Ypsi School Board’s Dr. Celeste Hawkins on race, class, segregation, and the prospect of a merger with Ann Arbor Public Schools

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    A few days ago, I posted something here about the findings of a study on affordable housing commissioned by Washtenaw County. The published report, as you may recall, didn’t paint a very pretty picture. Our communities, according to the authors of the study, are rapidly becoming segregated, with less-well-off people, especially people of color, quickly consolidating in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, where the poverty rate is already approaching 30%. And this, in their professional opinion, is not tenable. If not dealt with, the authors point out, it’s not just Ypsilanti that will suffer from the resulting instability. This “imbalance in income, education and opportunity between the jurisdictions, along with the segregation that goes with it,” they say, “will hamper the regional economic growth potential of the (entire) area.” And, with that in mind, they made several suggestions. And it’s one of those suggestions in particular that I’d like for us to talk about today. The authors of this study recommended that we “create a unified Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti School District,” the thought being that more financially stable families would consider living in Ypsilanti if our schools were stronger, better funded, and backed up by Ann Arbor. This one thing, in their opinion, would go a long way toward addressing the growing inequality that we’re seeing develop across the region. Not only would the children of Ypsilnati have access to more in the way of educational resources, but it would also lead to some degree of normalization across our communities with regard to household income, etc.

    Given that Ann Arbor residents this past November voted overwhelmingly against the idea of annexing the Whitmore Lake public schools, I don’t see how a merger of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti’s districts would stand a chance, but I do think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have. And, I should add, I know that there are those in County government who would disagree. I have it on good authority that many folks at the County would prefer that such a conversation not be had, as they think, perhaps rightly, that such a conversation would only serve to derail their more achievable objectives, like getting more low-income housing built in Ann Arbor. I haven’t heard this explicitly from anyone in County government, but I also get the sense that our elected officials feel as though suggesting consolidation of our two districts would be career suicide.

    And folks who feel that way are probably right. There’s no reason to think that the voters of Ann Arbor, when they just voted against assimilating the small, white, relatively well-performing Whitmore Lake district, wold ever consider joining forces with the more complex, considerably poorer Ypsilanti district. (In the case of Whitmore Lake, there was even State money on the table, and the voters still said no.)

    In spite of this, though, I went ahead and reached out to a few folks on the Ypsilanti Community Schools Board of Education, and asked what they thought of the idea. The first person to respond to me was Eastern Michigan University Assistant Professor Celeste Hawkins, who was just recently elected to a new four-year term on the board. Here’s what she had to say. [It should be noted that what follow are her personal opinions, and not those of the board.]

    Thank you for the opportunity to offer my perspective. As it relates to your particular question on my thoughts related to the suggestion of merging the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti school systems, I would be remiss if I did not first offer my view on the larger issue as it relates to the interconnectedness of race, class, education, and the pervasive inequalities that disproportionately impact those with lower incomes and people of color. The Housing Affordability and Economic Equity Analysis report demonstrates that patterns of racial and economic segregation both locally and nationally have led to economic and educational opportunities being vastly diminished along the lines of race and class.

    As a proud resident of Ypsilanti Township who intentionally chose to live in this community, I have some strong personal views grounded in research about the aforementioned topics. I feel fortunate to live in Ypsilanti and am proud of all that it offers in terms of its rich history, culture, and diversity that is often not widely shared and quite frankly overshadowed by negative characterizations of Ypsilanti. I have not experienced nor do I see firsthand the “livability disadvantages” referenced in the report (p. 28). However, I am not naïve in thinking that perception is often reality for many and is a major issue facing both the city and township of Ypsilanti. The report poignantly suggests that for the entire county to thrive Ann Arbor must prioritize investing in more affordable housing and Ypsilanti must make a concerted effort to grow their demand by “investing in livability” (p. 55). Based on the findings of the report, I agree that there is no sustainability in attempting to defer to Ypsilanti as the remedy for affordable housing, instead Ypsilanti would benefit from proactively seeking to reverse the trajectory of disinvestment. The viability of all communities in Washtenaw County will contribute to its overall sustainability — as the report points out, there is no gain in maintaining high concentrations of poverty and wealth in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti. Further, it is important to note that I did not draw the conclusion from the Housing Affordability and Economic Equity Analysis report that the solution was to expand the affordable housing stock in Ypsilanti, but rather redistribute the availability of the affordable housing stock by balancing and expanding accessibility in Ann Arbor in order to avoid distressing and placing an undue financial burden on Ypsilanti. As such, the community is uniquely poised to engage in conversations to identify ways to re-invest in Ypsilanti.

