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Rosewood. In the news. Again.

Image captured by the author of this blog post, Amy Genevieve Kozak

Image captured by the author of this blog post

Rosewood is in the news again, and it hits me again, a strong wave of nausea. In addition to the human right’s abuses that included “reports of rape, abuse, neglect, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions” that were summarily exposed during its closure in 2009,* this most recent Slate article** exposes even more horrors of human nature associated with the place. This revived news story highlighted a scandal that was essentially human trafficking; imagine powerful members of society working together to transfer individuals from the institution into positions of servitude. The author goes on to point out that the scandal wasn’t reported out of care or concern for the more than 150 individuals this effected but because of concerns around any offspring that resulted as well, aka eugenics.

I then watched my friends post this newest article on facebook, and in response people brag that they’ve snuck onto the property and seen “a gymnasium filled with wheelchairs and lobotomy reports scattered on the floor.” Others wonder if they can see the place too.

Why? Why would you want to go there? I was already baffled and offended when Rosewood was offhandedly added to a publication’s “guide to some of our city’s scariest sites” in honor of Halloween. Why is there a seeming lack of empathy for the fact that real human beings lived such horrors?

I vividly remember the few times I visited my brother David at Rosewood. Even though David was only temporarily there, and it has been years since it was closed, I still can’t shake the memory of what I witnessed there. I’m sick and tired of Rosewood sitting there, looming, and blighting the brightness of today – both in my mind, and in reality! It was a horrific place and I believe that it is my job to at least attempt to help others understand the legacy of Rosewood from my perspective.

And so I don’t mind telling you that a couple of years ago I tried to capture images of the place for a piece of a documentary I’m working on, I found “no trespassing” signs and security carefully patrolling the property (that must cost a pretty penny!). I tried to find my way through the bureaucracy in order to film there legally and couldn’t. We, the public, are not allowed on the property, even if our intent is honorable. And so it simply sits there.

Soon afterwards, I took another step, and met with Jon Sarbanes in September of 2012. I learned that the land was offered to Stevenson University, but apparently there are elements found in the soil that may be environmentally hazardous. Dana Stein never responded. To date, Stevenson University has brushed off my attempts to learn more about their intent. Just today, I received an email about soil remediation and ferns, dated Sunday March 30th. Ferns? Let’s do that already! Rosewood has been sitting there, crumbling, and looming for FIVE years! As far as I’m concerned this hold up has gone on too long.

We can do better, I have to believe that, and I’d like to find others who feel as strongly as I do (this blog post isn’t the last step I’ll take). For those of us who had family members living at Rosewood, I believe our relatives still deserve better, even if they are no longer here with us in this life. The experiences of those who lived there even longer ago, as explored in that Slate article, shouldn’t be forgotten either. The horrors of human behavior must be acknowledged so that they are not repeated.  Even if Stevenson University students do someday walk the grounds, they need to know the history of where they are.

While Seattle, Washington grows the first food forest; Baltimore, Maryland lets a significant amount of land just sit. Would it first take remediation for something similar to happen here? If that dream is too big, or simply not possible, perhaps we could have a small memorial grove of trees planted on an acre of the property? Can’t we at least raze the buildings, so they are no longer targets for arsonists? But not if that means the history of the place is covered up and forgotten. I want us to do something, and I’m tired of waiting for the leaders of our community to act; in honor of my brother David, and in honor of every vulnerable person who lived an experience on that ground, I think we owe it to them to do something.

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2008-08-20/news/0808190282_1_rosewood-department-will-investigate-investigate-the-state

** http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/03/baltimore_s_rosewood_scandal_wealthy_families_sprang_asylum_inmates_to_be.html

This blog post has become a petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/stevenson-university-include-a-permanent-tribute-to-the-former-residents-of-rosewood-in-plans-for-the-future-of-the-property?recruiter=1410974&utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

 

Cancer is Like a Rollercoaster

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I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster for more than two months now. What the brain surgeon said in the din of the hospital’s florescent lighting matched the black and white online entry, exactly: best possible scenario, we only have two years. Though you may try, like I did, there is no manual that will help you fully intellectualize how to deal with your mother’s brain cancer diagnosis and impending demise. Not even rereading Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief can stave off the reality of being thrust on an emotionally messy rollercoaster. I’d like to say that my eight-year love affair with yoga saved me, but I had to fight my way back from the edge, warrior style.

