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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's grossly overbooked weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat tries to build a better mousetrap; Apoca Clips ponders Syria; Jen Sorenson looks at a double-standard regarding the treatment of children; The K Chronicles tells a story about how just one teacher can make a difference; and This Modern World examines life during wartime.

Published in Comics

When it comes to learning about black history, it turns out the best place to begin is right here at home.

The cultural history of this area is reflected in the names of streets honoring celebrity residents like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore, and streets honoring Native American history, like Tahquitz and Arenas.

One name not as well-known is Lawrence Crossley, the namesake of Crossley Road. He’s an African American who arrived in Palm Springs from New Orleans in the late 1920s and went on to become a successful and influential developer and businessman.

Far too many local residents don’t even know there is a long-standing and thriving black community here, nor do they know about the shameful circumstances that led to that community being located where it is, at the north end of Palm Springs. The history of Palm Springs includes the disgraceful episode in the early 1960s when residents, many African American, had their homes (shacks, really) bulldozed for an urban-renewal program. In many cases, residents were not even notified before they returned from work and found everything they owned had been destroyed.

Many of those displaced residents eventually relocated into a community of homes developed under the leadership of Crossley—and that is still where many black residents of Palm Springs call home.

Palm Springs after World War II was effectively a segregated city. Land had been previously allocated to the Agua Caliente and the railroad, in a checkerboard pattern of sections. The working-class residents lived on Section 14, many in shacks made of cardboard and tin. When the Agua Caliente, who technically owned the land, were finally legally able to offer 99-year leases on some of the land, the leaders of Palm Springs—many of whom had been appointed as conservators of the Agua Caliente, supposedly to protect the tribal members from being ripped off, but often corrupt and pocketing money that should have gone to tribe members—wanted to get rid of the low-income residents to develop that land. The city declared leases invalid and “evicted” residents in 1962, most without any notice, “which the state of California later characterized as a ‘city-engineered holocaust,’” according to a 2012 KCET report.

Jarvis Crawford, 40, is community center manager for the city of Palm Springs at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center. His family has been in the area for generations, and he is a graduate of Palm Springs High School. He and his wife are raising their two children here. Crawford remembers his own family’s connection to Crossley.

“He started as chauffeur to Prescott Stevens, the family name that graces the Francis Stevens Park in Palm Springs,” says Crawford. “But Crossley went on to be an investor in the old El Mirador Hotel, designed the city’s first golf course, managed the Whitewater Mutual Water Company and pioneered irrigation techniques, and eventually owned trailer parks, a restaurant, a laundromat and other businesses.

“My great-grandfather knew Crossley, and my grandmother lived in a Crossley home after blacks and others were forcibly pushed off the Section 14 land that is now the heart of downtown. Some of the uprooted residents created new black neighborhoods in Banning, others in Indio, but Crossley basically said, ‘I have some land, and you can come over here.’ He gave people another chance at living in Palm Springs.”

Crawford is on the city’s Black History Committee, which, together with the Unity Center (“the Mecca of the black community,” he says), sponsors many events and activities designed to support residents from Banning to Indio—exercise classes and computer training for seniors, youth programs and sporting events, and Black History Month events like the city’s annual parade and fair, happening this year on Saturday, Feb. 27.

“I went to Oklahoma to attend a historical black college, Langston University, and had the chance to learn there was a huge gap in what I really knew about black history,” Crawford says. “I wanted an in-depth knowledge of the truth. I wanted to learn more about me.”

Crawford worked at the Unity Center when he was on school breaks. “I studied computer science and business management, and James Jessie (a local activist for whom the center is named) influenced me to also focus on the leisure industry and physical education. He suggested I come back after I graduated and take time to get myself together,” he says. “He helped me get a job with the Palm Springs Parks and Recreation Department.”

But Crawford’s decision to stay in Palm Springs is probably directly attributable to James Jessie’s death during a camping trip to the Colorado River.

