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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Random Act of Kindness

During the holiday season in Central New York people in every community rally together to help bring Christmas to those less fortunate. In Utica/New Hartford there are multiple toy drives and annual charities like 'Stuff The Bus' and 'Operation Sunshine' that have helped hundreds of people. But every year people get lost, families slip through the cracks and spend their Christmas morning without adequate food, presents and sometimes, even a warm place.

The reasons don't matter; when there are children involved fault or bad parenting isn't the issue. In a world where 'Santa' awards those that are 'Good' and gives nothing to the 'Bad' kids; an empty Christmas can be damning to an innocent childs self esteem.

Imagine the simple thoughts that go through a poor childs mind in the county building waiting with Grandma or Mom in one of the long lines watching other kids playing, with gadgets and poking at tablets that Santa brought them for Christmas. Imagine what they are thinking when they get back to school and the inevitable 'what did Santa bring you'? conversation comes up. In the back of their minds a self loathing develops, they might even lie to feel better, to temporarily fit in. The seeds of discontent and misunderstanding firmly planted, growing into frustration at a world they have just been born into.

What happens to those people? We ask. "They often end up here" shared Dale Lintz, Food Service Director at Utica's Rescue Mission.

The Rescue Mission is one of the only places in Utica people in need of a warm meal can get one with no questions asked. A place where the needy gather in larger numbers during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We have families come in cold and wet....Children" Lintz explained. He paused in thought "I mean, you can tell sometimes things may be pretty bad for some people"he added.

A single Grandmother and four of her Grandchildren were recently going through that type of 'pretty bad'. The Grandmother (name unimportant) had just had four of her Grandchildren from Syracuse (N.Y.) abandoned to her. She herself had no power in her small one bedroom apartment. The kids were left with no food or change of clothes. The mother, overwhelmed with her own personal demons, inexplicably went back to Syracuse

"The kids were dropped off a couple of days before Christmas". Dale explained. "At first I didn't really pay them any special attention, I mean we feed a lot of people". Dale was refering to the kitchen at The Rescue Mission. The Grandmother brought the kids because she had no food to feed them; even if she did, there was no power to cook it.

The Rescue Mission is primarily run by volunteers and one of them , Zonia Lucas, knew the Grandmother. Seeing her in the dining room she greeted her with surprise and joy, a joy that was quickly extinguished when she realized the dire situation she and the kids were in. "I was like, 'Oh Lord, we got to do something' I couldn't believe what I was hearing" . Lucas was immediately touched by her friends plight and her first thought, after a solemn prayer, was to tell Dale.

"Well the night of the 23rd Zonia explained how bad things were for her and the kids....all I could think about was helping them"

Dale didn't waste any time, before he even left work he went to Social Media and shared the story on his FaceBook home page. What happened next is nothing short of amazing, outstanding, incredible and Angelic.

"I'm kinda involved in my Church" Dale humbly admitted. "To be honest, I just give all Glory to God for everything in my life" he added.

The response to Dale's post was immediate. His friends on FaceBook took to the streets. Gift Cards toys and money started arriving at The Rescue Mission. Keep in mind, he posted the day before Christmas Eve.

By Christmas Eve there were so many toys, he needed the Rescue Mission Van to get them delivered. But there was still a problem. The kids had no power. Honestly, what good is a bunch of toys when the kids don't have a mother,clothes, food, or a warm place to stay?

"This was an emergency; I honestly didn't know at first how bad it actually was". Dale just posted about a lack of toys for some needy kids. Zonia left out the gritty details of their abandonment.

When he tried to make delivery Dale discovered they had no power and The Grandmother had sought help at The County Building; all four, wet, cold snotty nosed kids in tow. "Here we are Christmas Eve, we got all these toys, but no power" Lintz's faith has put him in a mental place where he doesn't dwell on problems but lives in solutions. He let his fingers do the walking and got on his phone.

Dale called a local Hotel inquired on rates and availability and booked these total strangers a room. "I discovered the Grandmother received a grant but the power would not be on till 12/31 so I used my Credit Card.

The next person he called was Cecil Morris Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Prospect. "When I heard the passion in Dale's voice I couldn't let it go, God moved in his heart to help so I pledged the Church to reimburse him for the room rental".

So at the last minute, these four kids and an overwhelmed Grandmother with nothing to look forward to were swept up in a wave of love and compassion. They received over a thousand dollars worth of gifts, gift cards clothes and food. But one thing that they got you can't put a dollar sign on for value; its a priceless commodity and sometimes it seems to be in short supply. If we all shared it the world would be a much better place.

It's called Love.

Unconditional Love.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thick Blue Line



Law enforcement has been a controversial topic lately. The enforcement of laws, methods applied and outcomes from those methods has been the subject of lively public debate.

People in and around Utica have not ignored the subject. The entire community in Utica is well aware of the two most publicized cases where it appears members of law enforcement were given free reign over the well-being (lives) of Black American citizens. Even Students at Hamilton College in Clinton demonstrated, taking part in an international 'hands up don't shoot' movement.

Along with the demonstrations a large number of hand held phone and police dashcam videos have been posted on social media, exposing a pattern of abuse and indifference among many different officers and departments nationwide. Things seemed bad enough for the President to weigh in, suggesting officers wear body cameras to accurately catalog their behavior toward the people they are sworn to serve and protect.

It does not take an expert to note the cultural consistency in the most deadly encounters. Often times the officers are White and the victims are Black. The contact is usually initiated by some petty offense like seatbelt, innadequate license plate light or walking in the street.

Sound Familiar?

