Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Confusion discourages voters

Just as the rally to protest the state’s voter ID Law that has been wending its way through the courts was about to get underway, Allentown NAACP executive Linda Renick got the word over her cellphone that Governor Tom Corbett had withdrawn the state’s appeal of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. This might have been the occasion for jubilation among the small group assembled—there were no regular citizens attending the May 8 rally on Payrow Plaza at the intersection of North New Street and East Church Street at Bethlehem City Hall. Pedestrian traffic was sparse and none stopped to hear what was going on. Motorcycles and buses occasionally drowned out the speaker’s voices. But Renick’s news brought only smiles from rally leaders; no congratulatory hugs or hi-fives. Buried in the news of a tactical victory was the strategic intent of the Governor and the Republican Pennsylvania state legislature to rewrite the law to get around Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley’s objections. McGinley issued an order on January 17, 2014 permanently blocking the controversial photo identification law; Corbitt dropped the state’s appeal of that decision citing the expense of continuing. Corbitt reportedly said he would work with the legislature to develop a law that would survive legal challenges. At the beginning of Pennsylvania’s defense of PA’s voter ID law (which proponents touted as necessary to prevent voter fraud) the state stipulated or admitted that it had no specific cases of voter fraud to bring before the court. At least one Democratic political leader was quick to support Corbitt’s decision. U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said, “I’m pleased that Governor Corbett has agreed to forego further appeals of the current Voter ID proposal. I called on Governor Corbett to drop his Administration’s appeal because implementing this law would have prevented eligible Pennsylvanians from exercising their right to vote. Make no mistake, Voter ID cannot be retooled or tweaked in a way that would make it fair to those who would be denied access to the ballot. Voter ID is a scheme whose very premise is flawed.” National Republican leaders kept quiet about the decision. Neither Representative Charlie Dent’s (R- PA) nor Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) website’s had statements as of May 11 regarding Corbett’s decision to drop the appeal the law. The attendees were mostly from the Bethlehem Chapter of the NAACP led by Esther Lee and from the Allentown Chapter of the NAACP led by Dan Bosket with a few people from Lepoco (Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern) Peace Center and other supporters. Walt Garvin the Chair of the Northampton County Democratic Committee also attended. “Confusion discourages voters,” said Nancy Tate of Lepoco. “Our country cries out for more justice and more access for all citizens in the election and governing process. We cannot abide the cynicism, distortions, and chicanery that result when dollars and those who toss around millions, have so much more power to determine the outcome of elections than do average people.” Tate also decried the gerrymandering that carves out political bases that effectively guarantee that incumbent politicians stay in office. “Locally, we know all too well how voting districts are distorted by gerrymandering,” she said. For example, U. S. Representative Charlie Dent’s (R-PA) 15th Congressional District stretches in long line along I-78 from Hersey near Harrisburg to the Delaware River south of Easton.