“We had what we called ‘Fishing With James,’ where we took kids from the community out to the Colorado River,” recalls Crawford. “On one trip, one of the kids slipped into the water. James jumped in and saved that kid’s life. I could see the kid sitting and shivering on the shore at the other side of the water, and heard him yell, ‘He hasn’t come up yet!’ I swam across to comfort the young boy while the other kids gathered in horror at what had happened.

“After the EMTs pulled James out, they were getting ready to pull out a black bag, and I asked them to just carry him out to the ambulance. I wanted to stop the kids’ fear and pain. I felt I had to take care of the situation.

“On the whole ride home from Blythe back to Palm Springs, complete with a police escort, I was talking to the kids. ‘Is he dead?’ one finally asked. I couldn’t say yes. The most I could do was answer, ‘Uncle James has a new life.’

“I had intended to head to Northern California to work in the computer industry, but that trip to the river is what got me to stay and work with the city. This is my community. I was one of those kids at one time.”

Jarvis Crawford not only works with the community through the center’s programs; he also gives presentations to local organizations influencing others to discover and embrace the cultural heritage of our area, and doing what he can to fill in the gaps about our own black history here at home.

It’s a good place to start.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's exciting Independent comics page: This Modern World examines the conflict between Plutocrat Pete and Tea Party Tim; Jen Sorenson wonders how the humble pickup truck became a luxury item; The K Chronicles is surprised to learn that the cartoonist doesn't "sound black"; and Red Meat prepares the clowns for combat.

Published in Comics

Aaron Mair in May became the first African-American president in the Sierra Club’s 123-year history.

Mair, most recently a research analyst with the New York State Department of Health, has been an advocate for the preservation of natural spaces and for equal access to public land for decades. One of Mair’s primary goals as president is to address critical socio-economic issues often neglected by the conservation community.

An expert in spatial epidemiology with a degree in Southwest Asian and North African studies from New York’s Binghamton University, Mair is well-versed in the complex relationships between people and the environments in which they live. Mair is known as an advocate for thriving natural landscapes, not only in remote national parks and wilderness, but also in the metropolitan areas where most of the world’s population now lives.

At a time when the Sierra Club struggles to remain relevant to the cultural interests of a population that is growing younger, more urban and more diverse, Mair hopes to shift the club’s mission toward policies that better include the needs and values of under-represented minorities.

James Edward Mills recently spoke to Mair about his background and vision for the Sierra Club.

How did your experiences growing up inform your interest in protecting the natural world?

I’m the son of Ellis Island immigrants from Jamaica, where my family owned land. They were always free people of color, urban dwellers of an agrarian background. Having a garden was part of their life. Going back and forth from Jamaica (with my family), it was going from the concrete jungle of Harlem to the island where it was green.

Most people don’t realize that there were great migrations and structural, political and social economic issues that were forces on blacks of the land throughout the South. Blacks went from having land to being landless and then to being defined by the ghettos that we were placed in when we got to urban settings.

But where we grew up in Northern Westchester, that environment, that green space, made the difference in your life choices and your life outcomes. So if you have that enrichment or that investment and that base, your possibilities and your potential increases.

That diverse community made me stronger. I could network and share and see what other people’s dads—black, white, Hispanic—were doing, or how hard-working they were, and was mentored by that sharing and exchange of values. If you look at nature, when you go into any green space, it’s not monoculture. It’s a diversity of plants and organisms, holistically diverse and connected. So I grew up in one of those suburban middle class blue-collar communities where that type of diversity was organic and informed. Again, it still reflects the divisions and fissures that is America, but it is the core underpinning of my American self.

Was there a particular moment in your career when you became an environmental activist?

When I was doing graduate work at the (State) University of New York at Binghamton, we had to do a project in my master’s thesis class. Ours was basically trying to connect a community to a park. This was right along the Susquehanna River. That was my first time understanding class analysis, access to open space, looking at a community use pattern and actually realizing the impact of urban planning and urban design.