    In my view, as it relates to equity, an understanding of how society constructs and perpetuates racial and class stereotypes of lower income families must be stated. It is disheartening that the poor are often pathologized (who are mainly people of color) due to lack of “middle class rules,” but fails to take into account the failings of the system, which create conditions that allow poverty to persist. Society often plays the “blame the victim” game and fails to take into account the institutionalized racism and classism that perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Placing the blame on the oppressed instead of looking at the big picture such as inequalities in the school system, economic system, and the power system reproduces and maintains patterns of inequality.

    The pathological analysis of poverty that blames the victim for their poverty while failing to acknowledge the structural reasons as a result of the shortcomings of the system is shortsighted at best. Unfortunately, when society focuses on the individual reasons as the most important factors related to poverty, structural reasons such as unemployment and discrimination are typically ignored and viewed as less important. This idea of pathologizing the poor, rather than seriously focusing on the structural causes of poverty itself has been used as justification for policies that have perpetuated poverty leading to minimal urban investment, low household income that cannot support most needy families, and misplaced spending priorities that only encourage and facilitates under-resourced schools and the school to prison pipeline (Kushnick & Jennings, 1999; Rank, 2004).

    Views on poverty often gives policy-makers and those with no previous understanding of poverty a very simple way of explaining the behavior of poor people as lazy, shiftless, knowing how to purchase a gun, and knowing their way around a jail, which often makes people rationalize viewing poor people negatively and apathetic about the conditions of poverty. This peripheral and marginalizing view of poverty helps to make people feel comfortable about playing the blame game to justify the stereotypical excuses that allow for the existence of societal issues like poverty.

    The problems with institutionalized racism and classism will continue to pervade public education until social changes take place. The schools operate from middle-class norms and values, so views of poverty often shifts the blame away from the school system to the students who “seem” to lack “middle class rules” to succeed in school, thus instead of systematically addressing the issue and critiquing the structural inequalities facing public education, the blame is often shifted to the individual, the family, and the community. This is a social justice issue in need of redress and if left unaddressed from a systemic standpoint will have dire consequences for far too many of our children.

    I am optimistic about this proactive approach being taken by Washtenaw County to conduct such a thorough needs assessment and making suggestions on a variety of plausible interventions to perhaps address this disturbing trend.

    That being said, your particular question on the suggestion of a merge quite frankly is a strategy we should all be looking at to leverage all available resources to enhance and improve educational opportunities for all students in the county, however these conversations are preliminary at best and if the response to the annexation of Whitmore Lake is any indication of the community’s appetite for expanding school boundaries, then it will take a lot of time and energy to see any movement in that direction. So now that we see that there is the potential for certain segments of the community to become increasingly segregated along the lines of race and class and an overall need to invest in the sustainability of the entire county, it is not merely enough to describe the water when we see the community drowning, we must all do our part by first acknowledging and then seeking to understand the equity issues facing our community more broadly and jump in through efforts of advocacy and raising awareness to save it.

    So, should we not talk merger? By doing so, are we jeopardizing other, more achievable goals relative to affordable housing? And, on the other side, if we don’t take the opportunity afforded to us by the publication of this report to have an open, honest discussion, are we doing ourselves a disservice? Personally, I’d be happy to never mention the idea of a merger again, just so long as there was evidence of real, meaningful collaboration between the districts, and an acceptance of the fact that, if we’re to be successful as a region, we need to think beyond our borders and acknowledge the interconnectedness of our communities… But how does one get there from where we are today? How do we use our schools to reverse the harmful segregation that we’re seeing increase around us?

    Posted in Ann Arbor, Education, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

    The fight intensifies over Ann Arbor’s proposed “ambassador” program

    “Does Ann Arbor’s downtown belong to the people of Ann Arbor, or to the City’s most influential and vocal business owners?”

    It’s a question that’s been asked quite a bit this past week, in the wake of news surfacing about an Ann Arbor DDA plan to further the “mallification” of downtown by hiring a small army of paid “ambassadors” who would travel throughout the City opening doors for the well-to-do, removing flyers from light poles, and ensuring, among other things, that “street people” don’t interfere with commerce. (Street people” was the term used by DDA member Joan Lowenstein, who yesterday left a comment on this site explaining that most of the people downtown merchants find problematic are not in fact “homeless,” as had been inferred in our earlier discussion.) The idea has been roundly criticized by the citizens of Ann Arbor, who, it would seem, despite our gentle, good-natured mocking, still value authenticity and sense of place. In spite of this growing public pushback, however, it appears that plans are continuing to move forward.