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” said Reverend Gracher Selby, the Pastor of St. John A. M. E. Zion Church in ceremonies honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Selby was quoting King’s speech he made in 1964 King when he delivered the Baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. It was King’s restatement of a metaphor with a long history of being used by other leaders, beginning with Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who called for the abolition of slavery. Selby spoke to a crowd of adults and children at Moravian College on January 19 in the Haupert Union Building. The event was presided over by Tomacene Nickens, the Vice President of the Bethlehem NAACP. Nickens is a retired Bethlehem Area School District teacher. Rita Johnson attended, bringing her Sunday School Class from St. John’s A. M. E. Zion Church. Children from the church’s youth choir sang for the occasion, accompanied by pianist and artist Jessica L. Lee. “It’s not enough to have a day off,” Reverend Selby continued. “We need to do something!” Selby recalled important dates from the history of slavery and the struggle for civil rights. “2013 was a year of significant anniversaries in which we put our hands on that arc,” said Selby in her sonorous voice that held even the children’s attention. January 1, 18 63—the Emancipation Proclamation; March 1963—the March on Washington; January 21, 2013—the second inauguration of the first African-American President—all dates that stand “as milestone moments in the grand sweep of American history,” said Selby. She said the Civil Rights movement began 400 years ago “when the first slave said, ‘I ain’t do’n this.’” She drew a parallel between the Israelites’ fears of entering the Promised Land with modern believer’s hesitation to “keep trusting God to bring us through.” “If we want to make a difference and get where Dr. King was trying to lead us, we as a people are going to have to stay focused and keep thrusting God to bring us through. We’ve got to help this new generation to be focused.” “We all have a part to play; we have got to be focused on the main thing which is the liberation of all people.” Selby urge her listeners to deal with issues like racism, poverty and unemployment. “We have come a long ways, but we have a ways to go yet.” “Each generation hold a responsibility to uphold their fight for freedom and peace in society,” she said. The service concluded with a film, “Backyard Philly Project,” presented by Stacie Bell, YMCA Chairwoman of the Coalition on Racism and Race Relations. Caption Reverend Gracher Selby, the Pastor of St. John A. M. E. Zion Church was the keynote speaker in ceremonies honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at Moravian College. By Douglas Graves “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” said Reverend Gracher Selby, the Pastor of St. John A. M. E. Zion Church in ceremonies honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Selby was quoting King’s speech he made in 1964 King when he delivered the Baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. It was King’s restatement of a metaphor with a long history of being used by other leaders, beginning with Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who called for the abolition of slavery. Selby spoke to a crowd of adults and children at Moravian College on January 19 in the Haupert Union Building. Tomacene Nickens, the Vice President of the Bethlehem NAACP presided over the event. Nickens is a retired Bethlehem Area School District teacher. Rita Johnson attended, bringing her Sunday School Class from St. John’s A. M. E. Zion Church. Children from the church’s youth choir sang for the occasion, accompanied by pianist and artist Jessica L. Lee. “It’s not enough to have a day off,” Reverend Selby continued. “We need to do something!” Selby recalled important dates from the history of slavery and the struggle for civil rights. “2013 was a year of significant anniversaries in which we put our hands on that arc,” said Selby in her sonorous voice that held even the children’s attention. January 1, 18 63—the Emancipation Proclamation; March 1963—the March on Washington; January 21, 2013—the second inauguration of the first African-American President—all dates that stand “as milestone moments in the grand sweep of American history,” said Selby. She said the Civil Rights movement began 400 years ago “when the first slave said, ‘I ain’t do’n this.’” She drew a parallel between the Israelites’ fears of entering the Promised Land with modern believer’s hesitation to “keep trusting God to bring us through.” “If we want to make a difference and get where Dr. King was trying to lead us, we as a people are going to have to stay focused and keep thrusting God to bring us through. We’ve got to help this new generation to be focused.” “We all have a part to play; we have got to be focused on the main thing which is the liberation of all people.” Selby urge her listeners to deal with issues like racism, poverty and unemployment. “We have come a long ways, but we have a ways to go yet.” “Each generation hold a responsibility to uphold their fight for freedom and peace in society,” she said. The service concluded with a film, “Backyard Philly Project,” presented by Stacie Bell, YMCA Chairwoman of the Coalition on Racism and Race Relations.

