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My travels in Uganda and Rwanda, Africa with Pipeline Worldwide’s Jamie Fox Nollette, Terence Crawford and Co.

August 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Here is my second published story about the Africa trip I made with a group of folks with Omaha ties, including two-time world boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford and his former teacher at Skinner Magnet School, Jamie Fox Nollette. This story in the August-September-October issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) is a more comprehensive, overarching look at that experience than the piece I did for The Reader (www.thereader.com).

At the conclusion of this story is some expanded material explaining the impetus for my going to Africa, namely Terence Crawford, including more insight into him, his motivation for going, his relationship with Nollette, and how he wants to help people there and right back here in his hometown of Omaha, where he makes his home and has his B & B Boxing Academy.

My travels to Uganda and Rwanda, Africa were made possible by the Andy Award grant for international journalism I received from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. My reporting is meant to raise the global awareness of Nebraskans.

 

Our travel group, minus Jamie Fox Nollette, who took this picture outside the Adonai Guest House in Kampala, Uganda

 

 

My travels in Uganda and Rwanda, Africa with Pipeline Worldwide’s Jamie Fox Nollette, Terence Crawford and Co.

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appeaing in Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

 

 

 

Nebraskans connect with Africans on trip
A chronicle of the June 1-12 humanitarian visit The Champ and his ex-teacher made to developing nations

I never imagined my first venture outside the United States would be in Africa. But in June I found myself in the neighboring East African nations of Uganda and Rwanda as the 2015 winner of the Andy Award for international journalism from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

I accompanied a small group under the auspices of Pipeline Worldwide, a charitable organization with strong Omaha ties. The nonprofit supports sustainable clean water projects as well as self-sufficiency programs for vulnerable youth and women.

Pipeline co-founder and executive director Jamie Fox Nollette, an Omaha native, goes three times a year to check progress, assess needs and meet partners. She also raises awareness by bringing folks over and documenting the visits for prospective donors. She’s among scores of Americans, including Nebraskans, serving Third World countries. Though secular, Pipeline partners with faith-based groups. Her passion for serving Africa began with a 2007 church mission trip there.

She was Mother Hen for the trip I made.

Our ranks included a star – two-time world boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford of Omaha – who’s perhaps the most accomplished Neb. athlete in my lifetime.

Despite being a newsmaker, his visits to Uganda and Rwanda last August with Nollette went under the radar. It’s the way he wanted it. He’s low-key, even nonchalant about what he does to broaden his mind, see the world and help his community.

He doesn’t want to be thought of as just a fighter, though.

“I’m a human being just like anyone else,” he said,

You may wonder what compelled this 27 year-old at the top of his game to go, not once but twice, to developing nations beset by poverty, infrastructure gaps and violent legacies when he has the means to go anywhere. Well, it turns out Nollette was his fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha, where they bonded, and they still click today.

He was a hard-headed kid from the streets carrying “a chip on my shoulder.” She was a calming influence at school, where he often acted out, except not in her classroom.

He and Nollette, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, reconnected in 2014. She’d followed his prizefight success from afar and reached out to congratulate him.

“I told him how proud I was of him,” Nollette said.

When he discovered she did work in Africa he asked her to take him to the “motherland” he feels an ancestral draw to.

Traveling there also feeds Crawford’s heart for people less well off than himself, especially children. His generosity’s well-known. Crawford supports Pipeline’s work by bringing attention to it – he’s headlined fundraisers in Omaha and Phoenix – and she supports his B & B Boxing Academy. She’s leading a capital drive to expand the facility so it can serve more youth.

Loyalty is important to him. The coaches and trainers in his Team Crawford camp have been with him for years.

His “trust” in Nollette as someone who’s got his best interests at heart is reciprocated by him having her back.

After learning their shared history, their having gone to Africa and their planning to return, I applied for the grant to fund my Africa travel. That’s how I ended up half way around the world with a boxing star and a humanitarian.

 

A well that Pipelne Worldwide helped make happen in Atiak, Northern Uganda

 

 

Our merry band in far distant lands
However, those two weren’t the whole story. We were a diverse seven-member group all affected by the places we went, the people we met and the stories we heard. The experience stretched us in new directions and offered new perspectives.

Nollette, our laidback leader, encouraged us to appreciate the human dimensions of what we witnessed as active participants,

Crawford, our by turns stoic and silly star, traveled with his girlfriend and the mother of his children, Alindra “Esha” Person.

Person, who’s a match for her man, expressed fears about the trip but proved a real trouper. Like her mate, she has a soft spot for kids and loved on them every chance she got.

Scott Katskee, an international apparel entrepreneur originally from Omaha and now living in L.A.,, is a big, gregarious, inquisitive man with a blend of street smarts and sophistication.

