I Chose Defiance – Part 2

This episode of Life in HD continues with Carol Barbour’s story of turmoil and abuse of power.  Her tumultuous year in DC public schools ended with her school being closed and no new administrative assignment.  She picks up the pieces and gets a fresh start in North Carolina only to return to PG County where her career began.  But PG County offered nothing but barriers to entry.  This episode explores how a woman, when faced with daunting obstacles, refused to give up and reclaimed control of her life.

Music for this episode includes:

  1. Lobo Loco  Deeply Dungeon – under Creative Commons license
  2. Cutside Rain Drop – under Creative Commons license
  3. AllIknow (Hip Hop) by Makaih Beats is licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

I Chose Defiance by Carol Barbour is available at Amazon

I Chose Defiance with Carol Barbour

When a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico, it grants power to cause a hurricane in China.  The “Butterfly Effect” is one of the principles of Chaos Theory.   In this latest episode of Life in HD, author and educator Carol Barbour shares her intriguing story of how a personal relationship as a private citizen ultimately led to her being blackballed as a public school administrator.  A series of events that negatively impacted her career and caused her to consider ending her life.  But she stood her ground and fought back.  And she tells her story in her book I Chose Defiance.

We hear about blackballing all the time but the stories usually involve high profile people in the entertainment industry.  Most recent examples include Collin Kaepernick vs the NFL and Janet Jackson vs Les Moonves of CBS.   This is part one of a two part episode about an average citizen who accuses a school district from denying her opportunities for reasons beyond professional performance.  It’s an example of Chaos Theory playing out in everyday life.

Music for this episode includes:

  1. Lobo Loco  Deeply Dungeon – under Creative Commons license
  2. Cutside Rain Drop – under Creative Commons license

I Chose Defiance by Carol Barbour is available at Amazon

 

Uprising

BAFG

In  April 2015, 25 year old Freddie Gray died in while in Baltimore City Police custody after being severely beaten upon arrest.  On the day of his funeral, the city had had enough and erupted as riots broke out in protest.  In this episode of Living in HD, I speak with activist-journalist Sean Yoes who has authored the book Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.  The book features a carefully selected compilation of articles and editorials written by Yoes that chronicles the events of 2015 and the subsequent years after Freddie Gray’s death.  The focus of my story is how this native son of Baltimore uses his voice and platform to push for police reform and works to protect the narrative of the events surrounding Freddie Gray’s death and the healing in the aftermath of chaos.

Notes

Montage of voices in the open: Byron Pitts ABC News; former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake; Gray family attorney William “Billy” Murphy, Jr; and Sean Yoes.

Music:  Ketsa Incandesence licensed under Creative Commons; Drake Stafford Wierder licensed under Creative Commons

Reference to Forbes Most Dangerous Cities – Baltimore #7

Giving Back Feels Good

WAER Staff serving those in need at the Rescue Mission

My staff and I spent the morning serving those in need at our local Rescue Mission.  It was rewarding and eye-opening.  Sometimes we get so comfortable in our bubbles that we forget the struggles of our fellow man.  Bursting that bubble and touching another’s life can be a rewarding act.  Live your life in high definition by giving back to make a difference in someone’s life this week.

A Force of Change

We are judged every day of our lives.  Some of us even hold back from being our true selves for fear of being judged.  We won’t speak up in meetings or spark a conversation at a bar for fear of how we will look to others.  Often, this fear is linked to the desire to be liked at all times.

This edition of Life in HD looks at first generation Arab American Shadia Tadros who, despite a tendency to avoid the spotlight, is putting it all on the line to run for public office.  Putting yourself out there for a public vote is a scary proposition, but for Shadia Tadros…the impact that she hopes to make in her community is well worth it.  A record number of women have decided to run for office this election cycle.  Life in HD examines the motivations of one who wants to be a force of change.