Many Black Uticans have historically avoided contact with law enforcement for obvious reasons, a healthy distrust, and in some cases, fear, of what could happen if they let the police into their homes and or personal lives. Fears that have been validated by past actions of law enforcement. Imagine calling for help and getting a hard time instead. For some officers it is difficult to see some people as innocent victims.

We don't have to look to far back for examples that helped feed the distrust and fear. April 12, 2007 City Of Utica Police Officer Thomas Lindsey was gunned down. The search for evidence and a suspect was frantic; the Chief at the time (Pylman) conveniently and incorrectly blamed the crime on a black male in a hoodie. Law Enforcement swooped in on Cornhill like an occupying army. A big complaint was the treatment of the people within the neighborhood (99.9% innocent of said crime). Unfortunately many were treated like criminals.

People remember these interactions and those memories play a part in everyday decisions. Familiar faces and people with an understanding of our cultural nuances can help alleviate those, very real fears and help solve crimes. That’s exactly why many people feel Utica needs, more Black and Hispanic police officers.

This obviously is not just a Utica problem, nationwide minorities are less likely to work in law enforcement even when they are the majority of the (urban) population. A 2007 survey by Bureau of Justice reveals some telling statistics. One out of four officers nationwide is a member of a racial or ethnic group. For larger cities it jumps to about 30%; but for small cities like Utica the disparity is larger. There are many theories that could explain this phenomenon. On a micro-level: a change in the unique 'culture' of individual departments with challenges recruiting would be a start.

It should be understood that Black folks do not ridicule each other for seeking jobs like police officer, that is a myth. The people that have those goals are not on the corner talking about it, they are usually active in pursuit of their goals. They usually participate in sports, do their schoolwork and prepare themselves the best way they can to achieve their goals. Quietly looking for ways to increase their chances; they start by staying out of trouble.

The City of Utica Police Department put posters up at all the corner stores in Utica's 'inner city', announcing the upcoming Civil Service exam necessary for entry to the academy. Recently a Black American recruit from Utica, Wesley Jackson, took the test and passed.

Before anyone could celebrate, he was forced (coerced) to resign one week before his graduation from the Academy.

The story was leaked to The OD and the subject of the article, written by Rocco LaDuca, was how difficult it is to find qualified minority candidates within the City of Utica.

A narrative was developed that would supposedly provide a temporary excuse for the small number of Black officers. It is a narrative that insinuates the integrity required for anyone who desires a career in law enforcement is in short supply within the minority community of Utica.

During a sit-down interview last week Jackson explained his experience. "Basically, he (Chief Williams) called me in the office and asked me to sit down." Gathering his thoughts, Jackson continued. "He told me I was the subject of two Internal Affairs investigations over the last five months and my activities off the clock had come into question."

Jackson explained he was in the final week of a 26 week training course. He was in good standing and had everything worked out he would be on the streets right now.

When contacted, Chief Williams was open and candid regarding Wesley's termination. But he also explained that he was unable to talk about the specifics of the Internal Affairs investigation (the reason for his dismissal).

"He can say all he wants about it...I can't," Williams said.

Dancyscorner asked Chief Williams if it was routine for a candidate to be investigated by Internal Affairs before hitting the streets, after all, he had passed all the necessary physicals and civil service examinations.

"No, it’s not," he said.

But Wesley’s case is different. His father, Ray Jackson, Sr., has an active lawsuit against The City of Utica Police Department and,we all know this should not matter but, he is also Black.

"It might have been the lawsuit. I honestly thought they hired me thinking my dad would drop it," Wesley thought aloud searching for reasons. "My sister, who passed away two years ago, has an old boyfriend who they thought I talked to."

When asked, "what is so important about him?" Jackson replied, "They were looking for him and since he is still at large they thought I was passing on information."

So the story gets stranger. A shadowy figure that law enforcement is looking for was tied to Jackson due to his relationship with his deceased sister. Wesley emphasized his innocence and steadfastly denies any relations with 'undesirables.'

But for him to even think they hired him because he was anything but qualified speaks to the dire reality. The collective self-esteem and trust of the Black community is at an all-time low. The establishment, right wing, 'Obama Backlash' (knee-jerk negativity for all things Black) has hurt Black communities all over the nation.

"They also said a lot of the guys (current cops) don't want me (on the force) and don't think I deserve to be there" Jackson added.

Jackson would have been the seventh officer among the 163 active. That’s a whopping 4% of the force. It would be foolish to assume every member of the department would welcome him with open arms but to look for reasons to get rid of him before he even starts is hard to overcome for anyone regardless of race.

The active Black officers have not been quoted for this article on purpose. They have Sworn to work within and for a system that has historically made life difficult for men just like them. They have successfully straddled the line of decency and have enforced the law with fairness and equity, like the majority of their White brethren and sisters.

Dancyscorner would like to Highlight and celebrate the valuable trust within the professional ranks that they have earned.

The leadership within law enforcement is concerned with crime. It is their first priority, however they are not proud of the lack of diversity. They would like to think everyone is welcome to join 'The Boys in Blue'.



Friday, November 28, 2014

The DEV : A Utica Alternative

With the closing(death) of The Electric Company on Varick St in 2012, Utica lost one of the few bars in Utica solely dedicated to music.

Its obvious that all over Utica we have multiple choices if you just want to catch a game and have a few wings and beers. But if you want microbrews, 'down to earth' bartenders and a local band that is not playing Huey Lewis and The News covers you need a place like The DEV.

If you want a place where they will 'never' have a game on television you need a place like The DEV. A place where the lunch special is Chili one day and a Rueben the next. An eclectic atmosphere enhanced with the lively visual art of local legend Tony Thompson.