Joseph Sutter, a 2015 Millard West graduate, loved being in the company of his idol, Crawford, whom he played sidekick to.

Julia Brown, a recent Phoenix-area high school grad, didn’t say much but her heart for children shined through.

That left me capturing Africa’s contrasting tableaux. Traveling by mini-bus and land cruiser, we bounced from urban to rural areas and back again, often via heavily rutted dirt roads.

Busy, jam-packed cities gave way to sleepy rural spots. Hours of open plains followed by winding hilly terrain. I’ll never forget the beauty and power of hiking Murchison Falls or the wonder of being on safari and coming up on two lion prides. Roadside shanties sometimes sprawled only a stone’s throw from gated communities and luxury hotels.

Nollette said there’s no substitute for going to remote regions and urban slums “if you really want to see how people live.”

Sights that stick in my mind:

Vendors hawking wares.
Workers tending fields.
Farm animals foraging in front of homes.
Boda boda (motorbike) drivers darting through traffic.

Sounds too:

Roosters waking us in the morning.
Cawing birds.
Children singing, drumming, laughing.
Catholic Mass celebrated in Latin, English and Swahili.

We’re not in Nebraska any longer
As fellow travelers we shared something potent together we won’t soon forget. Our June 1-12 journey was an odyssey for all, even those with extensive international experience. For this virgin globe-trotter it constituted an outside-the-box leap of faith.

Nollete described what the trip demanded and gave.

“These trips are hard, We are all away from home, out of our comfort zones – some way more than others. Not in control, thrown in a group with people we do not really know and usually would not try to get to know. We eat different, sleep less and see some really impactful things we’re not sure what to do with. That creates some dynamic situations. My hope is people come and see some things that are new, feel something different and learn not only about the countries and people but about themselves.

“Being out of control, uncomfortable and in new surroundings can foster growth. That’s not what people sign up for but most people will probably admit they experience some sort of transformation.”

I don’t know yet how I’ve grown from this, except perhaps I’m more patient and tolerant.

It’s important to note I went as an innocent abroad. Going in, I knew little about Uganda and Rwanda and after being there only 10 days I don’t pretend to be an expert. Our itinerary revealed different sides of those nations, but they were just snapshots of complex societies and cultures.

My greatest takeaway from Africa is its immense resources and challenges, which equates to vast unmet potential. As Nollette pointed out, the people want the same things we do but the barriers to entry for Western-standard living are steep. These are developing nations in every sense. Folks trying to improve things there measure progress in small steps that might seem insignificant to us but make a big difference in people’s lives.

On the flight from Amsterdam to Uganda I sat next to medical anthropologist and linguist Anna Eisenstein, a University of Virginia doctoral student doing field work in southwest Uganda. She lives with a village family and as she builds relationships with locals she conducts interviews. Her explanation of her work lent insight into the world I was entering:

“I’m studying the way people think about their bodies, how they think about health care and how they make decisions about when to go to the healer or the herbalist or when to go to the public health system. If they’re going to see a healer their family knows, it looks very different than going to the public hospital. If people are coming out of an encounter with bio-medicine rooted in colonialism then they have a lot of reason not to trust doctors or to take pills or want to be proactive. Also the public health system functions in English, which can be a barrier as well.”

Her comments stuck with me during my stay in Uganda, where vestiges of colonial rule persist.

She also told me what I could expect from the people.

“Everyone I’ve met has been so welcoming and friendly and kind and I hope you’ll find the same. There’s a lot of emphasis on hospitality and on making others feel welcome.”

Indeed, we came face to face with warm hospitality wherever we went. In Kampala, cancer-stricken children and their mothers at Bless a Child welcomed us with sweet formality. Sports ministry officials treated us like VIPs owing to the presence of The Champ, whom they greeted like a returning prince. In Atiak. a region of northern Uganda, young women recovering from trauma honored us with a rousing tribal dance and a hearty meal in appreciation for our group outfitting their newly dedicated dorm with bedding. Their sweet sisterhood enchanted us. In Luwero trainees at the African Hospitality Institute prepared a gourmet feast for us.

In the Rwanda highlands, pygmy village residents performed a traditional dance we reciprocated in kind.

We were welcomed into homes with mud walls, a thatched roof and bare possessions. When we visited organizations staff eagerly showed us classrooms, nurseries, clinics, guest houses and residential units. In many areas, access to clean water is an ever-present issue. The presence of a working community well or tank or pipe is cause for celebration. All too often rural folk must travel distances by foot or bike or boda boda lugging plastic yellow Jerry cans to fetch or return water. Without any or reliable home refrigeration, people shop at outdoor markets to supplement daily food needs subsistence farming doesn’t provide. Wooden stalls overladen with fruit, vegetables, oils, spices, grains, meat and fish do a brisk business as do their equivalent piled high with clothes, bags, tools, electronics. In slums, where there’s no sanitation system, human refuse runs free when the rains come.

