Archive for August, 2009

I believe in the runt, the person who, through adversity, comes to make the strongest mark on society. When I look at the fabric of American history, I see some of the strongest voices coming out of my belief in the runt. I am not talking about log cabin fairy tales, but I am talking about the unexpected person rising to the occasion.

Last week I wrote a special commentary on Ted Kennedy. We will revisit the emotion of it today, just for a moment, as an illustrative point. As you expect, I am going to call Teddy the unexpected leader. He rose up and took on challenges; he achieved, even after seemingly burning all his bridges, and moreover, more to the point of this column, he produced and sustained a family.

Let’s talk about that. On Saturday morning, as a spectator along with millions of others, I was introduced to two of the Lion of the Senate’s children. One, who as a young man lost a leg to bone cancer, and the other, challenged by an extreme asthmatic condition which came with it’s own emotional issues. Now these two boys illustrate for me the tapestry of American history which is folded in multiple times like an origami puzzle, with stories of unexpected people bubbling to the forefront. And then I heard a story which talked about what’s needed to empower such people. Teddy Kennedy Jr told the story that I will now paraphrase.

He said: when I was a boy, one weekend Washington DC suffered a snowstorm. His dad asked him to go sledding. He was very apprehensive because he had just received his first artificial leg, and he said “I cannot climb that hill, pop.” his father turned around and gently told him “You can do anything you want to in this world. In fact, I will walk up the hill with you. I don’t care if it takes all day. We’ll do it together…”

Last election cycle, Huntington put an unlikely person in a seat on the city council. Becky Thacker was not born with the support demonstrated by the words above. She has faced her cerebral palsy and the challenges that brings largely on her own. She does not have the common person’s experience in this world, let alone the common experience of a person on the city council. Here is a woman who has faced barriers to things as simple as traversing the sidewalk to as complex as getting a fair and balanced education. She knows what it’s like to decide between medication and food; she has been snubbed in public places and while simultaneously getting patted on the head by overzealous politicians. So no, she does not have the common experience.

What she does bring is years of advocacy for an underrepresented but very large population and a passion for a people and a place called Huntington. She has, in the process of running for office, experienced baffling responses from people who she thought were going to support her, but even with this negativity she continues to work with organizations to try to make this place a better one for all people.

Now, with that said, all people doesn’t just speak to the challenged community. Becky was put into the office of a unique chair: she represents the entire city of Huntington, and because of her life experience it could be said that she is that rare everywoman that rises up to accept the challenge. This challenge may include (and in my mind DOES include) learning the ropes of city government. Now, she is certainly a freshman, and with every freshman delegate there is question of learning curve. Do not underestimate Becky Thacker. Do not label her or count her out too quickly, because for what it’s worth it is not havIng the expectation that leads, I think, a person like Teddy Kennedy or Becky Thacker to say to themselves “you don’t think I can do this? I’ll show you.”


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Boy Giving Birth to a Squid (Self Portrait at nine years old)

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Boy Unfolding


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For those of you that don’t know I work with Marshall University’s H.E.L.P. Program. In this program I work with people with extreme learning challenges and some behavioral issues. All of my students are bright and all are for the most part motivated.

Marshall University’s H.E.L.P Program is one of four like it in the nation. I am very lucky to be a part of a team that makes the whole University stand out nationally. Each time the semester gears up I am reminded of the first time I thumbed through my Marshall promotional material. I did not know then how much this University and Huntington would shape me.

Often times I find that people are negative about the Marshall experience, but for me and for my students it opened many doors that would have remained closed. Yes, I have difficulty with some administrated decisions that Marshall makes but for the most part the strength of the programs as well as the facility in said programs have amazed me.

This semester the Burke art gallery will exhibit work by Stanley Sporny. Stanley Sporny was facility in the college of Art and Design and was an instructor in painting. Stanley died last year on the day that I was run over by a car, he left behind an indelible mark on so many students.

Mr. Sporny left his mark after building an impressive career, which included a Fullbright scholarship and quite a pedigree of instructors he brought this pedigree to Marshall University and past it on through all the years he instructed. To see this showing visit the Burke Art Gallery starting Monday, Aug. 17 and running through Sept. 3, with a reception on the first night from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The Burke Art Gallery is located in Smith Hall on Third Avenue. This week has been full of reflection for me.

I have started painting again so I really can’t get Stan out of my mind, and in remembering Stan I also remember my accident this memory makes me very unsettled.

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Portrait Of A Friend

Painter in action

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