Located at 41 Devereaux St in Downtown Utica The DEV is able to double as a luncheon spot for the stable crowd at the county and state buildings during the day and then, within a few hours, transform into a nightclub for the growing number of 'hipsters' that call Utica home at night.

The sound system is always playing, either its a live band or a selection from the vast library of co-owner Tim Schram. It is possible to hear Portishead and The Grateful Dead in sequence, Smokey Robinson and The RZA within one visit.

They also feature the work of local artists on their walls. "They (the artists) actually sell most of the work they hang..." boasted server Rosie Swett.

The Owners, father and son team, Bill (Dad) and Tim Schram have discussed the reality of owning a bar for over ten years."Over the occasional six pack, my dad and I used to actually talk about 'a bar' when he retired, that was years ago" Tim reminisced.

Fast forward a few years, Bill is now retired and Tim has nurtured a successful career in graphic design (freelancing contracts for creative agencies in NYC). Tim and Bill found themselves in a unique position to pursue their dream.

"We opened in 2013 , there wasn't a lot of fanfare" Tim explained. "The first few months we operated without a liquor license just doing lunch" he said.

They got their liquor license almost year to the day of Electric Company closing. It would mark the end of a long drought in Utica nightlife. A place dedicated to local arts and music, with all fairness to the Tram, that serves beer.

"We don't just do the microbrews, we carry domestic brands to" explained 'down to earth' bartender Kayla Mcmahon during break in the afternoon shift.

The General Manager, old friend and local Chef Daniel Walter, has been with The DEV from day one. He and Tim have tinkered with the menu and format settling in on a regular weekly schedule featuring different DJ's and themes throughout the week. One of them : Video Game Night is a nineties gamer's paradise. "we have a sign-up sheet where you can play Mariocart or some other old school game" Walter explained. 'White Noise Wednesday' and Soul Saturday with DJ Thomas D round out the regular schedule. Kayla herself is featured in a regularly performing act aptly named, 'Kayla and The Tellers'.

The musical line-up varies. "We like all music, everyone is welcome...I mean, there is stuff we havn't booked yet" Tim explained perhaps noting the lack of country and western acts on his line-up.

The line-up features original acts from as far away as Dublin Ireland. " We like original music, bands that write their own tunes " Tim specified. The 'Original Act' philosophy attracts a lot of bands that would have a hard time getting on stage if it wasn't for The DEV.

The Varick St. venues seem to attract more cover bands than anything else. The Electric Company left a creative crater in the local music scene when it closed.

A lot of emerging styles and ideas in music and life are played out on stage and Utica is not always the place for original expression. There has never been a shortage of cover bands willing to play it safe by strumming rock standards everyone can sing along to.

But maybe thats all about to change. Maybe The DEV is the launch pad; the start of something big. Bands that regularly grace the stage like Comfy, or Kayla and The Tellers could easily break out.

Check out the weekly line-up

Utica (The DEV).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

AJ Foster: Honing His Craft

Some people feel 'right at home' on stage, performing. It does not matter what type; singing, dancing, drama or comedy. There are people who are soo good its hard to imagine they have to do anything else to make a living.

Utica has a Comedian like that. The type of performer you can't imagine doing anything else. A young man from The Bronx New York that first called Utica home (2006) as a student at SUNY IT.

"When I first moved here it wasn't like I came to do comedy" he revealed during a telephone conversation. "I actually got into some campus events such as contests and competitions" he added.

He was chosen for MTV's Yo Mamma and ended up in The Semi-Finals. "We taped over the summer so I didn't get to see myself until November". It was AJ's first ever performance unless you count the sixth grade play.

"My classmates (at SUNY) were like you should just jump right in" when giving comedy career advice. But AJ stayed the course. "I always wanted to do this" he explained. "But getting my degree was my number one priority" he soberly admitted.

AJ did just that, he earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems from SUNY IT and immediately went to work; both on his comedy and his chosen trade.

AJ takes failure personal, to heart, one can be sure his professional accomplishments rival his artistic success. One of the things that seperate AJ from his contemporaries is his preparation. He is meticulous about his act and has racked up multiple competition victories in a short amount of time.

"Its weird, I mean, when AJ's on stage its like your laughing before he even says anything" offered Phil Farda, local producer from up and coming Comedy Central New York.

"I watch the greats in this business" AJ said sounding more like a student than seasoned pro."I'm always working on my craft, I always try to see what is 'behind' the laugh, why people react the way they do" he added. "But I credit my parents for my work ethic, they are both hardworking people and thats what I know"

There is a balance between proper preparation, a meticulous act and the ability enjoy the process. "There was time I was rather hard on myself, it took away from the experience" he admitted "But I gave myself a break"

Most recently AJ opened for legendary David Alan Grier from "In Living Color" at Foxwoods Casino where he also came in Second For The Last Comic Standing Competition.

"That was great he paid attention to my act. He said : 'when Im in the old folks home and yer on teevee, I'll tell everybody I knew that kid' that was pretty cool".

Many people feel the same way. AJ's rapid ascent is exciting to watch and everyone involved in the Comedy Business in The Northeast knows his name. He is one of the busiest people I know...Period

If you have not had the chance to see him yet-get with it- he will be at Hotel Utica on Dec 16th and at The Syracuse Funny Bone with Jesse Mae Peluso from MTV's girl code on Thanksgiving Weekend. In The Meantime Check out AJ Foster on his website for any updates.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Popeye's : I sold Out For Free Chicken.

