Grieving for Notorious RBG

(All photographs by Doreen Stratton)

This past Saturday night at least 400 citizens filled the entrance sidewalk of the Bucks County Administration building to grieve the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died on Friday September 18 after years of struggle against debilitating illnesses that for others, would have ended their lives sooner. She was truly Notorious.

Many could feel her presence.

The Welcome is offered by Marlene Pray, Director and Founder of Doylestown’s Rainbow Room

The Jewish ritual of leaving a stone at a deceased grave was explained. Many came forward to take a stone.

Rest In Peace Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Walking home after the gathering, when I passed the parking garage at Court and Broad Streets it brought memories of the Borough School that once stood on that ground. The building was destroyed by fire in February 1973. Constructed in 1889 with stone,  some of my ancestors attended the school in the early 1920s; and also where I had received the first six years of my education. It was also for many years the polling site for our precinct. I remember when still a child, my parents allowed me to tag along as they walked to the polls to cast their vote. Since then Voting has always been a part of my DNA.

Just as Education is Power, so is Voting. Listening to the young citizens that spoke at the RBG gathering gives me Hope. Like many of my age who’ve been active for progressive causes, our shoulders remain strong enough for this next generation to stand on. The last speaker spoke the message loud and clear: On November 3rd, EVERYBODY Must Vote.

When NPR reported  the death of Justice Ginsberg, they added that days before her death she had dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera. The Justice had said her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

The squatter in the White House is stealing our Democracy’s most present jewel: The Vote. As soon as your Vote By Mail ballot arrives, fill in all those little circles right away. When mine arrives, I’m filling it out and walking to my Court House and personally handing my ballot into the Board of Elections office.

If you’re voting in person: Just Do It!

 

Remembering 9/11

(This edited from a post first published on September 10, 2016)

(Doreen Stratton photo from Seward Johnson Center in Hamilton, NJ)

Everybody remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. Shortly after 8:30 on that morning I’m driving along the Doylestown Bypass for an appointment with my broker. While listening to the morning talk radio sports hosts joke about some athlete’s faux pas, suddenly one says, “Oh–we just got a bulletin that a plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.”

I ask myself, How does a “… plane … crash” into a World Trade Center building?

I’m in the conference room, a television newscaster’s words drift from the next office, confirming that two jets crashed into each of the World Trade Towers. Then the broker returns to the conference room and announces, “They just hit the Pentagon.”

The third attack is aborted over the skies of Somerset County in western Pennsylvania. This time the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 after learning the tragedies in New York and Washington DC, overpower the hijackers and the jet crashes on an empty field.

For the next few weeks like many other Americans I sit in front of my television, mesmerized by the images on the screen. People begin gathering at sites near the destroyed Towers posting pictures and messages for their lost loved ones. There are faces upon faces of photos of people who were in those two buildings and are now missing or possibly dead. Media coverage of interviews with relatives, friends or coworkers describe the lives of the missing–where they lived, who they married, their families and where they worked inside the Towers.

The number of Twin Tower deaths eventually reaches 2,606 with an additional 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority Police Officers, 23 Police Officers, and 2 Paramedics. All total, nearly 3,000 people died from the three airline hijackings; in the World Trade Towers; and inside the Pentagon. Since 9/11, a September 10, 2018 ABC News article reported deaths an additional 156 police officers and 182 firefighters.

The number of Bucks County residents killed on 9/11 are memorialized at The Garden of Remembrance, located at 1950 Woodside Road in Yardley where every September, a ceremony is held.

In September 2016 I posted a blog about 9/11 that featured two films connected to the World Trade Twin Towers:

  • Man on Wire. This 2008 documentary featured Phillippe Petit’s journey of his determination to become the only man that walked on a wire between the roofs of the two World Trade Towers.
  • The Walk. This 2015 docudrama with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Petit, retells the wire walker’s life when as a young street juggler in Paris he reads an article about construction of the two towers. From then he is determined to walk a wire from the roof of one building to the other. His dream came to fruition on August 7, 1974.

The history of the two Towers reaches back decades. The first tenants moved into the North Tower during December 1970. In September 1971, tenants began moving into the South Tower. A character in The Walk offhandedly described the towers as “two filing cabinets”; but after Petit’s unbelievable feat two of his friends tell him, “You have given The Towers Soul!” Another adds, “They’re different now, because you walked up there.”

There’ve been many films on our small and large screens with images of the Towers, either with the sun bouncing off the gleaming walls or lights peeking out from the night sky. Whenever the Towers briefly appear in films, the words spoken by the characters in The Walk are absolute:  They are truly “different”.

Just last week I caught a glimpse of the Towers on my television screen. And once more, it was like rediscovering two long-lost souls of September 11.

