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Our friend the tuba

04 Pitt04 pitt1Being a person of absolutely no musical talent, I feel qualified to make a bold statement: There is no finer musical instrument than the tuba. The tuba is the Mount Everest of musical perfection. If the Mona Lisa were a musical instrument, she would be a tuba. If a tuba were a pizza it would be double pepperoni with everything but anchovies. The tuba is to musical instruments what puppies are to dogs with the sizes reversed. Tubas are inherently lovable. Tuba players are admired by all persons with ears. To be the life of the party, show up with your tuba and blast out “When the Saints Go Marching in” while marching around the dining room table. Every one in the room, including the most beautiful women, will follow a tuba layer anywhere.

For a moment let us consider the origin of the tuba species. Unlike Athena, who sprang fully grown from the head of Zeus after a bit of cranial surgery with an ax by Hephaestus the Black Smith, the tuba evolved from an earlier instrument called the ophicleide, which was a fancy bugle with keys. The original tuba patent was granted in 1835 in Prussia. Since then, tubas have delighted music fans for nearly 200 years.

Despite the majesty of the tuba, all is not well in Tuba Land. There have been a rash of tuba thefts, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The thefts are not particularly surprising due to the inherent beauty of the tuba. The surprising thing is how difficult it would be to steal a tuba and make off with it unseen. A tuba is not a musical instrument that you can purloin and hide in your pocket like a harmonica, a kazoo or a comb with wax paper. Tuba’s are the Arnold Schwartzneggers of the music world. They are big, bulky and hard to hide when you are lamming away from the scene of the tuba crime.

Case in point – the recent theft of a tuba from New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This fine instrument is four feet long and weighs about 38 pounds according to the Wall Street Journal. Tuba thefts are becoming more common with high school band rooms being hit in Los Angeles and Greensboro. Some tubas can be worth over $12,000, which is nothing to sneeze at. Sgt. Joe Friday advises that hot tubas are being pawned or sold to Mexican bands. If you have a tuba, never let it out of your sight.

But enough tuba crime reporting. Tubas are inherently funny. If you put a tuba on the cover of a comic book, it is sure to be a best seller. In a cursory search of the Google (which will result in me getting multiple ads to buy stolen tubas), I found endless tuba covers to illustrate this point. Woody Woodpecker is shown unsuccessfully trying to blow a tuba with his niece and nephew hiding the tuba. Mickey Mouse is blowing a tuba that is flying his nephews’ kites. Little Dot is blowing bubbles out of her tuba. Fred Flintstone has a prehistoric bird perched in the top of his tuba. Blondie’s dog Daisy is blowing a tuba and her puppies are being blasted out along with a tune. Nancy’s friend Sluggo is walking in the rain with an umbrella stuck in his tuba on his way to band practice. In keeping with the rain theme, Yogi Bear is carrying his tuba while Huckleberry Hound is using it as an umbrella. Porky Pig is blowing a tuba which is causing his nephew’s whirligig to spin. Tom is trying to play a tuba while Jerry is holding a hose pouring water into the tuba resulting in water squirting out of Tom’s ears. Batman is shown catching a crook by crashing a tuba over said crook’s head while saying those immortal words, “Tuba or not tuba, that’s the answer.”

There is even a zombie playing a tuba on the cover of Z Nation graphic comic. This stretches the tuba metaphor a bridge too far. We all know that zombies don’t breathe, which means actually playing a tuba would be beyond the reach of any zombie. Perhaps the most famous tuba is Tubby the Tuba who has his own movie and book deal. My personal favorite tuba cover is from Candy, America’s favorite teen girl. Candy and her Canadian boyfriend are sitting together encircled by a tuba. Boyfriend uses the world’s greatest pick up line on Candy saying: “There’s nothing like learning to play an instrument to make a fellow popular with the girls, eh, Candy?”

So what have we learned today? Ask not for whom the tuba blows. It blows for thee. A tuba by any other name would smell as sweet. You can lead a tuba to water but you can’t make it drink. All that glitters is not a tuba. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have tubas thrust upon them. If you don’t blow your own horn, who will?

Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

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What if it’s all fake news?