Popeye’s  Explodes Onto Oneida Square
In most cities it is not a big deal when a new fast food restaurant opens. In the history of Fast Food, thousands of new restaurants have opened; hundreds every year. Bunting, parades and ribbon cutting ceremonies are usually not part of the deal. It’s a Grand Opening, informal gatherings of new customers is expected but what happened on October 9th was a surprise.
 So why were hundreds, some say, thousands of Uticans lined up for fifty minutes per wait to get a taste of The newly opened Popeye’s Louisiana Style Fried Chicken. October 9th 2014 will go down in history for the sheer number of people that showed up to get a taste of the popular fast food chain. A steady crowd in the hundreds jammed into the northwest side of Oneida Sq. From the size and duration of the crowd rush one would think:
A. The Chicken is free
B. They are giving away Chicken
C. You Don’t have to pay
D. All of The above
I grew up with Popeye’s Church’s and KFC. A Grand Opening is just that,  A Grand Opening, its only a big deal to the owner who wants to make bucket-loads of cash. The Ownership of this Restaurant, The Parikh Network have over ninety stores. They come to town equipped with a proven formula and definitely did their due diligence in regards to market research for the Utica area. It showed. Someone probably  got a promotion and our (income gap) economy chugs along. 

Any of the many reasons people waited fifty minutes is a testament to one of the ‘social nuances’ that resonates in Utica; the notion that there is an ‘outside world’ with things we really crave. Utica craves Chicken. Let me be clear; “Chicken from Popeye’s”. Can I say it clearer?  Uticans Crave Chicken From Popeye’s. Incredible.
 The location at 326 Genesee St. used to be the Utica home of KFC (RIP) and then it was briefly ‘turned out’ into a Crown Chicken where the bathroom never worked. So, basically,  we know all about chicken joints.
But Oct 9th was special ;when I first arrived I saw local business owner Roger Palek Jr. standing in front of his business directly across the street watching the crowd. “how was the food”, I asked. His one word reply said it all: “BANGIN”
With that I made my way across the crowded street to touch base with the ‘Grand Opening’ crew led by Dwayne Hayes. Dwayne along with colleagues David Damato and Sterling Schraugen are boots on the ground reps for The Parikh Network responsible for new locations. Snaking through traffic to get to them, I had to note the number of cars, coming from both directions, packed into the middle of Genessee St. waiting to make a left and right turn into the drive-thru. It wouldn’t have hurt to have some cops directing traffic, there were enough people for it to get out of hand, just in case they ran out of chicken.
“No Chance of That” Dwayne assured me. The festive atmosphere was punctuated by a fast moving, efficient crew of teenage Uticans. Some on their first jobs. It was nice to see familiar faces in line ordering up Cajun style rice and spicy chicken.  People leaving with (sometimes three) gigantic bags of food. I was actually trying to do quick math with regard to the volume of chicken soda ect.; I surmise they fed a third of Utica. I won’t bore you with my unscientific methods, trust me on this.
After a quick chat I was treated to a sample from the menu. It tasted as good as it always did, in Chicago, before I moved to Utica I ate Popeye’s all the time. I had no idea that I missed it until I had some of the Cajun Rice….One Word…. ’BANGIN’
So don’t fret they won’t run out and they are open daily from ten thirty to eleven . 
nomy chugs along.
Any of the many reasons people waited fifty minutes is a testament to one of the ‘social nuances’ that resonates in Utica; the notion that there is an ‘outside world’ with things we really crave. Utica craves Chicken. Let me be clear; “Chicken from Popeye’s”. Can I say it clearer?  Uticans Crave Chicken From Popeye’s. Incredible.
 The location at 326 Genesee St. used to be the Utica home of KFC (RIP) and then it was briefly ‘turned out’ into a Crown Chicken where the bathroom never worked. So, basically,  we know all about chicken joints.
But Oct 9th was special ;when I first arrived I saw local business owner Roger Palek Jr. standing in front of his business directly across the street watching the crowd. “how was the food”, I asked. His one word reply said it all: “BANGIN”
With that I made my way across the crowded street to touch base with the ‘Grand Opening’ crew led by Dwayne Hayes. Dwayne along with colleagues David Damato and Sterling Schraugen are boots on the ground reps for The Parikh Network responsible for new locations. Snaking through traffic to get to them, I had to note the number of cars, coming from both directions, packed into the middle of Genessee St. waiting to make a left and right turn into the drive-thru. It wouldn’t have hurt to have some cops directing traffic, there were enough people for it to get out of hand, just in case they ran out of chicken.
“No Chance of That” Dwayne assured me. The festive atmosphere was punctuated by a fast moving, efficient crew of teenage Uticans. Some on their first jobs. It was nice to see familiar faces in line ordering up Cajun style rice and spicy chicken.  People leaving with (sometimes three) gigantic bags of food. I was actually trying to do quick math with regard to the volume of chicken soda ect.; I surmise they fed a third of Utica. I won’t bore you with my unscientific methods, trust me on this.
After a quick chat I was treated to a sample from the menu. It tasted as good as it always did, in Chicago, before I moved to Utica I ate Popeye’s all the time. I had no idea that I missed it until I had some of the Cajun Rice….One Word…. ’BANGIN’
So don’t fret they won’t run out and they are open daily from ten thirty to eleven . 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

White (Airwaves) Noise

How does a long struggling, underserved, marginalized group of people without financial or political clout get anything done in a city made up of 'haves' and 'have-nots'? People who have been maligned and unfairly targeted since they started appearing in sizable numbers sixty years ago. The former enjoying a privileged wealth of opportunity since they bought Manhattan with bright-beads and glass.

The type of People who came in search of work and a new life. But even then, back in the forties, newspaper articles were written depicting the shiftless negroes as nothing more than a parasitic group of people. Who drink all night and sleep all day. Wholesale descriptions that could not have been further from the truth. Descriptions that made life harder for those trying to carve a path.

