progressed.

In our local community, we are facing some hard issues like redistricting and the achievement gap where race and class are prominent factors. How can we achieve solutions if we can’t have honest and open discussions? I want to be optimistic that we can show that we’ve learned something constructive and beneficial from these recent events. If we can do that, it would be a good thing.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of the truths of our civic culture is that there are two distinct groups of citizens. In one group we have those who are willing to seek office to serve their community and the other group is made up of those of us who observe the first. Clearly, both groups are necessary for our system to work but we should acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to be in the first group.

What if there were an election and nobody was on the ballot? Not very likely you say because there are always those who are willing to be group one folks. I guess that’s been true, and anyway it’s probably more likely that there could be an election and too few came out to vote. But it takes real bravery to sign on to be in group one and no courage at all to not participate in the electoral process.

How would you decide whether to run for office? After deciding to run what else do you have to do to enhance your chances of success? That is such a good question that the Community Action Network (CAN) decided to sponsor another free and nonpartisan campaign and elections workshop that will be held at the Chapel Hill Town Council chambers on Saturday April 28th from 10 a.m. to Noon. Registration is not required.

The workshop will cover running for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Hillsborough Town Council and the two school boards in Orange County. Those interested in running, as well as those just interested in working on a campaign, are the prime target audience.

Here is how it will work. The workshop will have three components. The first will consist of questions from moderator Rosemary Waldorf (former Chapel Hill Mayor) directed to a panel of former elected officials and volunteer campaign workers. The questions will focus primarily on deciding to run for office, campaign staffing, scheduling, financing, publicity, election laws, and the use of technology. In the second component, members of the audience will be able to participate directly by asking questions of the panel members.

The panel members scheduled to participate are Nick Didow, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board member; Steve Halkiotis, a former Orange County Commissioner; Susan Halkiotis, a former Orange County School Board member; Tom Jensen, a recent UNC-CH graduate who has been active in a number of local campaigns; Thomas Mills, a political consultant; Ruby Sinreich, a former candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council and a computer technology usage expert; and Allen Spalt, a former Carrboro Board of Aldermen member. Others may be added in the run-up to the workshop.

After the panel discussion and questions from the audience, panel members will break into several small informal groups. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss specific questions that they have and follow up on topics that were covered in the first two components. The last time that CAN sponsored the workshop, the small groups were very popular and the added benefit was that participants were able to establish relationships with the former office seekers and campaign workers.

There will be some useful information to take home, as CAN has prepared a resource packet. It will include basic information about how to file for elections, samples of reports required by the Orange County Board of Elections, and a campaign activity timeline.

Why is CAN doing this? As a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the general public interest, the board sees this activity as a perfect way to increase public awareness of this critical civic activity. Additionally, no organization other than CAN has done a similar workshop so it fills a need. Several attendees at the last workshop did in fact run for office and thought that the workshop was useful.

Since it might be difficult for some to get to Town Hall on a Saturday morning, the session can be seen in real time on Chapel Hill cable channel 18 and it will be rebroadcast on future dates on the People’s Channel.

I hope that many people come to the free workshop or watch it on TV. I also hope that more than a few people in Orange County will be motivated, after some serious thinking and analysis, to seek office. Having a good pool of candidates means that we will continue to have good political leadership. After all, we have some tough policy issues to navigate.

Just as CAN has tried to be “a positive force for positive action” in the Orange County community, having positive individuals who are willing to serve us is a good thing; having to choose from a slate of many good candidates is an even better thing!

Fred is the past chair and a current board member.
Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Yes, April 15 to 21 is National Library Week 2007. It’s a time to celebrate again the contributions of our nation's libraries, our librarians, and our library workers, as well as to promote library use and support. That’s what the American Library Association says about the annual event that it has sponsored since 1958.

In our community, we are blessed with our outstanding local and county libraries and the richness of the exceptional academic libraries at UNC. Libraries are a vital component of the quality of life that we enjoy and I think it would be a rare citizen who couldn’t think of a way that a library has made a difference in their life. To say that libraries are transforming places would not be an overstatement.

We are also blessed in Chapel Hill with having a top-notch library director, a truly wonderful group of committed professional staff members, tireless volunteers, and two special organizations dedicated to enhancing our library, The Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library, and The Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation.

For me, libraries have always been extraordinary places to learn and grow, as well as find new materials to explore, and new ideas to ponder. And best of all, they are places that offer unlimited enjoyment. When we initially arrived in Chapel Hill, one of the first things I did was to go get my library card. As a fan of libraries, I was amazed with how robust a collection and how beautiful a facility we had here in our community.

Not too long after getting my card, I met a friend from our New York days who also had moved to Chapel Hill. She was on the Library Board of Trustees and knowing that I had chaired the library committee for an academic institution in New York, she encouraged me to get involved here. I eventually served on the Library Board and had the opportunity to serve as its chair for two terms.

