In celebrating the official last week of 2011, State of the Re:Union’s staff members share their five favorite episodes, stories or moments found in the SOTRU’s 2011 seasons. (Click here for a SOTRU reference guide, or just to hear your favorites again.)
Sacramento Episode: All Hands On Deck
The ever-awesome, awe-inspiring and talented Brie Burge keeps SOTRU on track and things running smoothly as SOTRU’s business manager, info hub and multimedia producer. Brie gave us not only her fab five, but what made them endearing to her:
Las Vegas - Gave me a different look at the Vegas most of us know. Birmingham – Al’s writing is amazing in this episode, giving us a real look at race. The Bronx - People that don’t give up and work hard to make their neighborhood a better place (Hetty Fox and Jahlove) MS Gulf Coast - Gives us a picture of the long-lasting effects of the oil spill, after the national media has packed up and left town. Sacramento – The Kings story is my absolute favorite of the entire season. Also love the Winter Sanctuary/homeless pedicures story.
One of SOTRU’s producers extraordinaire is the incredibly fantastic Tina Antolini. She helped create not only some awesome episodes, but Tina contributed posts and updates on some of the people, places and stories explored in the episodes. Anyone who can make pigs brain appealing - all right, maybe she sold me more on the pots de creme - has to be phenomenal. (You can find out more from the Cleveland episode.)
Las Vegas Episode: Tina Antolini working on the Las Vegas episode
We will be sharing some fan favorites on the last Friday in 2011! (That’s in three days, just in case anyone has lost track due to early celebration.) Use the box below to tell us your fab five. If you would like to tell us what makes ‘em special to you, we would love to share. Cheers!
Birmingham, Alabama - Jean Goforth & "The Giving Effect"
As we are nearing the end of what has been an extremely eventful year, State of the Re:Union would like to recall some of the fantastic adventures and captivating stories shared, and the wonderful people we encountered along the way. The spring episodes took SOTRU to visit and explore rich stories in:
Las Vegas, Nevada: we find more than just bright lights and glitter here – like an underground tunnel community formed by the homeless, de facto community centers, “the ninth island,” and Uberschall.
Miami, Florida – we learn of Miami’s cultural diversity, Little Latin America, 1st and Alton – a Haitian rescue mission, and meet The Spam Allstars.
Birmingham, Alabama: we see how people are still wrestling with desegregation, the Hispanic cultural is pouring in, and “The Giving Effect” – one woman’s gamble to provide a music program for underprivileged children is paying off.
Oakland, California: we explore the cost of people dreaming big in Oakland, the hip-hop renaissance, and how different cultural communities are overcoming tensions to unite.
Utica, New York: we see how refugees are reviving Utica and making it known through food and culture, and what a jam band, a monk, a revolution and a New York home have in common.
Sacramento, California - Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson with Al Letson
The fall episodes take us coast to coast and allow an intimate look at communities facing various issues affecting many people, and the solutions that helped to further unify their communities:
Cleveland, Ohio: we find how a new generation of entrepreneurs are reviving the city through education, beer and the environment, an inside mountain biking range, and other plans to save their town.
Sacramento, California: we see how residents are remaking their beloved American city through rescuing a city’s favorite park, trying to keep their beloved Kings, and why communities are connecting despite deep divides.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast: we learn how residents unite to deal with the aftershocks of disasters – both nature and man-made, about Turkey Creek, and the life-altering struggles some residents are facing as a result of the disasters.
The Bronx, New York: we meet determined residents and learn of their roles in taking back their city, including a teen mentor helping to inform teens about HIV, to a teacher who is keeping teens off the street with a new international music scene, to some fun-loving Franciscan friars helping the community.
Wyoming: we learn how people are adapting to the New Old West, how Bibles and beer work together to unite people, what fracking is and the havoc it is wreaking, from the land to lives.
All of the stories featured in this season’s episodes have made an incredible impact, not just in the lives of those telling them, but in the lives of those who have heard them. In the Birmingham episode, Jeane Goforth told her story of making a difference in the lives of school children by cashing in her life savings and starting a music program for underprivileged and underfunded schools. Incredibly, but not surprisingly, some of our listeners jumped into action, and soon, Jeane’s program began receiving instruments and donations from all over our country.
The Wyoming episode took us to the southern part of Wyoming and explored the ill-effects fracking – a process used by some companies to extract oil and gas – was having on the community. After the episode aired in the fall, the EPA began a deeper investigation into the effects of fracking in consumable water. Coincidence?
The stories we covered have produced some interesting feedback and provided additional avenues that are helping other communities find solutions. We would love to know some of your favorite moments from this season. Use the box below to tell us what they are and why you think those moments stay with you.
When you first go to the website for the University of Wynwood in Miami, you might mistake it for an actual academic institution, if you’re not paying close attention. Look, there is a list with the school’s mission, its faculty numbers, tuition rate, even its mascot. Except—the listed number of faculty: zero. Students: zero. Tuition: Free. Mascot: The Lady Python—which actually does have a story behind it, involving snakes and the rambling logic of the University of Wynwood’s founder, P. Scott Cunningham. Who is, in fact, a real person.
The stated mission, in fact, illuminates the real thrust of the University of Wynwood: to “curate an imaginary Miami,” a Miami that is what its inhabitants would like it to be. “Miami is in a sense always the imaginary Miami,” Scott told me when I met him during SOTRU’s reporting trip there this year. “It’s always the Miami of the future. Miami is always about imagining itself and what it could be, as [opposed] to what it used to be.” I got this sense, too, traveling around the city, talking to the wide sampling of people that SOTRU always encounters during production: this is a city that is relentlessly forward-looking—sometimes to its detriment. Development seems not to be an “if” in this city, but a “when,” regardless of what treasured history might be in its path. But the upside of that attitude is that this is a prime place to experiment. “There’s this sense that we can always be better than what we are,” Scott says, “we could always start a new project; we can totally reinvent ourselves and become this completely new city, which is what to me makes it really exciting to live here.”