In our society, we look at our government and the places where we live, and we think that nothing is connected. Either you’ve got a park or a road or this or that. But what I realized was that these things are connected; they are designed, and they absolutely shape whole communities. And so one of the things you notice is how the black population was settled in certain portions of (New York City), alienated from this green space … (to which) middle class whites would have access. So even though theoretically, everybody would have access by law, the actual design and plan made the properties that were near this green space more valuable. You start to see the institutional forms of how racism is reinforced and maintained by planning departments, municipal departments, zoning departments, and you realize that this is the power of the vote. This is how political pressure can be brought to bear on the outcome of an environmental system. And that’s when I had the epiphany, in about 1984—that ah-ha moment that just hits you like a ton of bricks.

The Sierra Club has a longstanding tradition of preserving wilderness areas for recreation and the protection of endangered species. What can the Sierra Club and you as its president do to make these environmental issues more relevant to the poor, the socially disenfranchised, the perpetually urbanized and people of color?

What John Muir had recognized was that as our nation was consuming itself, all those natural wonders, all those wild places—we were losing them. That movement then was: If we’re going to rape everything, then we should save these postage stamps of what it used to be. But this preservation occurred among elites who had elitist values, and one could make the case that not all Americans had access to these places and these spaces. These natural wonders were often preserved for the use and exploitation and sport of the top 10 percent of families.

Today, the environmental justice movement is recognizing and taking ownership of the values that people of color hold with respect to their use of the environment. They can play a significant role in protecting it, but things cannot be only from the perspective or point of view of whites. It must include all points of view so that when laws and regulations are fashioned, they’re not advantaging one group over another. The environmental justice movement has affirmed the rights of people of color with regard to their access to clean land, clean air and clean water, and that minority communities cannot, should not, be the dumping ground.

Being the first (black) president, I’m in a position where we’re reshaping club policy. So we’re going after a massive strategic plan about how this organization is operating and making sure that it’s a diverse, equitable, inclusive and welcoming environment. The Sierra Club, in the past, has been a club: You either get in or you get out, and the little localities are very tight and close-knit, and still many are not welcoming places. Now we’re going to the stage of how people of color can step in and become a part of this organization and really shape the culture internally and facilitate that change.

What kind of policies can the Sierra Club create or support to more directly address the issues of environmental justice?

There is some serious intentional and deep work that we have got to do. From the mid ’80s to now, I’ve seen significant change, but it’s still not fast enough or deep enough. We cannot wait for these goals by 2020 and 2050. If they can right now invest a few billion dollars in weapon system programs or a couple of billion dollars in off-shore drilling, they can easily provide those same incentives for the retrofitting and the greening of jobs in urban areas. You would wind up having full employment of the marginalized and underemployed, earning at least living-wage jobs and putting America on the positive side of the feedback loop of taxpayers and homeowners.

President Obama should be as intentional about green jobs as he has been with the “all of the above” carbon strategy by which he has allowed more drilling for oil and natural gas. He should have also been putting in the same amount, buck for buck—in fact, even more—into the green economy, and we would not be seeing the same levels of disparity in a number of our urban centers. But this is where the Sierra Club and powerful old organizations like it—networking with labor and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—can work together through climate-justice initiatives.

The Sierra Club right now is at the ground floor of networking and tying these things together. It’s now working and advocating in places it never traditionally did. You just did not have the Sierra Club doing civil rights marches, because people thought a civil rights march was something different from protecting the environment. But the right to vote shapes land-use policy that protects the environment. In fact, to this day, a lot of the pushback within the Sierra Club is people saying we’re straying away from our mission. My argument is educating them to understand that, no, protecting civil rights and labor rights is critical to our mission. It’s by having a voice from the left, the blue-collar labor and civil rights community, being at the helm of an environmental organization where you are able to see how that all comes together. If you want to know what environmental success looks like, it’s multi-ethnic.

Through your tenure as president of the Sierra Club, how will you define your own success?

What would be success for me is if I could get a hold of the president’s ear to shift him from the “all of the above” strategy that is still fueling our series of climate catastrophes. If I could shift his investment in the re-gridding of America, the retooling of America that provides clean and green jobs for all Americas.

