Arlene Pollack’s response to Zeke Emanuel on aging

Zeke Emanuel attracted widespread attention with his piece, “Why I hope to die at 75.” I wrote a response to Zeke’s piece at the Washington Post here. My stepmother Arlene had a better response, part of which was published in the Atlantic Monthly as well. They edited for reasons of space. I believe her response is worth including in-full:

People like us, octogenarians, who despite an onslaught of medical issues requiring ultra frequent medical appointments, frequent procedures, tests for suspected problems, and all sorts of treatments to manage the aforesaid, are moving along, having grown more understanding of our fellow elderly, more grateful for the love and companionship of our mates, more determined to remain deeply involved in the lives of each and every family member, and determined to set an example, as far as possible, for our children and grandchildren of how to age in such a way that we don’t leave our loved ones with a dread of incapacity, a horror of diminishment of vitality.  If we were to suddenly fall off the face of the Earth, after withdrawing from their lives and obsessing about our states of health, they would never be prepared for their own late lives. That would be not only cruel, but irresponsible as well.

We live in an area where almost all the people we see or meet or call friends have had to adopt this sort of philosophy as they deal daily with hearing aids, dental devices, crutches, walkers, braces, and cosmetic and aesthetic adjustments.  Most come to incorporate these inconveniences and move on, attending to keeping muscles and intellect optimally functioning. Their children and grandchildren then adjust to these changes as well.  In this way, we all can live with an understanding that life is a matter of loving, sharing, living to the fullest.  It’s a legacy, a gift that is worth far more than sums of money or great public and personal achievement.

I understand that we cannot anticipate what will befall us, how we may not be able to fulfill this goal, but having this positive philosophy brings a certain peace of mind, allaying debilitating terror that incapacitates and hardens us so that we withdraw from those who need us in so many ways.

Just a beautiful piece of writing. She leaves both Zeke and I me in the dust on this one.

My dinner with Julian

A few weeks ago, I got to have dinner with Julian Bond.  We have a friend in common, who asked me to recommend a play for when “my friend Julian Bond” came to town. “Did you say ‘your friend Julian Bond?’” I squeaked into the phone; whereupon she invited my boyfriend and me to join her and her husband and Bond and his wife for dinner.

As I drove our star-struck way downtown, I listened to Michael read from Bond’s biography on Wikipedia, even as I pretended to ignore him: “Honey, they’re not going to give us a test!”  But after he rolled through the familiar list of credits–leader in the American civil rights movement, helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, twenty years in the Georgia legislature, University of Virginia history professor, past chair of the NAACP–Michael said, “Oh, listen to this.  His father got one of the first PhDs granted to an African-American by the University of Chicago.”

“Really,” I said.  “I wonder if he was a Rosenwald Fellow.”

You’ve probably never heard of the Rosenwald Fellowships, but you’ve undoubtedly heard of many of the Fellows: W.E.B. DuBois, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Marian Anderson, Katherine Dunham, James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison and nearly every other African-American artist and scholar active in  mid-Twentieth Century America.  The Rosenwald Fellowships, like the MacArthur genius grants which succeeded them, gave no-strings-attached cash to scholars and artists to continue their work; but unlike the MacArthur grants, the Rosenwalds went almost exclusively to African-Americans.

The fellowship program was part of Julius Rosenwald’s one-man campaign for racial justice, a campaign which led him to build the Rosenwald Apartments in Chicago and YMCAs in other Northern cities to provide housing for African-Americans moving up from the South.  It also led him to construct 5,000 schools for black children who were kept out of public classrooms occupied by white students.  The Rosenwald Schools provided primary education to one-third of the South’s African-American schoolchildren between World War I and Brown v. Board of Education.

So why haven’t you learned about any of this?  Because Julius Rosenwald, who made a fortune as the president of Sears, gave much of that fortune away during his lifetime and directed that the rest be spent within ten years of his death.  So his legacy isn’t a foundation with a big building giving out the occasional grant and the frequent press release; it’s the thousands of people educated and housed by his generosity.  But no good deed goes unpunished: for failing to make perpetuity his highest concern, Rosenwald has largely been forgotten.

Not by all of us, though.  I learned the story several years ago when the Spertus Museum in Chicago put on an exhibit of work by Rosenwald  Fellows.  One item in the exhibit was enough to persuade me of the Fellowships’ significance: a kinescope of Katherine Dunham performing new dances influenced by her Rosenwald-funded trip to the Caribbean.  As I watched the motions and the gestures, I recognized the origins of Alvin Ailey’s classic “Revelations.”  Ailey was Dunham’s student; and so, from Rosenwald to Dunham to Ailey, we have perhaps the premier work of American dance.

Thus, after a pleasant dinner in which we talked about theater and travel and the demographic transformation of Washington–Bond’s wife Pam said, “Yes, Julian calls our neighborhood Upper Caucasia”–I turned to him and said, “So, your father was a Rosenwald Fellow?”