On my yoga mat, right after “the diagnosis,” I remember thinking how odd it was that there was no discomfort whatsoever in either of my hips as I lounged lazily in pigeon pose thinking, “oh, I’ve got this handled.”  Meanwhile, out in the world, I couldn’t seem to shake myself awake. I will never forget how I sat dazed during a twelve-hour train ride to a speaking engagement in Rochester barely able to concentrate on what I’d say. Still, somehow during this initial phase of denial, I landed the engagement with poise, grace and dignity.

As the days ticked by, however, things changed drastically. I noticed people pulling away even though I was attempting to keep my social life intact while also helping to care for my mother. One dark and terrifying night I looked into the dazzlingly beautiful abyss of the night sky, and I disassociated completely from a party happening just steps away as grief-stricken tears streamed silently down my face. That same night, things sped up again, and I watched myself become uncontrollably angry and lash out at another with a still somewhat detached amazement, “who is this beast I’ve become?” The word “cancer” does scare people away, but I was also making it worse through perfectly normal phases of grief.

The rollercoaster outlined by Kübler-Ross had completely taken over and the lack of control I felt ultimately forced me back into my beginners mind. In other words, it wasn’t until I admitted, “I don’t have this” and “I’d better get it together” before I lose the focus I need to love and care for my mother in her final days without completely alienating myself even further from those around me that aren’t afraid of the word “cancer,” that things could stop spiraling out of control. If people need to go, let them go.

Now, I’m back on my yoga mat and more present than ever before, and I’ve found that my inner world is stabilizing along with the world around me. My mother will die. This has not changed. However, I’ve realized and accepted: This is our new normal. All we have is today. All we have is this breath. All I need to do is breathe.

I’ve forgiven myself for being a messy human being during this time of transition, with any luck those around me will as well. And if they don’t, I’ll let them go. As I look back on the past two months, I find great comfort in realizing:

“My dear, In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm… In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”~ Albert Camus

Killer Bees

When I was a kid, I remember seeing at least part of a movie about a swarm of killer bees attacking children on a school bus, and I also remember some evening news story about slowly migrating ‘African Killer Bees’ being of concern. Turns out the first story was fiction, and the later hyped. Today, the issue is reversed and Monsanto is the dark force afoot and the danger to us all is quite real. Have you heard much buzz about this in the mainstream media? Do you wonder why? For those who don’t already know, this corporation has its hands in both the production of pesticides and food, which once upon a time may have made sense to someone. However, the truth has been known for quite some time and finally entire nations are putting a stop to Monsanto’s insane duel practices. Many are even burning entire fields of the company’s “food,” or as it is more commonly known, their genetically modified organisms or GMOs. We need more Americans to become aware of this issue. First, please stop falling for the company’s propaganda. We can produce enough food naturally to feed ourselves, but we’ll need our beloved bee pollinators to help us out, and we need Monsanto’s pesticides to stop killing them. I recently participated in a protest of Monsanto which included a ‘bee die in’ and while this may seem cute to some and trite to others, it is a serious statement about what we want. At the very least we want labels on Monsanto’s cancer causing GMOs so that we as consumers can avoid them at the store. It makes me wonder why they wouldn’t agree to that, if they really weren’t up to no good.