Working closely with an academic library and then a community library, I have been able to witness personally the technological revolution that has occurred, and in my opinion, changes made have been for the good of all. I can’t tell you how outraged some of those professors were back in the early 1990s when they learned that the card catalog was being retired and would be replaced by a terminal. They were not shy about expressing their feelings, as they were uncertain about the coming changes. Now, those terminals seem very much at home in libraries and we have adjusted to the change.

In Chapel Hill, our automated catalog now uses a graphics environment and provides patrons with much more online information about the collection than it once did. We also have a beautiful web page that provides lots and lots of information and has content in Spanish. Our library also has Internet access and a wireless capability throughout. In other words, we are high tech and will become even more so in the years to come.

But libraries are not just about machines and technology, they are also about people and the services that are provided. For example, in partnership with UNC, we have computer classes. In conjunction with The Friends, we have several popular programs like the “Books Sandwiched In” Club, “meet the author” opportunities, and special learning occasions like the series on the Constitution.

Children’s programming and circulation continue to grow at a rapid rate; and overall, the Chapel Hill Public Library continues to be the busiest per capita circulation public library in North Carolina. This demand locally for library programming is matched with the demand for accessible community meeting space. Hence, the bond that voters approved to expand our beautiful facility should allow us to offer more space to provide what citizens clearly want.

Go to the library web site <> and see what’s happening during National Library Week and beyond. You can also go to <> and see what The Friends are doing to further the excellence of Chapel Hill Public Library. They raise money for library needs through their book sales, sponsor programs for adults and children, and foster interest in the library. Another place to visit is <> to see what the Library Foundation is doing as part of their “ensuring excellence” campaign. They and The Friends have made significant contributions to the library and they solicit community support to make it possible.

Yes, this week is National Library Week, and our library is a truly special resource. Use it! Everyone who helps to make it the special place that it is should be remembered not just during this week, but every week. After all, having a community jewel is a good thing, and recognizing that it is so special is even better!

Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I have said on more than one occasion that we live in an opinion-gifted community. Fortunately, we also live in a community where we have people who just don’t “talk the talk” but they also “walk the walk!”

On Thursday March 29th, I was privileged to be in the presence of just these kind of people when Habitat for Humanity Orange County, NC held its volunteer appreciation dinner at the United Church of Chapel Hill.

In the room were many who have made the local Habitat for Humanity a real success — volunteers, homeowners and staffers. In her welcome, executive director Susan Levy indicated what she considered to be the notable achievements since the 2006 dinner and notable they were.

Our Habitat group has dedicated its 150th home in Orange County. The “Fairview Initiative” in Hillsborough was started and it has helped to revitalize that community. Home construction started on Terrell Road and on Tulip Tree Road in Hillsborough and one of the homes is unique, as student winners of the North Carolina Sustainable Build Design Competition did its design.

Also in 2006, local builders Anderson Homes and Olde South Building Company not only sponsored three homes in Richmond Hills, they built them in a “blitz build” in just one week! This endeavor was part of a nationwide “Builders Blitz” resulting in the construction of more than 400 new homes nationally.

To support projects in Orange and Durham Counties, the two Habitat’s “Hand-Me-Up” resale store sold furniture, appliances, household goods and antiques and was able to give both county groups $35,000 each. Later this year, another store will open and sell construction and building materials as a way to not only recycle perfectly good items but also raise needed funds.

Another accomplishment that should make everyone proud is that Habitat Orange now has build 50 homes over the last four years with sprinklers installed. A volunteer spearheaded the effort and, working in conjunction with local fire officials, the idea came to life and now those 50 homes are some of the safest in Orange County.

Believing in being good stewards with the gifts they receive, our Habitat tithes $4,200 for each house it builds. This is the cost to build a Habitat home internationally. To fund its projects, Habitat, like so many other organizations, depends on the generosity of foundations and local donors. Last year supporters raised over $200,000 to exceed the Stewards Fund Challenge to raise $150,000. The $350,000 is to buy the land to build more homes in Orange County. Funds were also raised at the Southern Village 5K race and a picnic where former senator John Edwards addressed hundreds on the importance of affordable housing.

Habitat’s capital campaign just went public. With a goal of $5 million, $4.3 million has already been raised in the quiet phase and the organization hopes to raise the remaining $700,000 before the end of 2007. More on where you might come in a little later.

All of this good news is really great, but the REAL story is the Habitat volunteers. These giving people not only swing hammers, but they also serve on committees that make the program work. They come from every strata of the community and they do what they do out of a sense of commitment and love that is simply overwhelming.