    During a meeting of the DDA’s Operations Committee this morning, approximately 20 members of the Ann Arbor community showed up to make their thoughts known on this increasingly divisive initiative. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m told by those in attendance that, of those who spoke out about the ambassador program, only one was in favor of the program, which is projected to cost $900,000 over the next three years. (For what it’s worth, I’m also told this one person who saw merit in the idea used the remainder of his allotted time to rant about 9/11 and various other unrelated things.) The bottom line, it would seem, is that regular, everyday Annarbourites don’t much like the idea of outsourcing the “user experience” of their downtown to Block By Block, a “faith-based” private security company in Lexington, as is currently the plan. Following, with more of the argument against this proposed arrangement, is the statement made this morning by former Jefferson Market owner Jean Henry, who was the fist to address the crowd. (Jean was cut off about half-way through, so not all of the following was heard.)

    My name is Jean Henry, Ann Arbor resident since 1984, past owner of Jefferson Market and Sustainability Agent at Zingerman’s, currently doing some consulting and working on opening a retail shop focused on high-quality, well-designed goods produced between Detroit and Grand Rapids, plus collaborative efforts between local artists and social mission producers worldwide.

    I appreciate this opportunity to speak on behalf of a town I love. I am committed to Ann Arbor. I have always supported the DDA’s work. I remember the failing parking structures. I know that the DDA has done good work to improve our downtown vitality and economic viability. When I first heard of the proposed ambassador program, like many, via the M-Live article a week ago, my immediate thought was that the DDA has just jumped the shark. It just seemed embarrassing. A marketing fail. What kind of town needs to pay people to be friendly for their citizens.

    As I discovered more program areas — everything from sanitation, to way-finding, to social work, to graffiti (removal), to bike and pedestrian accessibility, to public safety — I became more alarmed. No one agency can perform all these functions successfully, nor should they try. It seems the program is designed to convey a positive impression to outsiders who fear problems that are not really problems in our downtown — especially crime.

    As I’ve talked to business owners downtown, I found they also think it’s a bad idea. They tend their own shops and can clean their own stoops, welcome guests, give directions, and manage pan handlers directly, and in their own unique style. They don’t need to pay outsiders to do the work of engaging their community. This initiative outsources what any well-run (and smart) business would do on their own. It’s a marketing effort that in its very existence denies the strongest characteristics of our community — progressive, open, creative, engaging and a little weird. We are taking it personally, because it is personal to us. Because we love this town.

    Mark Hodesh specifically asked me to read this to you: “I fully support the DDA. They have helped us out whenever we needed them. But this is a terrible idea. It’s not the expense. It risks making our town look like a circus. I think we’re better than this. I’m heading off to the FLA Panhandle right now as a tourist, specifically to avoid anything resembling this program in that state.”

    Lots of people have complained I know. I am here first and foremost to ask the DDA to table this initiative in order to gather more public input and assess alternatives. That seems only reasonable. My other pitch is for the DDA to expand its understanding of it’s constituency to all of us who fund the DDA, use downtown and help make this town what it is.

    I have been asked to pose alternatives to address the same problems. This is almost impossible when it is unclear what critical problems you are trying to address with the ambassador program. Where there are demonstrated needs, I’m sure we could workshop better solutions within the community. It’s easier to suggest ways to support the DDA mission to encourage smart development and investment in downtown. I’d love to see a fund for low-cost/high impact grants to enhance our local mojo. I’d like to see some rent support for low investment/high impact/low profit margin businesses. There are great models for pedestrian and bike safety infrastructure (rather than enforcement). I think public restrooms make a lot of sense too. You could combine them with kiosks that our beautiful local people will plaster with posters.

    Let’s talk about the posters and flyers that mark our downtown. Not because they are a critical issue, but because many, many people have expressed particular worry that they would disappear entirely. and they are an example of something we value that is unlikely to register in this room, or with Block by Block. These posters are not a nuisance; they are a sign that we still generate culture and community organically. They are way-finders to authentic Ann Arbor. When I arrived here at 18, I made great use of them, and the local culture I discovered is a big reason why I’m still here 30 years later. Let our downtown be a little messy and beautiful and heart-felt and sometimes angry. Let it be free to be itself. Maybe it will put some visitors outside their comfort zone, but that is what traveling is all about — exposure to new things. Let our downtown look like us and we will tend to it diligently out of love. You can’t import that. You can’t buy that. You CAN cultivate it.