I left feeling humbled by the scale of need and grateful for my own good fortune.

This impressionistic account dispenses with chronology in favor of moments and individuals that impressed me. My hope is you’ll find something that sparks your own journey or quest.

 

 

Young women being reintegrated into society after suffering harsh things at the hands of rebel soldiers; those pictured here were among the residents of the newly dedicated dorm in Atiak who fed us and danced and sang for us in appreciation for our outfitting their living space with bedding

 

 

Getting to know you: Partners
I barely knew Nollette before the trip. I soon saw her dedication is sincere. She’s learned lessons in eight years serving Africa, none more vital than finding the right people on the ground to work with. She introduced us to several Pipeline partners in Uganda she’s close to. Ben Kibumba with Come Let’s Dance, Richard Kirabira with Chicken City Farms and Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe at Saint Monica’s. They lead efforts to educate, train and employ locals, no small feat in places where poverty and unemployment are widespread and opportunity limited. Adding to the challenge are transportation issues, resource shortages, misappropriated aid monies and emotional scars from civil war (Uganda) and genocide (Rwanda).

“Partnerships and relationships are crucial,” Nollette said. “It is very difficult to manage projects overseas. Since there is a great deal of corruption, you have to develop trust. Once we’ve identified potential partners with strong leadership, we start slow with small projects. We see how they do with communication, execution and accountability. We don’t expect them to be perfect. Many organizations we work with are grassroots just like us, but we believe in their vision and leadership. We emphasize collaboration and problem solving.

“It’s so hard here to try and do things on your own.”

Nollette cultivates leaders and facilitates their networking together. At one stop she presented partners with Samsung Galaxy tablets so they can better communicate-coordinate with each other and do better project management.

“They’re all great leaders. The cool part is these guys are now collaborating.”

Networking helps Pipeline track projects and programs. Pipeline is a conduit feeding the change agents it supports with what they need. Sometimes that means connecting partners.

Nollette said, “For example, Richard with Chicken City Farms has figured out brick making using a brick making machine with interlocking bricks. It can cut the cost of construction by 30 percent because it doesn’t require as much cement. We introduced him to Sister Rosemary and Ben Kibumba. Richard’s team is training Sister Rosemary’s and Ben’s teams on this process by building guesthouses for them. Not only will they learn this new skill that cuts costs, but they can continue to make bricks and sell them as an additional revenue stream.”

Leveraging expertise and resources, Pipeline strives to create synergies for sustainable change.

Nollette said it takes time to fully discern needs and challenges and get people thinking longterm.

“I’ve learned many Africans want to withhold information for fear the support may go away. They also tend to think about immediate fixes rather than long-term solutions. When most people wake up each day and have to walk for water and get food for the day, it is difficult to think beyond that. We talk a lot about solutions that are sustainable.”

Two of her most trusted liaisons are Apollo Karaguba in Uganda and Christophe Mbonyyingabo in Rwanda. Besides serving as our tour guides, they took us to programs serving residents of urban slums and isolated rural villages. Pipeline partners with Apollo’s employer, Watoto Child Care Ministries, and with Christophe’s own CARSA.

Nollette sings the praises of Apollo and Christophe, two affable men with burning intensity.

“I’m mostly impressed with their passion and commitment to make a difference in the lives of others. I can count on them for anything and truly think of them as brothers. It’s an honor to work with them. They are also eager to listen and learn and help with other projects even when it doesn’t benefit their own organizations.”

She and her family are especially close to Apollo, who in turn is close to Terence Crawford.

“I feel like I’ve adopted both of them,” she says of the guide and the boxer.

Nollette’s brother is financially helping Apollo and his two siblings finish their university studies. When Crawford hit it off with Apollo on his first Africa visit, he flew him to America to watch his Nov. lightweight title fight defense in Omaha. Apollo enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with Nollette’s extended family. A friend and associate of Apollo’s, George Lingo, was our driver in Uganda. Pipeline is helping pay for one of his son’s studies.

Apollo’s employer, Watoto, houses and educates orphaned children in Uganda, where soaring teen pregnancy and poverty create a crisis of abandoned youth. We met boys living in a Watoto family-style home. Each home has a maternal caregiver and her own children. The caregiver is mother to them all.

Three of the boys we met stayed with Nollette and her family in Phoenix when traveling to perform in a Watoto choir last year. She’s attached to one of them, Peter. He and his buddies joined us for dinner one night and Peter, who spent part of a bus ride next to Nollette, didn’t want to return to Watoto that night.