03 MargararetOnce upon a time, we Americans trusted our government. We dutifully listened to President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats and took his admonitions about World War II sacrifices to heart. We generally trusted President Eisenhower as well, but then along came Vietnam, and our trust in our government faltered.

Watergate delivered the coup de grace, but as our trust in government waned, our trust in media strengthened. It was media, and specifically Walter Cronkite of CBS who called out American involvement in Vietnam and The Washington Post that exposed the presidential wrongdoing and ended Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Fast forward nearly 50 years, and it seems that no one trusts anyone, or if we do, we trust only people, institutions and media of all stripes whose views and positions align with our own. Many of us watch, listen to and read only the views of our like-minded fellow travelers. Everyone and everything else is “fake.”

In the past, we had local newspapers and broadcasting outlets, national magazines and three major television networks along with PBS. Those organizations strove for objectivity, even though some would say they did not always achieve it. The idea was presenting only the news, not the outlets’ own take on that news.

Today, anyone – you, me and my dog Lily – can have our own voice online for only the time it takes to put our thoughts together. We can and do say most anything we want without the expense of a printing press and paper, a broadcasting license and transmitter, or a cable network. The quandary, of course, is with so many different and competing voices out there, how do we know which ones are accurate, which ones are wrong and which ones are just plain nutty? All of us have limited time to spend on these various voices. It makes sense that we should choose not only wisely, but seeking a diversity of opinion, not just the ones that agree with our own.

Several years ago, a bright young student at Methodist University and I were pleasantly exchanging political views, and I asked him how he got most of his news. I was not surprised when he said, “Fox News,” which I also watch, generally at the gym. I suggested several other news outlets he might want to explore both on television and in print, asking how he could adhere to certain political views and positions without understanding why people who hold other views and positions have chosen theirs. This is America, and we are all entitled to our opinions, but it does not mean that other opinions are therefore fake.

Nevertheless, there is actual fake news. Remember the Hillary Clinton child sex ring run from a Washington pizza parlor and the stories about Melania Trump’s body double? Those stories are real fake news as are thousands, perhaps millions, of others. ProPublica, the investigative journalism website, suggests we approach all news, even the news that appeals to us politically or emotionally, with a good deal of skepticism. Beyond that, look for the source. Established publications and electronic news outlets make mistakes, but they are generally reliable, at least on the facts. Websites you have never heard of are probably marginal for good reason. They often attempt to mirror well-known sites but are just a bit off. Finally, as CNN has been saying for months, calling an apple a banana repeatedly does not make it one. No matter how many times you say something, it does not make it true.

Meanwhile, the young man who was heading to a professional school after Methodist later emailed to say he had learned a few new ideas.

We all have room to do that – and should.

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Community colleges merit more than lip service

North Carolina politicians lavish generous praise on community colleges. Alas, this praise is more often a sort of rote incantation than a real statement of priorities.

Let’s change that. North Carolina’s community colleges are critically important, often a good investment of tax dollars, and deserving of far greater attention from lawmakers, education officials and opinion leaders. That attention need not be only laudatory. It should be constant – and backed by action.

Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians take at least one course each year at one of the system’s 58 campuses. Some are full-time students. Most aren’t. If we account for that, the equivalent of about 100,000 full-time students were enrolled in North Carolina community colleges last year. For the University of North Carolina system, the comparable figure for undergraduates was about 170,000.

Most community-college students are enrolled in curriculum programs. They are working toward an associate degree, an associate of arts, college-transfer credits or diplomas. About 15 percent are enrolled, instead, in some form of continuing education. They are obtaining a particular job skill, retooling to change careers or taking classes simply for edification.

In recent years, North Carolina policymakers have standardized course offerings among community colleges and universities, thus easing the transition for transfer students and making it more attractive for high school graduates to begin their quest for baccalaureate degrees at community colleges that cost less – for both students and taxpayers – and are closer to home.

Some university leaders and policymakers resisted these changes and remain unconvinced they were a good idea. Critics view the freshman and sophomore coursework at community colleges as substandard and point to statistics such as low completion rates for associate degrees as evidence for academic weakness. They also complain, incorrectly, that college transfer is a distraction from the original, vocational mission of two-year institutions.

