Jun 142018

Evanston RoundTable, June 14, 2018

Food, why do you love me so? Sadly, you go right to my heart—and my waistline. It’s not because you taste so good or I’m so hungry for you. No, sad to say, it has more to do with our love-hate, approach-avoidance, feast-or-famine relationship.

Really, I’d rather we were just friends.

Don’t take it personally; it’s as much my fault as yours. I can’t help but love your gloppy cheese pizzas, 16-ounce sugary colas, salt-laden flavored chips and 16% butterfat-saturated ice cream.

I eat you and then lie there, in a stupor, like the boa that swallowed the pig.

It’s not just me, it’s a lot of us. Some 38% of U.S. adults are obese,and another 32% are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worse yet, obesity affects almost one in five children and adolescents, triple the number a generation ago.

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests obesity accounts for 18% of deaths in the U.S. That’s almost half a million people a year.

It’s all because of you, Food. You got all processed, sugared over and junked up for us. And we just can’t resist, despite the risk of diabetes, heart disease, feelings of failure and anxiety and letting out our pants out every few months.

OK, so Houston, we have a problem. What to do? Most people have a one-word answer: diet! But that’s a problem too.

Everyone knows what a diet means: rationing calories. And it usually works, for a while, anyway, until the pounds that disappeared start to reappear. That’s because eating bad food is just too good to pass up. And the see-saw effect of losing and gaining weight is a habit too hard to break.

So, how to break up with bad food?

America, you know the answer! Instead of diet, think regimen or, in the current nutrition parlance, eating plan. Instead of temporary, think always or lifetime. Diet suggests one-and-done, but calories are forever.

So here’s today’s lesson. Strip the word diet from your vocabulary. Rethink eating. Good eating isn’t temporary, nor is daily exercise. They are as necessary and regular as breathing.

Stick with science author Michael Pollan’s entirely apt and wonderfully concise recommendation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And wait until you’re hungry.

Plant food, not processed food, is what Homo sapiens grew up on. It is what our bodies know how to digest and metabolize admirably well. Throw in a daily course of fruit and nuts. Add some lean meats and fish with omega-3 fatty acids. Skinny down the portions and skip pasta, fried foods, bread, all-but-whole grains and anything with added sugar.

OK, that’s tough. But America, if you must splurge, confine it to once a week. Make Saturday your bad-food date night. Sunday morning you’ll hate yourself, but only for a few hours. Then you’re back to your regimen.

Take that, Food!

Jun 032018

Evanston RoundTable, May 31, 2018

Among the gregarious and hilarious regulars at the men’s locker room at the McGaw YMCA, where we regularly consider the wisdom and stupidity of the world, one recent conversation centered on an interesting question: what will life be like in 100 years?

A consensus emerged that things will, by and large, be better. Surely, people agreed, cancer will be at thing of the past. Commuting to the moon and Mars might be commonplace, and the average lifespan will exceed 120 years. Perhaps scientists will have figured out how people can stay sharp and refreshed on three or four hours of sleep a night. Imagine the boon to humanity if everyone could find an extra thousand hours a year for creating and inventing.

Of course, this all may seem naïve and fantastical, like the ruling world government H.G. Wells long ago predicted. But think of the progress that has been made in the last hundred years. A century ago, “Technology was meager, financial ruin was one downturn away…and the choices that Americans have come to expect—in their cars, clothes, food and homes—were [limited] by a monotonous consumer economy,” according to a fascinating article in the February 2016 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

Manufacturing workers averaged 55 hours a week, and the fatality rate from workplace accidents was 30 times what it is today.

Women didn’t get the vote until 2020 and were confined mostly to teaching jobs. There was no Social Security; growing old was hazardous. Former Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil, who died in 1994, described the America of his youth as “a desperate place.  Half the people live in poverty…Life for the elderly is filled with uncertainty, dependency and horror. When you get old, you are without income, without hope.”