“It was particularly painful when Peter asked me if they could stay the night and if he could have more time with me,” she recalled. “It reminded me again that everything matters. Even If it doesn’t seem like much, it has huge impact. All Peter wants is my time and love – something so easily given.”

The attention he craved reminded her of The Champ at that age. Crawford was a handful in school but never gave Nollette grief as he found in her a caring, compassionate teacher.

“I remember Terence saying the same thing to me on our last trip back in August. I asked him why he didn’t get into trouble in my class and he said it’s because he knew that I cared about him. Some things we do, it’s hard to measure the impact.”

 

Pygmy villagers showing their gratitude for our visit to view their challenging living conditions and to hear their needs

 

 

People helping people
Ben Kibumba, like many Pipeline partners, escaped the same dire straits of poverty and homelessness as the children that his Come Let’s Dance (CLD) serves through its school, clinic, farm and housing. He’s learned you can only move people forward when their basic needs are met.

“You can’t dream when you’re hungry,” he said. “When you’re fed, you can dream of things bigger.”

CLD’s Thread of Life program targets single mothers in the slums, some of whom who turn to prostitution to get by. Others can’t afford sending their kids to school. Thread of Life gives women a safe place to live and the opportunity to learn sewing-beading skills they use to make jewelry and apparel whose sales earn them a living wage.

Program directors Mercy and Florence say some participants have left behind exploitation and dependence to move out of the slums and live healthy lives with their kids.

Pipeline supports this and similar programs that train and employ African women to sew. Nollette’s also launched a business, C ME Stories (http://cmestories.com/), where U.S. designers create patterns for apparel-accessory products women in Uganda produce.

“We pay women for each piece they make. The idea is to have a recurring business model and pay women a good wage for the work they do. They learn to save as well,” Nollette said.

At her Saint Monica facilities in Gulu and Atiak, Uganda world renown humanitarian Sister Rosemary and staff empower exploited females, who are trained and employed in sewing and beading. Many were abducted as girls by rebels and forced into sex slavery, marriage and childbirth. Through education, community and work, they build self-esteem and self-reliance.

“She’s my type of person,” Nollette said of the charismatic nun. “She’s a problem-solver and knows how to get things done. One of the things she said to me was, ‘You know Jamie, we understand how to do all the little things that turn into big things.’ She loves those women and it shows. Her work is incredibly difficult and yet she is always fun to be around. Contagious is the best word to describe her.”

About the women at Saint Monica’s. Sister said, “They’ve seen a lot of bad stuff. That’s why it’s good to get a lot of people who can come and show them a different face of the world. If they remain by themselves they will not know anything else.”

A shy resident she introduced us to, Evelyn Amony, was abducted by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels at age 12 on her way to school and like other taken girls forced to do and witness awful things. She became one of LRA leader Joseph Kony’s many wives and bore him three children. She lived in hiding with him until the Uganda army intervened.

Since regaining her freedom, she said, “I find a lot of improvements and changes in my life.” Amony said she enjoys the work she does and the pleasure it gives others. As if to prove it she modeled a blouse she makes and designs, too. She smiled as we admired her handiwork.

Nollette said, “When you empower women to be able to actually support themselves and to be able to pay for their kids’ schooling it’s really important. When a mom is able to afford to send her own child to school it teaches the value of education.”

Giving people the means to break cycles of misery and achieve self-sufficiency is a big focus of Pipeline and its partners. In his own way, Crawford tries doing the same thing at his gym.

Charles Mugabi and Richard Kirabira’s passion for helping others led to them getting full-ride college scholarships in the States. Now these entrepreneurs are applying what they learned by giving back to their homeland.

“We came back with a a very single purpose – to create startups that help youth get the opportunity to work. That’s the biggest need – jobs,” Mugabi said.

His telecom service business Connect offers employment and internship opportunities and conducts tech training at colleges.

Kirabira, whose Chicken City Farms ministry trains young men to raise chickens to market and to operate their own small farms, said, “We want to lead people in all areas but focusing on economic empowerment because we believe when someone is economically stable you can talk to them about Christ. But if I’m not stable, if I am not sure what I’m going to eat tomorrow, your message may not even make sense to me. So we try to tackle the gospel by bringing some hope for people to take care of their families and their needs.”

Bottom-line, Kirabira said, “Young people here need an opportunity to work. That’s what will turn around the country.”

 

Jamie Fox Nollette with Sister Rosemary at the nun’s Saint Monica’s campus in Gulu, Northern Uganda

 

 

Healing
In places haunted by terror and violence, healing’s in order, too. Gacaca courts attempted to foster healing In Rwanda, where CARSA walks directly related genocide perpetrators and survivors through reconciliation workshops. After years of mounting tensions, a contrived ethnic war pitted the majority Hutus against the minority Tutsis. Wholesale slaughter ensued. We met survivors who lost their family and home. Pipeline’s building a home for a widow survivor named Catherine. We met a young man who’s forgiven the person who killed his siblings.

