Halloween in Ypsilanti

I’m not sure what it means, but, at some point between 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM this morning, someone left a demonic frog, a bunch of creepy barbie dolls, and a sickly yellow poop covered in what looks like orangutan hair on our front porch. Is this the kind of thing that we’re supposed to report to the FBI?




In what could possibly be related news, I’ve been informed that our neighborhood will likely see its first trick-or-treaters since 1988… It hadn’t occurred to me, but I guess it makes sense that the first wave of gentrification would be led by entitled toddlers demanding free smarties and candy corn.

Posted in Mark's Life, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Giving ex-felons a second chance, the corporatization of higher ed, and the religious roots of Cultivate Coffee and Tap House… on episode 31 of the Saturday Six Pack


This last installment of the Saturday Six Pack was really good. And I think I’d say that even if it wasn’t my show. It was interesting and topical, challenging and funny. There was just a lot to like about it. We talked with an inspiring ex-felon, a fiery union organizer, and a local man whose deep religious conviction led him back to Ypsilanti to open an aggressively community-fucsed coffee shop. Among other things, we discussed recidivism, the commercialism of higher education, and sustainable business practices. We talked about ethics and the desire to build things that we can be proud of, things that can make our communities stronger. I don’t know that it’s always the case, but this is the kind of episode that, for me, demonstrates what community radio can be.

Here, for those of you who won’t just scroll down and listen to the whole episode, are just a few of the highlights.

After kicking things off with an awesome new intro song by our recent guest Frank Allison, we jumped right into the thick of things with Paul Hickman and Calvin Evans from Urban Ashes, an Ann Arbor-based producer of hand-made photo frames and custom-made furniture built from urban salvaged wood.

We talked with Hickman [pictured below], the founder of the company, about the path that brought him to Michigan, and the circumstance that led to the launch Urban Ashes. We talked about how, after burning out from years in the fast-paced world of themed-environment construction in Las Vegas, he’d relocated to Berkeley to take a job at EcoTimber, where he learned everything there is to know about the then nascent field of sustainable building materials… an education that would serve him well several years later, when he’d move to Michigan just as the devastation of the Emerald Ash Borer was becoming apparent. And that’s when the idea for Urban Ashes started to take shape, as Hickman began to consider alternate uses for the ash trees that were being cut down and either burned or turned into mulch to deter the spread of the virulent pest. With a considerable amount of work, a network of mills was formed, a product line was developed, and a local urban salvaged wood industry was born. According to Hickman, it occurred to him fairly early on in the process, though, that just doing that wouldn’t be enough. He didn’t want to just build a green manufacturing company around the creative reuse of trees that would otherwise just be destroyed… he wanted to do it with a team of people who needed a second chance in life, like ex-felons.


Urban Ashes picture frames are now available in 220 locations across 42 states, and the company is growing. Currently there are six employees in the company, and they’re preparing to hire four more. They’re also expanding beyond picture frames, into furniture and in-store display units for businesses in the retail and hospitality industries. And they’ve expanded beyond just harvested ask trees, working with all kinds of repurposed wood.

Key to this growth, as noted before, is Urban Ashes’ dedication to hiring from the ex-fellon labor pool. And that’s what much of our conversation during this episode of the Saturday Six Pack centered around. [Presently, three of the company’s six employees are ex-felons.]

Urban Ashes Human Relations and Operations Manager Calvin Evans, who joined the company after serving 24 years in prison, explained in detail what he and Hickman were hoping to build. Not only do they want to expand their own hiring of ex-felons, according to Evans, and construct programs to support them in their successful transition back into life outside of prison, but they want to provide the infrastructure so that other interested companies might participate as well. Both Evans and Hickman paint a picture of a facility were, in the future, companies in a number of different sectors could join together to train and support people reentering the workforce from prison. [They’re already beginning to build this infrastructure at their facility by Ann Arbor’s airport.]


Evans [seen above] says he wants to lead by example and demonstrate to other former prisoners that they, like him, can accomplish anything they set their minds to it.