Americans on average spent one-third of their income on food, double the percentage today. Owning a home was highly unusual, about one-third the rate of home ownership now. Infant mortality was tragically common. One in 10 infants died in their first year; now it is less than six in 1,000. In 1920 fewer than 30% of American teens were in high school; the rest were already in the workforce.

Horses for work and transportation were still ubiquitous. There were very few cars. Most people did not have telephones, a refrigerator or a radio.

The average lifespan in 1918 (when the flu pandemic was rampant) was 37 years for men and 42 for women, about half what it is today.

In most respects it was a different world, a different way of life.

Of course, the pace of change is never the same from century to century. The next hundred years might be far less dramatic and beneficial than the last one. Or it might be more. All we can do is look back and marvel at the differences between 1918 and today.

Hard to imagine, and yet imagine we must, because imagining a better future is the first step to achieving it.

Jun 032018

Evanston RoundTable, May 31, 2018

What may be an important initiative to reduce youth violence in Evanston is being launched this summer. The Kingian Nonviolence program, named after and inspired by the life, work and principles of Martin Luther King, will be held from June 19 through July 31. Some two dozen Evanston Township High School students will earn $8.50 an hour while learning and applying the principles of Dr. King’s life and career to community service projects. By the end of the program students will be certified to train others in nonviolence principles.

The brainchild of Kevin Brown, Manager of Community Services for the City’s Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department, the summer program is a partnership between the City of Evanston and the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training.


Kevin Brown

Mr. Brown was first approached about Kingian Nonviolence in the summer of 2016 by Pam Smith and Gail Schechter, co-founders of the Addie Wyatt Center. Both women had trained at the University of Rhode Island’s International Nonviolence Summer Institute. One of Dr. King’s last wishes, which he proposed on the day he died, was to “institutionalize and internationalize” nonviolence training.

“I was intrigued with the program, because our team does a lot of work with conflict resolution,” Mr. Brown said. “Our job is to identify and work with at-risk young people, providing them with the proper resources and job assistance to help them become good citizens.”

A similar nonviolence program, introduced at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago in 2010, is credited with reducing violence there by 90%.

Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith are no strangers to ETHS. Ms. Smith grew up in Evanston and graduated from the school in 1976. In April 2016, after having presented their Kingian Nonviolence program at several Chicago high schools, they convened a meeting with the leadership board of ETHS’s Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) to discuss violence, racism and class differences at the school.

“The students wanted to get involved,” said ETHS history and sociology teacher Corey Winchester, who is the staff coordinator for SOAR. “They decided to adopt Kingian Nonviolence as one of their projects.

“What appealed to me,” he said, “was that this seemed to be a new way of thinking about a lot of issues in our society—a lens in how to resolve conflicts and bring about restorative practices to deal with what otherwise might lead to violence.” Mr. Winchester defined “violence” in broad terms: “Not just fighting but hateful speech, writing and conduct that result in racism, classism, homophobia, people feeling unsafe, all sorts of things that can lead to anger and anxiety.”

Keith Robinson, Assistant Principal at ETHS, felt the same way. “We at the high school were interested in exploring how we can align with and apply Dr. King’s practices of peace in a proactive way.”

The Kingian approach is based on the famed civil rights leader’s six principles of nonviolence, which are: nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people; the Beloved Community is the framework of the future; attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil; accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal; avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence; and the universe is on the side of justice.

The summer program will be held at the Morton Civic Center, and include instruction from Mr. Brown’s staff, who have been certified as trainers in Kingian Nonviolence. Trainers also include Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith as well as Addie Wyatt co-founders Sherri Bevel and Mary Lou Finley. As a young college graduate in the 1960s, Ms. Finley worked with Dr. King. Also scheduled to address the students are youth activists as well as civil rights leaders Timuel Black and Bernard Lafayette, who also worked with Dr. King. Dr. Lafayette is the founder of the University of Rhode Island Summer Institute and is the main author of the Kingian Nonviolence training curriculum.

Ms. Schechter, who helped put together the summer program, described the Addie Wyatt philosophy as “a process for adopting nonviolence as a way of life and addressing the underlying causes of unjust social conditions” through Dr. King’s “philosophy and methodology of nonviolent conflict reconciliation.”