My measure of success is when the voting rights of all citizens are protected so that we have a say in the planning and zoning and land use that allows for sustainable communities. Will I be able to do that within the arc of a year? The answer is no. But what I can do is model the values and belief in the real experience that I have grown up with. And that’s what I bring to this post. I bring a deeper shade of green.

James Edward Mills is a freelance journalist and author of the book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. This piece originally ran in High Country News.

Published in Environment

On this week's therapeutic Independent comics page: The K Chronicles is dedicated to that one black kid; This Modern World looks at what happened when conservatives awoke to a world gone mad; Jen Sorenson examines changing views; and Red Meat deals with some mommy issues.

Published in Comics

This Christmas Eve, I went to the service at Palm Desert’s St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. The following Sunday morning, I attended First Baptist Church in Palm Springs.

I was born into a Jewish family. My mother was the descendant of Russian gypsies, some of whom came to the U.S., while others—who managed to escape the Holocaust—landed in Israel and participated in the fight for independence. Mom always had great antipathy toward any organized religion, but she would say, “The world will always consider you a Jew, so you must be proud of your heritage.” And I am.

My upbringing left me with agnostic doubts and no desire to affiliate officially with any organized religion. That being said, I’ve always enjoyed attending different religious services—particularly at holiday time, when church leaders tend to put their best foot forward.

St. Margaret’s offers an impressive edifice, the embodiment of Christmas-card images: high-beam ceilings, abundant floral arrangements, a robed choir (with a beautiful soprano voice soaring above all the others) and clergy wearing grand gowns. The first thing I noticed at St. Margaret’s was how beautiful the church looked—and that the lovely floral arrangement stage-left looked exactly like a red high-heeled shoe. Having once seen it that way, it was almost impossible to not see it that way for the rest of the service. I felt so irreverent.

Entering the church, warm greetings were freely offered, along with battery-operated candles. In prior years, the Rev. Lane Hensley would get laughs from the crowd when he explained how to light the real candles while avoiding getting hot wax on hands or clothing (or the carpet!). This year, he referenced those previous warnings by saying, “I was so tired of giving that speech,” and then went into detail about how to work the battery-operated candles to warm laughter throughout the church.

The service was preceded by lovely harp and organ music,; I sang along with the Christmas carols. After we all sang “Silent Night,” the lights in the church were dimmed, and the candles turned on. The moment was particularly beautiful and moving; I cried.

Hensley’s sermon was, like him, warm and genuine: “I don’t mean it as criticism, but there are a lot of you I don’t see here all the time,” he said to laughter throughout the church. For some folks, this (service) may be all that you hear. ... Is it my responsibility now to answer everything for you?” He then encouraged those with questions or seeking to explore their own beliefs to reach out to him personally. He means it. The overall message I took away: “God is with you always. I am here. I am with you. I am in you. I never go away.”

The congregation was orderly, standing and sitting as one. St. Margaret’s service was not so far from a Catholic service, with communion, members crossing themselves, and incense being swung down the center aisle. The word I’d use to describe St. Margaret’s: “solemnity.”

It did not escape my notice that the hundreds attending the St. Margaret’s service were almost exclusively white. That got me thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Thus, on the following Sunday morning, I decided to attend First Baptist Church, a largely African-American church in Palm Springs. I went to First Baptist occasionally many years ago when the Rev. Jeff Rollins Sr. presided. He was a friend and ally, but he is long gone. The current pastor is the Rev. Rodney S. Croom.

The church is small and unpretentious. The welcome received at the door was, like St. Margaret’s, very warm and friendly. The choir includes only 10 people, but their joy and fervor pulls one in from the stage. Congregants sang, swayed and clapped along, as did I. The congregation of about 50 that morning included many small children, avidly participating along with their parents,

The Rev. Croom’s message was that the church is “a place where love is displayed, and the word is proclaimed.” He reminded his flock, “You don’t have to live to please men, but to please God,” and, “You don’t back down from who God made you to be.” The overall message was about authenticity, holding true regardless of obstacles.