Always remembered.

Democracy on a Death Watch

It usta be . . . you could walk 3 blocks in any direction and a mailbox would be on the corner. . . OR

. . . your mail always arrived between 1 and 2 every day. Now it usually arrives between 4:30 and 6:00. Every day.

And then there’s that familiar question all of us utter:

. . . “Is the mail here yet?’”

This past Monday Democracy was on a Death Watch. There was USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tap-dancing around questions asked by members of the US House  Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Listening as DeJoy responded to questions with “I’m not aware” or “I don’t understand” or admitting he didn’t know the cost of a 3rd Class piece of mail caused me multiple screams at my television. He also admitted that mail boxes and mail sorter machines will not be returned to post offices.

DeJoy is yet another Trump Toadie who paid his way into the USPS position with his half a million dollars of donations to Trump and Republican office holders or candidates.

Oh… and his wife was appointed Ambassador to Canada.

Near the end of the hearing he reluctantly promised to “… improve service” across the country. I don’t believe him.

What is your Plan to Vote?

 Here is information I found on the Pennsylvania Democratic Party website:

The fact is that there’s little need to worry about mail-in voting if we all act early and decisively. The postal service does have the capacity to deliver PA ballots on time, and you can help your local mail carriers fulfill that mission by following these three steps.

STEP 1: REQUEST A BALLOT NOW.
Go to PADems.com/mail right now and sign up to receive a mail-in ballot.

In doing so, you’ll give both election officials and postal workers ample time to process your ballot, and you’ll leave weeks of time to receive and return it by November 3rd.

STEP 2: MARK IT IMMEDIATELY.
Every at-home voter should plan to mark and return their ballot the very same day they receive it.

If you request your ballot via PADems.com, they will send you text and email alerts so you are up to date on your ballot’s status and well prepared once it arrives.

STEP 3: RETURN IN PERSON, IF POSSIBLE.
You don’t have to mail your ballot back in. 
Starting September 14th, every Pennsylvanian can return is/her ballot in-person at their county’s Board of Elections office.

Some counties may also have drop boxes or satellite offices as additional drop off locations. PA Democrats is working closely with local officials to support those efforts and will keep voters up to date as new options become available in their area.

TWO MORE WAYS TO VOTE
Traditional mail-in voting is only one of the three ways Pennsylvanians can cast a ballot this fall.

Starting September 14th, Pennsylvanians may also vote early in-person at their county Board of Elections. Simply find your county elections office, request a mail ballot in person, and fill it out right then and there.

And, of course, you can vote in person on November 3rd if you feel safe in doing so. Just remember to wear your mask, mind your distance, and follow CDC/local guidelines!

QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS?
Please call PA Dems’ Voter Assistance Hotline at 833-728-6837 for live support. Our team of voter advocates is standing by to help you verify your status or make a plan to vote

Remember: You can help avoid a postal crunch and ensure every vote is counted by signing up early and having a plan. Request your mail-in ballot immediately at PADems.com/mail!

(Doreen Stratton photo)

 

SANKOFA

News of police stops of African Americans in their cars brought memories of incidents my father had experienced during the mid-1930s through the early 1960s. His band played a lot of gigs in Philadelphia. Every Saturday around 5 o’clock he would gather his sheet music and the case holding his saxophone, and drive into Philadelphia where they performed at different clubs. Coming home to Doylestown, at 3 or 4 in the morning, he would be pulled over on 611 just south of home. Always by the same cop.

And always with the same interrogation: The cop asked for his driver’s license and registration. Then he’d ask where was he coming from and where was he going. He responded politely with the same answers. After I and my five brothers and sisters reached our teens, my father would caution us about behaving properly out in public: “Be respectful and never draw attention to yourself”. We failed to understand why he told us to “behave”. We always behaved.

Years later when an adult, Daddy had shared with me the police interrogations. I tried to imagine what else, as a Black man driving those country roads and city streets at night had he been subjected to? No wonder he gave us “the talk”; he was probably terrified that something like that would happen to us.

We were raised in Doylestown which in the mid1950s was a sleepy community of just over 5,000 people. It was a time when my family was called “colored”. The term “Black” was still years away, as was the ethnic term “African American”. There were only eight “colored” families in the Borough. We jokingly described ourselves as Raisins in a Sea of Rice.

As siblings of color when we stepped out the door, we walked into a milieu where our lives interacted with a majority of white friends.

I’ve often wondered how my family’s life would have been different if we had grown up in either Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas or Virginia or elsewhere. But we grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where only on rare occasions the ugliness of racism reared its head. There’s only one time I can remember being called a “N****r”. As a 10-year old tomboy I picked a fight with a boy after he called me the “N Word”. I won the battle of our fisticuffs under the merry-go-round, surrounded by shouts of kids taking sides for me or him. I was banned from the playground for a week.