Peep this awesome kid breaking it down: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Id9caYw-Y&feature=youtu.be

Here are a few links to more information about this issue:

http://topinfopost.com/2013/05/28/russia-warns-obama-monsanto

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27540.cfm

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/congress-dont-pass-a.fb28?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=2164439

http://planetsave.com/2011/07/21/hungary-destroys-all-monsanto-gmo-maize-fields/

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/protesters-march-vs-monsanto-250-cities

Iandry Randriamandroso

I don’t recall ever having met anyone from Madagascar until Iandry knocked on my door. He quickly charmed his way into becoming my housemate, introduced me to his model gorgeous and brilliant girlfriend (who he met while living in New York), and over time shared his experiences in the Community Arts program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Iandry also taught me that French and Malagasy are the official languages in Madagascar, but honestly I struggled with simply spelling his last name. [Sorry buddy, it's still true!] Since his graduation from MICA, Iandry has created countless public art projects across the country. Waverly is lucky enough to have his work on display at the moment as evidenced by the images also posted here. I was happy to help document his work because of our continued friendship, because I wholeheartedly agree with the message of his work, and because I want to see Waverly thrive. Another good friend of mine has written about this space before, so I’ll let Julie Scharper enlighten you at this point:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-text-it-20120728,0,5024499.story

And here is a video that shows a bit of the process behind the creation of the project:

Doc U (RMP goes to SXSW)

For some, SXSW is a giant party. For me, it was also an opportunity to see films in some of the finest theaters in downtown Austin, and attend a veritable Documentary University. In other words, I filled my weeklong schedule with workshops, panel discussions, mentoring sessions with successful producers, screenings followed by Q&As with filmmakers and documentary subjects, and an array of seemingly random (but also powerful!) conversations in lines and on shuttle buses – I believe that all of these activities are part and parcel to a path leading towards success. For a documentary filmmaker success means getting a project in front of as many eyes as possible, opening a slew of them to something new, and maybe even changing a few hearts and minds.

It is my hope to follow in the footsteps of those who screened this year by adhering the advice I gleaned, understanding the challenges ahead, and possibly even collaborating with those I met in Austin. In the meantime, I’d like to recommend several of the documentary films that I believe have major potential in terms of social impact. See these as soon as you can:

TINY: A Story About Living Small – This duo decides to make a movie while they build a very small house, and they are novices at both. And yet, they do both quite well. Talk about a couple of overachievers setting the bar quite high for anyone else! I promise you’ll be impressed; watch the trailer and sign up to learn about future screenings, here: tiny-themovie.com

Fall and Winter – While this film is gorgeous to watch, the first 3/4 of the movie cover environmental calamity and you will want to slit your wrists. However, to the folks walked out of the film especially; things did lighten up and the focus did shift to positive actionable steps that everyone should take. Now that I’ve seen this film, I want to read all the books they reference, and learn some of the skills covered in the film. This one is definitely for the choir and anyone who is ready to wake up from the Bling Era bs: fallwintermovie.com

The Network – While I did find a trailer and IMDb page for this film about Tolo, a television network in Afghanistan, I couldn’t seem to find a website. Then again, maybe that is why Eva Orner seems to crank out projects at such a high-speed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNtE5tozmBs

The Act of Killing – This movie is highly disturbing, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully process what I witnessed or what it says about human nature. I knew I was signing on to see War Lords excited to reenact their most famous torture techniques and story of bloodshed, but the Bollywood nature of it all is beyond bizarre. Most of the crew didn’t even want to have their names associated with the project as evidenced by the longest list of “anonymous” I’ve ever seen. I was too stunned to even attempt taking a picture.This one is only for the very brave of heart: theactofkilling.com

I saw more than 15 docs during SXSW and my opinion doesn’t always match what gets reported in the press or what gets voted as the best by audiences, so I’m always happy to have the opportunity to see films that may never be distributed or played on a screen near us.

On another note, I’d also like to recommend 512’s Pecan Porter – a damn fine local beer – which I drank nearly every day once I discovered it! Luckily my two favorite theaters, The Alamo Ritz and the Violet Crown, both served this beer.

Also, here is a video from my time at SXSW: http://vimeo.com/rovingmedia/sxsw

My first documentary is forthcoming, but a bit further out. Stay tuned!