Show Notes

For more information on Shadia Tadros visit #TeamTadros

Music featured in this episode includes:

“Soul Box” by Dustmotes under Creative Commons

“Different” by Suhov under Creative Commons

 

 

Life in HD Show #1 – The Power of One

Take a look at the person that you are standing next to on the subway or behind you in line at Starbucks.  That ordinary person just might have an extraordinary story to tell.  I this first episode of Life in HD, I introduce you to a man who lived for 10 years homeless on the streets of Atlanta.  Today, he runs a nonprofit that offers services to the homeless.  It’s an amazing story of redemption.  I hope it motivates you to do something impactful.

The Making of a Miscreant: Between The World and Me…and Me

Recently I decided to take a break from science fiction reading to delve into Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thought provoking book, Between The World and Me. I fully expected to be treated to a unique perspective on the multitude of complex issues that face my hometown. I least expected to be completely confronted with my own past experiences.

If you haven’t read it, and you really should, Coates starts his book with a letter to his son that is powerful, personal, and alarming. He warns his son of the dangers of being a black man in America and the ever present threat to the fragile human body.

Coates weaves poetic truths in the telling of his own personal story including detailed experiences very similar to my own. So many similarities that the lines separating our two lives began to blur as I read on. He speaks to the perilous navigation of Baltimore streets, PG county cops, and social constructs of New York City.

My own story is also rooted in fear. I learned to live in fear early on as a child growing up in the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore, MD. If an arrow lodged in my right shoulder blade, as described in my previous post, The First Time I Almost Died, didn’t teach me about the fragility of the human body, then watching two teenage girls’ hand-to-hand combat tete-a-tete quickly turn to knife wielding and stabbing certainly did. That was the first time that I saw significant amounts of somebody else’s blood. And there were plenty of other occasions to learn that lesson.

One triple H (Hazy, Hot, and Humid) day on the playground of my old elementary school Dickey Hill, I sat on the sideline of the basketball court watching the older high school boys hoop, shirtless and sweaty. Afros flopping with every shot and rebound. I waited patiently for the heat to chase them away so I could have a chance to improve my game. They were so much better than me and I wanted to run and gun with the big boys one day.

It was hot and I thought about giving up my hoop dreams for the apartment complex swimming pool. The game drew close to ending and the familiar cry of “who go next?” rang out. “Who got next”, as in who is next in line to challenge the winning team, almost always invited discrepancies. This day was no different.

The teams generally split between neighborhoods; my Wakefield Apartments vs kids from the notorious Forest Heights. Wakefield put claims on “Next” and Forest Heights disputed. These two neighborhoods, separated by Windsor Mill Rd and the sports fields in Leakin Park, were forever at odds with one another. Constantly disputing over everything with one central question to be answered – who was tougher.

Wakefield’s claims on “Next” did not sit well with two brothers from Forest Heights. The younger of the two staked his claim on the game after having just arrived to the court. Everyone knew that his declaration was without merit and so predictably the “us” vs “them” forces began on a collision course. First came heated words without reason followed by shoving and punches thrown between the younger of the two brothers and my fellow Wakefielder; a Cherry Hill transplant like myself.

The older of the two brothers watched with content as his younger brother sought to handle business. But he loss ground. He was the smaller of the two contenders and didn’t take kindly to his public embarrassment. So he reached into a Crown Royal whiskey bag and withdrew a .22 caliber pistol, aimed, and fired two shots at his scrambling challenger. Most on the playground broke in different directions or hit the ground seeking cover. I froze like a fawn playing a game of “you can’t see me” with a hunter. Heart pounding and ready to wet myself, I realized that the shooter, not more than a few yards away, fired at his challenger who was running in my direction. The shooter then fled on foot back towards Forest Heights.

The stunned crowd began to move and there was again bustling activity. My fellow Wakefielder emerged from behind his parked blue Toyota Corolla to notice two bullet holes in the passenger door. He was pissed. I, too my surprise, had not yet wet my pants, but the day wasn’t over. “Tell your brother when I see him I’m going to fuck him up”, he says to the older sibling whose “Oh, really?” response brought about a collective “oh shit” moment from the rest of us onlookers. He too reached into a bag and withdrew a handgun and began firing at a now moving blue Toyota Corolla. It was at this point that I detected moisture in my underwear.