Since George Floyd’s murder the loudest voice for change is recognizing education’s failure to include 400 years of African American history and culture in our public schools.

The illustrations on my 1st Grade reading primer featured Dick and Jane, Spot the dog, Mother and Father, the mailman, the police officer and the fireman. I never gave much thought that this 1949 primer showed white faces on every page. Now the current introductory readers have progressed to reflect the faces of America’s diversity.

In my 5th Grade McGraw-Hill Geography text, the awareness of my skin color was reflected back at me from a page devoted to the African continent. The hand-drawn illustration remains embedded in my mind: An African child crouched in a hole with arms hugging his knees. Only the crown of his head is exposed. The African plain of tall grass in the distance is on fire and rages toward the boy in the hole.

The brief narrative accompanying the image explained that as the fire burned through the grass and reached the dugout protecting the boy, it singed his hair. The caption explained how Africans’ hair became “curly” as a result of the fire that raged across the African plain. My two sisters—one older and the other a year behind me, also remember that image.

During 1965 through 1975 I lived in California. Even at that time there was a diverse racial population. Often, I was asked, “What are you? Mexican? Philippine? Hawaiian? Native American? Who are you?”

This was the period of the Anti-War protests, Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement.

Not until 1999 after a journey to Ghana, a country on the West Coast of Africa, did I discover “Who” I was. When my feet touched this African country for the first time, the air embraced me with an aroma heavy with the psychic energies of Black and Brown civilizations. Three more times I would travel to Africa and each time the Motherland welcomed me with its pungent odor.

The frightened African boy hiding in a hole? Gone and replaced with my anxiety as I stepped carefully along a stone passage into the underbelly of a massive fortress built in 1653 by Swedish traders. Cape Coast Castle logged timber and mined gold before the lucrative trade of Africans, already a success in other fortresses constructed during the late 1500s.

Captured Africans were kept in a dungeon with stone walls that rose nearly 30 feet, with sunlight slipping in through one small window near the ceiling. The floor measured approximately half a basketball court. Standing near a wall, I listened as the guide described how hundreds of male Africans were crowded into this space before herded through a passageway onto the beach, then loaded on to a ship, bound for the New World.

I moved closer to the wall and ran the palm of my hand across the smooth blocks, wondering if the African DNA in me could’ve struggled for survival while cramped in this suffocating prison. I inched my fingers between two blocks and scraped granules of detritus into my hand, wrapped them in a tissue and brought them to America. They are more than what my ancestors carried when stolen from the Motherland.

It’s been 400 years since slave traders hauled human beings out of Africa. We survived the captors, the Middle Passage, bondage and the struggle for Freedom. Now is the time to sit across from one another and solve our differences.

There is a Ghanaian word spoken in the Twi dialect: Sankofa. It means “Go Back and Get It. The hen reaches back for the egg symbolizing that before knowing Who you are, you must first learn Where you came from.

Black Lives Matter

Black Dreams Matter

We grew up in a Doylestown household where the radio carried sounds of baseball games—especially after 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before we got our first television in the mid-50s, Daddy’s ear was always glued to the radio listening to Dodger games. Like many African-Americans at that time, a ‘Negro’ playing Major League Baseball was Big. After Willy Mays was signed by the NY Giants in 1951, Daddy’s baseball allegiance split between the Dodgers and the Giants.

My brother John was an exceptional pitcher for the Central Bucks High School Baseball Team. After graduating in 1958 he played semi-pro baseball in the Perkiomen Valley League, when scouts from the Phillies, Pirates, Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cardinals came to watch him pitch.

A few years ago John and one of his high school buddies sat in our living room reminiscing about the “old days”. I had joined them as we shared a bottle of wine. When the conversation turned to the tryout, there was a regretful tone in John’s voice. I realized there were parts of this story I had never known. I asked him to write it down for me.

It was 1959 when a letter arrived from the Pittsburgh Pirates inviting John to try out for their All-Rookie minor league team in Salem Virginia. Daddy was ecstatic. The scout sat in our living room and discussed the proposal with my father and John, recommending that John ask for $600 a month, a customary figure for new players.

Within a week Daddy drove John to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where he met another potential player also on his way to Virginia. Ray—an Italian-American–was an outfielder from Norristown who had played in the same league as my brother and recruited by the same scout as John. With tickets in hand both headed to Virginia dreaming of a professional baseball career.