    I like seeing all kinds of people in A2. I want more buskers, more strangeness, more skaters and kids, more people just hanging out. I think that’s good for business too. How many people have you heard say they come to A2 to see the weirdos? Loitering is not a problem; it’s a sign of a commons — a gathering place. People of all kinds hanging out downtown together is a sign of community integrity. Our downtown does not exist solely for retail and office use — and that’s good for business… and property values. Our crime rate is very low, despite the homeless population, the graffiti, and the partying here. We should let visitors know that we are proud of our very safe, and progressive, and open, and ‘weird’ town.

    I understand that this body has been under pressure to do something about essentially nothing. I would suggest that this is the point when the DDA needs to broaden its understanding of its mission to encompass a bigger swath of it’s constituency. You have really hit a nerve with this one. It looks like you are more interested (in many ways) in making a town comfortable for outsiders than for our own citizens — workers, crazies, weirdos, artists, buskers — who don’t have a wallet full o’ cash. I don’t believe that, but I do think you undervalue many of the people and things that create local character and community integrity. I’m here to ask you to change that right now.

    As I said, I have supported most of your work. It seems that this initiative is simply classic evidence of a tunnel think — a conversation took place in a vacuum that should have taken place within the whole community. Because I think we can all help you meet your mission. But the DDA needs to reach out meaningfully to its workforce, its creative class, its small & mighty (if woefully underfunded) local businesses, its kids and its panhandlers, because we ARE Ann Arbor. We offer what people come to see. We grow this town in smart and fun ways. And we are your best investment.

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    [File photo of Jean Henry courtesy our friends at the very much missed Ann Arbor Chronicle.]

    As I understand it, in spite of the fact that Jean and approximately 18 others spoke out against this initiative, the members of the DDA Operations Committee, when the time came to cut off public comment, segued right back into a discussion of this program as though nothing had happened. There was some good news, however. It was apparently noted during the meeting that, even though the funding for this program has already been approved, there is not yet any contract in place with Block By Block… which means that this could still be stopped.

    The question is, will the DDA listen to the people of Ann Arbor and stop this before it goes too far… before they complete the transformation of downtown Ann Arbor into a completely sterile open-air shopping mall for the wealthy?

    “They assured us that they are considering our input,” said Jean in a message to myself and others after the meeting, “although I saw zero real evidence of that in the room today.”

    Personally, I can’t imagine that this will go forward. There’s just too much momentum going the other way, and it doesn’t sound to me as though they’re even able to articulate what exactly the problem is that they’re hoping to solve, or what metrics they’ll be tracking to see whether or not the ambassador program is successful in dealing with said problem. I mean, I know that there are probably some very powerful business owners that want for the DDA to operate their own private security force in order to make Ann Arbor more welcoming to the well-off, but I can’t imagine that they can make this happen given the current level of scrutiny. Hell, I just read online that Ann Arbor City Councilman Stephen Kunselman has offered to bring a resolution to Council, asking the DDA to step back and reconsider. This isn’t, in other words, going to go away. It’s just going to intensify. And that, in my opinion, is an awesome thing. This is exactly the kind of broad, community-wide discussion the people of Ann Arbor should be having.

    People need to decide, collectively, whether authenticity and sense of place actually have value? This shouldn’t just be the decision of a few people on the DDA, and those business owners who have their ear.

    And, secondarily, if it is decided that there truly are problems that need to be addressed in downtown, people need to come together to figure out how to address them. I suppose I could be wrong, but my sense is that there may be more cost-effective local solutions to issues like panhandling that don’t require us to hire Walmart-like greeters and get into bed with a company like Block By Block that doesn’t know this community and what makes it unique.