You could insert any number of ethnic groups into the question but the answers for each seem to have varying degrees. With the long struggling African American community any type of significant collective power seems to be perpetually out grasp.

Negative Articles like the one I read have dominated the landscape ever since, and to look back in the archive through Books like Ethnic Utica (edited by James S. Pula) it does nothing but highlight the importance of A Black Voice in media, whether its print, radio or television, male or female, old or young does not matter. We need and deserve a voice in Mohawk Valley's mainstream media.

Its of no consequence that I am perfectly qualified to do the job and have already tested my skills on WHCL, I  had a loyal following of ten or so die hard fans and the students thought I was Denzel Washington so yeah, I'm ready to fill that role.
There are also a few eager white males ready to add a progressive voice to crowded conservative atmosphere. I guarantee any show that offers an alternative will be like a breath of fresh air for advertisers and businesses alike.
What is needed is good ol' opportunity. I have been on Talk Of The Town twice, each time raising the standard with passion and eloquence; but why go on for free five times a week when they get paid?
That's kinda insulting, invite me down to make your show better and encourage me to come down as much as possible...good idea if I could make some know?

Maybe its not me but it should be somebody. Keeler (middle-aged, center right, white dude) has enjoyed market share with Talk of The Town for a couple years now. Fact, both shows are interchangeable and Piersma's history with Keeler make it even more nepotistic and kinda weird. Its like a spin-off radio show.With Frank Elias to ad maturity and brevity

 You know they know all the same people in advertising and the tight circle of media becomes a noose for anyone trying to break-in that doesn't fit in at a Tea Party rally.

This is important to me; I sense a glaring hole of perception that blinds these guys from common sense when it comes to The Black Community. They fly off about Al Sharpton just short of appointing him our official spokesperson for the Black Community (insulting). Shaking their heads in a whiny tone asking 'What is wrong'?...why can't they just  get it together'?


Because right after your show some guy in HR, who also wonders why 'they can't get it together' just put Trayvon's resume at The bottom of the pile. The fact is we need to have a say, let us tell the story ever once in a while. We will stick to the truth and do our due diligence, but we will avoid adding a menacing tone were none should exist or fear when it isn't scary.
I would have been all over Bucky Philips when that broke, but hey, hes a folk hero right?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson is just a Reminder

            When I  heard about about the events in Ferguson Missouri regarding the shooting of an unarmed (Black)  teenager by a cop I don't even think I blinked twice. I know for a fact I didn't stop what I was doing and take a knee (ala Tebow). I didn't change any of my plans for the day and saw no changes for the near future. With all the guns, mass murders and school shootings I'm a bit jaded, desensitized to the daily ins and outs of  'American Murder Stories'.
But I am Human.
I feel a perpetual dread regarding our current justice system and its scripted role in Urban America. The past few years I have documented a growing disregard for personal freedom and a willingness on our part to accept these intrusions as normal. I see victims lying in the street, or military Police as the final result of these sinister preparations.
So yeah , my initial reaction was barely palpable but as the story developed a theme began to develop.
My Facebook timeline started updating me on the latest events. The Police decided to up the ante on this downtrodden, grieving community, show the uppity ones who's boss.
Visible signs of power. Armored troop carriers on an overpass.The provocative behavior of The Ferguson  Police Department became the subject ; it wasn't enough to kill an unarmed kid. They also withheld some positive information and leaked other negative tidbits as they saw fit, painting a sinister picture of, up until the afternoon of August 9th, an average eighteen yr old. Sorry, pot smoking fits in with the description of average.
Raise your hand if this reminds you of another unarmed kid who was killed. A kid that slipped under the radar avoiding the attention of law enforcement until finally, in a hail of bullets he was shot, in the head...and the back. This is front of multiple witnesses, but hey, they are black.
The thing is , those tactics would have worked if it wasn't for the provocateurs in the crowd. To me, A "Radical", they deserved to be attacked for coming to a peaceful march , mourning a death, with tanks. It was a litmus, a way to measure the resolve of a community.
How much they'll put up with. 
A, boots on the ground model for response in many different scenarios. It seemed each tactical unit approached Ferguson as an opportunity to use all this brand spanking new equipment they received from the feds.
It started to look like a Federal disaster training exercise.
All this for Michael Brown? No , this was to protect a system, a growing industry of oppression. A fight we will all, Black and White, lose as long as the 'wealthy media elite' keep the argument limited to race.
It became a Race Riot, the fight for justice loss. The Fight for a kid killed lost its resonance with MSNBC, playing clips of dudes fighting in the parking lot and other outlets quoting provocative racists like Kevin Szorbo. 
We all forget.
For a second it seemed all eyes in the world were on Ferguson. The place where an unarmed teenage boy was killed by a well armed police officer. A place where there are no 'alternatives' beyond the gun. Its like a lot of places in America. 
Does anyone even remember Walt Washington?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Come Into Jamaica : Serving Up Authenticity

Come Into Jamaica Serves Up Authenticity

Some things in life seem meant to be. Like a beautiful sunrise/sunset, the laughter of children on a summer day. Reverend Skates admonishing excellence for anyone within five square blocks of Johnson Park. And, of course, Jamaican Cousine in Utica New York. Lip smacking, plate licking Jamaican Food. The type of place you tell (brag, since found it first) your friends about. A place, if allowed to feed the world, would put a smile on every man woman and child's face.

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating the importance of really good and covenient food but no one in the immediate neighborhood or anywhere else will complain about life after walking down the street and trying a out a few of the mouth watering dishes they have to offer. The humble Uticans on that block are Lucky People.