Gallery

Common Threat Level

“Forward on Climate. Stop Keystone. Stop the frack attack. Mountain justice. Cut carbon.” The diversity in slogans hardly matters any more. We’ve finally found a common threat level. Today was a frigid day, and yet a vast and colorful crowd gathered in our Nation’s Capitol. Folks travelled from great distances, even brought their children, and I love them for it. I hope that our numbers are high enough to warrant the attention of those we’ve elected, and those who’ve not yet become active. I’m optimistic. Those signs are all around us too. Wind and solar are becoming more and more popular at the state level. Folks want to know their food more intimately again. Biking is catching on across the country. Activists are even using data to infiltrate known pockets of climate deniers. For anyone who still isn’t paying attention, I ask just one question: How long can we live without drinking water? Yes, it is that serious. So please stop calling me a hippy and take notice of how business operates in the world around you. The time is now: educate yourselves and your neighbors, become even more politically active and encourage others. Together we must demand climate justice for all!

More on this:

http://tinyurl.com/b7agmbe

http://tinyurl.com/a9t5ney

http://tinyurl.com/aybulms

http://tinyurl.com/b27p95w

Window Dressing

Construction along the more northern part of the York Road corridor has already started, so I can’t say I was surprised to receive an invitation to attend a meeting at our local library which read:

YORK ROAD/GREENMOUNT AVENUE PROJECT PROPOSALThe Baltimore City Department of Transportation would like to invite
you and your neighbors to attend an information session regarding the
Greenmount Avenue/York Road Street Project. Please join us as the Department of Transportation welcomes your
support and feedback on the plans for the Greenmount Avenue/York Road corridor from 29th St. to 43rd St.

The meeting was last night in fact, but  I’m not sure that the term proposal was appropriate. I attended a planning charrette in the past in the very same library which focused on plans for a redesign of the library, and it was held years in advance of any work even remotely beginning. This meeting on the other hand, seemed window dressing for decisions already made and nearing implementation.

I’m not the only one who thinks so either. There were at least two prominent business owners in the room who stated that they had not been consulted about this project. It frighted me to hear this, as they may not survive what’s coming! Their concerns are that the project does not have a timetable, and it doesn’t address infrastructure. In other words, as the project continues south, and happens to stall for any reason in front of a business, that business could see a decline in sales significant enough to make them shutter their doors forevermore. These businesses need to know how to adjust accordingly and the reps at this meeting didn’t seem to have a response.

The crowd, which also included residents, was a knowledgable bunch. They named other projects around the city that they were unhappy with, and asked how this project was different. They also knew the specifics of proposed projects that will link to this one, and pointed to what seems a lack coordination. A few folks knew their stuff about “storm water” and they voiced their concerns about the concepts shared through the drawings. However, even if it all the proposed improvements go in without a hitch, it’s only a matter of time before we have to tear up that new work to address some issue or another. Still, we all dutifully took our yellow stickers and we stuck them to the bike racks, and cross walk concepts we individually preferred in the options presented.

In the times of “open government,” online information sharing, and even facebook and twitter, you can’t tell me there isn’t a stronger way to go about truly including the community in this process. Why not even go all “crowd source” with these plans well in advance? IF the players involved actually wanted to go that route, I believe they could. I just don’t think Baltimore does.

After the meeting, I found myself digging around online trying to find more information. I even tried tweeting to the firm behind the concepts to ask if we could see these plans online, and they replied with, “Currently the files are not online. It would be best if you reached out to the City directly to see where they plan to post the files.” I think I’ll roll out my Batman lantern or call Mary Pat Clarke’s office instead because I’ve already looked.

Of the many reasons why I moved to Waverly, the commercial corridor and its quirky businesses is one, and another is its opportunity for growth. So, through this project, I am both excited for any improvements and disheartened with our process. And as a heads up to those folks who live south of 29th, sorry, at the meeting they basically said they are not coming that far south, although I won’t tell you to believe them. I will quote Plato though, ” The city is what it is because the citizens are what they are.”

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