Christophe translated for us.

A man and woman bound by pain shared their testimonies. He’s Hutu and she’s Tutsi. They were neighbors. He was friends and drinking mates with her husband, He admitted getting caught up in the blood lust of atrocities. He participated in her husband’s murder and stole her home and possessions. He served 11 years in prison for his crimes. She had trouble moving on after losing so much, including two children. After the perpetrator’s release from prison he returned to their village and she couldn’t bear to see him. With support from CARSA she found the strength and grace to forgive him. The pair now share a cow they tend, enjoying the milk and calves it produces.

Of the man who caused such heartache she’s neighbors with again, she said, “He was able to open up and open the secret of his heart to us and I did the same towards him and I’ll tell you since then things have changed. Now we not only greet one another but we are friends.”

We were all struck by what we heard. Scott Katskee said it was the most moving thing he experienced in Africa. Crawford found it “crazy” i.e. amazing one could find peace amidst such angst. Julia Brown doubted reunification could happen here.

Nollette said, “The stories in Rwanda are deeply personal and I always feel honored these people share them with us. Catherine, the widow who lost her husband and child and is currently living with her sister, seemed especially sad. I could sense she feels hopeless. Christophe told her we wanted to build her a house, but I don’t think she believes it will happen.”

 

Catherine, a genocide survivor in rural Rwanda

 

 

Ex-Pats
We met other Westerners whose Africa commitment has changed their lives. Former CNN reporter Patricia Smith does marketing for Saint Monica’s. During our visit she documented the blessing of a new dorm in Atiak and our supplying bedding for the female residents, who worked merrily alongside us. Maggie Josiah sought radical change and found it at the African Hospitality Institute she carved out of the bush in Luwero, a district in central Uganda. AHI trains women to work in Uganda’s booming hospitality industry.

A few years ago Canadian Randy Sohnchen and his wife moved to Uganda, where he now runs Omer Farming Co., one of several agricultural concerns looking to turn millions of untouched acres of rich soil into producing croplands. “It’s got all the makings of a classic land rush,” he said, adding productivity gains should improve Ugandans’ quality of life. His decision to live there, he said, is based on his experience that “nothing lasting happens unless somebody dwells.”

Apollo agrees that “being on the ground” is indispensable and “totally different” than managing things long-distance.

Sohnchen’s done development work elsewhere and he said, “In 15 years this country will be transformed. It’s gonna happen, I’ve seen it happen in other places. It will happen here.”

Americans Todd and Andria Ellingson caught the vision, too. but soon after moving to Rwanda to start a school they thought they’d made the biggest mistake of their lives.

“Everything fell apart. It was nothing what we thought it would be. Finally, after much reevaluation and just staying the course,” Todd said, “we’re seeing the impact, we’re seeing the fruit of what we planted and watered.”

Their City of Joy consists of a school, a kitchen, a well, a water tower. A church is being built. They brought electricity to the community. They’re looking to help farmers reap more yield. That doesn’t mean it’s gotten any easier,

“Still lots of doubt, even today,” he said. “Am I really making a difference or am I just enabling and spoon-feeding?”

He said living and working in an isolated area so far from home “there’s that constant stress of being in a different culture,” adding, “If you don’t focus on keeping yourself healthy, you can crash and burn here. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done, but the hardest.”

Respecting African autonomy and aspirations
Nollette said many Westerners who come make the mistake of wanting “to fix everything,” adding, “If you try to do everything for everyone then it’s unlikely you’ll do anything of much substance. It’s easy to come in and act like Santa Claus. It will make you feel better, but the reality is when you leave you haven’t done anything to help. I want our help and support to be meaningful and sustainable. I want to have real impact that outlives our visits.

“The key is collaboration. It requires us to be true partners – ready to listen and learn. We need to be the supporters and empower the local leaders. It’s not as glamorous but it is what allows for meaningful change.”

She used as an example the Rwandan pygmy village Christophe took us to. Residents depend on an unreliable water supply and they can’t make a living from the pots they fire and sell.

“It’s obvious they need help but what to do will take some time,” Nollette said. “Is there a way to capture and store the water? Do we train them on a new skill so they have a better way to earn income? Christophe and I both agree we don’t know the best solution at this time. We’re going to have to learn more and discuss various options.”

Apollo said there’s no shortage of resources flowing in from governments, NGOs and other sources. Corruption siphons off much of it, but even what’s left he said is controlled by outside, often non-African forces. It’s an old story in these former colonial lands where British rule persisted.

“They brought civilization, they brought education, clothing, but they also promoted slavery. They gave us guns to kill ourselves, they divided us, they diluted us.”

