Bestselling author Shaka Senghor on redemption and atonement, the making of the Commie High documentary, and civil rights attorney Dick Soble… on this weekend’s edition of the Saturday Six Pack

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On this Saturday’s show, we’ll be joined by Shaka Senghor, the author of the New York Times bestseller Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison. A recent Detroit-based fellow at MIT’s Media Lab, Senghor was released from prison in 2010, after serving 19 years for second-degree murder, a crime which he admitted to having committed at the age of 19, two years after having been shot multiple times himself in drug deal gone bad. It was during a four-and-a-half-year stint in solitary confinement for a physical altercation with a corrections officer that Senghor, who had been an honors student in East Detroit before running away from an abusive household at the age of 14, decided to try his hand at writing. His most recent book, Writing My Wrongs, which is about his path toward redemption, has taken him these past few weeks from Oprah to the The Daily Show, and, on Saturday, he’ll be here at the AM 1700 studio to discuss redemption, atonement, and prison reform, among other things. [Senghor was in D.C. this afternoon for a White House briefing on “Life After Clemency”.]

For those of you who have never heard Senghor speak about the experiences that led him to prison, and the events which then brought him to where he is today, working in Detroit to make sure that other young people don’t find themselves in prison, here’s a video from a 2014 TED talk titled, Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You.

[At the end of the video, you’ll here Senghor mention Calvin Evans, who we’ve had on the show before to talk about his work within Ann Arbor’s Urban Ashes to give ex-felons a second chance. Well, if all works according to play, Evans will be joining us in the studio during this episode as well.]

Then, during out 7:00 hour, we’ll be joined by Ann Arbor civil rights attorney Dick Soble, who I’ve always wanted to just sit and have a beer with. I’m sure we’ll talk about his long career in civil rights, the state of the Michigan court system today, and his thoughts on both judicial and prison reform. [Soble, who was a managing partner at the Detroit law firm of Goodman, Eden Millender & Bedrosian, today focuses is in the area of alternate dispute resolution and arbitration.] I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say that Dick is one of the most thoughtful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of encountering, and I’m excited to introduce him to those of you who have never had the pleasure.

And, in our final segment, we’ll talk with local filmmaker Donald Harrison about his most recent project, a documentary about about downtown Ann Arbor’s alternative high school, Commie High. Here, if you’ve yet to see it, is the teaser reel that Harrison posted a few days ago on Kickstarter in hopes of raising the $45,000 necessary to complete the film. [As of today, with two weeks left, Harrison has raised almost $17,000.]

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, HERE ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

One last thing… If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.

And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and leave them at one of your favorite highway rest areas.

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And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please copy down this number and slide it into your sock – 734.217.8624 – and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you… Sure, sometimes it’s nothing even with you, that’s true, but usually your active participation makes it better.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

And so it begins…. Our evening spent enjoying the rooftop lake at 209 Pearl.

You wouldn’t know it from the street, but 209 Pearl has a lovely rooftop lake. Or at least it did until about midnight last night.

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Yesterday, while the rest of you were enjoying lunch, Jesse and I closed on 209 Pearl. And, this evening, we got to work. The first order of business was to address the leaks in the roof, which had grown in severity over the past several days, by draining the small lake that had formed on the roof. I’m sure, come summertime, we’ll regret not having a nice cool rooftop pond to relax in after a hard day of floor sanding and toilet installing, but, right now we’re just happy to have stopped the constant dripping.

It turns out that it was just a clogged rooftop drain, which was awesome. There will, no doubt, be other, bigger, more costly surprises in our future, but this was a relatively easy fix.

Now it’s on to work with the architects on our construction plans for Landline Creative Labs… Wish us luck.