Later that day I examined the bullet holes in the car. The bullets created two round holes surrounded by dented metal and chipped paint. I imagined what it might have looked like if those lead slugs tore threw my skin and flesh and perhaps hit bone. I was fascinated by the damage and ran my fingers over the holes in the car and then over my own torso.

My youth was full of narrow escapes. Moments when I could have been damaged severely or permanently. At times, like Ta-Nehisi, I lived in fear every time I left my house. Never afraid of one-on-one encounters. I never shied away from a fair fight. Being jumped by multiple people or defending myself against weapons that could tear my flesh is what created angst. During what seemed like a weeks-long period in middle school, I watched as a group of boys chose random victims on the bus and beat them mercilessly and for no apparent reason other than to terrorize. One boy that I hung out with from time to time was victimized. Beaten bloody. Busted lip, bloodied nose, swollen eye with contusions. He was no small boy. He stood tall and wiry with lengthy arms to his advantage. But he was not match for 5 boys hell bent on terror.

Each day that I boarded the bus, I feared that my ticket would get pulled next. That I would find myself scrapping for my life. That I’d arrive at school like Kenny did; ugly and battered. Humiliated as the bus driver and riders stared out of windows as if nothing was happening. I was lucky. My number never came up but the fear remained for a while.

One truism that I learned from the character Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is that the world is made up of takers and those that get took. Even as a boy I knew that there existed in my world those who would plunder. Those who would take your belongings, your money, even your health and dignity. It’s a hell of a thing when you become conscious of your own fragility and vulnerability. Impacts you in ways that you cannot fully comprehend. The funny thing is, we moved from what was at the time a hostile Cherry Hill neighborhood to one that we thought was safer in Wakefield. The fact of the matter is when you are economically vulnerable, there aren’t many safe places to retreat.

Without doubt, these experience have impacted me in profound ways. Contributed to defense mechanisms manifested in hot tempered, guarded behavior. Always ready to push back on those who would take from me, threaten me or my family; a punch first and reason later strategy. Strike with words and fists. But never plunder others.

Yes, Coates book is a stark reminder of a life, my life, of fragility and survival.

 

Can We Take A Joke Anymore?

Kinsler

Did you watch this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner?  Comedian Michelle Wolf’s scorched-earth approach to roasting those in public service caused some to curl up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs, and pondering why she was being such a meanie.  Others laughed their asses off.  What’s clear is that her performance fell squarely in the middle of our political divide.  Wolf took a lot of heat for her performance and it left me wondering…can we still take a joke?

I sat with improve comedian Jeff Kinsler to discuss the performance and our growing sensitivity when it comes to comedy routines.  Check it out on my Pop Life podcast here.

Listen and then share your thoughts on our pc culture.

Finding Purpose Through Work

I read a recent article from ABC News that reinforces what we’ve heard for years; that American workers work more than anyone in the industrialized world.  We take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later.

With that in mind and considering how other aspects of daily living keep us grinding, how can we possibly find time for meaningful community engagement?  One way is to be more efficient with our time and resources.  Consider getting involved in community engagement projects through your job.

As an Influencer

If you lead an organization and have access to resources, consider engaging in projects that connect your business to issues, events, or causes that are important to you.  It’s an opportunity to strengthen your brand and raise your profile in the community that you serve.  You’ll inspire your staff by creating team-building opportunities that bring multiple departments or constituencies together for a higher purpose.

I decided to do this in my own shop by introducing a project that met our mission, contributed to work productivity, and created meaningful community engagement.  We decided to use our capacity as a journalistic organization to spend a year reporting on the growing poverty rate in our community.  Having grown up in Section 8 housing most of my childhood, it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.  The City Limits Poverty Project involves the entire staff from reporters and producers to development staff to marketing and communications to front office.  The team felt a sense of pride and purpose that combined professional and personal interests.  It has also generated positive press and professional recognition for the organization.