Africa’s come to rely on and rue white influence. In the poorest spots we visited children excitedly waved and shouted “mzungo” (rich whites). Apollo did, too, as a child.. I asked what he was thinking when he saw whites then.

“Opportunity. Every time you saw a white person you thought of opportunity, financially, because when you’re growing up you watch movies and everything you see about Europe or America is nice roads, nice cars, nice houses. Even the poor live in very decent homes. So maybe a white person might throw some money at you. Yeah, growing up that’s what I felt. Sometimes just being able to have a white person notice me was big. I remember standing by the roadside when a car or a bus went by with white people. I would run screaming and waving, and it just took one person to wave back and that was just heaven to me. I can say the same for most of my friends.”

“Is it the same with today’s kids, too?” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Is there ever any negative connotation to this?”

“Not with the children. The adults, if they’ve had education, they know what the British did, they came and looted our continent, so there’s a bit of bias.”

Joseph Sutter articulated the conflict many of us felt as privileged Americans just passing through. “You have a guilty conscious the way they look at you when we’re driving by.” Referring to the gifts we handed out here and there, Nollette said, “Are we doing anything good by giving suckers and jerseys? No.”

“Well, it makes them happy for a second,” Julia Brown noted.

Nollette said feel-good, bandaid fixes won’t solve a person’s or a nation’s systemic problems. Change must begin with a better educated populace and committed new leadership,

“When people have access to good education they learn what’s possible,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to partner with developing leaders.”

Given the instability of the Ugandan civil war and Rwandan genocide of only a decade and a generation ago, respectively, she said people who lived through those times are apt to have lower expectations.

“Knowing there may be some corruption and there’s no innovation and infrastructure, they’re okay because they don’t want the alternative.”

Younger people are more demanding.

“They’re looking for leadership, they want education, they want to develop the country.”

Apollo said, “The biggest challenge we have is leadership and stewardship. We must raise a generation that grows up with integrity, that is corrupt free and that will be true stewards of the resources of this nation and this continent.”

 

From left to right, our Ugandan guide Apollo Karaguba, Terence Crawford and Joseph Sutter

 

 

Coming and going
Nollette doesn’t ever want to assume she has things figured out. It’s a sensitive point brought home by none other than Terence Crawford, a product of a ghetto she only has glancing knowledge of, much like Africa’s slums.

“It’s the same thing I talk to Bud about all the time. He’ll say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re right, I don’t know, you have to tell me what can I do.'”

Just like our visit to the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda couldn’t possibly help us understand the scope of carnage and despair that resulted when madness befell the nation.

“I think it’s really sad,” Julia Brown said. “It makes me feel every one here must have been affected but it doesn’t seem like it, everyone’s going about their day normally. It’s hard to picture anything that happened even though I just saw pictures.”

“Sobering. I can’t imagine what those people went through when there were just dead bodies everywhere,” said Scott Katskee, who had a friend die in his arms on a Nepal mountain trek. “It was hard for me to reconcile one dead body. But this…”

It’s a grim recent past but Nollette’s focused on helping Rwandans and Ugandans move forward.

“Every time I go on a trip it reminds me of how important the work we’re doing is and to keep faithful and dedicated. It can be draining and frustrating at times but when I see our partners and projects, it makes me forget everything else. Their sacrifice and dedication inspires me.”

Nollette said her husband supports her work and the travel it entails. It’s become a family affair, too. He went in February. Their son Sam in 2012. “Sam raised money for three wells hosting a baseball tournament. It was a huge personal highlight for me. He wants to go back,” she said. “I’m bringing my youngest, Shea, with me in November. I plan on taking my oldest, Morgan, next June when she graduates from high school. They have to raise their own money to go.”

Several in our party expressed a desire to return. As for myself, I recall what someone we met said about his first coming to Africa: “What an eye-opener. The biggest life lesson I’ve learned. America is not like the rest of the world.” Or as someone in our travel group put it: “There’s so much more to the world than just Nebraska.” Ah, there you have it. Now that I’ve expanded my horizons I want to see more because I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s so much more to see and do.

I’m reminded, too, of what a priest friend of mine who’s done missionary work in far-flung places refers to as crossing bridges. He says every time we venture into a new culture we cross a bridge of insight and understanding. Having finally taken such a big leap of my own, my appetite has been whetted for more. Therefore, I fully expect to make new crossings that further open my eyes and stretch my boundaries.

As I discovered, making connections with people in places as distant as Africa is only limited by our means and imagination. Not everyone can go there for themselves, but they can support projects and programs that make a difference.

To learn more about the work of Nollette’s nonprofit, visit http://pipelineworldwide.org/. Visit http://pipelineworldwide.org/partners/ for links to its partner organizations.