Posted in 209 Pearl, Landline Creative Labs, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Ypsi High’s new principal, Tanya Bowman, named in federal corruption probe of Detroit Public Schools

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Yesterday it was announced that Tanya Bowman, the new principal at Ypsi High, was named among 12 current and former Detroit Public Schools (DPS) administrators charged in a federal corruption case involving the large-scale purchase of school supplies that rarely, if ever, actually made their way into the hands of students. Prior to joining Ypsilanti Community Schools, Bowman had been principal of Osborn Collegiate Academy of Math, Science and Technology in Detroit, and it was at Osborne, according to the Detroit Free Press, that Bowman is thought to have accepted $12,500 in kickbacks from businessman Norman Shy of Franklin. Shy, according to the Free Press, has been accused of “paying $908,500 in kickbacks and bribes to at least 12 Detroit Public School principals who used him as a school supply vendor in exchange for money — some for as little as $4,000, another for $324,000. He secretly did this for 13 years, scamming school after school to the tune of $2.7 million with the help of principals who benefited along the way, prosecutors allege.”

While it’s usually the case that federal prosecutors don’t name names unless they feel relatively certain that they have enough evidence to secure a conviction, I think it’s important to stress that, as of right now, Bowman has only been accused of a crime, and not actually found guilty of it. Having said that, however, it certainly doesn’t look good that prosecutors have given an exact dollar amount that Bowman is thought to have accepted, which would indicate to me that they’re in possession of Shy’s records. At any rate, please try to remain objective when discussing the case here. I know, if true, it’s a terrible thing that Bowman has done — conspiring to enrich herself by taking resources right out of the hands of our most vulnerable students — but, until the case is concluded, we just don’t know.

update: Dr. Benjamin Edmondson, the Superintendent of Ypsilanti Public Schools, just issued the following statement.

Dear Ypsilanti high school families,

As some of you may already have learned, Y​psilanti Community High School​ principal Tanya Bowman was one of 13 current or former principals at Detroit Public Schools indicted on federal and conspiracy charges. This came as a complete surprise, and the district took immediate action and placed Ms. Bowman on administrative leave​ and have ​temporarily named Scott Snyder, Principal​ of Yp​silanti New Tech High School, as Interim Principal until further notice. New Tech’s SLC Teacher, Trish Thomas, is serving as Interim Principal until we can secure a placement for either school. I met with YCHS students and Mr. Snyder met with NT students to talk to them about the situation this morning.

Rest assured that we are doing all that we can to maintain a normal learning environment at the high school and to secure administrative coverage. The education of our students is a top priority and we are working diligently to keep our focus on teaching and learning.

As information becomes available, and is appropriate to communicate, we will keep you updated. Thank you for your support of Ypsilanti Community Schools and your cooperation as we move through these difficult circumstances.

Sincerely,

Dr. Benjamin Edmondson

Posted in Detroit, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Why’s the internet turning on Jake Croman?

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I’m fascinated by the evolution of frontier justice in the digital age. Whenever there’s a story of someone being turned on by the internet, I’m completely captivated. Regardless of whether or not it’s deserved, I just can’t turn away. It’s one thing to watch a story spread like Janet Jackson’s nipple across the internet, but it’s something altogether different to see individual people so caught-up in a story that they decide to invest themselves on a personal level, joining in an anonymous movement to bring a specific person down for his or her perceived crimes. And we’re seeing an incredible example of this play out today, where the internet, based on a 33-second video clip, has collectively decided to ruin the life of a University of Michigan student from New York.

While there’s considerable debate over what happened prior to the 33 seconds captured in the video, these are the facts as we know them. On Sunday, March 20, a U-M student by they name of Jake Croman, or one of his friends, requested an Uber pickup. And, when the driver, a man by the name of Artur Zawada, arrived, a verbal altercation ensued, during which Croman, surrounded by his shouting Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) frat brothers, began berating the driver, calling him, among other things, a “minimum wage faggot” and a “little piece of shit.” [That’s Croman on the right in the image at the top of this post.]

I can understand why this video went viral in Ann Arbor, where, for a long time now there’s been concern about the growing influx of wealthy New York students, and how their presence might be changing our beloved little midwestern college town, but I’m not quite so certain as to why this story has taken off nationally, when there are so many videos posted each day of people berating one another. My guess, and I’d be curious to know what others think, is that the weight of the internet is coming down on Croman, who happens to be the son of Steven Croman, one of New York City’s most reviled landlords, because of the class dynamic at the center of the conflict. [The elder Croman, by the way, is currently under investigation for possibly using illegal tactics to force out rent-stabilized tenants.] It’s a story, I think, that plays well in a nation where the middle class is disappearing and a species of arrogant, entitled super-rich are emerging.