While community colleges should always be committed to continuous improvement, they often get a bum rap on quality. For one thing, measures such as degree-completion rates are notoriously uninformative. Although transfer students can – and ought to – receive associate degrees from their colleges before heading to universities, large numbers of them do not even fill out the necessary paperwork.

One study of full-time students who began at community colleges found that, after accounting for those who transfer without completing associate degrees, the share of students completing some kind of degree – associate or baccalaureate – was 55 percent within six years. That needs to be higher, naturally, but there are UNC campuses where the average six-year graduation rates for non-transfer students are at or below this level.

More to the point, the populations of students who enter higher education through community colleges are, on average, very different from those who go straight to universities. These characteristics explain much of the difference in degree completion, regardless of the type of institution attended.

Do community colleges deliver value? It’s a tough question to answer, but a necessary one. A 2017 analysis for Columbia University’s Teacher College tracked the earnings of community college students in eight states, including ours. North Carolinians who completed their associate degree earned substantially more in nine years than those who attended but did not complete college. Even those who didn’t graduate earned a bit more, on average, depending on how many classes they completed.

The same qualities that lead to degree completion could also make one a better worker, so the educational experience may not fully explain the wage premium. But I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests community college are, as community college professor Rob Jenkins put it in a recent article for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, “among our leanest, most efficient institutions.” Unlike universities, they “do not need rock-climbing walls, expensive health clubs or luxurious dormitories to attract students. All they need is adequate staffing, competent, fairly-paid faculty, and reasonably modern facilities.”

Lawmakers, please take note.

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Tyrone Williams and T.J. Jenkins should resign

05Tyrone WilliamsFayetteville’s dishonored City Councilman Tyrone Williams, along with coconspirator T.J. Jenkins, president and founder of the marketing firm The Wrijen Company, have Booker T. Washington, the late former Fayetteville Cumberland County Commissioner Thomas Bacote and business executive Floyd Shorter all spinning in their graves with disgust and disappointment. Williams and Jenkins are supposedly business and civic leaders of the black community.

Together, they conspired to extort $15,000 from PCH LLC, the development firm heading the $65 million Prince Charles renovation project, by contending there was a problem with the property title, which Williams could make go away for mere 15 grand. It’s both appalling and criminal.

They both are also guilty of using and abusing one of Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s oldest and most honorable and dignified business organizations, the Fayetteville Business and Professional League. The FB&PL is one of the most prestigious and influential organizations in Cumberland County, serving African-American minority business owners and professionals. For over a half a century this distinguished organization has worked diligently in the interests of local minorities by mentoring young people and stressing the importance of education and training. The organization supports entrepreneurism and new business development while encouraging civic and governmental engagement.

Under previous leadership, the League was the catalyst in minority business development and creation. It utilized workshops, networking, partnerships and joint venture programs to take advantage of business opportunities throughout Fayetteville, Cumberland County and the state. Thomas Bacote was one of those leaders. He loved and served the league, spending decades advocating for it.

He introduced the FB&PL to me in the late 90s when I started Up & Coming Weekly. He eventually sponsored my membership into the organization. I was its first white “minority” member. Several years later, the organization recognized Up & Coming Weekly as FB&PL’s Business of the Year. After Bacote’s death, Wilson Lacy, Cumberland County Schools executive director of operations, took the leadership position and shepherded the organization for 17 years.

More recently, the league’s leadership was organized by my dear friend, Floyd Shorter, who died after a brief illness in 2016. Floyd was an amazing man known for his gentlemanly demeanor, sense of humor and perpetual smile. He learned much from Lacy and became a “tour de force” in civic leadership, championing small businesses by mentoring and encouraging black and minority-owned businesses right up to his death. He taught at Fayetteville State University’s School of Business. He lectured. He sat on numerous boards and committees, including serving the Chamber of Commerce, Economic and Business Development and the Crown Coliseum. But, what he really enjoyed was his leadership role with the League. Under Shorter’s leadership, the League grew in both membership and stature. When he was at the helm, the ship sailed smoothly. However, upon his death, the organization struggled – until Jenkins stepped in under the pretense of bringing stability, relevance and leadership to the organization. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be the near perfect example of someone doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

Jenkins owns a marketing and advertising agency. He is described on LinkedIn as a multicultural expert, consultant, social leader, marketing and advertising maven and “All around good guy.”