It also makes it really exciting to start a fictional university here, with an aim as ephemeral as its mission indicates: to make Miami a more poetic place. Scott and his partner in many of the University’s endeavors, Pete Borrebach, are both poets who met while getting their creative writing MFAs at an actual academic institution, Florida International University. That program seems to have bred a longing for community involvement in many of the young writers it’s trained; Scott, Pete and a group of fellow students also started the Miami Poetry Collective, whose Poem Depots literally brought poetry to the streets, with members selling poetry written-on-demand. The University of Wynwood also came out of a desire to “have poets be civic people,” as Scott says, and a sense that a literary community might come out of the woodwork in Miami, if writers had something—even a fictional something—to rally around. And, lest you think that these young men are all fancy ideas and no action, just check out what they spent their April doing.
Scott and Pete making a James Franco sandwich, image courtesy of the Knight Arts Foundation website. Franco was among the many visiting artists a part of O, Miami.
The University of Wynwood’s largest endeavor to date was “O, Miami,” a county-wide poetry festival that lasted the entire month, with a goal of having every single person in Miami-Dade County encounter a poem during April. Funded by a generous grant from the Knight Foundation, O Miami was unlike any poetry festival you’ve ever heard of. Yes, there were readings—oodles of them—and poets pontificating on their craft. But there were also “Poem Drops,” in which poems fell from the skies on unsuspecting residents in neighborhoods like Coral Gables and Little Haiti. Or a partnership with a local artist, Agustina Woodgate, to do a project called “Poetry Tags.” “We gave her a bunch of labels with lines of poetry on them,” Scott says, “and she went around Miami throughout the month clandestinely sewing those labels into random items of clothing in thrift stores.” You can watch a video of that here:
They bought advertising space on airplane banners, but not to draw crowds to a reading. A line from Rilke, instead– “You Must Change Your Life”– rippled across the heavens above Miami during April, as did “Naciste para vivir en una isla” (roughly “You were born to live on an island”) from Octavio Paz, which Scott says flew over beachgoers every weekend during the month. (And for a video about that one, check here. )
While Scott says they’re not sure they actually made their goal of reaching each individual in the county, they certainly broadened poetry’s usual audience in Miami, through unconventional efforts like those above. And they’re ambitious about the future: “Moving forward,” Scott says, “we’d like to make deeper in-roads into populations that we only scratched the surface of: the prison system, schools, women’s shelters, [the neighborhoods of] Overtown, Hialeah, Homestead, Sweetwater, etc… [This] was really only an opening salvo.”
And that’s the great thing about the imaginary—whether it’s a university or an entire city: it’s totally up to you, to create at will… Which reminds me of something Pete said, back during our trip to Miami, that “a poem only exists when it’s being read out loud or if it’s being read from the page by a reader. And in the same way, University of Wynwood, without a building, without any faculty, we’re really our audience and our participants.” So a poetry festival can exist, too, sewn into the hemlines of secondhand clothes and written across the sky. “Whenever the University of Wynwood happens,” Scott says, “it’s only happening in that moment and it’s disappearing back into the ether of Miami.”
To listen to SOTRU’s Miami episode, go here. To root for the Lady Pythons via Twitter, go here.
The Spam Allstars . . . not the most enticing name, but an incredibly interesting concept and infectious sound. In Miami, it’s easy to find music bringing people together—but usually they’re people who have a lot of common. Cuban cafes have Cuban bands, Haitians, Haitian music, the clubs featuring the sort of ethnicity-free techno that accompanies high heels and high-priced cocktails. But the Spam Allstars are simultaneously emblematic of many things Miami—and breaking all the rules. The band features a DJ spinning beats from South Beach nightclubs, a black jazz sax player from Overtown, a Cuban lead singer and a white trombone player is a PhD student in music. They play a weekly gig in little Havana that attracts a similarly diverse audience.
Check out our documentary about the Spam Allstars and be sure to listen to our new Miami episode, Bridging the Divide.
SOTRU got back a little while ago from a week of reporting in the Magic City, filled with stories from so many pockets of Miami, from Little Havana to Little Haiti, the streets of Overtown to the sands of South Beach. A lot of people told us that Miami feels more a part of Latin America or the Caribbean than the U.S.—and you can feel that, from the waitress addressing you first in Spanish, then in English, to the men on the sidewalk hacking open green coconuts with a machete, so you can drink the juice straight from the husk with a straw.
There’s another part of Miami that felt unlike the U.S. I know. And, to get a taste of this particular alternate reality, the best time of the week is early on a Sunday morning. Say, 7 a.m. It’s just after dawn, the birds are singing… and in Miami’s hottest 24-hour-a-day clubs, the dance floor is packed.
Yes, that’s right, as some people are getting ready for Sunday church services or sleeping in, there’s a whole community in Miami that’s getting down. Daylight be damned.
Alan T, at Club Space, Miami, FL
At Club Space in downtown Miami, doorman extraordinaire Alan T was still assessing the outfits of people attempting to get beyond the velvet rope. He told me the crowd is a little different at this time of the morning than on a Saturday night—the first shift is straighter, the second shift is “multisexual.” And the early morning clubbers dress a little differently—“hotter,” Alan T says, “definitely hotter.” Gives a whole new meaning to dressing up in your “Sunday best…”
For more on Miami, check out our spring season of episodes, coming out soon…