We talked for over an hour. We talked about the diminishing educational opportunities in prison. We talked about the problems people encounter on the outside, after being released from prison. We talked about the circumstances that led Evans went to prison, and how he made his mind up early on that he wanted to build something upon his release that would help other ex-felons. We talked about how prisoners are taken advantage of by companies who pay them pennies an hour for their work while behind bars. And we discussed the need to provide young people with “a meaningful alternative to selling drugs” and an appreciation for the importance of not just having money in the short term, but creating generational success. We talked about the peer-to-peer mentoring programs Evans set up in prison, and what it’s been like for him going back into Michigan’s prison system now, as a motivational speaker. [Trust me. You should listen.]

[If you would like to listen to episode thirty-one of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

At the 51-minute mark, after saying goodbye to Evans and Hickman, we played a song by our friend our friend Peter Larson. [This week’s contribution was a cover of a song that he’d written for us a few weeks ago, performed by Pete and a friend in Kenya.]

Then, at the 55-mintute mark, we invited in Judith Kullberg from the EMU Faculty Senate and Howard Bunsis from the EMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to discuss the controversial Eastern Michigan University presidential search, which is being done behind closed doors, without any input whatsoever from the university community. We talked about the concept of “shared governance” in higher education, and how, according to EMU’s own policies, the regents are supposed to actively confer with the broader university community when making decisions like this. In spite of this, however, it would seem that Eastern’s regents have no intention to even bring their finalists onto campus to meet with he university community before making their decision, as has long been the tradition.

As Kullberg makes clear, this isn’t something that’s just happening at EMU. We’re seeing an increasing loss of public control over institutions across America, she says. “The corporate elite,” says Kullberg, “is finding ways to keep the people out of the process.” They’re systematically decreasing transparency and finding new ways to silence dissent. And that, she and Bunsis argue, is essentially what’s happening at EMU. And this isn’t terribly surprising, given the present makeup of the university’s Board of Regents, who are all political appointees. Seven of EMU’s eight current regents were placed in office by Republican governors, and most of them come from the corporate world… “If we look at the kinds of decisions that the regents have been making,” says Xullberg, “they definitely have a view of the university as a large company.”

Bunsis is clear that the faculty union, which he represents, isn’t asking for the power to choose their next president. He knows it’s ultimately the job of the regents to make that decision. According to him, however, he feels as though a better decision would be made if the regents consulted with those who, like him, are closer to the mission of the university, which is teaching students. He doesn’t care, he says, if they bring in a non-academic to be their next president. “All we want is a voice in the process and a seat at the table,” he says… an opportunity meet with the finalists and talk with them about the unique challenges and opportunities that EMU faces.

Again, I’d just encourage you to listen. We talked quite a bit about the search firm contacting the EMU presidential search [Parker Executive Search], the recent scandals they’ve been involved in, and their role in all of this. [Among other thins, Parker Executive Search helped place a corporate executive in the office of president at the University of Iowa, over the warnings of faculty, only to have it come out later that he had falsified several items his resume.]

Here are Kullberg and Bunsis talking with me about the possibility that someone truly horrific, like former Speaker of the House John Boehner, could be named their next president.


Then, at the 1:22-mark, Billy Kangas, the Director of Coffee and Cause at Ypsilanti’s Cultivate Coffee and Tap House, came in to talk about everything from the relationship between Cultivate and Ann Arbor’s Grace Church, to his personal motivations for wanting to create a safe, welcoming space for the people of Ypsilanti, regardless of their religious belief. We talked about the overlapping vocations of bartender, barista and pastor, and how he sees his role within the community. Among other things, we talked about how he and his partner came to start Cultivate, their dedication to fighting hunger, and their promise to pay employees a living wage… So, if you’ve wondered about the backstory of that beautiful little garage-turned-coffeeshop in Depot Town, we’ve got your answers.


Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper stays stocked.