    For what it’s worth, here’s one last thing that I found interesting… It apparently came out during today’s meeting that the work of Block By Block first came to the attention of the DDA when several members of the group attended the International Downtown Association’s 2013 World Congress in New York, an event which was hosted in part by Block By Block. According to Mary Morgan, the former editor of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, this conference “was attended by several DDA board members, staff and others – including (recently-elected Ann Arbor Mayor) Christopher Taylor, who was one of the people reimbursed by the DDA for trip expenses.” I don’t think anyone is suggesting that anything untoward happened on this trip, but my sense is that a lot of folks, like me, find it troubling that we didn’t find Block By Block as a result of searching for a solution to a specific problem, but when they presented to members of our DDA, showing them how, by implementing an “ambassador” program, they could essentially turn their entire downtown area into a perfectly controlled mall-like environment, optimized for commerce. But you have to hand it to Block By Block. They’ve found an awesome niche, pitching their services to Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) flush with tax-payer cash, and looking for ways to spend it.

    If you agree that this should be tabled, please take a moment and let the DDA know how you feel. They can be reached either through their website, by way of e-mail (dda@a2dda.org), or via Twitter (@A2DDA).

    Posted in Ann Arbor, Local Business, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

      The Saturday Six Pack with Mark Maynard: episode one

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      Saturday was my first night hosting The Saturday Six Pack with Mark Maynard on Ypsilanti’s historic AM 1700, and I think it went pretty well. You’ll find my rough notes below. If you feel like actually listening for yourself, though, you can do so here.

      We’re still working out a few bugs with regard to how calls are handled and such, but I think it went as well as could be expected our first time out. All six beers were distributed and consumed, and, judging from the photographic evidence, those in the room were having a good time. [images courtesy Kate de Fuccio]

      About 20 people called in. There were no international calls, but we did talk with with people from as far away as Florida, which was nice. (Apparently the AM 1700 signal carries quite some distance.) For the most part, people were pretty awesome… even when they called in to accuse me of having delusions of grandeur.

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      [I’m not used to smiling. My face just doesn’t know how to handle it.]

      I stared the evening off by talking with Bee Roll, the owner of Beezy’s Cafe. We talked about food safety, the false sincerity of banks that claim in their advertising materials to support local businesses, and the storefront next to hers, which was recently condemned. And then I surprised her with the MarkMaynard.com Ypsilantian of the Year award, which made her cry… She would cry repeatedly over the course of the evening, giving me the idea for a regular segment called “Make Bee Cry,” in which people would call and say nice things about Bee until she started weeping. (The person to bring on tears the fastest, would win some kind of prize.)

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      Rob Hess, the man behind Ypsi’s Go Ice Cream, also dropped by. He’d come to say nice things about Bee, and to give her some congratulatory ice cream, but he stuck around to tell us about his recent experiences at Ice Cream Camp, where he learned, among other things, that lots of folks in the business are more interested in finding new ways to introduce air into their product, saving them money, than just making awesome food that people want to eat… Here’s Rob congratulating Bee on her hugely important, life-changing award.

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      And, about half way through the show, Brigid Mooney dropped by to make the case for a reoccurring “Shy Commedians” segment on the program. There are a lot of funny people with good material, she told us, who, although they’re too intimidated to take the stage at a comedy club, would love to have a local radio venue. So we put the idea to a vote, and a half dozen or so people called in to support her. So, from now on, there will be a comedian or two on The Saturday Six Pack. Almost all the people who called in, as far as I could tell, were either friends or relatives of hers that she’d instructed to voice support for the idea, but I think that’s alright. It shows resourcefulness, and I like that.

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      In addition to all of this, my mom called in twice. The first time, for some inexplicable reason, she asked Bee to shave off my beard and run across the street with it to Beezy’s. (I think she was afraid that, if Bee didn’t run away with it, I might try to reattach it.) The second time, she wanted to complain about the fact that I don’t call as often as I should. (I referred to our weekly calls as both satisfying and efficient. She disagreed.)

      My mom wasn’t the only person to call with complaints. One of my bandmates called from Minneapolis to scold me for holding up our perpetually soon-to-be-released record, which is now a few years behind schedule. Another member of the Monkey Power Trio called to ask me to describe our show’s opening theme. (That’s right, instead of tuning in to listen to the opening theme, he called in from Portland and asked me to describe it to him while on the air.) After hearing my description, he said that he’d create a better opening theme for the show, one that better reflected my “megalomania” and “insecurity.” (If I had to pick just one, I’d say that this was my personal highlight of the evening. It was even better than making Bee cry. You can listen for yourself at the 36-minute mark, if you like.)

      A woman called in from the big city of Ann Arbor, which I’m told is a lot like Manhattan, in hopes that we might sing her Happy Birthday. And, later, her ten year old son could called to say, “I have no regrets.” About what, it was wasn’t clear.