Really?

After Jenkins took over the leadership of the FB&PL, he and Williams, who had only been a councilman for District 2 a few weeks, approached Jordan Jones of PCH, LLC about the $15,000 pay-to-play scheme they concocted. Jones recorded the entire conversation, turned it over to law enforcement immediately and released it to the media last Friday.

So, this begs the question: When was this scheme hatched? Was it in September, 2017, when Jenkins, as president of the FB&PL, met with Barton Malow, general contractor for the Astros Baseball Stadium, and PCH LLC officials were invited to present contract opportunities to League minority businesses? Was it at this meeting that they concluded Jones and PCH, LLC would be easy marks? Or, could it have been at one of the League’s Community Impact Forums, where it advocates for business and economic development, civic responsibility, civic involvement, ethnic pride and education?

I applaud Jones for his actions, as I do Fayetteville Attorney Karen McDonald for her protective and proactive actions on behalf of our city. I’m confident it will be resolved properly and in a timely manner.

Williams must resign. He is not our kind of people and cannot represent District 2 or any part of our community. The same goes for Jenkins. He must resign from the Fayetteville Business and Professional League for the League to continue its mission and traditions of advancing the successful development of minority businesses while elevating and directing smart, savvy, hardworking, honest and ethical minorities to positions of influence.

This is for the betterment of our community and for future generations. We must start judging people, especially candidates, by their character, integrity and intelligence – not by the color of their skin.

Leaders lead. Leaders make mistakes. But, they make honest mistakes.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Editor’s note: In the March 28 issue of Up & Coming Weekly, it was incorrectly reported that Evolution Ink tattoo artist Earl Noble had won season 6 of SpikeTV’s “Ink Master.” Noble had the honor of competing in season 6 but did not win. This statement acknowledges that Noble was not aware of or responsible for the error.

Photo: Tyrone Williams

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Rap at the Dogwood Festival revisited

 

03RapatDogwoodEditor’s note: In the March 7 issue of Up & Coming Weekly, Karl Merritt wrote a column titled “Rap at the Dogwood Festival?” He lamented that rap would be featured at the festival in 2018 and explained why he felt this way. He received several emails in response to that column. In the following article, he responds to some of what reader Aissatou Sunjata wrote. Her thoughts were published in a letter to the editor in the March 21 issue and can be read here; it is the second letter: www.upandcomingweekly. com/views/4865-logically-flawedmusket- argument.

I want to share and respond to some of what was said by a reader who, rather vehemently, disagreed with what I wrote. The letter was sent by Ms. Aissatou Sunjata. With her permission, I emailed Sunjata my thoughts and questions as prompted by her letter. After a few days and a follow-up email, she emailed me saying her schedule would not allow time to address my comments or questions. Consequently, what I say here is in response to her initial letter to the editor.

From the first paragraph, Sunjata states: “If Mr. Merritt’s mentee is fortunate he will not be so strongly and staunchly biased against rap music and perhaps give some background and discernment involving rap music. Rap music, like jazz, like the blues, like country music, has a history.”

As I have repeatedly written, my life experiences indicate that a proper framework for thinking is essential for successful living. That means values and beliefs that lead a person to choices that produce fair and positive outcomes. Therefore, my assignment in mentoring the 13-year-old black girl that I mentioned in that column is to help her develop such a framework; not to tell her what to think.

Here is a basic example of what I mean. Today is Saturday, March 24, 2018. My mentee and I are scheduled for a reading session, by phone, at 5 p.m. At 12:14 p.m., she sent me a text explaining her call today would come from a different phone number than usual. I have never talked with her about calling on time. The conversations are about being individually responsible, identifying opportunities that are life-enhancing and going after them … these kinds of values. For weeks, my phone has rung at exactly the agreed upon time. I have not told her not to listen to rap; that decision will be made within her thought-processing framework. My lamenting rap at the Dogwood is about impact on thought-framework development, on paradigm shaping.