Curiosity is in your DNA

The Eagle Scouts of the Minsi Trails Council gathered May 21 in Fogelsville to be recognized and honored for the many Eagle Scout projects they have completed in the several areas where Minsi Trails scouts call home. Even though over 220 Eagle Scouts were at the Eagle Scout Court of Honor and Recognition Dinner, they are still, statistically speaking, rare birds. Only four percent of boys enrolled in Boy Scouts nationwide earn the coveted ranking. “It’s not easy,” said Master of Ceremonies Matthew Planer. “You need a tenacious mother!” The many Eagle Scouts were honored for their accomplishments and community projects which ranged from building a pergola for the Alburtis Community Pool (Eagle Scout Tyler Ables Troop 431) to landscaping and a restoration project at New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem (Eagle Scout Robert Anderson, Troop 359). Scholarship recipients were Anthony Sagrestano and Jacob Alfieri. A special recognition by the Scouts was extended to Don Walp, the oldest living Eagle Scout in Minsi Trails Council. “Don Walp is almost 98 years old,” said Don Sachs an executive with Minsi Trails Council. “He is very active as a member of the Minsi Trails Council Advisory Committee. He is the former owner of the well-known Walp’s Restaurant that sat on the corner of Union St. and Airport Rd. in Allentown.” Another attendee was Eagle Scout John Lahutsky there with his mother, Paula. Lahutsky, standing with an aluminum walker was adopted from Moscow as a child. In spite of have cerebral palsy he has attained scouting’s highest rank. He is from the South Mountain District. Freedom High School senior Jacob Srock, 18 attended with his father, Matt Srock. “The Boy Scouts taught me life lessons like overcoming obstacles, how to achieve goals and how to be a good person,” said Srock. Liberty High School student Tyler Reinhart, 16 attended the gala event. “Scouting has been a huge honor for me,” said Reinhart. “It has helped my accomplish skills that I can pass on.” Parkland High School student Zachary Reich, 18 and his friend Christopher Hamil, 19 attended. Both live in Orefield. Zachary is the son of Clark and Janay Reich and Hamil is the son of Durward and Sandra Hamil. Bethlehem Catholic High School graduate Alex Ferencin, 18 also attended. “Scouting gave me a chance to learn skills I wouldn’t have learned in school,” said Ferencin. He is the son of Wayne and Anne Ferencin of Bethlehem. Jason Siegfried, 16 of Liberty High School attended. Jason is the son of Jeanine and Todd Siegfried of Hanover Township. Keynote speaker Dr. Michael J. Manyak, Executive Director for Global Medical Affairs for GlaxoSmithKline and Professor at George Washington University led the Eagle Scouts and their guests on world tour of adventure mixed with good advice. “An adventure is an expedition that went wrong,” said Manyak who has been on many expeditions including diving to the Titanic, exploring the deepest canyon in Peru, trips to central Africa and sojourns in Mongolia among other places.” He said he has been on expeditions that found gold on sunken ships, and has been hunting with Pygmies in central Africa. He shared camping tips. “There are nothing like seven-inch Huntsman spiders to encourage you to tuck your mosquito net in.” Manyak described a trip to Antarctica with high school students and other trips; one where he discovered human footprints believed to be between 30,000 to 120,000 years old. He said he had been on an expedition in the Gobi Desert when scientists determined that camels there were of a species never identified before. Dr. Manyak described a program by the National Eagle Scouts Association (NESA) encourage Eagle Scouts to apply for the world of exploration through the NESA World Explorer Program run by himself as NESA Vice President and Director C. William Steele. He said the Boy Scouts of America’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiative is designed to encourage the natural curiosity of youth members about these fields. “The practice of sending an Eagle to a remote location dates to Paul Siple who accompanied the first Byrd Antarctic expedition in 1928 and later became an Explorers Club Fellow,” said Manyak in a Washington Explorers Club newsletter. “All of you—curiosity is in your DNA,” said Manyak.

Golden threaded-coral denim

By Douglas Graves “Golden threaded-coral denim,” “radical free draping,” “amethyst-dyed mink vest,” all exotic phrases to describe the fabulous couture clothes designed by Pamela Ptak that draped beautiful models at a lunch-time show at the Hotel Bethlehem. The Saturday May 3 show was the Society of the Arts’ (SOTA) first annual fashion show to raise money for the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley. The officers of SOTA joined forces with well-known Lehigh Valley clothing designer Pamela Ptak, jewelry designer Roy Rover, and Maximilian at Bloomingdales who provided furs to outfit over 20 models all to show potential clients a great array of Ptak’s couture collection for 2014. Several local celebrities modeled the clothes, furs and jewelry, but they could not be easily distinguished from the professional models. Among the well-known personalities contributing their time and talents were WFMZ-TV (Channel 69) broadcast journalist Eve Tannery. Fitness expert, actor, and model Stacey Redfield, a Bethlehem business woman attended as a model. Redfield owns Physical Methods Pilates at 653 East Broad Street in Bethlehem. Repertory Dance Theatre board member Tamantha Yanders was one of the models. Yanders also volunteers for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Not modeling but helping the models “glam-up” for the event was Perla L√≥pez Baray of Fountain Hill who provided her line of perfume, “Perla,” for the women. She is an Emmy-nominated journalist, currently with WFMZ-TV (Channel 69) where she is a member of the Spanish language broadcast. The celebrity models showed their fashions to some other local luminaries such as Allentown Art Museum supporters Dolly Butz, Yvonne Kuklis, and Erica Spontak. Tracie Springer, a former board member of the YWCA of Bethlehem attended with her friend Kimberly Murray of Allentown. Zina Hamati of Allentown attended with her friend Bloomsburg University student Angela McCavera who is developing a career in fashion photography. Models included Nicole Meyer of Bethlehem, NJ, Kelsey Graham of Bethlehem, PA, and Monae Mallory, a 2005 Parkland High School graduate. Quakertown model and actor Christine Stauffer attended. Bethlehem resident and Kutztown University student and model Jacinth Sutphin attended. Betty Moran and Jill Stevens of SOTA attended the gala affair. Stevens said she has been with the service organization for 14 years. SOTA is a non-profit women’s service organization that supports and provides volunteers for the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley.