They changed trains in Washington, DC for a local that would take them into Salem. A segregated train, the conductor must’ve thought John with his “tan’ skin was white, and the two took their seats. Some children about age 8 or 9 were running up and down the aisles when one of them stopped where Ray and John sat, looked at them and hollered, “We have a ghost on the train!” John got nervous because he suspected “ghost” was another word for “colored”.

It was morning when they arrived at the Salem depot to be met by two cab drivers: one White, the other Black. When the Black cabby, with John as his passenger drove over the railroad tracks and Ray’s cab drove in a different direction, John discovered his destination was a boarding house. Greeted by a middle-aged warm and friendly Black woman, she showed him to his room which he shared with another African-American. John was one of seven players of different ethnic backgrounds: Latino. South American or Black.

After a good meal the same Black cab driver returned and drove the players to the ballpark. At the park while the players changed into uniforms, John and Ray compared their temporary living conditions–Ray at his hotel and John his boarding house. Ray said, “This isn’t right.”

With Ray trotting to the outfield, John stayed on the sideline where he was instructed to “get warmed up” before taking the pitcher’s mound. It had only been a few hours earlier that same day when they had arrived in Salem. John had just begun warming up when a potbellied tall white coach walked over to him and said, “Let me see your fastball”.

He knew pitchers needed to break a sweat before going to the mound, and a couple throws wouldn’t bring on the juices, the strength and the intelligence that flow only after the body is primed and ready to pitch.

He gave his best effort but as an athlete he sensed everything was off. He thought, This is not good. After about ten pitches, the coach said, “OK that’s enough. Go in and shower and we’ll talk.” John hadn’t broken a sweat.

When he entered the locker room Ray was already there. “They sent me in here to get showered and I didn’t even get to swing the bat”. John was speechless because having pitched to him, he knew Ray was a Mother Fucker who could sail balls out of the park.

The manager came in the locker room and said to both of them, “At this time we can’t use you.” He then asked if they wanted to stay around to see the game. They answered “No”; then the manager assured them they’d receive travel money to get home. After they left the locker room, John saw a sign in a section of stands he’d not noticed earlier.

 

COLORED ONLY

He turned to Ray and said, “Man! Look at that!”

Ray said, “Let’s get outta here.”

John commented, “If we stayed to watch the game, we wouldn’t have sat together.”

Ray responded, “That’s why we’re leaving.”

John wondered if the South was also prejudice against Italians.

Back home in Doylestown he told my father, “Daddy, I wasn’t good enough.”

That really upset my father because from an early age he had supported John’s pitching skills, attending all his games into high school and his Semi-Pro competitions. Faithful watchers of the Dodgers on television, Daddy and John always made sure the rabbit ears were pointed in the direction of New York so they could watch Jackie, Roy, Duke, Carl and Pee Wee.

John could feel his father’s disappointment for a dream that was not to happen. John began to question his ability, whether he really was good enough for the pros. He even wondered if his height of 5’6” was a liability. He recalled a pitcher in the Perkiomen Valley League he had played against. The guy was 6’3” but couldn’t break glass with his fastball. Yet in 1958 during John’s first year in the Semi-Pro League, the Cincinnati Reds signed him for $15,000.

John returned to the Semi-pro League and had a real good year. Some of the scouts who had seen him before the trip to Virginia asked in bewilderment, “Why didn’t they keep you?”

His teammates and even players from opposing teams thought he got a bad deal. Some who were ex-minor league players expressed disbelief when learning the outcome of John’s tryout. They told John the Salem Pirates were made up of rookies who had no experience in organized baseball.

My father, angry about John’s rejection of his tryout, wrote a letter to Edgar Williams, a sports writer at Lansdale’s “North Penn Reporter”. Williams then wrote a column that ripped the Pirates’ treatment of how they handled the ‘Try Out’, accusing them of racism, suggesting they should have instead sent him to one of their minor league teams in the north. The reporter’s quote in his column: “Treating a fine young man in this manner was a disgrace and the Pirate organization should be ashamed of itself.

(Doreen Stratton photo)

Final Note:  In 2008 John was inducted into the Central Bucks High School/Central Bucks High School West Hall of Fame for his athletic achievements as a pitcher on the Baseball Team.

 

Covid-19 in Kenya

The Covid-19 pandemic has consumed many of us in our local communities and places across America. With my mixed African-European heritage and having traveled to the Motherland, I’ve been following the pandemic’s rise in Ghana, Egypt and Kenya. It is Kenya I follow the most because of my association with The Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP).

Since 2005 MCEP brought life-saving changes to the 5,000 people in the Kenyan e of village of Olosho Oibor. Much of our progress has previously been published in my blog,  describing the 15 years of support from hundreds of Bucks County citizens that resulted in 7 water wells and education fees that helped over a hundred students attend either primary or secondary schools and some in college.