I am not alone in contending that rap can have a negative influence on individuals. Read the paper at this link: www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/792/ the-influence-of-rap-and-hip-hop-music-an-analysis- on-audience-perceptions-of-misogynistic-lyric. There are articles that use general statements to give value to rap, but part of this one deals with facts and reasoned analysis. At one point, the paper says, “While a correlation may exist between exposure to misogynistic music and audience attitudes regarding violent acts against women, a causal link cannot be demonstrated between listening habits and resulting misogynistic behavior.”

This says to me that the type of rap discussed in my column can adversely impact that 13-year-old’s paradigm, her framework for decision-making. It might not directly cause negative actions on her part, but will likely influence thought patterns that will, coupled with other destructive conditions, result in unwise choices.

Then, from Sunjata: “There is rap in gospel music. How can it all be bad?” Years ago, I watched a young man do “gospel rap.” I processed it through my paradigm and decided, “Not for me.” Since I made that decision years ago, it only seemed fair to see if the genre was different today. To that end, I watched several gospel rappers on YouTube. Some of them were: Tre9 performing “Pull Up on Ya Block;” “NC Female Christian Hip-Hop Cypher #NCFemaleCypher;” Sicily performing “Problems Music Video-Christian Rap” and Lazarus performing “Walk by Faith.”

As before, the words were meaningful, but, for me, not worshipful and definitely did not encourage me to a paradigm rooted in a faithful walk, or relationship, with God. In most cases, if I turned off the audio, I could hardly distinguish these Christian rappers from those described in my column that prompted the letter from Sunjata. With one or two exceptions, their dress and movements were similar.

On my part, there was a sense of being entertained rather than sensing God’s presence and worshipping him. When all this was processed through my thought-framework, my paradigm, it was rejected. Without a doubt, this genre appears to be an attempt to reach young people where they seem to be. If that statement is true, and I believe it is, we have sunk to an alarmingly treacherous position as a society. I do not view Christian or gospel rap as redemptive for the rap genre.

Here is one of two statements in her letter where Sunjata says I took credit for rap being included at the Dogwood Festival: “It is funny that Karl Merritt is taking credit for the Dogwood Festival’s inclusion of Rap this year and then bemoaning them adding rap music.” I asked that she tell me where I took this credit. There was no response. If someone else can show me where I made this claim, I would appreciate it.

Further, Ms. Sunjata says: “Very tired of people not wanting to alter or change anything in Fayetteville except what is important to them. I don’t enjoy baseball, but okay, there is going to be a field and a team. Perhaps the choice of selecting Coolio might not be appropriate for the audience which will attend the Festival. How will we ever know unless they give it a try?”

Trying something new should be based on a logical assessment of the likely outcome of doing so. It appears to me the likely positive outcome of a baseball team in Fayetteville passes the reason test. As Sunjata seems to admit, that is probably not the case with rap at the Dogwood, given what has been the audience for that particular event in the past.

My contention is that the measure of success of rap at the Dogwood Festival should not be how many people attend. Instead, it should be how attendees’ framework, paradigm, for decision-making is affected. Obviously, my contention is that the effect will be negative. Consequently, trying this new thing does not pass the test of reason for me.

The bulk of my original column about this issue focused on how I am convinced that unfair actions, better described as pressure, by some members of Fayetteville City Council produced the decision by leadership of the Dogwood Festival to include rap in this year’s events. I find it of note that Ms. Sunjata did not mention that section of my column. In light of her seeming commitment to dealing fairly with people, I would have expected agreement relative to the case I presented in that section.

For me, the bottom line of this discussion goes back to Proverbs 4:23, from the New International Version of the Bible: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” This is not a reference to the physical heart, but, rather, to that invisible place where our thought-framework, our paradigm, resides. In great part, we guard that heart by being careful what we expose ourselves to. Above all, I hope this is the course that 13-year-old black girl will follow. Not only do I wish this course for that 13-year-old, but for every person and for me.

Photos: Left: screenshot from the YouTube video “NC Female Christian Hip-Hop Cypher #NCFemaleCypher.” Right: Media photo from coolioworld.com.

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