      I repeatedly asked Linette to call in, but apparently she wasn’t listening at home, as she told me that she would be. At some point, after asking a few times, a mutual friend of ours in Chicago, Patty Stevenson, called in. She said that she loved me, which was nice. Apparently she’d felt sorry for me. My sense is that, as time goes on, there will be more calls like this… calls from people convinced that they must be the only people in the world listening, feeling bad for me as I endlessly repeat the station’s phone number to no avail.

      While Linette didn’t call, her cousin Andy did. He was listening downriver. We talked a little about his new band. I think I made him sad. Every time he mentioned a new name that he was considering for the band, I had to tell him that it was already taken. After a few rounds of this, we said goodbye. (I made a note to myself that I’d like to help people come up with band names in the future. I think that would be good community service to offer.)

      It got slow at some point. It kind of ebbed and flowed. There were a few minutes, toward the end, where I was just looking out the window, talking about the cars going by, and the police sirens I could hear in the distance. Otherwise, though, it was pretty action-packed.

      Among other things, we talked about Health Department restaurant inspections, homelellness, and the death of children during war. In spite of that, though, I think that it was pretty upbeat and fun. But maybe we have the six pack to thank for that.

      The show ended with me and Kate de Fuccio, the AM 1700 staff photographer, talking about the evacuation of children from London during World War II, which led to a discussion of other childhood evacuations. (I shared the fact that Arlo had pooped in such a way that there were two pieces, lying next to one another, in the bottom of his potty. One bigger. One smaller. Side by side. He said it looked like him and his mother snuggling.)

      Sorry to everyone who was cut off, like Teacher Patti, or couldn’t get through, or couldn’t hear me once they did get through. It’ll take a little while for us to work out all of the bugs, but I’m sure it’ll happen.

      Lastly, I’d like to thank AM 1700 owner Brian Robb for opening the station to me and allowing the weirdness to flow through it… If you get a chance, like AM 1700 on Facebook. I know that would make him happy.

      Posted in Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Mark's Life, Media, Monkey Power Trio, Special Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

      Creative Beard Design: episode one

      I excused myself from dinner tonight to go and hack away at my beard. It had been bothering me for a while, and I felt that a change was in order. So I took a pair of scissors from the medicine cabinet and started cutting it away from my face in massive, white clumps. After a few minutes of this, I looked in the mirror and saw the following looking back at me. I hadn’t intended to develop a new beardstyle, but I think I came up with something pretty beautiful, a kind of bi-level construction comprised of a classic, pointed Van Dyke with a whimsical undergirding of neck beard.

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      My family, when I showed them, lost their shit. One cannot simply float a goatee above a neck beard, they told me. I thanked them for their input, but told them that I was going to wear it to work tomorrow. “I just want to try it out for a day or two,” I said to them. I must have been pretty convincing, because they believed me. They begged me not to. Clementine told me that she wouldn’t be seen in public with me. Linette tried a different approach. She just stared blankly in the direction of my face and silently shook her heard. I looked back at them like they were crazy. “I think it’s really nice,” I told them. “And I’m pretty sure the folks at work won’t even notice it.” I let it go on for way too long. By they time I told them that I was just kidding, they were almost in tears… For what it’s worth, though, I really did like it. I thought it looked distinguished. And why is it that neck beards are off-limits in the workplace anyway? Who decided that mustaches were alright, but that long, grey, neck beards weren’t? I’m too old to be at the forefront of this fight, but it needs to happen. For the sake of future generations, someone needs to pick up the cause of the Van Dyke neck beard combo and make it happen.

      Posted in Mark's Life, Photographs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

      And our Ypsilantian of the Year is…. Bee Roll

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      As you may recall, about a month ago, I said that I’d like to bestow an Ypsilantian of the Year award, and asked for your nominations. Well, yesterday, on my new radio program, I announced the recipient. The first ever MarkMaynard.com Ypsilantian of the Year award was given to Bee Roll, the owner of Beezy’s… That’s her at the top of the page, proudly receiving the trophy. [Photo courtesy of Kate de Fuccio]

      For what it’s worth, it was not an easy decision.

      If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to read through all of the nominations that were submitted. The folks who wrote in were incredibly passionate, and dozens of worthy candidates from around our community were suggested.