In early June we received an email from Francis ole Sakuda, the founder of Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), the NGO and our partner in assisting the village. Their main goal is to improve healthy living standards of the poorest in their community through sponsorship of needy children, provision of clean water for domestic use, women’s issues and environmental conservation.

Francis’ email expressed concern for their survival, even though the virus had not yet reached inside their village. We suggested they begin sewing masks from the colorful wraps worn by the women, wash their hands and utilize the greenhouses for food.

We just received another email from Francis with good news as the village remains virus-free. They have been able to provide some relief food donated by the Congregation Church of New Canaan for vulnerable families in isolated village areas. Over 3000 face masks have been distributed throughout the village and many Maasai have begun to farm their land growing green vegetables, the staple food of their diet.

 

Francis ole Sakuda, at right with SIMOO distributing food from the Congregation Church of New Canaan, Connecticut (photo from SIMOO)

There is a site on the BBC News web that lists a daily count of the virus in each African country. On June 9 the Coronavirus in Africa tracker listed Kenya with 2,862 confirmed cases, 849 recovered and 85 deaths. On the whole, Kenya has been spared as compared to South Africa with 50,879 confirmed cases and 1,080 deaths.

We ask for your prayers to keep safe this indigenous nation.

 

The Fourth Estate

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; …”
Amendment 1, U.S. Constitution

America is blessed with three Branches of Government–the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Yet there is another branch. It is The Fourth Estate, known as The Free Press. It was heartening to see the hundreds of names published in “The Herald” these past four weeks. They are the ultimate message of support for our need to keep the presses rolling.

I grew up with “Superman” flickering from our tiny black and white television screen. Jimmy Olsen the photographer and Lois Lane the reporter were the characters I gravitated to more than ‘The Man of Steel’. It was in the late 1950s when my Doylestown Borough School’s 6th grade field trip was a two block walk west on Court Street to the Doylestown Intelligencer.

On the building’s first floor we toured the room where reporters, hunched over typewriters at their desks, pounded out the news of the day. We were then escorted to the basement where the deafened clicks and clacks of linotype machines and the printing press bounced off the walls. Each of us was allowed to type our names on the linotype machine then afterwards, a narrow metal strip impressed with the letters that formed our name became our souvenir.

Those noises grabbed my heart. I was hooked, so much that to this day my favorite films are about reporters, investigations, commentaries and photojournalists.

Yep–“Truth, Justice and the American way.”

It pains me to hear the “leader” of our Nation hurl contempt at the Fourth Estate. Ignorance has become the cruel disease with which he has infected the unconscious brains of his followers.

My passion for journalism will always be sustained any time I’ve watched a film portraying storylines about the Free Press. During these weeks while you’re hunkered down, I invite you to take a Field Trip to some of my favorite Fourth Estate films:

Citizen Kane: A dying tycoon sighs: “Rosebud”. This film always on the ‘Top 100 Best Films’.
All The President’s Men: A 1976 film based on the 1974 book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.
Salvador: A 1986 film about the war in Salvador, photojournalism risks truth in the face of death.
The Insider: The film is based on the 1996 true events when 60 Minutes brought forth an investigation of big tobacco.
Veronica Guerin: Released in 2003, this true story is based on an Irish reporter who investigated organized crime.
Network: The 1976 Winner of four Academy Awards, the satirical film has garnered additional recognitions since then, including the rank of 64 on the “100 Greatest U.S. American Films” as chosen by the American Film Institute.

Others…
Spotlight (2015); The Post (2017); The Year of Living Dangerously (1982); The Killing Fields (1984)

STAY SAFE and . . .

 . . . KEEP THE PRESSES ROLLING!

 

Water is life

(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

The recent spate of articles featuring the shortage of fresh water and the proliferation of unpotable water recalled for me my week-long trip to Africa five years ago this February. At that time, I along with Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Alice Sparks had traveled to the Kenyan Maasai village of Olosho oibor.  As the committee for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP) our itinerary included a fact-finding tour of our organization’s programs. The schedule included visits to primary schools, water wells and visits with our Maasai friends. Francis ole Sakuda, a Maasai Tribal Leader and his wife Susan Naserian Nketoria hosted us in their home.

(Sakuda, the first in his village to attend college, holds an Anthropology Degree and a Masters in International Relations and Resolution. In 2018 he was appointed Kajiado County Executive Committee Member for Public Service, Administration and Citizen Participation.)

MCEP’s history with this Maasai tribe reaches back to 2003 after Eckelmeyer’s chance encounter with Sakuda on the Hamilton New Jersey Train platform. A conversation ensued and Eckelmeyer, realizing the struggle for potable water in Sakuda’s community founded MCEP. A partnership was formed with Sakuda’s NGO—Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO) and our non-profit organization. After MCEP received a $30,000 donation, in 2005 the first well was drilled. Subsequently six more wells have been drilled across their village of 5,000 people.

