You know that phrase, “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy?” Well, that’s how I feel about Ivan Harrell, whom I first met in 2011. He was the subject of a front-page story I wrote about his daily life as he waited for a heart transplant. His bag was packed. Finally, on Sept. 14, 2013, he got the call and went to UNC Hospital that night in Chapel Hill. The next day he had a new heart, and in the year since is doing just fine.
For years now, we’ve talked about how the numbers of the Tom Brokaw-coined “Greatest Generation” have been dwindling. But still, there are many World War II veterans who are still here in Durham, still living each day. Nineteen of them were at the Friendly City Civitan Club this week, invited to the annual Veterans Appreciation Lunch.
Seeing is believing. The Ray Rice video is forcing America to confront itself. It is most definitely our business. We’ve always known it’s our business, but it was easier to look the other way. American life is not more dangerous today that it was a few generations ago. We just know what’s happening now. Talk to someone long enough about life decades ago and you’ll hear stories of people being victims of abuse, and the abuser walked. I don’t mean they got off in court, though that certainly happens; I mean they were never even arrested.
Durham Public Schools’ universal breakfast, a topic during this past spring’s school board race, went into effect this new school year. The idea is that if everyone can eat a free breakfast, they’re more likely to grab something to eat instead of the focus being on the kids who are getting it because of their parents’ lower incomes.
Sitting in a fast-food restaurant eating chicken after using a back-to-school coupon, my son and I talked about Labor Day. There’s no school on Monday, I told him, because of the holiday. Labor Day is a holiday for people who work, I said. People who work hard deserve a holiday, I said.
For some reason, my most vivid childhood memory of a back-to-school night is not my own school, but my sister’s. We were living in Augusta, Georgia, (the suburb of Martinez, to be specific) and she was starting junior high. It was the 1980s. I was still in elementary school. I can picture the evening. There were trailers, not just the main building. It was crowded. She got a souvenir light blue plastic mug. Maybe it was the mug. It was a cool mug. What has stayed with me is the feeling of newness – our family of four checking out a new school where my older sister would go. I don’t recall being upset she went to a different school. It was just different not being in the same school together anymore.
What does good leadership in times of crisis look like? We saw it late last week in Ferguson, Missouri, when Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol came into a contentious situation and the mood changed in no small way because of his leadership. What he did was walk with the people who were upset. He talked with them, not to them. He listened. He hugged. In short, he led.
It was everything I hoped it would be. Last week, I told you about the resurgence of the classic children’s game of dodgeball. The YMCA at American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham has been holding a summer dodgeball tournament in the Cage, that fenced in area near the parked train car in the center of the complex. Friday morning, I witnessed the glory that is hitting your colleagues with balls for fun.
When I was a kid, we took dodge ball seriously. We played in public schools, and we hit each other hard with those dodge balls. No remorse. You dodged, or you got hit.
Durham County Library’s sixth Reader of the Week is Can Wang. Can is 6 years old and attends Orange Charter School. Her favorite book is “Cinderella.” Can visits Southwest Regional Library. She also attended an arts camp this summer, where she drew a big beautiful tree.
As far as indoor entertainment venues go, the Durham Performing Arts Center is arguably the biggest draw in the Triangle, bringing both Broadway shows and big-name concerts to the stage since it opened in late 2007. Pollstar Magazine just rated it third on its list of national attendance at theaters. But that’s indoors.
When I first began reporting, I noticed that one of the first questions interview subjects would ask me was, “Where are you from?” It’s just a way to make small talk, to look for common ground. Most of the time.
When the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated a few years ago, I covered the Durham angle by riding along on a Durham NAACP bus of people going to the ceremony. The group was amidst the hundreds of thousands at the ceremony, but didn’t see the memorial except from quite a distance.
Summer reading. It’s not just for kids. Sure, children are encouraged to keep up their literary skills when school’s out, and frequent visits to the library for programs, or reading books at home, are a great way to do that. But summer reading is also something adults do because it seems like we have more free time in the summer.
As sure as the stars and stripes, our nation’s Independence Day approaches and so it’s time for my annual column about being an American.