Come into Jamaica, aptly named, is centrally located at 1224 Stueben St. , one block south of Eagle in Utica has been open nearly a month. The Ambassadors of Jamaican Soul Food have already caught the attention of hungry, well informed Uticans and a few suburbanites as well. They serve a variety of dishes starting with Breakfast at 9a.m. monday thru Saturday till closing at 11p.m.

The Head Chef, known only as Courtney and his partner Fernel , have already been involved in two popular eateries (Island Breeze I & II) but unfortunately they didnt last. The fact they built a following was not lost on them. It was a matter of timing and opportunity, a perfect unity of those two elements for this current venture to materialize.

"We had to branch out" explained Fernel "We wanted to do things our way" Doing it 'our way' included gutting the old space and completely remodelling it.

People in the neighborhood, including myself (used to live in the vicinity) were curious what was going on. Dudes working non-stop. Not the encroaching mobs of suburbanites that build houses in our neighborhoods but don't employ anyone, no, these were young Black men with tape measures, tool belts and ladders. I saw Courtney covered in paint and drywall. Lets just say; word got around it was 'the cook from Island breeze' and a 'Buzz" was officially created.

A week before they opened I stopped in and chatted. "I can't wait" exclaimed Courtney "My own Kitchen, my own spot". "Ya'll gonna have Brown Stew"? I asked, rhetorically "Just The Way Barry Max Likes it" he said referring to my son's Love for all things Brown Stew. At both of the Island Breeze spots Barry Max liked them so much he had the nickname Brown Stew for a while. I must admit the excitement is contagious Courtney had me running home to my wifey to tell her.

Hard Work Pays Off

The amount of work put into the once grey, weathered space is impressive. The Facade is now Green with Yellow trim and the large front window has a bright Come Into Jamaica Logo so you can't miss it.

The space at 1224 had been home to several businesses before sitting empty for a few years. Directly across the street are fairly new single family homes, in fact, the neighborhood at Stueben and James has turned the corner against the type of urban blight that has crept into other parts of Utica.

The new business seems perfectly suited for the location and definitely adds color, life, and vibrancy to a once dead corner; the rythm of reggae music, the delicious smells of curry, jerk chicken and other mouth watering dishes provide much needed culture. The new owners had been trying to find a perfect location for roughly two years; and the building perfectly located on the corner, just needed a little fixing up(total understatement). It seems meant to be.

Unique Dishes

Here are a few unique offerings worth listing.

Callaloo- Also known as Jamaican Greens it is a mixture of Collared Greens and Cod. It has a unique texture and any fan of Greens will enjoy. Courtney and Fernel made it clear there are various other ingredients they say must be identified by the discerning palate.

Cornmeal Porridge- A breakfast dish very similiar to Cream of Wheat. "We add cinnamon brown know" Fernel explained.

They were kind enough to offer me a sample platter to re-familiarize myself when I came to interview them. I felt compelled to list these dishes.

My Favorites

They all come with choice of white rice, rice and beans and stir fry cabbage

Brown Stew Chicken/Beef

Pepper Steak


Curry Goat/Chicken

I ran out of I came back the next day.

When you come.

Tell Em' Dave The Meatman Sent you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rolling With The Citizens Express

It is very rare for the average citizen to get a chance to see their elected officials at work. On television we watch them pontificate on stage, wag their fingers and make huge promises to the people for their vote. That doesn't translate much; we rarely take them seriously and what they actually do is a mystery to most of us.
The few of us that get access or come close to an understanding of politics are usually involved in extracurricular cause that they feel passionately about. Sometimes getting a close-up just a circumstantial result of said officials job, reaching out to 'the people'. Whatever the case, the closer our elected officials are to constituents the more beholden they are to the constituency's wishes. Or, at the very least, aware.
Awareness was at the heart of the third annual Citizens Express Bus Trip to Albany sponsored by Birnie Bus Co. and Little Fall's David and Chris Van Meter.
The all day event included a tour of The Capitol, lunch with politicians and a live simulcast of the popular local morning show, The Talk of The Town featuring Mark Piersma and Frank Elias.
When I was offered the assignment to tag along and document some of the highlights of the trip, I'll admit, I didn't know what to expect. I knew very little about the popular radio show on 100.7 F.M.. My understanding was limited to a couple of interviews. One featured Editor in Chief of The Utica Phoenix, Cassandra Harris Lockwood, defending herself against allegations of slander and libel brought by The City of Utica Police Department. It was good radio but I felt they were taking a side, so naturally when this trip came up I assumed I would be on the bus with 'The Tea Party'.
Boy, was I wrong.

The Ride

Our scheduled departure was 7:45 from The North Utica Wal-Mart. Birnie Bus provided one of their best coaches for the trip. A wi-fi paradise abuzz with young professionals from Leadership Mohawk Valley. This sharp, young group, all familiar with each other quickly settled into their seats. I couldn't help but notice almost all of them were smiling.
Mark immediately set the pace to mellow making me regret running red lights and risking speeding tickets to get there on time. "Lets leave about eight" he says. "Some people might be a little late". And so we did.
Roughly twenty minutes, good conversation and thirty jokes later we arrived in Herkimer to pick up the second load for Leadership Mohawk Valley's Government Program.
Our third stop was in Amsterdam where we picked up the last group that included retired Executive Assistant, Barbara Tomasik a 45 year veteran of G.E. in Schenectady New York where she has experienced and witnessed a wave of progress/change since she embarked on her long career. She ended up sitting next to me so we chatted about technical and social advances that have altered our world, high security clearance and, of course, what was for lunch
With the bus en route for the final leg of the journey Mark and Frank went about their daily business of talk radio. Jason Aiello, the hands -on producer, checked levels and made sure they had a signal. I barely noticed there was a radio show going on. One of my tactics as a journalist is to appear uninterested and engaged in my latest app so know one knows I am actually paying attention. It didn't work because Birnie Bus wi-fi works great and I 'REALLY' was engaged when I looked up they had conducted two, three, maybe five interviews and according to Frank "Dave we are going to interview you next".
"Uhhhhh....ok" I replied.
I'm not sure exactly what I said but it had a lot to do with potential, growth, green things and overall progress...In Utica. All wrapped up in a liberal progressive package. The main theme of my message was "Grow Green Things....Grow lots of Green Herbs".

