Local Voices

Waiting For Troy Davis

By Phillip Martin   |   Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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Sept. 28, 2011

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The news that Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Georgia was met with silence and teary-eyed dismay in Harvard Square late Wednesday night.

All night, a small, racially diverse group of candle-carrying protestors waited for news from the US Supreme Court. Would Troy Davis receive a stay of execution? Amnesty International¹s Northeast Director Josh Rubenstein organized the vigil. At 8:04pm he was hopeful.

"So now we're hearing that there is a reprieve. It could last for a very short time. He could be executed tonight or they could ask for more time, and we'll see," Rubenstein said.

All eyes and thumbs in the crowd then turned to their iPhones and blackberries and scrolled for news from the High Court. A man passing by at 8:26 p.m. gave the crowd a disapproving finger.

At 8:45 p.m., one vigil participant named Verne Noma said, "I just think this is a barbaric practice in general, but specifically in this case it just seems that there are just too many questions and I don't agree with it."

The Supreme Court announcement that many believed would come at 9pm did not. And the 40 individuals that were brought together via Twitter and Facebook continued their vigil.

At 9:23 p.m., some candles that had blown out as the wind picked up were relighted.

Some of the anti-death penalty protestors seemed hopeful that mitigating circumstances — including seven out of 10 witnesses recanting testimony against Troy Davis —would convince the High Court to stay the execution.

A woman in the crowd spoke. "My name is Theresa McGowan, someone got through to the Supreme Court and they left a message. The Supreme Court said there hasn't been a verdict yet. And I hope something positive comes out tonight."

At 10:49 p.m., when I returned to Harvard Square the small crowd had become even smaller and most of the candles had blown out.

At 11:08 p.m., Troy Anthony Davis was put to death in Jackson, Georgia, and the group in Harvard Square slowly dispersed, despondent and deeply disturbed.

Goodbye To The Old Groton Inn

By Azita Ghahramani   |   Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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Sept. 28, 2011

Watch the video segment that aired on September 27 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


GROTON, Mass. — Home to the Groton School and Lawrence Academy, the town of Groton also boasted an Inn where Presidents and historic figures stayed on their way to Boston. But that Inn may soon be demolished.

Late on the evening of Aug. 2, 2011, a neighbor alerted George Pergantis that his inn was on fire. Pergantis described watching the firefighters at work. "The fire department came in with a big truck and as soon as he hit the window all the flames came out, poof, 50 feet in the air," Pergantis said.

Fifteen trucks, and the efforts of countless firefighters couldn't save the building.

"It's all over for me," Pergantis tearfully recalled. "I don't want to talk much because I feel bad…"

Pegantis feels bad because after 30 years of love and labor keeping The Old Groton Inn running, he says at age 81 he's too old to rebuild now. So despite objections from area residents, he plans to tear down what's left of the building.

"The town people, I'll be honest with you. All these years, they never supported me. Very few people here and there. Now, they come here, they want to support me. It's too late," Pergantis said.

Laurie Gibson hopes it's not too late. She grew up here and her parents once owned the inn. It was their meticulous research and efforts that put the Groton Inn on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The oldest part of the Inn dates back to 1678. Which is 98 years before we even became a country," explained Gibson. "Paul Revere inducted the Masons here. Ulysses Grant was also in the registers. Teddy Roosevelt and William H. Taft. One of them had stayed here the night before he was elected," Gibson said.

Established originally in 1678 as a homestead for the local parish, The Groton Inn eventually became a popular resting spot for travelers. Gibson and some town residents aren't ready to put 300 years of history to rest and are pinning their hopes on an engineers' report that claims parts of the Inn can be salvaged.

"From what we understand, at least 30 percent of the building is viable," Gibson said. "It wasn't touched by the fire. It's amazing to me — the oldest part of the building survived the most."

But Pergantis sees no point. "Keep the front for what? Nothing is left. The foundation is no good. What are you going to keep?" Pergantis said.

Pergantis already has permits to tear the building down, he's just waiting for his insurance claim to pay for the demolition. Gibson expressed the hope of supporters who are using this borrowed time to make a plea to save the inn.