He seemed equal parts surprised and gratified to encounter someone who knew about the Rosenwalds, and what an honor it was to receive one, and told the following story:

During a trip South in the mid-1930s to do research as part of his fellowship, Horace Mann Bond drove his car into a ditch.  Apparently a pair of rural African-Americans made their living digging holes in the road and then charging hapless motorists to tow their cars out of them.  While the two entrepreneurs were hooking up the tow truck, one of them observed Mr. Bond’s elegant city clothes and the new car he was driving, and asked how a black man came to have such luxuries.  Mr. Bond explained that he was a Rosenwald Fellow and that the fellowship had paid for the clothes and the car as well as the research he was about to do.  His interlocutor smiled: “You know Cap’n Julius?”  He hoisted the car back onto the road.  “No charge.”

Later, over coffee, Julian showed me an iPhone photo of himself seated next to an extremely elderly white lady who was holding his hand in both of hers.  “Do you know who this is?” he asked.  “In 1961 her book outsold the Bible!”  It was, of course, Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird; and on one of his recent trips South, Bond had gotten to meet her.  “I’m so excited, I’m stopping people on the street to say, ‘Look at this!  I had coffee with Harper Lee!’”

Which is, of course, just how I feel about my dinner with Julian.

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The “dear Harold” advice card

My friend Dylan Matthews is starting/resuming an advice column. He’s a busy person. I thought I would save him some time by encapsulating the sum total of wise advice on the below index card. I could only fit half of the world’s wise advice on one card. So I suppose Dylan’s column is still needed.

Regular readers will be shocked that it tilts in the direction of #dadtweet advice….

50% of new human knowledge 1900-2014.
50% of new human knowledge 1900-2014. Copyright Harold Pollack

I am scared: A lesson from Anne’s bedside

Best around 6:45 minutes in…..

Finally, I put away my list of questions, and pulled out a spiral pad that I kept in my pocket for personal reflections. I positioned it carefully under her hand, with a pen. “Can you tell me how you are feeling,” I asked. She took the pen and wrote three simple words that have stayed with me ever since: “I am scared.”

Some actual bipartisan legislation to help people living with disabilities

My latest at Wonkblog.

Veronica Perrone Pollack and Vincent Perrone, blowing out the birthday candles.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act would allow people with disabilities and their families to establish 529-style accounts for education, transportation, and other expenses. Identical versions are co-sponsored by seventy senators and by 359 members of the House. It’s amazing to see Senators Bernie Sanders, Jay Rockefeller, Mitch McConnell, and James Imhofe co-sponsoring the same bill.

In an era so disfigured by mean-spirited and polarized gridlock politics, this is no little thing. More here.

Seeing our race and class differences, seeing past these differences, too

The internets are filled with recent reminders of the many ways we fail to recognize our own parochial and privileged perspectives in both intellectual life and in our institutional roles.  The #CancelColbert dustup and the extended debate between Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates provide two examples of the current state of play.

As these debates remind us, we are all to some extent rendered parochial by our race and our class positions, and by other things, too. Age and family responsibilities provide obvious sources of difference. Disability status does, as well. I hate blunderbuss labels such as “black activist” or “white liberal,” which flatten out so much human granularity.

Not long ago, I took my family on a tour of the Woodlawn neighborhood immediately south of UC. Our young and fit tour guide got so excited lambasting the university for its historic insensitivity towards the community he neglected to notice that he was walking far too fast for Vincent to keep up. Vinnie and I ended up a few hundred yards behind, accompanied by a nervous publicity flack from the local alderman’s office. I think the guy was worried that we would be accosted or something.

These same distinctive experiences create unexpected connections, too. I spoke last Saturday at my school to admitted students and their parents. A Pakistani-American young woman in a head-scarf sat across from me at our big lunch table. Her father accompanied her. Maybe sixty years old, he sat rather awkwardly looking somewhat out of place in his traditional pakul hat.

I mentioned at some point how many students have caregiving experience with a relative or a sibling. The man suddenly lit up. He pointed to his daughter and said: “That’s her little brother.” This person, whom I had regarded as a forbidding stranger, turned out to be quite smart and funny, and someone with whom I share more than a few powerful personal experiences.

We had a wonderful conversation about the realities of caring at home for a young adult with cerebral palsy and cognitive disabilities in our area. It was the kind of intimate conversation I couldn’t have conducted with many of my young friends in journalism or academia, with whom I otherwise share so many cultural and professional affinities.

Group identities matter—none mattering more than those connected with our national history of white supremacy. We must view these differences without claiming that we have transcended them. We need to see past these differences, too, to recognize human particularity across the obvious divides. These are so much more interesting and more profound.

Wherein the Nonprofiteer Does a Literature Review and Endorses an Increased Minimum Wage

Over on The Nonprofiteer, I demonstrate my recovery from the Chicago School of economics by reviewing arguments for (and even one against) an increase in the minimum wage. Not sophisticated but (I hope) clear.