The Capitol

We arrived around ten thirty at the main Entrance to the underground concourse that runs the length of the four, symbolic towers that DEFINE our State Government and Albany's skyline. The Four Towers Stand out and upon approach one can glean what the most important business in Albany is, but what that business does, is a mystery.

Frank and Mark corralled all 43 of us to explain the itinerary for the next three plus hours. It was a busy day at the capitol. The Mixed Martial Arts Lobby was there; the Minimum Wage Lobby and The Marines all petitioning our state Government for their particular causes.
If we were lucky we could get a view inside the chamber and possibly a Glimpse of The Governor himself.

We made our way to the agreed upon space where we would be eating lunch. It was a long walk, made interesting by the occasional sighting of a familiar elected official. We spotted a few Assemblymen and Legislators on the way, among them, Claudia Tenney, the 115th District Assembly-Woman and challenger to 22nd District Congressman Richard Hanna. Upon sighting Mark and Frank she greeted us enthusiastically. Gazing from afar I appraised her riding boots and purse, I can't help it, the lady has style.
We continued on our endless journey through the underground concourse, which is a marvel of engineering in itself. One could think of the four towers as a huge skyscraper with its base buried in the ground with only the four towers showing up top, indestructible they will endure ,like our Government, long after we are gone. Four Strong Pillars. One Foundation.

The thought of lunch was on everyone's mind but before we ate we were led to 'The Million Dollar Staircase' for an up close and personal look at Dean Skelos, The Senate Majority leader responsible for slowing up The Medical Marijuana Bill.

After a twenty minute wait, Skelos accompanied by Joseph Griffo (47th District Senator), offered a few obligatory remarks about participation in local government. It is an art to speak important words that lead nowhere, the verbal ambiguity was forgiven, they had our hunger on their side. We did a group Photo and made our way to lunch.


There, waiting for us in The Lunch area, was Rayan Aguam The Director of Communications for Joseph Griffo. He actually provided more detail and insight to what happens in State Government than anyone. While we ate he provided details for what is referred to as The Legislative Season which runs roughly from January to June. The remaining months of the year are spent with constituents or campaigning. He also introduced some of the speakers scheduled to talk to us. Dan Levy a pollster from Sienna College's Research Institute, Marc Butler 118th District Assemblyman, Brian Sampson from Unshackle Upstate (unshackle?) and Anthony Brindisi.

There were a few eyebrow raisers during the speeches, some teaching points that resonate to this day. Dan Levy pointed out the perceived irony in Hydro-Fracking poll results which see a statistical advantage Upstate for Pro-Frackers and a statistical disadvantage the further south you go. There was also the anti-progressive stance of Marc Butler an elected official who shared his thoughts on the SAFE act and the potential for Horizontal Fracking in NYS. "It'll be like raining jobs in a desert" he promised..."at least for the first few months" he amended.

There was a particularly interesting exchange between one of the guests and Brian Sampson who erroneously stated that hydro-fracking has been done safely for the last sixty years in New York State. Wrong, if that was the case we wouldn't be spending millions for all these independent studies and Governor Cuomo would already be Golfing with natural gas big wigs. No, the horizontal fracking, which uses chemicals and water to extract the natural gas is not proven safe in all conditions and has been scrutinized even where its allowed. Sampson, looking like a guy who can take a punch, backed out of an exchange with the guest and sheepishly left the podium. That was definitely a highlight; how dare you try to mislead us, glad we had an expert because it would have worked.
That was what I took away from this trip. To be diligent about my own personal relationship to an issue and let my elected official , regardless of their party affiliation know how I feel.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We Already Know so Talk Amongst Yourselves


   Recently my Significant Other's Mother shared an interesting conversation she had. You see, she had this contractor working in her house upgrading the electrical system. At first he seemed to be a cool guy , capable, knowledgeable but ....a bit temperamental.  At first, their conversations were simple, they exchanged all the regular observations we all share about the weather and the price of gas but they quickly evolved into something strange, yet familiar.

 It took on a bigoted tone.

My SO's Mother is European, she still has a distinct accent. Her opinions on race and class are rooted in the 'fair' but 'unreal' meritocratic ideal. She feels the vitriolic racism that shows itself in our policies and history is an abomination. She embraces other cultures with curiosity and has always been shocked by the honest and open dislike for other cultures that her fellow white peers often share with her here in America and, closer to home, in New York.

Even more peculiar is the source of hatred...the television.

The thing is, he didn't know she has a bi-racial grandson. He didn't know she loves Morgan Freeman. He didn't know she is a World Class Track Athlete. He did , however, know she is white.

 The level of comfort and almost mutual assumption that- 'niggers are this' or 'niggers are that' - or that it is acceptable/appropriate to wax poetic about the alleged stupidity of Black People gives me chills. Its what makes me uncomfortable when I walk into FastTrac or Nice N' Easy out in the sticks. Its what makes me uptight when I'm the only Black guy around and things don't go my way. Its what makes me look stone-faced and clench my lips tight when I make eye contact with white dudes sporting crew cuts.