Race Against Racism

By Douglas Graves The first three medal winning men crossed the finish line within three seconds of each other in the annual “Race Against Racism” five kilometer race in Bethlehem Saturday April 27, 2013. They ran in perfect temperate weather under blue skies. The race, sponsored by the YWCA, is to raise money for the Young Women’s Christian Association’s Racial Justice Program, according to Corrina Passaro, the association’s Director of Development. Dr. David Mariner, 58, of Shavertown, PA came in first by leading the field and earning the Men’s Division First Place medal. His time was 21 minutes, 29 seconds. Mariner is a vascular surgeon and works at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre). Right on Mariner’s heels was Edmund Ogutu from Palmerton making the course in 21 minutes, 30 seconds and winning the Second Place medal in the Men’s Division. Ogutu, 57, originally from Kenya, said he had just recovered from abdominal surgery. Sixteen-year old Bethlehem Catholic High School student John Spirk was the third man across the finish line at 21 minutes, 31 seconds. He said he runs the 800-meter and hurdles in school. Spirk is the son of Bethlehem City Solicitor Jack Spirk. Stephanie Jones of Catasauqua crossed the finish line only a minute behind the men to take the Woman’s Division First Place medal at 22 minutes, 34 seconds. Lehigh Valley Health Network Health Systems’ Dr. Lynsey Biondi followed Jones across the line at Adler Place and Highland Avenue with a time of 23 minutes, 14 seconds. Biondi’s family was there supporting her. Her husband, Craig, and daughter Lula, 3, seemed thrilled with mom’s success. Her son Jubal, 10 months, slept through the whole thing. DeSales University Student and William Allen High School graduate Rouba Daher-Mansour medaled at Third Place in the Women’s Division with a time of 25 minutes, 59 seconds. Maria Spirk, 18, John’s sister and fellow Bethlehem Catholic High School student, also ran the race. People were at the race for many reasons, but many had definite ideas about racism and supported the YWCA’s program to reduce racism in America. “It’s definitely irritating that racism still exists,” said runner Jack Spirk, a student at Bethlehem Catholic High School. “It needs to be put to an end but it has a long way to go.” Edmund Ogutu, originally from Kenya, said he supports the YWCA and shares the organization’s values. Taylor Lutz, a volunteer at the race, said she is involved in the Coalition Against Racism which she said is a program of the YWCA. “There absolutely is racism everywhere,” said Lutz. “This gets people to actually think about racism. We have events, and dialogs with people from different walks of life and discuss how they have experienced racism and how to make it better.” Bethlehem Township’s Shelley Speirs said, “Racism is an issue we still deal with today in many ways.” Speirs said she is an avid runner and is a new board member on the YWCA’s board of directors. Runner Rouba Daher-Mansour who won the women’s third place medal said she “loves the cause—it’s a good cause.” Abby Gassler, an 11-year old student at Nitschmann Middle School in Bethlehem said she was there, “Because I wanted to know if I could run three miles.” She was accompanied by her father Thomas Gassler Jr. who ran with his daughter. “The Race Against Racism appealed to me”, said Dr. Lynsey Biondi, whose adopted children are African-American’s from Alabama, “because we are a mixed race family.” Kayla Sherry from Lehighton said she ran, “To support the charity.” Alexander Ardle, 15, a student at Northampton High School said he ran, “To get in shape for football.” “I don’t like racism,” said Ardle. “There’s a lot of it still around here. This race is really good.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“We’re not going let someone violate the zoning laws [just] because they do it in the name of Jesus Christ.” (First published in 2009)