"We are hoping somebody would come forward and hopefully want to purchase the property. And want to purchase what's left of the building. And restore it as much as possible," Gibson said

But even a benevolent stranger might not be able to restore the inn if Pergantis refuses to sell it. The Old Groton Inn – a resting place for 3 centuries of travelers, may have come to its final rest.

The Fallacy of Helping

By Bridgit Brown   |   Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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My grandmother washed white people's clothing for a living but she would never call herself "the help." The movie The Help, made me think about her. Out of all of the characters in this film, Minnie (played by Octavia Spencer) comes close - outspoken and charming, though she would never bake and serve her poop. The author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, said she based Minnie on Spencer, a very good friend hers. The man who made the movie, Tate Taylor, said that Spencer was his former roommate.
My grandmother never brought her work issues home despite the clear indication that Kathryn Stockett makes in her fiction. The lives of the white people that my grandmother worked for and the children that might have been in her care were not central to her life at all. The women and men that work for white people are more complex than what we see in the movie and read in the book.
Taylor was at the screening of the movie when I saw it. He spoke afterwards, calling Stockett one of his best friends. He said that a black woman raised him too. They clearly want people to know that there is something about being raised by a black woman that distinguishes one type of white person from the next. I get the sense that it’s about people helping people. This explains why Taylor said in an interview that he “peppered” the movie with friends and family, including his dad who played Sissy Spacek’s boyfriend or his mom, who had a one-liner. I wondered if the five black men in the film, each doing “domestic” work, were friends of Taylor’s too.
I hated The Help and Spencer should have her racial credentials lifted for helping her friends craft a big FAT lie.

A Valuable Tradition, Ballet Endures

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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Back in October, New Republic dance critic Jennifer Homans suggested that ballet was dead. She couldn’t have known that she would set off a fire storm of response. First of all, it’s the ballet people who interpreted what she said to mean ballet is dead. In fact, Homans said she suspected it was dying or at least falling into a deep slumber like Sleeping Beauty.

As if the ghost of ballet’s godfather Louis 14th himself had been stirred to action, ballet was suddenly everywhere. The New York Times launched a national blog about the dance form and the ballet movie The Black Swan plieted into theaters. A month earlier, the New York City Ballet launched a sexy ad campaign on subway billboards in the country’s hub for all things dance.

I can’t argue with Homans about the place of tradition in a remix world. But her announcement seemed particularly ill-timed. It coincided with the busiest season for most ballet companies in the western world – a period I like to call that Crazy Nutcracker Season.

In part because I wanted to check out Homans’ thesis locally and also out of nostalgia, I made a pilgrimage this month back to the see The Nutcracker. I say “back” not because I grew up going to the ballet. But in the last 20 years, I’ve seen more than 30 productions of The Nutcracker – sometimes as a reviewer, sometimes as the parent of a snowflake. I rarely write reviews these days, and my little snowflake is now a biologist in graduate school – so I haven’t been to The Nutcracker for a long time.

But not much has changed. And I don’t necessarily mean the dancing. I mean the community spirit. On opening night of the Walnut Hill School’s Nutcracker in Natick, the hall was packed with eager family members, teachers, students and little sisters wearing flouncy dresses all rooting for success more than perfection. No one cared when Drosselmeyer abracadabra-ed the holiday tree off the stage – and it whammed into a wall instead of into the wings.

Once, at a production in Maine, fake cannons spurted out a bit too much smoke and set off the theater’s alarms. In minutes, the audience, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King and Mother Ginger were all standing in the parking lot waiting for the system to be reset. Then the show went on, and no one cared about that extra bit of drama.

Even in a professional setting, such as Boston Ballet Company’s Nutcracker, the mystical spirit of the dance form fills the grand hall. The little boy in front of me last week was seeing the show for the first time. He jostled excitedly between his parents, asking why Fritz was in trouble and did the mice get hurt? When Clara’s dreamscape turned scary, he buried his head in his mother’s shoulder. “It’s just a terrible dream,” she assured the boy. But it was very real to him.

For me, The Nutcracker has lost some of its glitter – not in the productions or the music but the story. This time, I saw a creepy older guy bullying a little girl – whose gilded family probably gets tax breaks this year. And I noticed the elements of war and violence more than ever before.