Pipes traverse throughout the village carrying water to cisterns installed on individual manyattas, which is the Maasai term for property, usually encompassing a size of one acre. Piping also reaches inside three greenhouses that bring water for drip irrigation of vegetables, the staple diet in Maasai culture. School age girls, previously at home caring for younger siblings, are now attending school. Women, freed from walking miles every morning instead spend those hours perfecting their beadwork which they sell at market.

On the Sakuda manyatta, it is protected by a 20-foot tall wire fence intwined with branches from the prickly acacia tree. A 5,000-gallon polypropylene cistern sustains the family for all their water needs. One gate kept open during daytime hours is always secured at night. Inside the manyatta is a second fenced area called a Boo Oonkishu for livestock. Dogs are common fixtures in manyattas, becoming the alert system at nighttime against prowling wildlife. I remember waking from sleep one night… the dogs were furiously barking at something on the other side of the fence.

Five Nkajijik (Maasai plural for houses) are scattered around the Sakuda manyatta. Except for a Jikoni–a small building with a dirt floor where meals are cooked–all the other Nkajijik have concrete floors. During my 2009 visit I stayed in the Enkaji OOlmaasai the guest house built with cow dung and wood. In 2015 we stayed in the Enkaji oolashumpa, built with tin. The Enkaji where we ate and socialized, had three separate rooms.

The Choo–a word borrowed from the Swahili language–is the bathroom. Constructed of wood and mud it too has a concrete floor. Two drains opened in the concrete are approximately 5 inches in diameter and have been dug to a depth of ten feet. For the convenience of guests who’ve traveled from America the drain for human waste is fitted with a toilet commode cemented to the floor. The other drain takes the water emptied after personal body hygiene.

The Choo

Every morning I carried my soap, towel, wash cloth, a gallon plastic tub of warm water and a water bottle tucked under my arm to the Choo. Dipping the cloth in the warm water cleansing my body the best I could before emptying the rest down the pit drain.
At my two travels to Kenya I had witnessed women carrying the five-gallon metal jugs of water, a canvas strap stretched across their forehead that secured the jug to their back. The jugs are the same size as those plastic blue water bottles found in homes or offices.

Each time I observed women gracefully balancing these jugs I wondered if I can do the same. One afternoon sitting near the cistern while the women scrubbed their canvas shoes I asked if I could try walking with a 5-gallon jug of water strapped to my back. They filled a jug, tied the strap to my forehead and hoisted it on my back.
I could barely stand, let alone walk upright. I almost fell on my butt.

Compared to how people in developing nations around the globe subsist without potable water, my personal hygiene in Maasailand was a luxury. While the average American home uses 100 gallons of water a day, across the globe millions of people subsist on 5 gallons or less of diseased or non-potable water every day.
MCEP often speaks at public schools about the Maasai culture. No matter what the students’ grade level, it’s always a wake-up call for them every time we describe the tribe’s struggle for water.

The April 2010 National Geographic magazine published water facts. Here are some from the list:
• 2% is fresh water locked in snow and ice
• 1% is for consumption
• One out of eight people lacks access to clean water
• 46% of people on earth do not have water piped to their homes
• 3.3 million people die each year from water-related health problems
• 2 billion gallons are used each day for irrigating golf courses
• The largest water tunnel supplying New York city is 85 miles long and leaks 35 million gallons of water per day.

During our 2015 visit our friends described a rail line passenger project under construction by the Chinese government. Beginning in Nairobi, the line which travels south from Nairobi to Mombasa, was completed in June 2017. In a recent email from Francis, he reported that a Chinese project crossing through Maasailand had discovered a huge water aquifer. Francis was able to negotiate the well’s ownership to the Maasai community.

Now there are eight wells on Maasailand. MCEP’s goal has always been ten wells and we’re confident the last two will happen.

An Education Program that MCEP began with one hundred students and supported by donations in America, now remains with the final twenty-two students: ten boys and twelve girls. Twelve students are in high school; ten in elementary. Since 2015 I have been supporting Lisa Sinantei who I wrote about in a July 27, 2017 post, “Lisa’s in school!”. She is in Grade 5.

Two other Maasai young men, also receiving donations have matriculated onto higher education. This past summer a young Maasai woman graduated from university, becoming one more empowered woman prepared to lead her country toward prosperity. Educating young girls has saved them from arranged marriages, sometimes before they reach puberty; and has encouraged this patriarchal culture to follow Kenya’s law of banning FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).