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

Posted in Local Business, Locally Owned Business, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Art of Engineering for Girls” series to begin this Sunday in Ypsilanti

When I talked with science educator Cassie Byrd earlier this year as part of the Ypsi Immigration Interview project, we discussed the possibility, given her interest in teaching girls about science, and her experience at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, that she might get more involved locally with FLY Children’s Art Center. Well, I just recently learned that Cassie has done just that. She’s developed series of workshops for the FLY Creativity Lab, directed at 10 to 12 year-old girls… Following is our very brief conversation about what’s she’s planning.


MARK: So I noticed that you were going to be teaching a series at FLY called Art of Engineering for Girls.

CASSIE: That’s right. I’ll be co-teaching (with FLY’s art teacher Allida Warn) a series of three workshops that explore the intersection of science, art, and engineering.

MARK: Three workshops over three days?

CASSIE: Yes, the three workshops will take place on three consecutive Sundays beginning this Sunday, November 1.

MARK: So, can you give us an example of the kind of stuff you’ll be doing?

CASSIE: The first week, we’ll be exploring the physics of motion. We’ll look at types of motion (linear and rotational, as examples), how simple machines (levers, gears, and pulleys as examples) can change the direction or magnitude of force of a particular motion, and then putting all of that science knowledge together to create art and engineer a toy called “a water bottle flywheel”. The second week of the workshop, we’ll explore materials and structures, investigating what gives a structure strength and stability. And, the last week, we put it all together in an engineering design challenge.

MARK: When we last talked, you mentioned how you like to work with girls between the ages of 10 and 12, as that’s a critical time in their educational development… Actually, I’ve got a quote from you here, from our earlier interview…

In my work, I try to focus on girls between the ages of 10 -12 — hopefully catching their interest before they self-select out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Some key strategies for getting, and keeping, girls interested in STEM are:

INTRODUCE HER TO ROLE MODELS: If I asked you to describe the first image that pops into your mind when I say the word, “scientist”, what did you see? Many will describe the ubiquitous white male, with crazy hair, wearing a labcoat, probably blowing something up in a lab image. This stereotype belief holds true for girls too. Because of this, there is a disconnect between the descriptive stereotype that scientists must look like that crazy guy and how girls view themselves. So, we must introduce girls to many types of scientists with whom they can identify. “If she can see it, she can be it.”

GIVE HER OPPORTUNITIES TO ENGAGE IN STEM EXPERIENCES: Take advantage of girls’ interest in STEM from a young age – visit science centers and other informal learning environments, do activities at home that make the connection between STEM and everyday life (talk about the science or math of cooking while making dinner, explain a household or automotive repair to her, let her tinker with you – gaining hands-on experience with tools), or encourage her to sign up for a STEM related afterschool or summer program.

ENCOURAGE GROWTH MINDSET: Research out of Stanford University by Dr. Carol Dweck found that people could be described as having a fixed mindset (that their intelligence or talents were fixed) or a growth mindset (that their intelligence or talents can be developed through dedication and hard work). When we give girls opportunities to succeed and to fail, we create a space for them to learn from failure, which can help them develop a growth mindset. This piece gets at the heart of the “I’m not good at math” problem and paves the way for her to develop perseverance, which is critical for success in STEM fields.

Would I be right to assume that these three elements will be present in the curriculum you’ve put together for this series of workshops for 10, 11 and 12 year-old girls?

CASSIE: Absolutely. The workshop series is an opportunity for girls to explore the connections of physics phenomena to everyday toys and tools. Through exposure to the Engineering Design Process, the students will see that it is absolutely essential to learn from failure.

MARK: I like that FLY is evolving to look at creativity more broadly, incorporating science and technology along with art. I’m not an educator, but it seems to me there’s a huge opportunity when you leverage art… I mean, as much as I like STEM, I think that the A is important. It not only grounds it, but it provides a relatively easy point of entry for kids that might not otherwise gravitate toward science and technology.

CASSIE: Agreed. We’re seeing a movement in higher ed of new courses and programs that blend art and engineering (such as UM’s ArtsEngine). And, in the digital realm, we’re seeing art and engineering intersect to push the limits of graphical user interfaces and create new technologies (such as James Cameron’s 3D tech used to create the film “Avatar”).