 

Catholic Mass in Atiak said in Latin, English and Swahili

 

 

EXPANDED MATERIAL

My impetus for going to Africa – Terence Crawford – and what you should know about him and his heart for people
©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Terence chilling at one of our many stops

 

 

Two-time world champion follows his ex-teacher to Africa

The Champ goes to Uganda and Rwanda twice in a year

Setting the stage
I have followed hometown hero prizefighter Terence “Bud” Crawford for two years. In that short span he’s become a transcendent figure whose personal story of rising to the top transfixes anyone who hears it, regardless of whether they follow boxing or not.

His notoriety cuts across race and class rivals if not surpasses that of Neb.’s most decorated homegrown athletes. Among in-state natives, he just may be the most dominant in his sport since Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was in his prime with the St. Louis Cardinals nearly a half-century ago.

It never occurred to me I would go to Africa to cover Crawford. I mean, I could see myself going to another state to report on one of his fights or visiting his training camp in Colorado Springs. But Africa? Not a chance.

Only I did go – to Uganda and Rwanda, Africa of all places.

My Global Awareness – Journeys chronicle in Metro Magazine is a compendium of that June 1-12 trip. The fighter is not particularly featured in that piece because the trip wasn’t about him. But as I would never have gone there were it not for him, I find it necessary to share here more about the young man who has so captivated us. I also share why making that journey at this juncture of his career is such a compelling part of his story.

So much of Crawford’s tale reads like a novel or screenplay. During his hard-knock growing up in the inner city, street fights and pickup games were a rite-of-passage and proving ground. His formal training began at the CW Boxing Club, where right from the start he showed great promise and dreamed of winning titles. An outstanding if frustrating amateur career saw him lose a controversial bout in the National Golden Gloves finals in Omaha.

He nearly lost his professional fight career and life when he suffered a gunshot wound to the head. His rise up the pro ladder happened in relative obscurity and outside the view of his homes until his amazing 2014 run. He won the WBO lightweight title in Scotland and defended it twice before huge crowds in his hometown. He began 2015 by winning a second world title in Texas. Now he’s in line to fight the sport’s biggest names for mega bucks.

Lots of honors have come his way:

•Named WBO Fighter of the Year
•Named Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year •Inducted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame
•Inducted into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame
•Likeness added to Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor
•Made the cover of Ring Magazine
•Immortalized in a mobile mural by artist Aaryon Lau Rance Williams

All by age 27

He also his own gym, B & B Boxing Academy, where his Team Crawford works with promising amateur and pro fighters. It’s right in the neighborhood he came up in. He’s a family man, too, who shares a home with his girlfriend and their four children.

Then there’s the whole story behind why he went to Africa and who
he went with. It involves his fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha, Jamie Fox Nollette, whose Pipeline Worldwide supports sustainability and self-sufficiency projects and programs in those nations. Pipeline also works in Ghana, Africa and in India.

The trip to Africa I joined Crawford and Nollette on was actually their second together there. When I learned that first trip had nothing to do with boxing. it peaked my interest, as it suggested a depth to the man I hadn’t considered before. His relationship with Nollette added a whole new dimension to his story.

Tellingly, another elementary school teacher who made an impression upon him, Sheila Tapscott, is also still in his life.

Upon finding out The Champ was going again with Nollette, I found the opportunity and means to tag along.

I flew out of Omaha with Crawford and his girlfriend Alindra “Esha” Person, who’s the mother of his children. Jospeh Sutter joined us as well. In Detroit we caught up with Julia Brown of Phoenix. Next onto Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where we met Scott Katskee, an Omaha native now living in L.A. From there we flew to our final destination, Entebbe, Uganda, where Nollette. who’d left the States a day earlier, met us.

In Country
After witnessing the want, the hope, the beauty, the despair of Uganda and Rwanda, I found there’s much more to Crawford than meets the eye. I found a man of contradiction and conflict, whose language and behavior can be inappropriate one minute and sensitive the next. He’s a big kid with a lot of growing up to do in some ways and wise beyond his years in other ways. His nonchalance masks a reservoir of deep feelings he doesn’t like showing.

No matter where he is, even Africa, The Hood is never far from him. But he’s not too tough or cool to admit Africa touched him.

“It’s life-changing when you get to go over there and help people,” he told me. “It just made me appreciate things more. It kind of humbled me in a way to where I don’t want to take anything for granted. I haven’t in my life experienced anything of the nature they’re experiencing over there. For one thing, I have clean water – they don’t have clean water. That’s one of their biggest issues and I want to help them with it.

“They appreciate everything, even if it’s just a hug or a handshake.”

On his first visit he gave away all his clothes except for those on his back and on this last trip he gave away many T-shirts and other items. Last fall he paid for Pipeline’s Ugandan guide, Apollo Karaguba, to fly to America to see him fight and to celebrate Thanksgiving with Nollette’s family.