When Croman sticks his face in Zawada’s car window and says, “You’re an Uber driver, go fucking drive, you little fuck… There are fifty of you, and there is one of me, who spends the most money, you little fuck,” it understandably pushes people’s buttons. And, it doesn’t help when, at the end of their confrontation, Croman yells at Zawada, as he’s walking away, that he’s just going to go back to his apartment and watch television, implying that he’s of a class that doesn’t have to struggle, like the man he’s yelling at, in a service industry job that’s beneath him.

The exchange between the two men is timely, just as it was timely back in 1963, when Bob Dylan read about the killing of a black, 51 year old barmaid by the wealthy young son of a Maryland tobacco farming family, and penned The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Some things just speak so perfectly to the time in which they happen that there’s really no way you can ignore them.

Here, if you haven’t seen it, is the video.

As for the true facts of the case, I have no idea what’s really going on here. Croman has said in a statement that the incident began when the driver made an offensive comment and “refused to pick me up on the basis of my religion.” And others on Youtube have since started leaving comments claiming that Zawada has made anti-Semitic comments in the past. Zawada, in response, has offered his Uber rating is 4.8 after 2600 rides. He’s also said that this was the fourth run-in he’s had with Croman and his friends. According to Zawada, who was apparently born in Poland, he told Croman after the third incident that he was contacting Uber to have him banned from using the service. Last Sunday, though, Zawada says that Croman used his friend’s phone to request a pick-up. “(The) rider knew from Uber application who is the driver,” Zawada said today on Youtube. “He had option to cancel to avoid any issues but he/they proceeded to abuse, harrase, belittle and provoke like kindergarten thugs.” For what it’s worth, Croman told BuzzFeed News that he too was verbally abused. “Shortly after the verbal altercation, I filed a complaint with the Ann Arbor Police Department and they are now dealing with the issue,” he told them. According to BuzzFeed, though, “An Ann Arbor police spokesperson subsequently told BuzzFeed News they could not locate Croman’s name in their reporting system. Croman said he was unable to immediately provide a case number for his report, saying he was away from school.”

One suspects, if there’s more to it than what we’ve seen in the video clip above, that we’ll know soon enough, seeing as how a few of Croman’s frat brothers also seemed to be recording the incident. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep an open mind, and consider the possibility that Zawada wasn’t completely without blame. That doesn’t, however, in any way mean that Croman was justified in his condescension and use of slurs. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume, based on this public display, that this was a one a one-time occurrence for Croman.

Back to the main point of this post, though… I’m just fascinated by how quickly the story took off, and how little time it took from the point when the video first showed up on Reddit and when someone launched the site JakeCroman.com, promising Mr. Croman, “Within hours or days, this website will be the #1 listing on every search engine for your name. Anyone who searches for you anywhere will come here first. You’re fucked.”

As Croman is wealthy works for his father, I doubt this will really impact his life too greatly, but it does make me wonder about the power of the internet to destroy people’s lives, and just how much damage a person can do in 30 seconds.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Mark's Life, Other, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 192 Comments

Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling on the importance of investigative journalism in Detroit, the launch of Ypsi’s new IB elementary school, the campaign for the Riverside Park playground, and talking improv and cancer with Pointless Brewery & Theatre co-founder Tori Tomalia… on episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack

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I’m still playing catch-up, trying to get the most recent episodes of the Saturday Six Pack posted here. I’m sorry that it’s been taking me so long, but other projects keep getting in the way. [Speaking of which, we’re set to close on that building I was telling you about by the end of the month.] The episode I’m posting here tonight was our 41st, and, if you like hearing people talk about cancer, improv, journalism, arson, playground design and early childhood education, I suspect you’ll really enjoy it… If you get a chance, check it out. Here, in the meantime, are my rough notes.