It looked like a sleep-over for adults in the basement efficiency apartment of a nice home. Sleeping bags, some on cots, most spread on the tile floor. The hosts were serving a hot meal; cookies waited at the end of the serving line. The 14 guests, the homeless people who were spending the night, for the most part had already had dinner. But a party atmosphere was absent from the basement of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hanover Township on Friday, Feb. 20. While a small group at a table shared some laughs, the overall mood was somber. Several resigned women sat at one of the tables. No trace of makeup softened their faces, no high-lights livened their salt and pepper hair. A thin young man in his twenties seemed out of place as he stood at the serving line for a second serving. As for the older men, the main difference between them and any other was fresh a haircut. This was an emergency rescue operation to take ordinary but homeless men and women off the streets during a bitterly cold winter in the Lehigh Valley. The Reverend T. Scott Allen and his volunteers were “sharing [their] faith, welcoming and serving others”—the motto on the reverend’s calling card. Bob and Rita Sorenson of Hanover Township cleaned up in the kitchen after cooking the night’s supper of chicken noodle soup, beef stew and baked ziti. “The church has been doing this for weeks,” said Rita Sorenson. “We wanted to volunteer. Our sons also helped by baking cookies and rolls.” It was Reverend Allen who first responded to the request for help sent out by the Trinity Episcopal Church on East Market Street in Bethlehem. Six other area churches agreed to help said Reverend Elizabeth Miller, director of the soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church. Asked if the township authorities have contributed to or tried to interfere with his activities, Allen said, “No.” In Brookville, Pennsylvania last year, a district judge fined the pastor of the First Apostles Doctrine Church $500 for allowing three homeless men to stay in the church parsonage. Brookville’s solicitor reportedly said, “We’re not going let someone violate the zoning laws because they do it in the name of Jesus Christ.” Each night a different church takes in a group, feeds them supper, beds them down, and fixes them a breakfast the following morning before they have to go back to the street. Volunteers bring and prepare the food; two of them spend the night with their charges as the homeless get a warm and dry sleep. A second shift of volunteers will come in around 6 a. m. to prepare breakfast. And what’s for breakfast? “Oatmeal, Hot Pockets, waffles, cereal, coffee and juices,” said Rita Sorenson. “We could use some more cots,” said Reverend Allen when asked what else he needs. “We haven’t needed money. People have donated their time.” Asked if this is a year-round program, he said “No. Only when it’s cold—when the temperature falls below 32 degrees or the wind-chill factor is below 32 degrees.” Cindy Bowlby from Slatington said, “It was something very important. We were worried about the people.” Does it worry her to work with and spend the night with strangers? “Everything is fine. It’s very enjoyable.” She has volunteered to spend the night twice. Bowlby grew up as a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church but now drives down from Slatington to fellowship with her congregation. These people were homeless there for a variety of reasons. One had sold his house when he got cancer but had no insurance or money to pay for the treatments. The thin young man had been kicked out of his house by his father. One man told his story but was fearful that any detail in the newspaper would attract the attention of an abusive family member whom he wants to avoid. Only Julio Millan agreed to be interviewed by the Press, the others being too private or too proud. Millan, originally from Puerto Rico but most recently from Florida, said he came to the area in June of 2008 looking for work as a truck driver. He said he has a commercial driver’s license but the depression has dried up jobs. “I’ve had to sleep in the woods,” he said. “I’ve even slept under the Minsi Trail Bridge.” “They let me shower at New Bethany Ministries,” he said. “I can do my laundry there.” Another’s story was a cautionary tale; how a skilled, self-employed tradesperson, injured on the job and without medical insurance can, in short order, be on the streets. No longer able to ply a trade due to a crippling injury, this person is hoping to qualify for some kind of disability payment. The homeless person’s spouse works part-time for minimum wages and with no benefits to barely survive. “We’ll be OK,” said the homeless person. The Reverend Joel Atkinson, Canon Missioner from the Cathedral Church of the Nativity was there. He had just brought a group from his church where they had spent Thursday night. “We have warm, empty buildings,” said Reverend Allen. “Why not share them?” Other churches participating: Church of the Manger at1401 Greenview Dr Bethlehem, the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley at 424 Center St. Bethlehem, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 514 Third Ave. in Bethlehem and the New Covenant Church at 23 E Broad St. Bethlehem, the El Shaddai Ministries’ Christian Training Center 529 East Broad St. in Bethlehem and the Cathedral Church of the Nativity at 321 Wyandotte St. in Bethlehem.