Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina (A Memoir)

Being a native Louisianan (From Baton Rouge) now living in Houston the devastation of this storm hit me on several different levels. Directly because my brother, James, a Dillard University student lives in New Orleans and thankfully left the city the Friday before the storm. New Orleans has always been my favorite city; it was the locale of many of my personal milestones. It was the first place I traveled to with friends, the first place I saw Lenny Kravitz, and Ziggy Marley and live; not to mention years of annual trips for the Bayou Classic and Mardi gras.

What happened in Louisiana and Mississippi is a prime example of our nation tending to the troubles of the world and being abhorrently deficient in dealing with a CRISIS here at home.
I want to keep this blog happy so I have dealt with the political side of this disaster in my other blog, “Just Politicking”. Here, I will simply say that for the first time in my life I was ashamed to be an American on the week of August 28, 2005. Many things have happened over the history of this country that have been wrong, and unjustified but never in my young, black life have I been ashamed to call myself an American until I watched the lack of response to the Katrina catastrophe. I remember crying myself to sleep for at least a week. My family, my friends, my people were the ones dying. I had an epiphany on Thursday of that week as I sat up late watching CNN, unable to sleep. This disaster is the personification of the treatment of poor and black people in this country. The rich people left New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama. In-fact three weeks after the disaster the debutant balls went off without a hitch in New Orleans. It did not matter that half the city looked like a war zone and most the people were scattered across the states. I will not soon forget the disparity of public opinion regarding race and the Katrina response either. Some of use should really be ashamed for not dealing with reality. If nothing else this incident should have sparked an honest dialogue about race in the United States. The pain of my disappointment aside, I will also never forget the Katrina disaster because although it diminished my faith in my government it intensified my feelings on the resilience of the human spirit. As a country, we came together the way we always should. That is, after all, the essence of America’s greatness.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Theatre 8.0

Confessions of "Rent-head"

In February of 1996, while serving as a White House fellow I took a short trip to New York with a friend of mine. My only goal for that weekend was to see at least one Broadway show. Well, we got lucky when my friends cousin, supplied us with tickets to see a, then off-Broadway, play at the New York Theatre Workshop. The play was called RENT and all I knew about it was that it was supposed to be a modern day version of La bohème, and I found that out reading the playbill. La bohème is one of my favorite operas, I always preferred it to Puccini's other great work, "Madame Butterfly" because it was about artists (and I could relate to that). Sitting in that small theatre before the show began I remember thinking, "How can La bohème " be updated? That question was quickly answered and I was blown away by the show! The subject matter spoke to my generation in a way nothing else has. The music was outstanding and it was a completely different knd of musical, edgy and raw.

Afterwards, I heard the story of Jonathan Larson, Rent's writer wunexpectedlyectantly the night of the show's firrehearsal rehersal. That night sparked a whirlwind of creative expression in my life that ultimately lead to me pursuing writing and learning not to take things so seriously. Until then, I was a staunch political scientist with a side passion for word-play. I can even remember the moment that changed my life, it was the first time I heard "No day but today". I had wasted a lot of my young life being "good" since I knew only a squeaky clean person could be a politician. I learned from Nixon's "recordings" and Clinton's "non-inhaling", how fickle public opinion could be(Thankfully that was well before Monica-gate). Before that play, I believed youth was immortality but I walked out of that theatre a different person...a RENT-HEAD. I was no longer willing to ignore my adventourous streak, or waste time in mundane social mazes.....I was reborn (and I may still get be president one day).

I saw that phenomenal original cast three times and crossed paths with the cast a fourth time when they performed at the Democratic National Convention that August in Chicago. That time I got to meet the rent kids and get autographs (unfortunately, I lost them before I got back to D.C.). In my view, Rent is single-handedly responsible for the revival of American theatre and for that we all owe a debt to Mr. Larson. I'm so happy the play was able to come full circle and become a theatrical release as well. I polled my friends (after all I am a political scientist) and not one of them can name anything they've loved for as long as I've loved Rent. I've never been much of a gushing fan, my way has always been quiet reflection but after ten years I felt it was finally time I came out of the Rent closet. Whew, now that wasn't so bad.....

Thank you Johnathan Larson for the masterpiece that is RENT!