      Krystal Elliott made the case for Police Chief Tony DeGiusti, for his commitment to community policing and his tireless work to build relationships with both the EMU police department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. Kayj Michelle, the driving force behind Ypsilanti’s First Fridays art walk, which has now grown to 16 venues, was nominated for all that she’s done to breathe new life into the Ypsilanti’s art scene. And Matt Siegfried was nominated for his work documenting Ypsilanti’s historic black community. The list goes on and on. And it wasn’t just the kinds of folks that you’d expect to have nominated for an honor such as this. A reader by the name of Lynne nominated her next door neighbor, who she said shoveled her sidewalk for her in the winter. And Rob Hess, the man behind Go Ice Cream, nominated 9 year old Juna Hume Clark, for distributing a little newspaper called “The Oakwood Seed” throughout Normal Park. “It’s a newspaper of love and imagination,” said Hess. “The little photo-copied paper was illustrated with pictures of her bunny and her cat, along with pictures of a peace sign, a recycling symbol and an anarchy symbol. I love that we are the kind of town where kids are encouraged to do things like this. Finding and reading this little story from a kid I don’t know was one of my favorite things of the entire year.”

      In the end, though, I decided to go with Bee. In part, I was persuaded by the following nomination, which came from Caleb Zweifler, one of her employees at Beezy’s.

      (I’d like to nominate) my boss, Bee Roll. Bee Roll runs a restaurant. Bee Roll runs a damn-fine restaurant. This, in and of itself, for anyone that’s worked in one, is a marvel. The amount of managerial curveballs she has to juggle whilst raising 2 adorable youngin’s (usually on her person) is simply astounding. I’ve never seen anyone take on so much responsibility with such grit and persistence. Even when a situation seems impossible, she always finds a way to mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually MacGyver her way out of it. She learns from her mistakes with scientific precision and rises to every challenge that presents itself.

      Her employees, whom she interviews personally and hand-selects with impeccable discernment, are not your typical hires. We are Peter Pan’s lost boys, we are Santa’s misfits toys. Yet she stops at nothing to accomodate us to the best of her abilities and circumstances. We are compensated well, we are well-fed, we are given flexible schedules to allow us to nurture our personal goals beyond Beezy’s, and when she works in the kitchen she doesn’t take a cut of the tips so we can have more to take home.

      She is incredibly sharp and methodical. She has keen business sensibilities and is constantly searching for ways to improve herself and her environment. Her work ethic is steadfast and tireless. She is loyal and she is a force to be reckoned with. She doesn’t talk feminism, she walks feminism. She, in the most benevolent sense, is the self-empowered woman incarnate. And she’s infinitely more likely to take more weight on her shoulders than to ask for help.

      She is the most generous person I’ve ever met. With what little she is able to provide the community, she offers freely and without want of anything in return. From the 826 Tutoring Program to First Fridays; Bee invests in Ypsilanti’s past, present, and future.

      Above all, Bee Roll cares about this town. She cares about her customers. She cares about her staff. She cares about the troubled youth that grow up here, and the starving artists that work here. Bee, next to Pete Seeger and my own parents, is my hero. I, along with everyone in this town should consider themselves proud, and profoundly lucky to have her in our lives. And though she’s probably the least likely to accept this kind of praise, she is absolutely the most deserving of it.

      I’ll be posting audio of last night’s radio show later, so you can hear the conversation that I had with Bee about why I decided that she should win the 2014 award. But, here, in a nutshell, is why I chose her. She’s the kind of person, in my opinion, that Ypsi needs more of. She purposefully moved to Ypsi, and invested here. She opened a restaurant across the street from a strip club, on a relatively desolate street, and she made it work. She hustled her ass off and built something great that people in this community could be proud of, a little business that not only turns out consistently good food, but serves as a meeting place for people across the region who, like Bee, are doing great, inspiring things. Beezy’s hosts concerts. Beezy’s was one of the first First Friday venues. Beezy’s is home to the 826 after-school tutoring program. Beezy’s, in short, is a place were good things happen. And that’s just the tangible, well-known stuff. There were also all of the little things that one hears about through the grapevine. Stories about pots of soup being carried down the street for the at-risk kids at the Ozone drop-in center, and things that she’s done for her employees. And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s also the fact that Beezy’s has been an incubator for other food-based startups, like Theresa Rickloff’s Riki Tiki Pies, and Stefanie Stauffer’s salsa company Nightshade Army Industries. Theresa, you might recall, said the following in an interview on this site not too long ago. “It would only be a slight exaggeration if I were to say that Beezy’s gave me everything.“… I love that awesome little things spring forward from Beezy’s and I suspect that we haven’t seen the end of it yet.