According to the Addie Wyatt website, traineesstudy thelife, work and teachings of Dr. King and explore how this philosophy of nonviolence can be applied to confront injustice and build towards the Beloved Community… [A]ttendees become familiar with a viable, practical and historically effective map for how to create lasting social change through nonviolent direct action; and how to dig deep below conflicts to find true reconciliation.”

Students in the Evanston’s summer program will also participate in a number of field trips, including scheduled visits to the headquarters of Rainbow-PUSH and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, as well as New Friendship Baptist Church and North Lawndale, where it “helped change the culture of the school to promote a more peaceful, nonviolent community,” Ms. Schechter said. So-called Peace Warriors at North Lawndale, who are students trained in Kingian Nonviolence, helped establish a climate in which the school regularly celebrates violence-free periods with school-wide Peace Days and an annual year-end Peace Celebration, said Jude Laude, a District 202 Board member and guidance counselor at North Lawndale. In the 2017-18 academic year, the school was violence-free 158 out of 168 days. “Kingian Nonviolence has definitely helped transform the school,” he said.

Since the SOAR focus group in 2016, Ms. Bevel, Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith have co-led joint two-day student workshops with students from ETHS, Wendell Phillips and Perspectives High School students in Chicago. The most recent workshop was held at ETHS in February and March of 2018, funded by a grant from the Evanston Community Foundation. At this point, Ms. Smith estimates, some 50 ETHS students have been trained in or exposed to Kingian principles, including senior Kai Gerberick. At the February-March workshop, he said the training helps “to convey and imbue” Dr. King’s principles. “It encourages an internal spiritual reckoning,” he said.

“Our goal is to address issues the students see as important, such as intolerance, racism, micro-aggression and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Ms. Smith. “We want to train enough students to become effective ambassadors of peace in the school and, over the long term, have a ripple effect in the community.”

Students participating in the Evanston summer program have been selected from a list of high-school age youth who signed up for summer jobs through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, said Mr. Brown. Staffers have worked to put together a group of young people who can benefit the most from the program and “empower other students to peacefully resolve conflicts that occur in the school and in the community” through such techniques as peace circles, mediation and Dr. King’s six principles, he said.

“We’re excited by the prospect,” he added. “We see ETHS becoming a place of peace, which contributes to the goal of education: to help young people grow, develop and reach their full potential. That’s what Dr. King wanted for every human being.”

May 182018

Evanston RoundTable, May 17, 2018

May 7 through 11 was Teacher Appreciation Week. Schoolteachers in Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado and elsewhere may have been too busy to celebrate, however, demonstrating as they were for better pay and conditions.

Teacher pay calls to mind—baseball, specifically Yu Darvish. The 31-year-old Cubs pitcher was signed last winter to a six-year, $126 million contract. For the math-impaired, that comes to a stupefying $21 million for an eight-month season. All for the privilege of hurling a 5-ounce sphere 60½ feet past opposing batters.

Admittedly not many people can do that. And because here in Evanston we bleed Cubby blue, we’re rooting for Mr. Darvish to succeed. But still, is this a good deal—good for the Cubs and good for America?

Maybe not. As of this writing Mr. Darvish is winless in six starts and coming off 10 days on the disabled list. Surely as the season progresses he will wind up with a bunch of Ws. But that doesn’t change the basic problem: the huge disparity in pay and wealth between a privileged few and the teeming masses, which seems only to get worse.

Outlandishly overpaid athletes, CEOs and celebrities are a fact of life in America. We tend to shrug it off because there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix.

And yet we know it’s not right. There are a lot of underpaid people who do work that is vital to society. Police, paramedics, nurses and firefighters rank high in that category. But at the very top are teachers.

After parents, teachers are the single most important influence on a young person’s life. A good teacher can inspire a lifelong love of learning, guide a person to right behavior and the right career and help instill self-respect and confidence.