I’m convinced there must be a special class that black preachers take in divinity school where they learn that cadence, that intonation, that rhythm that builds to a crescendo and brings the congregants to their feet with applause. The organ and drums came in at just the right point to put an exclamation point on what the Rev. Croom was saying. It was dramatic.

Where St. Margaret’s parishioners responded only when cued, at First Baptist, attendees engaged in call/response at will. They lifted their hands toward the sky and were encouraged to participate, shouting, “Amen!” and, “Tell it like it is!” The older ladies still wore elaborate hats; younger members, while in their Sunday best, have loosened the rules a bit. All participate in an environment that I describe as “spontaneity.”

The historical reasons that black worshippers have a very different church environment than whites are many. A recent book by Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, claims that while opportunities for whites to develop their own sense of identity, including racial identity, are plentiful, such opportunities for blacks “need to be established and protected, since racial otherness is the norm” of their experience.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was planning to go to a black church, her reaction was, “There’s a black church in Palm Springs?”

I responded: “Don’t you know there’s a predominantly African-American community at the north end of Palm Springs, as well as communities in other parts of the valley?” Sadly, she didn’t.

Recent work by Michael Emerson, a sociologist at Rice University, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no single racial group constitutes more than 80 percent. He found, using that standard, “that only 8 percent of all Christian congregations in the U.S. are racially mixed … (including) 2-3 percent of mainline Protestants, 8 percent of other Protestant congregations, and 20 percent of Catholic parishes.”

Perhaps Sunday morning segregation actually serves an important purpose, providing unity and reinforcing identity. However, I support the idea of congregations combining for special services to bring disparate church communities together.

You can begin that process all by yourself. Break out of your comfort zone, and share your experience of faith. It will enrich you and you will enrich the experience of others. After all, you all believe in the same God.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Dana Johnson's thoughtful and affecting first novel, Elsewhere, California, is narrated by a girl named Avery, whom we first meet as a child growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the '70s and '80s. When her brother is threatened by gangs, their parents decide to move to the suburbs. Avery eagerly prepares for the "long journey" to West Covina. Her father responds: "Journey? It ain't but 30 minutes up the road."

Avery learns that however short the distance, West Covina might as well be another planet.

The chapters alternate between Avery's childhood and her life as an adult, when she has become an artist, living with Massimo, an older Italian man, in his swanky Hollywood house, and she's looking forward to an exhibition of her art at a Los Angeles gallery.

Avery's language deftly evolves throughout the course of the book. Johnson writes the early chapters in the voice Avery used as a young child—"We caint go tricka treating. The Crips went and shot somebody, and the Bloods done shot em back"—while the later chapters show the way Avery has learned to speak as a successful black woman trying to move smoothly between society's layers, a knack her best friend, Brenna, calls her "blendability."

The young Avery, a sensitive, baseball-loving girl, is tortured by her awkwardness. She struggles to fit in to whiter and more-affluent West Covina, where she cannot afford the right clothes. "I'm tired of being called Imitation … Because everything I wear is like something else, but not the actual thing it's supposed to be. My Izod shirt really isn't Izod Lacoste. It's got a horse on it instead of a crocodile." Meanwhile, Brenna, her bold white friend, leads the way toward mischief, and Avery's favorite cousin, Keith, follows.

Although Avery graduates from USC and becomes the kind of person others laud as a success story—"an affirmative-action baby"—she never ceases to be haunted by the dissonance between her past and present. Keith continues his criminal ways even as an adult, and although Massimo tries to convince Avery to forget him, it's clear by the end of the book why she cannot.

This winning novel is replete with wise and poignant observations. At one point, Avery explains that art "only has value if the right people say it has value." Elsewhere, California is valuable art indeed, full of heart, wit and insights about family, race, class and the Golden State.

This review originally appeared in High Country News (hcn.org).

Elsewhere, California

By Dana Johnson

Counterpoint

276 pages, $15.95

Published in Literature