President Trump’s recent edict to rollback regulations of the 1972 Clean Water Act, along with his complaints against water saving devices, brings me to paraphrase that legendary piece of dialogue from “Game of Thrones”:

You know nothing Mr. President.

Although the Maasai in Kenya continue to experience periodic droughts and threats to their pastoral culture, I witnessed why Water is Life; why Knowledge is Power; and 5,000 Maasai know many things.

Black History in Doylestown, Pennsylvania

On a summer afternoon in 1992 my niece Leigh Miller—since then dubbed our family genealogist—sat on the porch next to my father interviewing him about his Life. The tape was recorded two years before his death. I listened as his voice mingled with chirping birds and cars whizzing past on the street above.

Daddy saved pieces of paper that were road maps of his life: photographs, tax receipts, fan mail, promotions for band appearances, a journal of payments to band members, a voter registration form, his baptism certificate, letters of praise, legal documents …everything and more associated with the home where he was born and died; and where our family remains today–134 years later.

His voice filled with nostalgia as he talked about “Scar of Shame”, a 1927 silent film  that featured his band in a pivotal nightclub scene. Considered a classic, the film was produced by the Colored Players Film Corporation of Philadelphia with an entire cast of African American actors. My niece Leigh eventually tracked down the DVD a family collector’s item now on every family members’ shelf.

(Stratton Family Archives)       STILL FROM ‘SCAR OF SHAME’

Music had been part of Daddy’s studies during his education at Scotland School for Orphans of the War, a boarding school in Franklin County for children whose fathers had served and died during the Civil War or after returning home. As a Union Navy veteran, after my grandfather Joseph B. Stratton’s death in 1900, his children were eligible to attend the boarding school. My father was four months old when our grandfather died at the age of 68.

As the last born of eight siblings, after graduating in 1917 from Scotland School Daddy returned to Doylestown where he lived with his mother Lily—our grandmother, embracing the role of Stratton Family Steward. By then his seven brothers and sisters were adults, gone from home: Inez, Harold, Joseph, Grace, James, Howard, and Charles.Jps

Hoping to benefit from his love of the written word, Daddy first applied for work in Doylestown at its two newspapers: The Intelligencer told him there were “no openings”. He was then hired at the rival Doylestown Democrat but lasted only one day. In a December 10, 1992 interview by Anne Shultes published in The Intelligencer my father said,

“When I came in the next morning, the boss told me a couple of fellows on the staff objected to me being there and threatened to quit. Because of my race, you know.”

Any thread of bias that lingered after those two rejections was erased when he applied for and was hired at John Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia. Assigned to Elevator #29, Daddy boasted on the tape, “Elevator #29 was the only elevator John Wanamaker (1838-1922) would ride up to his office on the top floor”.

My father had excelled in music while at Scotland School. When John Wanamaker’s son Rodman Wanamaker (1863-1928), took over management of the store he recruited a band among the store’s employees. Daddy was familiar with the piano but when a band member handed him a soprano saxophone a new career was born. The band performed in Wanamaker’s Grand Court of Honor, at times accompanying the famous organ. Dedicated in 1911, the organ towered above the expansive marble quad. After Rodman Wanamaker’s death in 1928 the store was sold.

Prohibition had been in effect since January 17, 1919. Daddy was 26 when he started his band, performing in speakeasies around Philadelphia. He named his group, Sid Stratton’s Four Horsemen Band. The hours in those clubs usually ran from ten at night until six in the morning, with a repertoire of “oldies dance music”. It was around this time that The Colored Players Film Corporation recruited my father’s band to perform in the classic silent film, “Scar of Shame”.

Filmed at the Roadside Hotel on Broad Street, the pivotal scene with Daddy’s band happens during couples on a crowded dance floor. For several seconds viewers can see my father’s band playing their instruments. This film received positive reviews for its portrayal of the Black Experience.

A few years ago, “Scar of Shame” was presented on Turner Classic Movies Silent Film Series. Part of the review published on TMC’s website states–

“The essential crisis of The Scar of Shame is the struggle to rise above the downward pull of the “street,” and this conflict is represented quite effectively in the film’s well-orchestrated (at times overwrought) dramatics. Just as Louise was unable to escape the influence of her stepfather, Alvin finds his promising future endangered by the secret romance of his past, suggesting that every level of black society faces obstacles beyond the obvious black/white struggle.”

Among the memorabilia Daddy had saved was a packet of Fan Mail postmarked in the early months of 1930: Every Friday for an hour, WCAU Radio would broadcast Daddy’s band live from their studio. The letters are rich with praise, asking for songs that must have brought special memories to the listeners.