The Opening of Ypsilanti’s New International Baccalaureate Elementary School

During our first segment, after a wonderful opening theme song written by Linette’s cousin Andy, we got right into things with Karla Graessley, the director of elementary education for Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS), and Cassandra Sheriff, the future principal of the as-yet-to-be-named International Baccalaureate elementary school that will open this September on the edge of Prospect Park, inside the school we presently know as Adams.

Graessley, Sheriff and I discussed the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy, and the circumstances surrounding the Ypsilanti Board of Education’s decision to launch an elementary program. [Graessley noted how the high school and middle school IB programs had both successfully pulled families back to Ypsilanti, and how there has been a great deal of interest on the part of new parents to expand public school options for local children entering school.]

We talked about the decision to close Adams, as opposed to another school in the district, and why it was that this new school didn’t just open inside of one of the district’s many already vacant buildings. [The district, as I suspect most of you know, has been shrinking and consolidating for some time now, as parents have been moving to charter schools, taking advantage of openings in Ann Arbor Public Schools, etc. At present, I believe, there are six vacant former school buildings in the district.] Grassley explained that part of the reason Adams was chosen was because student achievement, at least as reflected in test scores, wasn’t improving at the school. Furthermore, she said that their analysis had shown that most students attending Adams don’t live in the neighborhood surrounding the school, and, as such, have better performing schools that are closer to them. Much of the work now, Graessley told us, will be ensuring that the current students at Adams are transferred to schools that will serve their needs. [As the new IB school, at least the first year, will only go from pre-school to second grade, there won’t be an opportunity for most students currently at Adams to enroll at the new school. The parents of first graders currently at Adams, however, will be given information as to how their children can apply for positions in the 2nd grade class at the new school.]

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Sheriff [pictured above] and I discussed her history, and her plans for re-setting the culture at the school. We talked about what she’s looking for in teachers, and how they plan to get everyone trained in the IB philosophy over the course of the summer, and ready to start teaching around interdisciplinary themes, which as the heart of the IB philosophy. [Some teachers currently at Adams will apply for positions at the new school, but the YSC administration is opening the search to any qualified teachers, and they’re hopeful that they may get applicants with IB experience.] Sheriff and I also talked about what resources are available to her, given that she’s never before worked in an IB environment. [As I mentioned during the show, the situation was somewhat different when the high school, and then the middle school launched, as Principal Okma came to Ypsilanti not only with years of experience, having run an IB school in Southfield, but also a core team of teachers and administrators familiar with the system.] Sheriff and Grassley noted that, as IB schools are proliferating across the state, there’s a relatively strong network now, even for the elementary programs, which are still a bit less common. And they assured our listeners that teachers and administrators would be engaged in intensive training all this summer. [While we’re on the subject of Adams, I meant to ask why the school, which was relaunched not too long ago as a “STEM” school, hadn’t achieved what they’d hoped, but I guess I have to save the question for the next time Superintendent Edmondson in in the studio with us.]

We also talked a little bit about the district’s decision to launch a tuition-based IB pre-school alongside the K-2 program, and what it means for the district to venture into something so completely new. And, of course, we talked about how interested families would go about applying, how many classes they’re planning to have, and their plans for reaching out to families of young children. [below: Karla Grassley]

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[If you would like to listen to episode 41 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.]

The Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling on His Mission to Keep Investigative Journalism Alive in Detroit

At the 29-minute mark, we called independent investigative journalist Steve Neavling at his home in Detroit, where he was waiting for us with a Moscow Mule in hand. We talked with Neavling about the journey that brought him to Detroit, the forces that kept him here after he lost his job as a reporter at the Free Press, and the year of his life that he dedicated to reporting on every single structure fire in the city of Detroit. We talked a great deal about the “pursuit of truth,” and why it is that, instead of just leaving Detroit and doing something else, he decided to turn his life over to the Motor City Muckraker, working endless hours for no pay, to break stories about everything from unsafe conditions within Detroit’s schools to instances where, because of antiquated equipment and shrinking maintenance budgets within the Detroit Fire Department, lives have been lost.

[If you haven’t read it yet, Patrick Dunn wrote a great piece about Neavling’s investigative work for Metromode a few weeks back.]