Who are the volunteers? They are us! They are high school students and UNC students from a wide range of organizations and groups that want to help. Examples include the UNC Class of 2007, numerous fraternities and sororities, the business school, religious campus organizations, departments and many other university groups. Volunteers are from our many congregations of all faiths who believe so strongly in the mission: “Habitat for Humanity of Orange County brings together God's people and resources to build quality affordable homes with people who need them.”

Each Habitat homeowners is required to invest 325 hours of sweat equity during the construction of their home and the homes of other Habitat families. As a result, neighbors meet neighbors long before they move in and develop firm and cooperative friendships. They also work along side volunteers and build lasting bounds of friendship. And homeowners also know that their monthly mortgage payments are used to build more Habitat homes for another family, thus helping to build Orange County one home at a time.

I stand in awe of those honored for their service to this great organization, people like former board chair John Sehon who received the Alice Call Miller Volunteer Award for helping Habitat grow and improve to better accomplish its mission.

What can you do? Volunteering your time is simple. Contact the volunteer coordinator at 932-7077 ext. 221, or by email at If you desire to donate, go to and select the option that works best for you. Giving your time and talents and/or your money to support this worthy cause is a good thing to do!

Note: Fred is a Habitat volunteer and the vice chair of the capital campaign leadership committee.

Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Have you ever heard Graig Meyer talk about the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate (BRMA) program? If you haven’t, you’ve missed something special. If you have, then you know that this Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of Wooster and trained social worker is passionate, dedicated, and enthusiastic. This is just the kind of speaker you want, one who resolutely believes in this program.

Having been the coordinator of BRMA since August of 1998, Meyer knows the ends and outs of getting a program to run and the trials of keeping it running. When he speaks, it’s also extremely clear that he also knows the joys that come from seeing the program make a real difference in the lives of all of the participants.

What is the program all about? BRMA primarily takes black and Latino students beginning in the fourth grade and matches them with mentors to help the students grow both in the classroom and in life. The formal mission statement reads, “To establish supportive relationships between adults and children to broaden children’s visions of their future; consequently helping them reach their fullest academic, physical, emotional, and social potential.” The first participants graduated from our high schools in 2003.

To accomplish this formidable task, there are several components of the program that all come together to achieve success. First, there is the mentoring component where a mentor-advocate from the community is matched with a student. Many mentors establish a long-term relationship with the student and help to broaden the student’s world-view over a number of years.

As advocates mentors and parents work in harmony to advocate for students in both the school and the community to harness, develop and use the various resources that support student success. One program resource is weeknight tutoring led by UNC students. Meyer indicates that the students in the program and from UNC form a unique bond, reinforcing academic success and interest in college.

To build on such interest, the program sponsors college tours, workshops, and much needed assistance to students as they work their way through the application and financial aid maze. Mentors are able to share their personal insights and experiences and that also helps to demystify what for most is a daunting process.

To accomplish the social development component, the BRMA program, provides for group social activities, summer camp opportunities, and funds for scholarships to participate in activities such as music or art lessons or athletic team. There are also opportunities to take advantage of the many cultural resources in our community.

The Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute is the vehicle for developing leadership skills during the summer and their year round service club. These opportunities for leadership development are available to students who are not participating in the mentor component of the program. The result, of course, is a rich leadership laboratory experience where practice in service learning opportunities helps to reinforce leadership skills.

If all that the program is doing wasn’t ambitious enough, there are two other things that are important to mention. Developed in cooperation with the North Carolina Council on Economic Education and the Carolina Pros, former letter winners from UNC, a “Show Me the Money!” class provides some other needed skills. Participants interact with professionals from the business, finance and technology sectors get to manage the financial portfolio of real-world professional athletes. To test their skills, there is a statewide competition against other “managers.”

Lastly, fifteen students in the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) have been selected based on their commitment to servant-leadership to participate in a service-learning trip to Ghana, West Africa this summer. This “International Service-Learning Trip” is an amazing journey for cultural learning and service to others. In the past, YLI service projects during the school year and summer camp experiences blended nicely with the opportunity to participate in spring break trips to help others. But a trip to Ghana? What an amazing opportunity for personal growth and cultural enrichment.

Obviously, none of this could happen if the program didn’t receive generous support of foundations and local citizens. The total cost per student for the trip to Ghana will be approximately $3550. To demonstrate a significant commitment students and their families are being asked to contribute $1000 towards the cost. The BRMA program will raise the additional $2550 for each student through grants, sponsorships, and donations from our community.

Some can help this great program with a generous donation. Others can help by volunteering their time and talent to help some young people build the foundation for success in life. Go to the program’s web page to see how you can volunteer, make a donation, or do both. Remember the stated mission of the program? We all do things that affect a child’s vision of their future. Doing positive things is a good thing!

Previous columns are available at