Appropriate

When I’d asked my 13-year-old daughter whether she wanted to join us for “Appropriate” at Denver’s Curious Theatre, she said yes immediately. I started to tell her more about the play, but she stopped me, saying, “I trust Curious.”

Curious, which is celebrating its 20th season this year on Denver’s version of Off Broadway, traffics in the ambitious and the complex, which is certainly what you would expect of a play about race a black artist wrote for an all-white cast.

“Appropriate” was hard to watch, but worth watching. We trusted Curious to challenge itself as a company and its audiences. It delivered.

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Vietnam

Americans are taking another look at the Vietnam War. It has, for example, attracted the gaze of acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns. A 10-part, 18-hour documentary series directed by Burns and Lynn Novick airs in September on PBS stations nationwide.

Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, ending the war. The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to mark that 50th anniversary with commemorations that began across the country in 2012 and are to culminate on Veterans Day in 2025.

All this talk of Vietnam has me thinking of the veterans of that conflict I had the privilege to meet as I worked on a book that I initially thought would be only about our current war, the one set into motion by the 9/11 attacks. 

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Empathy

In 2008, Natalie Wilson, who works in public relations in Washington, and her sister-in-law Derrica Wilson, a veteran law-enforcement officer, founded the Black and Missing Foundation to help African-American families in DC and across the country find missing loved ones. The Wilsons, who are black, were inspired by a 2004 case in South Carolina in which a family struggled to draw attention to the disappearance of a young black woman whose boyfriend later confessed to murdering her.

National crime statistics show that in 2016, African-Americans made up 38 per cent of missing Americans under the age of 18, despite only making up about 15 per cent of the nation’s youth population. So, black children go missing at a disproportionate rate, while the media focuses on missing whites.

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Gaze

Not all the images in his retrospective at the Denver Art Museum are by American photographer Fazal Sheikh. But all the stories are his.

Among the photographs he did take is a portrait of a woman he met in Vrindavan, a town south of Delhi where Indian widows have traditionally settled. The woman was not a widow herself. She told Sheikh she had never wanted to marry after a friend was murdered by her husband because her family did not pay dowry.  Instead, Sheikh’s subject became a traveler who eventually chose to stay in Vrindavan because she felt at home among the widows.

What inspires people to share their stories with Sheikh? When I look at his portraits, I see women especially looking comfortably and confidently at the camera, as if they are at home in his listening gaze.

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Warriors

Since 2007, a Colorado-based nonprofit called Project Sanctuary has provided therapy and Rocky Mountain recreational retreats to help military families reconnect.

In 2016, Brian Walton, a combat veteran from Illinois who had participated in a Project Sanctuary retreat, died by suicide. That prompted Project Sanctuary to develop something new: a peer mentorship program known as Walton’s Warriors that focuses on preventing suicide among veterans.

With 20 vets a day dying by suicide, it’s extraordinary that Walton’s was her first suicide.  But Project Sanctuary founder and chief executive Heather Ehle did not rest on her accomplishments. 

 

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Resonate

White supremacists and Neo Nazis marched in Charlottesville to fan racist flames.

Those marchers did not care about Confederate statues. They cared about spreading fear.

Because of that moral reality, I'm troubled when the conversation about Charlottesville detours into a debate over what to do about statues.

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Immigration

Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Starsky & Hutch or Law & Order knows that an accused criminal has a right to an attorney and will be appointed one if he or she can’t afford representation.

What fewer people know is that people appearing in immigration court are facing civil, not criminal proceedings. Even though being deported to a country where you fear for your life may be a more fearsome penalty than a prison sentence.

According to a recent nationwide study of more than 1 million  cases between 2007 and 2012, only 14 per cent of detainees brought before an immigration judge had an attorney. Nearly half of those with representation got asylum and other relief, compared to only a quarter of those without, according to the study by the American Immigration Council.

Across the United States, activists and politicians fear the already unmet demand will grow under President Donald Trump. Amid his crackdown on immigration, local policy makers are responding with cash to provide immigration lawyers.

In my hometown of Denver this week, the city council approved an ordinance instructing local government employees not to ask people about their immigration status or tell federal officials about it, and barring Denver jails from allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to secure areas for inmate interviews without a warrant. While Denver will still notify ICE of impending releases of immigrants of interest, the federal agency says the new rules undermine public safety.

After the regulations were passed, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he would soon sign an Executive Order establishing a legal defense fund and other measures meant to support immigrants.

I wrote about the issue from a national perspective for Equal Times.

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