By the time Neavling joined the Free Press, the paper was already a shell of its former self, he told us, and it’s only gotten worse since. In spite of the enormity of the problems faced by the people of Detroit, the press presence continues to fade. And that, said Neavling, is why he chose to stay. He felt as though he needed to be in Detroit, to “uncover the problems that are keeping things from improving.”

We talked a lot about the current state of journalism, and the forces at play which are keeping good investigative work from happening… the fact that those who still remain in our local newsrooms have to write new stories each day, and are forced to jump from one subject to the next, unable to develop sources and deep subject matter expertise in any one area. It’s no surprise, Neavling told us, that local journalism has become little more than a regurgitation of who said what, without any real insight into why things are happening, or what the impact might be. This, as he said, is a “critical time” in our history, and people aren’t being given the information they need to make informed decisions at the polling place, or in their own lives.

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[above: Photo of Neavling courtesy Doug Coombe.]

We also talked about Neavling’s plans on transitioning the Muckraker into a non-profit, so that perhaps he can attract funding from a foundation with an interest in Detroit, and expand coverage even further, filling the void left by our rapidly shrinking traditional papers.

And, of course, we discussed the situation on the ground in Detroit, how it got to where it is today, and what it’s likely going to take to get people around the United States interested enough to demand action… like what we saw recently in relation to the Flint water situation.

Tori Tomalia on the Successful Launch of Pointless Brewery & Theatre and Living with Cancer

And, at the 1:00-mark, after a song from our old friend Pete Larson in Kenya, we were joined by Tori Tomalia, the co-founder of the improv comedy space Pointless Brewery & Theatre. In addition to just catching up on how things have been going at Pointless since we last spoke with her, we talked about her upcoming 40th birthday, and how she planned to celebrate it by hosting an event to raise money for research into the rare cancer subtype that she has. [The event took place a few days ago at Pointless, and I’m told that it went really well. Sadly, I couldn’t attend, as I was sick with a cold.]

Here’s Tomalia telling us how, when she and her husband decided to launch Pointless a few years back, shortly after she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, she didn’t know if she’d be around to see the space actually open. Not only has she made it to opening day, though, and continued to expand programming and create a thriving space in our community for comedy and performance, but she’s working with other individuals with cancer resulting from ROS1 gene mutations to organize, fund research, and find a cure… It’s super awesome, inspiring stuff, and you should just listen.

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The Campaign for a Playground in Ypsi’s Riverside Park

And, at 1:22, we were joined in the studio by two representatives from the Play Riverside Task Force – Cara Talaska and Teresa Gillotti – who brought us up to date not their campaign to get a playground back in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park. We discussed the steps they’ve taken thus far, the feedback they’ve received from community members, and why it is that, in their opinion, it’s so imperative that Riverside Park have a swings, a slide, and a bunch of metal tubing for kids to twist themselves around. Here’s Talaska telling us how a playground would not only make it easier for parents to interest their kids in a trip to the park, but also demonstrate to people coming to the park for events like Beer Fest and the Color Run, that Ypsilanti is a family-friendly city.

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According to Gillotti [pictured below], who, up until a year or so ago served as Ypsi’s City Planner, there’s not much debate as to whether or we should have a playground in Riverside Park. The idea has come up over the past decade, she told us, every time there’s a public planning meeting where input from the community is sought. We’ve tried over the years to see it accomplished with grant dollars, she told us, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. So, this time, a group of interested community members just decided to do it themselves. They got two playground designers at the University of Michigan to help with a design that would work in harmony with the park, they launched their task force, and now they’re setting out to raise the nearly $50,000 it’ll cost to build it out. [Their estimates range from $45,000 to $48,000.]

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If you stick around to the end, you’ll hear a great conversation about Europe’s so-called adventure playgrounds, where children are encouraged to set things on fire, build structures from rusty metal and leap from bone-breaking heights. Gillotti and Talaska don’t go so far as to endorse my idea for incorporating these elements, and a bar for parents, but they come close.

Here, in case you’re interested, is what they feel they first phase of the playground build-out will look like.

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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 and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

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.

[Episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on March 5, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

Posted in Detroit, Education, Media, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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