      So, congratulations, Bee. You deserve it. And I’m sorry that I just wrote your name in sharpie over one of D’Real Graham’s old basketball trophies. You deserve better.

      update: When contacted by the press and asked for a comment, Bee had the following to say.

      I’m really thrilled at how that went down last night, very little fanfare, and plenty of awkward conversation and of course, I am honored to be regarded so well.

      I write a letter to my staff every week when I send out the schedule. Usually on Thursday mornings. I’ve always done it as a way to document upcoming events or ongoing group issues and to spend a few minutes reflecting on the week. Sometimes they’re pep rallies and sometimes they read like a hall monitor’s citation. And sometimes they’re work diary entries and it’s the only way I can get my voice heard above the daily fracas.

      The last year, especially, managing being pregnant and toting a toddler around, moving while doing all the things I try to do just to keep up with a growing business and the balancing the needs of 15 individuals on staff and like, being radically aware of every shortfall and changing my own work dynamic and execution and struggling with depression to boot, I’ve felt like the biggest phony. Walking to and from work in tears, wondering how to keep going, how to keep my staff motivated and happy and myself from a total meltdown. Big sobbing tears up and down Michigan Avenue.

      I’m really just coming out the other end of the tunnel. There were a lot of broken lights and dark days (metaphorically and literally) and self preservation, one long, too fast day at a time, has been my biggest goal.

      Day after day of not feeling good enough, well enough, or deserving of much wears on a guy, ya know? And I constantly worry about my staff and my community and feeling that I have so much more to do and well, I could go on at greeeeeeaaaat length. But the point is, it’s been all I can do to put my head down and GET THROUGH.

      I entertained all sorts of dialog about everyone thinking I haven’t been working hard enough, visibly enough. That I wasn’t having a positive impact on my staff. That I’ve been distant, aloof, uncaring. I mean, I know that’s depression talking, I do, but that’s what’s there.

      So of course I don’t feel like I deserve an award. All I’ve done is say yes to some stuff. Everybody else is doing the work. And then I read Caleb’s passionate nomination and it chokes me up. And every word of it is meaningful and what I fight for and what I stand for… I’ve always felt like I found my place, my home, since I moved to Ypsi – and to have grown up so scattered and rootless, a veritable rhizome of life experiences, to be understood and accepted, and, well, wanted and appreciated isn’t something I figured anybody ever really achieved in this world. And I’m amazed that whenever I shake off the emotional rain cloud, Ypsi’s got that for me. That’s my award. Caleb’s nomination and knowing that I’m having some impact just being and doing my best to kick ass at getting better at life, helping other people do that too, that’s so fucking great to me.

      This town is full of amazing people doing great work. Most of them have impressive resumes and CV’s and experience and education and are wildly more active engaging the community. But I’m a scrappy high school drop out from a broken home and a self made boss that’s been so lucky to have so many people on my side. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m grateful I’ve found my place. I’m also happy to be the practice run/guinea pig/scapegoat for this experiment. The backlash doesn’t seem too terrible yet.

      And that’s probably way more than you want/need and I don’t care what you use if any at all- I just needed to get it out. Thanks for the opportunity. Thanks for being Mark Maynard.

      [note: As I’ve said before, I’m not suggesting that my selection of Ypsilantian of the Year is, in fact, the best Ypsilantian. I don’t know every Ypsilantian, and I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there doing good work. There may even be a few that are more awesome than Bee. I agonized over this decision for a while because of this. And I thought up any number of different ways to go about making the selection. I thought about appointing a panel, soliciting nominations from non-readers of my blog, and drafting formal selection criteria. I tried, to the best of my ability, to come up with a system that would deliver someone that the entire community could rally behind. But then 2014 came and went, and I decided I had to just do something. And I realized that, even if I did everything right, people would stil have issues with the selection. So I decided to just pick the person I felt the most strongly about. So don’t be mad if I you think I picked the wrong person. This is just one award. There can, and should, be others. In fact, I’d encourage you to go out, find an award of your own, and give it to someone whose efforts you appreciate. Or, if you want to be really ambitious, work with the City to make an officially sanctioned Ypsilantian of the Year award, complete with a parade, and songs written in the recipient’s honor. The important thing, in my opinion, is not so much who the person is, but the fact that someone in our community is being thanked for their roll in making good things happen. And the more we start doing that, the better.]

      Posted in Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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