Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brian Sims Comes to Downingtown

Last year, after the Pennsylvania primary elections, I heard a story on NPR about Brian Sims, who had just won the nomination for State Representative in his district. Because of the make-up of the district (heavily Democratic), it was pretty much a lock that he would also win the general election. Why was this race getting so much attention? Brian Sims was poised to become the first openly gay candidate elected to Pennsylvania's State Legislature.

As I heard more about Sims, I learned that he was a native of Downingtown (where I teach), and that he had been an impressive student-athlete who played football during both high school and college. I started to wonder if he would be interested in returning to his hometown to speak with the community college students here about his story. I contacted him a couple months ago, and he happily agreed. He will be speaking this Thursday at 11:00am in the cafeteria at Delaware County Community College's Downingtown Campus.

In my ENG 100 classes, I typically have my students read about contemporary social, political, economic, or environmental problems, and then write essays in which they take positions about what they think should be done about these problems. My students, in recent semesters, have shown a keen awareness of the problems in their communities and how these problems impact people's lives, but when it comes to generating ideas about how to change things, how to move towards solutions, they too easily give in to a kind of cynicism and defeatism. They feel powerless and overwhelmed by these problems, rather than motivated to make a difference.

My hope is that Brian Sims will show them that people who are not unlike them--people who are from where they are from--do grow up to change the world. Change is not easy, but as citizens, professionals, members of our communities, and even as consumers, we make decisions every day that influence how we all relate to one another.

To any of my ENG 100 students who might be reading this, here is a simple way in which you can begin. Brian Sims is currently pushing for new legislation that would help schools protect young people from the kind of bullying you read about in this week's reading assignment (It Gets Better). This legislation is called the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act. If you think such a law could help young LGBT kids--or any kids who face physical and emotional abuse at school--then find out who your representatives are in the State Legislature, and tell them to support this Act.

Also, don't forget to come see Representative Brian Sims' talk this Thursday:

  • Representative Brian Sims
  • Thursday, January 31st
  • 11:00am
  • Delaware County Community College's Downingtown Campus
  • 100 Bond Drive, Downingtown, PA
  • Free and Open to the Public

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My New Favorite Band

It's a new year and a new semester, and for the first time ever, the Spring Semester began on my birthday. Last Monday, I turned 33, and greeted many new students. My ENG 100 students, this week, will be discussing Kiese Laymon's essay, "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America," which I'm hoping will give us a good jumpstart to thinking critically about relevant issues (such as gun violence and racial injustice) as well as a good model for how to write provocatively and imaginatively about one's past. In ENG 112, my students are picking apart the lyrics from Brother Ali's record Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color. I'm interested to hear what they think of it--I've never taught it before. Finally, my ENG 231 students are diving into Huck Finn, which I always enjoy re-reading and talking about, despite (or perhaps because of) its many flaws and contradictions.

But what I really want to write about is my trip to Wilmington, Delaware last Thursday to see Lake Street Dive--my new favorite band--play at The World Cafe. My fiance, Yuriko, bought the tickets as a kind of birthday present (although she also bought me a bunch of Red Sox tickets too--amazing!--I'm so spoiled), and we made the long trip from Reading despite it being a school night and all. It was well worth it. We heard of the band because the bass player, Bridget Kearney, was also the bass player of another band we stumbled upon and liked in Delaware--Joy Kills Sorrow. But I have to say, as much as I like Joy Kills Sorrow, I think Lake Street Dive is even better. The lead singer has an amazing voice--textured, flexible, soulful--and great stage presence. The drummer brings a great energy to every song, while supplying good backing vocals. The guitar player effortlessly pulls off nice riffs and can also play a real jazzy trumpet. And the bass player is my favorite of favorites. She can pick and slap that big ole stand-up with virtuosity, improvising and soloing from time to time. She also writes many of the band's best songs.

Here's a good video of one of their original tracks:

And here's a video of a great Jackson Five cover which they recorded for a recent EP release: