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Originally published at BreakPoint.org

On September 4, 1957, a young photographer named Will Counts snapped a photograph that would forever pose two women—one black and one white—as the faces of America’s fight for desegregation.

As recounted in David Margolick’s new book Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, the story begins on a landmark day in America’s civil rights journey—the first day an African American student tried to attend a white school. Actually, there were supposed to be nine, but the other eight were delayed from heading to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, because of rumors that a riot was brewing.

Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford didn’t get the memo, and arrived at Central just in time to meet a mob of protesters. Smack dab in the center of the crowd, Central High sophomore Hazel Bryan opened her mouth and began spewing vitriol in Elizabeth’s direction—just in time to be caught on camera and forever be marked as the scapegoat of American bigotry. Similarly, Elizabeth became the martyr for all those who had suffered the scorn of white hatred.

From that photograph, Margolick journeys with the two women through the politics of prejudice in Arkansas, past outrage that the photo evoked on both the national and international stage, and into their own personal stories that are as conflicted as America’s struggle toward racial reconciliation.

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Civil Society to the Rescue

Originally published in Sagamore Institute’s newsletter, Outlook (Sept. 15, 2011).

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, it wasn’t the federal government that rushed to New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to feed hungry survivors and bail out those trapped by the floodwaters. Eventually, they showed up, but not before a hoard of “regular Joe” volunteers stepped in—many traveling hundreds of miles from several states away to hand out food and blankets.

America was built on the backs of these unpaid fighters—like the local militia (“minutemen”) who stood up to the British army during the Revolutionary War and who took responsibility to defend their own freedom and care for the needs of their fellow citizens.

Today, America’s citizens are still the front-runners in combating America’s most stubborn problems. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States in 2009. That same year, public charities reported $1.41 trillion in total revenues and $1.40 trillion in total expenses. Over the past 25 years, the number of civil society organizations has more than doubled, growing at twice the rate of the business sector.

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(This story first appeared on www.sagamoreinstitute.org)

In less than six months, Indianapolis will host America’s largest sporting event of the year—Super Bowl XLVI—and take a giant step for a city once known as “India-no-place.”

Just 40 years ago, Indianapolis was the eclipsed little brother of bigger sports cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. In fact, sportswriter Bill Benner went so far as to say, “Indianapolis didn’t have a bad reputation. It had no reputation.” But in the late seventies, the city set itself on a course that would transform it from “Naptown” to the “amateur sports capital of the world” and the home of Super Bowl 2012.

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From Ramshackle to Shalom

(Published in the March/April 2011 issue of Prism magazine)

A large board covers the front door of 403 North Gray Street. Chunks of the white brick porch are missing, and brambles from a dead tree swallow up half of the front view. It’s difficult to tell how long the house has been vacant. Just six doors down, Belinda Ellis’ front porch twinkles with icicle lights and a bold Christmas wreath. Inside, her cozy living room is lined with family photos, suede couches, and children’s bicycles. Ellis proudly shows off her home, pointing out pictures of her eight grandchildren. She flings open the back door onto a spacious red deck and even more spacious backyard. That yard is the main reason Ellis lives at 428 North Gray Street.

The house was under renovation when Ellis first saw it in 2007, right after she got out of prison. “I just fell in love with it,” she explains, “’cause I knew it had this huge backyard.” The yard has since become a staging ground for her grandkids’ football games.

It’s unusual for former felons returning to Indianapolis’ Near Eastside to find quality affordable housing, but Ellis’ home was made possible by Englewood Christian Church, and Englewood isn’t known for following the norm.

Continue reading article “From Ramshackle to Shalom.”

Ode to a World Iced Over

An icy place not in Indiana

Since we live in the Midwest and the center of last week’s arctic blast, we found ourselves “iced in” for two days. It was like being given permission to play hooky. Also to breathe.

And when you’re given permission to breathe–because the world’s iced over, and everyone else is too, and there’s nothing else to worry about–you do.

You sleep in, at least until 8. You watch the snow (or ice) fall and hold your cup of coffee closer. And you find yourself thinking about your heating bill in a new way. You also discover yourself viewing your outside stairs as as a small glacier to conquer.

And you get to do these things at random hours of the afternoon and don’t watch the clock. Not like the weekends, which are far too structured.

You have friends over–the kind who tend to live a few doors down. You play board games. You make food together–the good kind, with spinach and pork and seasoning.

But best of all, you can take a nap at any moment of the day, whenever you so choose. But of course you don’t feel like it, because you’re allowed to.

The world is better, sometimes, when its iced over.

(First published on Common Grounds Online)

Is it possible to love the least of these while hating your neighbor? Or love your neighbor and hate the least of these?

This past month, my husband and I were forced into these questions.

Behind our quaint neighborhood, a rusty eyesore sits unattended. A motel formerly occupied by prostitutes and drug dealers was forced to shut down three years ago, right after my husband moved into the house and long before I did. Before it closed, neighbors remembered frequent cop calls as troublemakers wandered through the streets. Since its closing, weeds have overtaken the parking lot and a chain-link fence has supposedly kept all vagrants out. Everyone has been at peace.

Until a few months ago.

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(Read my second story published in the Indianapolis Star!)

Last fall, Corey Rutland and Tess Ireland started out with just $400 and a dream.

Now, they own the bustling Roll With It Bakery at 5539 E. Washington St., one of the latest additions to Irvington’s up-and-coming streetscape.

Although the couple — who met while working as chefs at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown — didn’t have much money, Rutland tapped into an Individual Development Account program he learned about while earning his general educational development certificate at John H. Boner Community Center on the Near Eastside.

Under the program, the Boner Center agrees to a match of 3-to-1 for every dollar that individuals who can meet certain income guidelines invest toward their education, home or business ownership. The program is a joint venture of the Boner Center and Community Choice Federal Credit Union.

“We always wanted our own place,” Rutland said. “(Tess) pushed me, and then everything just started falling into place.”

Rutland put $400 into an IDA and walked away with $2,000, which the couple immediately invested in kitchen equipment.

After noticing a “for rent” sign at a Washington Street retail space, Rutland and Ireland approached the owners, who agreed to let them set up shop rent-free until Jan. 1. They signed the lease by October and were in business by December.

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