“Teachers,” said author and activist Helen Caldicott, “are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.”

But for all the lip-service paid to their influence and importance, including their very own national week of appreciation, teachers are paid a fraction of their worth. Mr. Darvish, if he stays healthy, will throw roughly 3,300 pitches this season. That comes to more than $6,000 a pitch. In one school year a starting teacher in District 65 might earn nine or 10 of Mr. Darvish’s pitches. It will take him a minute or two; it will take her nine months.

The inequity seems cruel, irrational and perverse.

The enormous disparities in salaries and wealth that we see in America are complex and discouraging issues. We genuflect at the altar of free markets, and yet we would prefer a far more just and equitable system that rewards great schooling, not great strikeouts.

Maybe someone will figure out how to make that happen. That would be real appreciation.



May 032018

Evanston RoundTable, May 3, 2018

Good news: my nine-year-old grandson Ben sleeps over most Tuesday nights. His dog Juney sleeps over too. We all sleep together, in one bed, for a hilarious, deeply sleep-impaired night.

More good news. I take boy and dog to his bus stop Wednesday mornings. Since that entails a 25-minute ride, we get plenty of quality talk time.

Bad news: he recently got a “device.” Since then there is no more talk time; he has turned into a screen zombie.

Now, this is not going to be one of those screeds in which the writer inveighs against the evils of screen time. When I was a kid I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Video before “graduating” to The Mickey Mouse Club, the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, and later still to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Doubtless too much screen time is harmful. I heard recently of twin two-year-olds who each had their own iPad. I mean, really. But despite the hand-wringing, I don’t think anything terrible is going to happen to kids’ brains. They’ll pick their heads up enough to meet for play dates, have sleepovers, go out, get married and produce babies of their own, who will have mid-21st century issues, perhaps an addiction to jet-bikes.

Researchers claim the screen habit is the result of subtle, nefarious psychological rewards embedded in the games themselves. Maybe so. But I think it has as much or more to do with conformity. Kids are like adults: they want to do what their friends are doing. Remember fidget spinners?

So here is the conversation I am having with Ben:

Me: Ben, don’t be a follower. It’s so boring. Be a leader. Be the first kid to give up your device.

Ben: What? I don’t want to be a leader.

Me: I mean it. No more screen time at our house or car.

Ben: But Pops!

Me: Absolutely.  It’s a waste of your eyeballs. Step away from the screen, there’s nothing to see there.

Ben: So now what are we going to do?

Me: We can read. There’s a Harry Potter book we can start, and another Roald Dahl I want to try.

Ben: OK, but not in the car.

Me: Right, but we can talk. There’s so much I want to know about you, and I want you to know about me.

Ben: Like what?

Me: Tell you what. We’ll play a game. Call it “Three Questions.” I’ll ask you three and you ask me three. Only one rule: “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. You can make something up, as long as it’s close to the truth.

Ben: Fine. First question. Do we have to do this?

We started last week, and so far, it’s working. Only nine more years till college; we should know each other quite well by then.


Apr 222018

Evanston RoundTable, April 19, 2018

Maybe the luckiest thing that ever happened to me happened right at the start, in the genetic lottery at conception. That’s when I inherited the “reading gene.”

OK, there probably is no such thing, but I remain convinced of it. I have met people who rarely or never read, for whom reading is a chore or worse yet, an ordeal. At the other end of the spectrum there’s the cohort I belong to, people who read obsessively and voluminously, devouring books and magazines as naturally and inescapably as breathing.

In a lifetime of reading, a few dozen authors have become inspiring and dependable companions: Tolstoy, Nabokov, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, John Updike, George Saunders, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Wallace Stegner, David McCullough, Ann Patchett, August Wilson, David Malouf, John McPhee, the Bards of Avon and Asbury Park, and more.

What is it about their books that is so compelling? The best writing helps us understand history and better appreciate people. Beyond that, reading is a blessing in at least two respects: it allows readers to roam the world in time and place learning from others, and it is a great balm and solace in periods of loneliness.