One of the letters came from a distinguished Doylestown resident: Mrs. Richard Watson, wife of Judge Robert Watson. She asked for 3 songs: ‘Girl of my dreams”, “The Sweetheart of Shamokin”, and “Let me call you Sweetheart”. Before the music played her requests, my father mentioned her name. She later sent him a thank you note adding that she was giving him the saxophone she had played as a little girl.

Prohibition ended in 1933 with the 21st Amendment. The reputation of Daddy’s band flourished beyond those Philadelphia venues, expanding into Doylestown and across Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. Some of the Doylestown sites that featured the band were the Turk Tavern, VFW, Doylestown Country Club, American Legion, Doylestown Armory and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. By the 1940s into the late 1950s three continued to play with Daddy–Stephen Bullock, Jr., John Cream and Lou Stellabott.

(Stratton Family Archives)
From Left to Right, Drummer Johnny Cream, Sid Stratton, and Guitarist Lou Stellabott

 

The one image I wasn’t able to find was the tennis court on the rooftop of Wanamaker’s store. Rodman Wanamaker, an advocate for pro golf and athletics in general had ordered the court’s construction. My father was one of the employees allowed to occasionally play on the court. He described the euphoria of hitting a ball on a rooftop tennis court protected by a wire fence. That introduction to the game led him in the 1920s to construct a clay court on a vacant family parcel of land next to our house.

Our tennis court is gone, replaced with a lovely home. I often gaze where the court once was and recall how that piece of ground had reincarnated from a clay tennis court then to a grass tennis court, then a badminton court, a croquet lawn then back to a grass court.

It was for a long time, the only clay tennis court in Doylestown Borough. For multiple dozens of Summer days, feet slid across the clay surface as aces, slices, backhands, deuces or forehands lobbed back and forth over the net. Daddy also taught a lot of youngsters how to play the game. But it was the town’s lawyers and judges that relished the game, often going nose to nose or flipping coins for the thrill to play tennis on that court.

(Stratton Family Archives)
Sid Stratton on unidentified tennis court.

On Wednesday, February 26 the County Theater is showing “Scar of Shame”. It is a one-time only event and staff at the theater have been gracious to invite me, my brother Chris and sister Judith to share memories of our father before the film rolls on the screen. It starts at 7:30. Please join us.

The Investiture of a Judge

“We are not just beneficiaries of the American promise of justice for all. …,
It falls on all of us to preserve, maintain and expand that promise
for the benefit of all people…”

–From Remarks by The Honorable Judge Jordan B. Yeager after his Investiture to the Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County

It is Friday January 3, 2020 when almost 200 citizens gather to witness the swearing-in of Jordan B. Yeager, a newly-elected Judge who will sit on the Common Pleas Court in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We are on the 4th floor in Room 410 of the Justice Center…this new building where the lives of citizens are changed for better or worse. In my May 5, 2015 post—‘The Sins Committed In The Name of Progress’ about the demolition of the 1877 Court House, I briefly mentioned the Justice Center.  On Saturday January 10, 2015 a ceremony officially opened the Justice Center, replacing the”Rotunda” and Administration building that outgrew their use.

Now sitting in this room of the Justice Center, I’m OK with Progress even though a Bucks County historical treasure was lost when that classic structure, designed by Addison Hutton was demolished.

The Clerk announces Oyez, oyez, oyez for us to stand. The Judges enter, take their seats and then President Judge Honorable Wallace H. Bateman welcomes us to the Investiture of Jordan B. Yeager. With an increased number of dockets on the Court’s calendar it was determined that three additional Judges were needed. The other two newly installed Judges were sworn in earlier that morning: Denise Bowman and Charissa Liller.

Before administration of the Oath two colleagues of Jordan Yeager recall their years of collaboration with him. First, Bucks County Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia describes the valued counsel she received from Jordan, counsel that encouraged her to always bring people together.

Next to speak is Frank S. Guarrieri, Esq.—Managing Partner at Curtin & Heefner, LLP.  That is where Jordan spent eleven years litigating cases, some argued in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme, Commonwealth, or Superior Courts; and some in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third, Second, and D.C. Circuits.

Jordan’s wife–the Honorable Kathy Boockvar, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—administers the Oath while their daughter Collette holds the Torah  from her father’s Bar Mitzvah; and the Constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania State. These three vital documents charted the journey that began when Judge Yeager’s descendants escaped “…religious persecution in Eastern Europe …in search of Freedom and the American promise of justice for all.”

Numerous friends and family are thanked for traveling this road with him. However, the best appreciation is saved for last: Kathy and Collette–two companions who from the beginning were always along on this journey. “Their love—and their patience with me—has sustained me more than words can express.”

Justice Center, Bucks County Pennsylvania

One final thought. When you receive that piece of mail notifying you to appear for “Jury Duty”… Do It if you can. No Excuses.