MARK: How many kids are you hoping to get in the class, and how much does the series cost?

CASSIE: We’re hoping to have around 18 students in the series. The cost is $150, and there are scholarships available. Parents should send an email to FLY (info@flyartcenter.org) if they’re interested.

[The image at the top of the page was taken of my daughter at last year’s Science Olympiad. She’d just competed in the rocket competition when this was taken. It seemed appropriate for this post.]

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Cyclist struck and killed on Washtenaw early this morning, police are looking for damaged Audi of hit-and-run driver

Early this morning, former Ypsi City Council member Barry LaRue, returning home from a late night at work in Ann Arbor, noticed what he thought might be a dead body on Washtenaw, near the intersection with Brockman. Here, with his permission, is what he posted to Facebook shortly after leaving the police at the scene and returning home.


According to LaRue, the body was off to the side of Washtenaw’s eastbound lane, just 20 feet or so south of Brockman, near the spot where Stadium forks off.

It’s being reported this morning that the victim was a 28-year-old Pittsfield Township man who had apparently been on a bicycle, headed eastbound on Washtenaw, when he was struck from behind. Judging from vehicle debris found at the site, police are now looking for an Audi with damage to the right side of its front end. If you should happen to see a vehicle matching this description, please contact the authorities immediately.

It’s difficult to say, of course, but it’s possible that, had the driver of the car stopped and offered assistance, this cyclist might still be alive today. Hopefully, if nothing else, this serves as a reminder to all of us that, regardless of the circumstances, you should never run from situations such as this. The person responsible for this accident, I’m assuming, was probably drunk, and felt as though, in the moment, their best course of action was to drive away in an attempt to hide from responsibility. They will eventually be found though. And they will eventually go to jail. And, more importantly, they will forever have this young man’s death on their hands. For the rest of their life, they’ll know that they not only hit a man, but left him to die alone in the street… Running from something like this is never the right answer.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Considering a career in alternate universe Love Boat fan fiction

Not too long ago, my friend Mike White turned me onto Love Boat Insanity, a Tumblr account dedicated to the exploration of alternate universe Love Boat passengers. It’s not only hilariously funny, but it’s got me thinking seriously about picking half a dozen or so of the individuals who have been proposed thus far, and seeing if I might possibly be able to write a script that successfully brings them all together. [I don’t do sudoko, so I need to find other ways to stay sharp.]


Just looking at the subset of eight that you see here, which was generated randomly, I’ve already got three pretty strong plot lines. My favorite thus far involves a runaway heiress (Camilla Parker Bowles) who, temporarily blinded by eyedrops prescribed by the boat’s doctor (Bernie Kopell) to kill a parasite in her brain, falls in love with an unattractive yet brilliant sociologist (Dr. Zira) who is conducting secret research on behalf of a foreign government on the mating habits of Americans. [The parasite in her brain would be played by the Eraserhead Baby.]


As for Jim Jones and the Kool Aid Man, I’m thinking that Jones would be washed-up televangelist who’d gotten on the Pacific Princess with the intention of killing himself at sea. His plans, however, change when he finds that his room is located right across the corridor from a mascot convention. After a chance encounter with the Kool Aid Man, who he believes is likely a woman, he becomes obsessed with uncovering his/her true identity. But, every time he thinks he’s sure to discover who it is inside the costume, something gets in his way. One time, a pool boy walks by with a towering arm-full of towels, blocking his view. Another time, he thinks he’s got her cornered in a bathroom stall, so he waits outside, only to find that she apparently poops in costume. Finally he gives up trying to figure out the identity of the Kool Aid Man and just accepts that he’s madly in love with whatever happens to be inside the enormous red costume. They leave the boat hand-in-hand without ever having spoken a word, as members of the crew look at one another and smile.

[I can’t find any mention of it on my site, but I’m almost positive that, about five years ago, I tried to coordinate an online Love Boat viewing party, where we’d all watched the same episode on Youtube, starting at the exact same time. Sadly, I don’t recall that many people participated.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments


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