This is the subtext for a classic novel I only recently discovered, “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005. The book’s narrator, the aging and ailing John Ames, is writing a letter to his 7-year-old son, a kind of summing up of his life, which he expects will end soon, before the boy ever gets to know him.

Ames lives in the small Iowa town of the title, and is a preacher who is the son and grandson of preachers. His first wife and child died at childbirth, and he has since experienced profound loneliness. He has lived alone for decades, cared for by sympathetic parishioners, until meeting and marrying a much younger woman, with whom – a surprise to them both – he has a child.

Ames and his best friend Boughton, also a local preacher, discuss religion, the great political and social issues of mid-20th century America as well as their personal lives. What bedevils Ames most is Boughton’s troubled middle-aged son, who has come back to Gilead.

Death too is never far away from Ames’ mind. He writes: “Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing.”

The story is simple and timeless: the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next, the deep love of a man for his wife and child, his regrets and weaknesses, and his constant and beautiful humanity. John Ames is one of the finest creations of 20th century literature. And “Gilead,” the first book of a trilogy about these characters, is one of our finest achievements in literature.

 Note: This version adds seven few words to the list of writers, to reflect two I missed, “the Bards of Avon and Asbury Park.”

Apr 062018

Evanston RoundTable, April 5, 2018

In the war against polio, Rotary is winning. And unbeknownst to most Evanstonians, the PolioPlus global eradication campaign is directed from the Rotary Building in downtown Evanston, headquarters to the million-plus Rotary members and 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide.

When Rotary began its first polio immunization campaign, in the Philippines in 1979, there were more than 1,000 cases a day being reported worldwide. The following year, at Rotary’s 75th anniversary convention in Chicago, oral polio vaccine inventor Albert Sabin challenged Rotary to consider taking on the task of worldwide polio eradication. “Dr. Sabin said an organization like Rotary could make that happen, because we had members in nearly every country in the world,” said Carol Pandak, Director of PolioPlus.

The idea was highly appealing to Rotary, but also audacious. Only one major disease, smallpox, had ever been stamped out worldwide. Nevertheless five years later, in 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus initiative. Partnering with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has provided some $685 million in funding help, by 2017 PolioPlus had reduced the incidence of reported cases worldwide to just 22. And those cases were in just three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – where war and insurgencies made immunization campaigns chaotic if not impossible.

So far this year there have been just five reported cases, all in Afghanistan.

Dr. Pandak said the role of the 500 or so staff people at the Rotary headquarters in Evanston is “fundraising, advocacy and raising awareness with Rotary members. Our Rotary volunteers worldwide are the arms and legs of the PolioPlus campaign.”

Two of those volunteers are Ann and John Searles, longtime Evanstonians and Rotary members. After hearing about the PolioPlus volunteer efforts at a Rotary club meeting, they decided to go to India in February 2004. The polio vaccine is easy for volunteers to administer, requiring just two drops, dispensed from a medicine bottle. “We didn’t need much training,” Ms. Searles said. “You just press the children’s cheeks and their mouths pop open.”

The Searles stayed with local Rotarians in Ghaziabad, about 30 kilometers east of New Delhi. The immunization campaign lasted three days, during which they estimate they immunized several hundred children. They went to clinics, street corner booths and even bus stations. Some mothers would hand their babies to the volunteers right out of bus windows. India was declared polio-free in 2014.

“We were really glad to go,” said Ms. Searles. “It was such a worthy project.”

Worthy – and working, a miracle in the making. “2018 could be the year we see the last case of polio,” said Dr. Pandak, thanks to the efforts of Ann and John Searles and tens of thousands of Rotarians and others in a program started and managed right here in Evanston.

Mar 272018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

“We’re the new kid on the block,” says Evanston resident Angela Young Smucker, one of the founders of Third Coast Baroque, “so we’ve come up with some fresh angles to reframe the music.”