Choose a project, identify resources, and build a team for the greater good in your community.  Your customers and constituents will feel good about their support for your organization and your staff will appreciate the opportunity for community engagement without impacting the busy home life.  It’s far bigger impact than making an anonymous donation.

As a Team Member

Rose Garden
A group of volunteers maintains the rose garden at Thornden Park

You can help contribute to a positive company culture, give back to your community, and still make the kids soccer game on the weekend.  If offered the opportunity to participate, take it.  If community engagement is not a part of your company’s culture, introduce it.  While many companies large and small make annual contributions to local charities, there is greater value in organizing your own events.  The team-building, publicity, and goodwill can have a long lasting, positive impact beyond simple recognition for a cut check.  Make this case to your employer and offer to lead the effort.  Much of the work will be done during regular business hours (wink wink) and you’ll be telling your friends about it over cold micro brews after the weekend softball game.  Again, everyone wins.

Food or clothing drives, public park clean-up efforts, job shadowing for at-risk youth, or donating services to needy non-profits are great examples of how some businesses in my community choose to get involved.  An advertising firm in our town chooses a local nonprofit each year for a brand and awareness campaign makeover.  I think that is a cool idea.

Combining your community involvement and work activities creates life efficiencies that can alleviate your over-scheduled life.  Because of all the time that we have to give, “me” time is essential for a healthy, happy life.

 

A Bourbon to Call My Own

The Research

A few months ago, I decided to add to my growing list of vices by delving into the world of whiskey. Those who know me best know that wine is my passion and mixed drinks are my occasional side piece.

Why bourbon? Because I’m a “Zagger” by nature. When others zig, I tend to zag. My good friend David is a Scotch drinker and an enthusiastic one at that. The more expensive the Scotch, the more excitedly his tail wags. I tasted a few glasses of Scotch with him and I think they were pretty good. Think – because I really had no idea what I was tasting, what I should have been looking for, or what the standard flavor profile should be.

So when I decided to “zag” my way to bourbon, I had to know what I was getting into. The research started in earnest right off the bat. The first decision was to concentrate on Kentucky bourbon because of its historic lore and the fact that it is a truly American spirit.

Next I wanted to learn what differentiated bourbon from other whiskies like Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskey. Here’s where YouTube became one of the greatest developments in the history of man. You can learn about ANYTHING on YouTube. Knowing the differentiators like ingredients, mash bills, aging process and time spent in the barrels helped me gain an understanding of what I should be looking for in flavor profiles like sweet corn, smoke, baking spices, burnt sugar etc.

Armed with a basic understanding of distilling process, technique, and flavors, I conducted some public polling via social media to find out what my friends and acquaintances were drinking. Bourbon heads are all too eager to welcome you down a path of debauchery so the responses came pouring in. Dr Fred G gave a shoutout to Makers Mark as did Kerry O. Two women chimed in; Michelle, suggested Larceny and Leigh proffered Woodford Reserve. Cousin Ian put a plug in for Knobb Creek. But responding to a Facebook post wasn’t personal enough for my buddy Matt H. He needed to chat by phone. The excitement and enthusiasm heard in his voice for my decision to cause further damage to my liver was…disturbing to say the least. It was as if a child were taking his first steps. Matt threw Makers Mark, Blanton’s, Woodford Reserve, Knobb Creek and many others my way.

I pondered all of the recommendations and, after careful consideration, made the most beginner move that I could. A flavored bourbon: Knobb Creek Smoked Maple. LOL! It’s laughable today but enjoyable at the time. I had enjoyed smoked maple Manhattans at a local restaurant so I thought…why not?

Eventually, I ditched the training wheels and watched several more YouTube videos to further my education. A favorite channel emerged in It’s Bourbon Night. I learned a ton from the channel’s two hosts.

I declared a mission: Find YOUR bourbon, Joe Lee. Find your “go-to” “Steady Eddie” everyday sipper. Over a two month period, and to my wife’s dismay, I purchased a bottle of Kentucky Straight Bourbon per week in an effort to find MY bourbon. Because a man without a bourbon to call his own is just a simple man.