And yet, it would be a terrible dream, indeed, if ballet were to die. At its best, The Nutcracker and perhaps the unique magic of ballet are symbols of community life at its most generous and most elegant.

Don West: Black Boston's Photographer

By Bridgit Brown   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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What makes a picture perfect? Some say it’s the light. Some say it’s the right angle. Some say it’s the subject in the crop of a frame, but Don West, a Boston-based photographer, says it’s the energy that a person, place, or thing emanates that makes him raise his camera to eye level, point it, shoot it, and share it.

He has had many lives prior to taking his current stance behind the camera. In his twenties, he was a professional bass guitarist, then he went on to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, spiritual leader to the Beatles, and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement of the 1970s.

It was in the early eighties that he began taking photographs for the Bay State Banner, a newspaper servicing Boston’s African descended community. Since then, has captured volumes of photographs which he catalogues by themes: politics, culture, history, sports, music, etc.

The bulk of his massive stock of images are portraits of notable people like South African political activists Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, Stevie Wonder, Senator Edward Kennedy, Civil Rights activist Angela Davis, and Tito Fuentes (just to name a good few). He also has a collection of photographs that include his walks in Beijing China, and glimpses of a couple entwined in a tango dance Spain. In the fairly recent past, he had the honor of photographing President Barack Obama while on his campaign trail in the North East. Though it was Don’s pipe dream to become the House’s staff photographer, he joked about finally getting to know someone in the White House after all.

On a more serious note, he cites the economy and the advent of the digital revolution as the cause of the deteriorating relationship that now exists between photographers and major corporations. With the laying off of staff photographers to stay abreast in this economy, these individuals now have to compete with other freelancers for the fewer jobs that are already out there.

“Instead of hiring a professional throughout the year to cover everything that they do, which was the case back in the time of roll film photography,” he explained “now they’ve bought their own digital cameras and they do all of the in-between and major events themselves, with their staff and their digital cameras.”

A Misuse Of Freedom

By Kerry Healey   |   Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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Last week, three iconic American freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press — collided in a nightmare scenario that could well still lead to the loss of American lives.

The self-styled Rev. Terry Jones' irresponsible threat to burn copies of the Quran at his tiny church in Jacksonville, Fla. was withdrawn at the eleventh hour after pleas from General Petraeus and the White House. But Jones’ selfish stunt has inflicted real damage to America's reputation for religious tolerance, and makes achieving peace in Afghanistan even tougher.

Neither should we allow one American to twist our freedoms into a Gordian knot that prevents us from showing America's true values to the world.

America must never be so intimidated by the threat of terrorism that we curtail our fundamental freedoms.  But neither should we allow one American to twist our freedoms into a Gordian knot that prevents us from showing America's true values to the world.

Several things went wrong with the handling of the Jones case.  Let's consider freedom of speech.  Jones certainly has a right to express unpopular views if they are true.  But now it seems that the Quran-burning threat was merely a dangerous publicity-seeking ruse.

When Jones’ false threat spawned violent demonstrations in five countries, it crossed Oliver Wendell Holmes's famous line of falsely shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.  Jones’ speech may not have deserved constitutional protection after all.

Jones also fundamentally misused freedom of religion. 

Freedom from religious persecution is the bedrock on which this nation was founded.  But the exercise of religious freedom comes with a duty that requires each religion to see to their own knitting.  Tolerance is required, not just from the government but from ordinary Americans like Mr. Jones.  He showed none.

The most serious questions in the Jones case are reserved for the media.  Jones has a right to express his views, but no inherent right to be heard by people in Indonesia and Afghanistan.  The media chose to blitz the obscure Jones’ ravings around the world as if he were an American leader or a celebrity spokesperson for religious hatred.

In truth, Jones deserved no attention beyond a footnote in the Jacksonville Times.   Thanks to the media, one bigoted man and his 50 parishioners were allowed to become the face of 300 million Americans to the Muslim world.  The media needs to question whether creating incendiary fodder for talk radio justifies the magnification of an ant like Jones, tarnishing America's reputation and risking our soldier’s lives. 

Freedom of the press exists to preserve democracy, not to entertain us.

About the Authors
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead


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