Angela Young Smucker (Photo by Steven E. Gross)

Fresh is good, because the Chicago area is awash with Baroque and early music ensembles, including Music of the Baroque, the Newberry Consort, the Haymarket Opera Company, Callipygian Players, and Schola Antiqua of Chicago. Each has a different spin on music of that era, generally considered to include works composed between 1600 and 1750 and exemplified at its peak by the towering music of Monteverdi, Bach, and Handel.

Baroque’s popularity derives from its effervescent, ornate, and often brilliant style and a trend toward more historically informed performances that strive for greater authenticity and take into account the instruments, bows, and playing techniques of the era.

Third Coast Baroque’s approach reflects the unique perspective of the group’s Artistic Director, Rubén Dubrovsky. Mr. Dubrovsky is from Argentina but studied in Germany and is based in Vienna, where he leads his own group, the Bach Consort Wien.

Ms. Young Smucker, who is a highly regarded mezzo-soprano studying for her doctorate in vocal performance at Northwestern University, had worked with Mr. Dubrovsky previously. “I admired his engaging and collaborative approach and unique presentation style,” she said. “Rubén takes the repertoire and uncovers why it’s still relevant for today’s audiences.”

So she and a colleague, Nathalie Colas, approached Mr. Dubrovsky in 2016 about starting the group.

Their first performance was Nov. 6, 2016, in Chicago’s Columbus Park. A benefit at Piccolo Theatre in Evanston was held the next night. Since then they’ve performed in Evanston and Chicago in April and November 2017, varying vocal and instrumental programs. Their next concert here is 7:30 p.m. April 7 at Galvin Hall at Northwestern. The all-Vivaldi program will feature renowned mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux.

Mr. Dubrovsky’s mother taught piano and his father played Argentine folk music. He grew up playing folk guitar and cello. Many years later, he said, “I realized our native folk music sounded like Baroque music—the dances and rhythms.” And the folk music, he further realized, had its origins in African rhythms and songs that slaves brought over to the New World. He frequently talks about Baroque’s varied roots in the engaging presentations he makes during his concerts.

He will also discuss Baroque’s relevance to today’s music. “Kids think classical music is for rich white people and has nothing to do with them. Not so,” he says emphatically. “The folk roots of Baroque reflect native dance music,” which he says can be heard in black, African American, and Latino music and even contemporary pop, rap, and R&B. “Baroque,” adds Ms. Young Smucker, “is a building block.”

This kind of audience discussion is critical, Mr. Dubrovsky says. “It is very important to provide context, to make it easier for people to understand and connect. It’s not just nice music; I’m trying to provide insight into an aspect of our universal culture.”

“Call it Baroque musicology made painless,” wrote the Tribune music critic John von Rhein after the group’s April 2017 concert. “Also informative. Also entertaining. If this is how Dubrovsky hopes to reframe early music, break down barriers, and cultivate an ongoing dialogue with listeners, then bring it on, I say.”

“Rubén is wildly enthusiastic about the music and works at a very high artistic level,” says Evanston resident Jerry Fuller, who plays double bass with and sits on the advisory board of Third Coast Baroque. Mr. Fuller also leads his own Baroque ensemble, Ars Antigua Presents. “[Rubén] has been very successful bringing his cross-cultural vision to audiences. He knows how to bring it all together.”


Mar 262018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

Chanting “hey hey, ho ho, gun violence has got to go,” thousands of Evanston Township High School students on March 14 joined the nationwide student walkout for stronger gun laws.

The morning rally, held at Lazier Field, filled the stadium’s west stands to overflowing. A school official estimated almost all the school’s 3,500 students attended.

Emma Stein, president of the Student Senate, prepares to address the school rally. (RoundTable photo)

“Students were given a choice whether to attend,” said Emma Stein, a senior and the rally’s chief organizer. “It wasn’t a school-sanctioned event but the school helped us. But the vast majority of planning was done by the Student Senate and the school group Students Organized Against Racism.”

“We wanted to keep our students safe as they engage in free speech,” said ETHS Principal and District 202 Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell. “We are happy that they are speaking up on the issues that matter to them.”