The Bourbons

I purchased 10 bourbons: Woodford Reserve, Four Roses Single Barrel, Eagle Rare, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Rowan’s Creek, Willett Pot Still Reserve, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Buffalo Trace, Booker’s Small Batch, and Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. I tasted another 3 in restaurants and bars: Maker’s Mark, Basil Hayden’s, and Old Forrester 1920.

What I like

I like a somewhat balanced bourbon with stronger notes of sweet corn, coffee, caramel, butterscotch, and hints of tobacco leaf, cinnamon, dark fruit, wood, and floral notes. I’m not big on the more peppery profile that bourbons with higher rye content in the mash bill offer. Slightly higher rye is ok. And bourbons that are too well balanced where flavors that I enjoy don’t shine are a little too boring for me (like Woodford Reserve). The alcohol content sweet spot for me is between 90-100 proof.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Before I get to the ranking of my top 4, I should say that a key criteria for determining MY bourbon is accessibility. That is, when I want it…when I need it…can I get it. For that reason alone, Buffalo Trace, an affordable, damn fine bourbon did not make the list. Damn it! It took more than a month of searching until I was able to get my hands on a bottle. They fly off of the shelf so quickly and Buffalo Trace is very discerning when it comes to distribution. So fresh off a tasting today, here are the 5 bourbons that occupy my top 4 and they are pictured with the music that I am most likely to listen to while drinking them.

#4 Tie Bookers Small Batch and Willett Pot Still Reserve

I enjoy these bottles equally but for very different reasons. Each is a very different experience. The Booker’s is small batch, cask strength and, therefore by bourbon making standard, high in alcohol content. At 129.7 proof, this is rocket fuel in a bourbon bottle. Kentucky hugs for days. It’s a viscous experience with caramel, oak, vanilla & baking spice notes. I have to drink this with a block of ice and something gritty like The Black Keys on the turntable. And honestly, I can only have one glass. On the other side, the Willett is smooth with brown sugar, molasses, and coffee notes. At 94 proof, I enjoy it neat with classic jazz, mellow Aretha Franklin. This is more of an everyday sipper for me while the Booker’s requires a special mood.

#3 Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Double Oaked means that the bourbon was aged twice in charred oak barrels for a darker appearance and smokier flavor. It’s full-bodied with hazelnut, caramel, and fruit notes. It has a sweet and woody finish. Its 90.4 proof allows me to enjoy neat with something smokey and bluesy like Nina Simone. I could drink this every day.

#2 Four Roses Single Barrel

While I don’t typically like bourbons with high rye mash bills, I do enjoy the slight peppery experience that Four Roses SB offers. At 60% corn and 35% rye, the rye doesn’t overpower the sweet notes that I enjoy. This was probably the 2nd or 3rd bourbon that I purchased so it’s been King of the Hill for quite some time. Single barrel production means that each bottling comes from a single barrel and, therefore, will offer slightly different experiences with each bottle. I like little surprises. Tasting notes include sweet corn, cherry, brown sugar, and vanilla. It’s spicy like Solange, unpredictable like Solange, and sweet like Solange. At 100 proof, I can enjoy neat or with an ice ball depending on how rough my work day was.

#1 Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr Small Batch

One taste of the Colonel and I was hooked on the vanilla, sweet corn, cherry tobacco, and chocolate notes with a long enjoyable finish. Bottled in Bond means that the bourbon was distilled in 1 season and aged at least 4 years. The “small batch” production adds some unique characteristics in that the flavors are concentrated from a small selection of warehouse barrels. This bourbon is 100 proof and I always drink it neat. You can find me drinking this to something groovy that puts me in my feels like Al Green. The pepper isn’t out front and it has less burn than the Four Roses which is why the Colonel enjoys my top spot for now.

I’m looking forward to tasting more to see if E.H. Taylor will remain my go-to bourbon. I’ll give my liver a break for a while, though.

If you have a favorite bourbon that you think I should try, I’m all ears. I’ll also entertain your arguments if you think Scotch is the more desirable whiskey to imbibe.

Cheers!