This is just one awkward conversation. One of many. The awkwardness hit closer to home when the contractor met me. He knows what he said and how vitriolic, insulting and hateful it was. She felt no need to tell him her personal beliefs, why stop him, according to her, he was on a roll.
An equal dose of hatred for gays, blacks and anything else that wasn't white and Christian.
How many times has that same conversation been met with total agreement, ironclad affirmation for what is Good and Proper...American...White.
How many people have been turned away from or not even considered for employment, housing, good service at the restaurant based on choices that these type of people make.
How many of you are okay with it? Say nothing when they yell nigger at the screen when their favorite team loses. Or Bullies a stranger in public.
When I look at whose in jail and for what. The overwhelming numbers of disenfranchised all in the same demographic, society starts to look sinister.
Against me or anyone who can't blend in.
Then cases like Donald Sterling (Clippers Owner) or Cliven Bundy captures the whole Nation's attention. Systemic hostility like the backwards atmosphere at the Nursing Home in Rome with the racist staff and client. The Client who flipped if a Black nurse came near him/her.
The Solution?

Wait For It

                                             'NO COLOREDS'!?!?!?!??!

A sign placed at the main  nursing station to let all the Black American's to stay in their place.
How could a climate of racism exists here in The Mohawk Valley that sees nothing wrong with posting a 'NO COLORED' sign at work? How can any management get that comfortable to think its okay.

I know how this happened. It is a multi-pronged disregard for Black People , our opinions are insignificant and don't matter. If they do, you can't tell.

At least in most instances. A  close friend went through the same thing in a professional environment. Everyone was white and one guy always dropped the n-bomb, making his extracurricular hatred plain to all. She reported him to human resources; he was written up and even better had no idea who did it.
Everyone employed there was white (see the irony?).

 Remember a couple of years ago the  Rome Capitol Theater played a (Super racist film) Birth Of  A Nation against the protests of the NAACP and every other African American in The Mohawk Valley. It was played because of the sheer number of requests to see it. A replaying of The Good Ol' Days for The Good folks of Rome who want 'Their America' back.

Its our America too lets quit making these types of mistakes. Have a little regard for your fellow citizens even though we play a small role around here.
We also need to remember how far we have come and how much closer as a people we REALLY are. There are a lot of Black families with white people in them and many white families with Black people as well.

 In the meantime I refuse to allow myself to dwell on things like this to much. Eye contact with the contractor's shaky psyche was enough. You can glean a lot from smiling while looking in another man's eyes.
Then I said "So, what kind of man are you"?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tired Iron: Forged to Win

 All over America, at least once a year in elementary school the teacher will ask the children in class what they want to be when they grow up. Millions of kids raise their hands and yell out :  "race car driver" or "astronaut","fireman" and even president.
A few of them might already race. They may do mini-bikes or bicycle motor cross. Others, who want to be President of The United States may be running for class president or in the debate club. Same with sports, little league Pop Warner, AYSO. We know everybody "aint gonna make it to the big leagues"
As life goes, we rarely hit the bullseye when it comes to 'childhood dream job'.
Most of us, due to circumstance take advantage of some immediate opportunity that pays the bills; change our minds and ultimately don't come within striking distance of NASA or even class president. But for a few, the childhood dream is an adult reality and they began living it the moment they raised their young hand.
We all have something we do well and under the right circumstances we can hone our talent to a level of perfection that will awe any that behold it. Not all of us never get the discover or take advantage of our god given gifts but sometimes we do and the results can be incredible.
Auto Racing is a competitive sport, it requires discipline, patience, good reflexes and the ability to balance all those attributes with sheer recklessness. An instinctive endeavor with consistent winners and losers.
Pretend you've been at it (racing) twelve years . You are on your fourth season, double mortgage, wife wants you to quit this expensive hobby. What if you looked over in the other lane and saw an eight yr old pass you by?
That's exactly what happened when Claude Hutchings Jr. first got hold of the racing bug.
He was The eight yr old.
In his words "Well my dad had this Slingshot Go-Cart with about sixty horsepower and he just entered me into the race" According to Claude Sr. it wasn't that simple. "I entered The Slingshot and he drove it, we didn't ask, Junior had been driving on our property for four years by then" shrugging his shoulders "he knew how to drive".
Indeed he did, the competition was either to embarrassed or didn't notice The Tired Iron Repair Driver's age, just his consistency.
Junior made history at eight years old, as the youngest driver to get behind the wheel.
He quickly was entered into Junior II Pro Series. He was a younger driver but was not outclassed he placed third in points his first season behind the wheel.
He stayed in The Junior Pro series but still couldn't get enough so Claude Sr. entered him into he 4cyl Super Stock where the little boy became a Man behind the wheel.
Between 2007-2009 Tired Iron Repair driver Claude Hutchings Jr. has wracked up 42 first place wins and three Championships at tracks all over the Northeast.
"Its a Team, our crew Chief Mark Hale, Chief Mechanic Al Laraby and Of course my wife, Carol, we all make it work, those guys have been with us since 2008" revealed  Hutchings Sr.
Last season he entered the team into a regional  multi-race multi-state competition with a very savvy draw. The ROC Race of Champions .. Despite the higher level of competition Claude Jr was the youngest ever to win The First Place Trophy.
A Highlight of his career
"Its getting to the point where people see Junior on the board and its like, 'oh no' I guess where racing for second" Hutchings Sr bragged.
He has a reason to be proud his young son is a Junior at Clark University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and he's entering his 13th yr as a successful Race car Driver.
Tired Iron Repair Saqiout, where they make race car driver's.