Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Between the Lines: Shaka Senghor

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Shaka Senghor

Shaka Senghor

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,220,300 adults are incarcerated in federal and state prisons. In 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections reported a prison population of 43,704. The United States has the largest prison population in the world. And our recidivism rate is around 70 percent. “That’s another way of saying our prison system is failing 70 percent of the time,” saysShaka Senghor.

Senghor served 19 years in Michigan prisons for second-degree murder and wroteWriting My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison about that experience. Today, he's not only a New York Times bestselling author, he's also working for criminal justice system reform. Senghor speaks across the country at schools and universities about his experience. His TED talks about criminal justice reform have been viewed more than a million times and have been featured as one of the most powerful TED Talks of 2014.

Senghor works with a national bipartisan initiative called #cut50 to cut the nation's prison population in half by 2025. Oprah Winfrey has referred to her interview with Senghor as “One of the best I’ve ever had — not just in my career, but in my life…His story touched my soul.”

Senghor says, “I wanted to write this book so that people can experience what it is like inside our prisons without having to be arrested.”
Senghor grew up in Detroit, suffering at the hands of an abusive mother who herself was abused as a child. He adored his father, but he left when the marriage fell apart — twice. Unable to bear the brokenness of his family and the abuse, Senghor ran away as a young teen, living on the streets.
“I was around 13, 14, when I first entered the drug culture,” Senghor says. “I experienced everything that comes with that — (a) childhood friend being murdered, being robbed at gunpoint, being beaten nearly to death, and eventually, at the age of 17, I was shot multiple times while standing on the corner of my block.”
What Senghor didn’t realize at the time was that ...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Plan on learning: Interns learn through experience

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
March 3, 2016

Interns at work in downtown Kalamazoo

That moment always comes, when the event planner must pull his or her hair out. 

Deb Droppers, instructor in the WMU School of Public Affairs and Administration, guarantees it. In her role as head of Kalamazoo’s Experiential Learning Center, or KELC, it is one of the many lessons she lets her interns learn the hard way—on their own, fistfuls of hair in hand, just before they get to work fixing the problem. 

“Oh, I love to tear my hair out,” says Droppers, with a chuckle. She earned a master’s of public administration from Western Michigan University in 1981. “I’ve been doing it since 1995, when I started The Event Company, and it was based on providing interns opportunities to plan events. Back then, we called them party planners. Today, it’s much more about business management.”

When she began her company, she operated out of her living room, forever apologizing to the students milling about in her house, helping her organize hundreds of events. The students didn’t mind. Her husband finally did. He offered to buy his wife a building to house her business.

Now located in the heart of activity in downtown Kalamazoo, KELC offers internships to juniors or seniors majoring in event management, communications, marketing, public relations, graphic design, or similar field of student study.

“From start to finish, the center has been student-led, managed and implemented,” Droppers says.

The center was an important opportunity to practice what is preached in the classroom. They’ve got the book knowledge. Now they’re putting it to use.”

Becca Shemberger graduated from WMU in 2015 with a degree in public relations, and she is grateful to Droppers and KELC for giving her the edge that helped her land her job as an engineering recruiter.

“Deb gives you direction, but then lets you do the work,” Shemberger says. 

One of her projects as an intern was to ...


This story was originally published in the Western Michigan University Magazine.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Between the Lines: Memories of the Revolution

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Holly Hughes

Women who performed at the WOW Café Theater on New York City's Lower East Side sometimes called themselves the "Uncooperative Cooperative." Holly Hughes was one of those women. She's said more than once that WOW saved her life.

WOW, or Women’s One World, is a feminist theater space that started in the early 1980's. It was, and still is, a place where many gay women like Hughes found both themselves and their art. WOW became the safe place where they could be who they are without judgment or persecution. At WOW, women who had long felt themselves to be on the margins of society could express themselves as rebels while developing lasting bonds of friendship and support. Their "uncooperative" selves found cooperation in each other.
Hughes is a contributing editor to Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater (co-edited by Carmelita Tropicana and Jill Dolan). The book, published by the University of Michigan Press in 2015, is a collection of memories, play scripts, and photographs of WOW’s first decade.
“I was in New York for a couple of years before I found my way to the WOW Café,” says Hughes. “I saw a poster for a double X-rated Christmas party for women. I thought, 'wow, this looks fun and weird in a good way.' I went to the party and kind of never left.”
What Hughes found was a group of women creating outrageous work for the stage.
“WOW was so warm and welcoming,” she says. “It was my sorority. They were breaking the rules. I was looking for that kind of sense of community. Particularly a feminist sort of community.”
WOW was different than other theater groups in that no play was censored and no auditions were required. Any play got to the stage. Whatever members wrote was performed, no questions asked.
“The idea that was implicit in this was that people get better by doing the work,” Hughes says.
Hughes found that having that kind of acceptance fostered a daring creativity. While she had expected to work back stage, the Café was too small — “I think maybe it was 12 feet across,” Hughes says — to have a back stage. Instead, she found herself performing and writing plays of her own. She found that she liked it.
“When I say now that WOW saved my life — I ...