Emma, who is a senior and president of the Student Senate, was the first of several students to speak. “Today our voices ring out in solidarity with the youth of America,” she said. “Our voices mourn, and our voices demand change. Our voices ring out for Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Stonemason Douglas and so many more. Our voices ring out for Danae Coleman, Benjamin Mandujano Bradford, Yakez Semark, Kaylyn Pryor.”

She was followed by Liana Wallace, a junior, whose speech “See Something, Say Something,” was delivered with a passionate fervor that alternately stunned and fired up the crowd. (Her speech is reprinted at left.)

The next speaker, Ari Badr, delivered a stinging rebuke of America’s gun culture, “Our country dismisses people of color as criminals and terrorists and at the same time defends weapons of terror,” he said. “The U.S. disregards real people with heartbeats and brains for cold metal weapons they don’t need.”

Sophomores Hannah (left) and Sydney en route to the school rally. (RoundTable photo)

Senior Genevieve Lindley noted that ETHS seniors were born in 1999, the same year of the Columbine shootings. “In the 19 years since then, the 19 years within which we have all grown to be the young adults standing here, there have been more than 25 massacres in elementary, middle and high schools all around the country. “

The next speaker, Sofia Garcia, a senior, urged students to take action, and concluded by quoting her dad, who said, “‘Sofia, you can’t even walk into a bar but you can get a gun on your lunch break.’ That is the harsh reality in the United States because for some people their right to own and carry a gun is more important than our safety and our life. So I’m pleading with you all to please take action, call your reps, your senators, and anyone who you think will fight for us and demand some action…Enough is enough.”

Emma concluded by urging students to “take this moment into the rest of your life. Hold this sense of unity, of empowerment, of whatever you may need in the future. Take this moment into voting booths. Take this momentum, this energy, that I can feel buzzing around the stadium, into further activism…Take control of your voice.”






Mar 262018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

Everyone experiences tragedy and trauma. They are unavoidable, no matter how blessed a person’s life is.

And everyone will suffer as a result. But most people recover and go on to lead relatively stable, happy lives. Others even transcend their traumas, inspired in some fashion to change how they live in order to help others.

How people manage to overcome life’s suffering is the subject of Evanston author Mark Miller’s powerful new book, “Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation,” published in February by Post Hill Press.

Mr. Miller is a Chicago journalist who has worked at Crain’s, the Sun-Times and the Tribune, where he launched Satisfaction magazine about retirement. After the magazine folded he continued writing about aging and retirement for Reuters and other news syndicates, and his articles have also appeared in AARP magazine and the New York Times.

In 2010 he published his first book, “The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work, and Living.”

“Jolt” grew out of his work on retirement. “I grew interested in midlife career transitions, of people reinventing themselves to serve a greater social purpose.”

He said he noticed a pattern. “Often some traumatic event triggered a change and made people re-evaluate their life.” Mr. Miller discovered there is a rigorous field of research in the psychology of “post-traumatic growth” and set out to find and profile such survivors.

The work resulted in “Surviving the Jolt,” a 2015 article for AARP magazine. “The piece got a good reception, but I felt I had only scratched the surface.” He spent the next two years doing further research and identifying the many first-person accounts for the new book.

These accounts are riveting. A New York couple whose 25-year-old son died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. A Detroit couple whose seven-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered on a family camping trip. A Chicago man burned almost to death in a freak on-the-job fire. A Detroit woman reduced almost to homelessness after her husband lost all their money. And many more.

The wonder is not that these stories abound: of course they do. As Mr. Miller says, “they were hiding in plain sight.” The wonder is that in each case, the people in his book not only survived but grew from their tragedies and found in them the impetus to achieve great change, to grant forgiveness, to start charitable organizations, and generally to make the world a better place.

“These people didn’t regain their old life, but they were able to start a new life,” he says. And for many, the new life was a blessing they could never have imagined without the jolt.

Of course, not everyone manages to pivot from tragedy to transcendence. But a surprising number of people do.

These are among the many profound lessons in “Jolt.”