On the trip I made I saw Crawford interact with locals every chance he got. In Uganda he kidded with Apollo and our driver George, he haggled with vendors, he traded quips with noted Catholic nun Sister Rosemary, he played with children and he coaxed young women to dance to music he played. It was much the same in Rwanda, where he joked with our guide Christophe, danced with pygmies and entertained kids by throwing frisbees, doing backflips and handing out gifts.

He also enjoyed the hike, the safari and the gorilla trek that put our group on intimate terms with the wild.

Though clearly a public figure, Crawford rarely made himself the center of attention or acted the celebrity. He was just another member of our group. The few times he was recognized he obliged people with autographs or photo ops. The one special event set aside for him, a Uganda press conference, found sports ministry officials rolling out the red carpet for him. You see, boxing is big in Uganda and his visit constituted a big moment for Ugandans.

As usual, he took it all in stride. Nothing seems to rattle him.

 

Terence posing with boxers at the University of Pain gym after the Kampala press conference

 

 

Boxing as change agent
He touts his sport as a vehicle for steering inner city kids away from the mess many face. He even shared that message with sports ministry folks, boxers and reporters at the press conference.

“Boxing took me to another place in my life where I could get away from all the negativity,” he said. “I got shot in my head in 2008 hanging out with the wrong crowd. At that time I knew I just wanted to do more with my life, so I started really pursuing my boxing career.”

He emphasized the “hard work” it took to get where he is. The boxers hung on his every word.

“Every day, any boxing I could watch, I would watch. I would take time out to study, like it was school. I would tell you to just work hard, stay dedicated, give your all every time you go in there and who knows maybe you can be the next champion of the world.”

He emphasized how much motivation and work it takes to be great.

“There’s going to be days you want to quit. Those are the days you’ve got to work the hardest. I never was given anything. I was one of those kids they said was never going to make it – I used that as an opportunity to prove them wrong.”

Crawford handled himself well in that setting, He answered all their questions, posed for pictures, signed things and made everyone feel special.

In an interview with me, he spoke about his gym and his wanting to make it a sanctuary to get kids off the streets..

Show me that you care
“It’s not just all about boxing. We’re trying to teach the kids how to be young women and young men. We’re teaching them to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. You’ve got to be able to control yourself in the ring as well as outside the ring and boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.

“If they feel like nobody cares than they’re not gong to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person.”

Crawford knows from personal experience what a difference one person can make. Nollette was among those who connected with him when he was a hard-headed kid who bristled at authority.

“She was one of the only teachers that really cared. She would talk to me,” he said.

He needed someone to listen, he said, because “I got kicked out of school so much – a fight here, a fight there, I just always had that chip on my shoulder.” Nollette took the time to find out why he acted out.

He knows, too, the difference a gym can make for a young person working out anger issues.

“It’s a good place to come and get away, release some stress, release some steam if you’re having problems at home or school and you just need to let it out. What better way to let it out than on a bag, rather than going somewhere else and letting it out the wrong way. I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances. They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.”

“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the fame or anything like that. I could be anywhere but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”

Carl Washington got him started in the sport at the CW, where Midge Minor became his coach. Minor’s still in his camp 20 years later.

Crawford hopes that some young people training at the B & B will one day take it over. Then they, too, will pay forward what they received to help a new generation of young people.

Each one, to teach one…

The gym is in a neighborhood plagued by violence. His own childhood mirrored that of kids living there today. It’s survival of the fittest. He got suspended and expelled from school. The lure and threat of gangs loomed large. Boxing became his way out.

 

Terence with Sister Rosemary

 

 

Staying true to his roots
His is a classic American success story of someone coming from the bottom up and making it to the top.

He’s fast become an icon and inspiration. He’s singlehandedly put Omaha on the boxing map and revived what was a dead sport here. HBO and TopRank are grooming him as pro boxing’s hot new face. Warren Buffett’s sported a Team Crawford T-shirt at one of his Omaha bouts. The fighter shows his hometown love by wearing trunks and caps with Husker and Omaha insignias. He’s thrown out the first pitch at an Omaha Storm Chasers’ game. He makes personal appearances delivering positive messages to students and athletes.

Amidst all the fame and hoopla, he’s remained rooted in his community. Yet he’s also found time to expand his world view by twice going to Third World countries when he could have chosen some resort. He considers Africa his second home.

“It IS home. I’m AFRICAN-American. It’s where a lot of my people come from historically down the line of my ancestors. Damn, I love this place.”

Just like his first visit there, he said, “I was very touched by the people and how gracious and humble and thankful they were about everything that came towards them. I had a great time with great people. I experienced some great things.”

As someone who prides himself in being a man of his word, he was pleased when Africans expressed appreciation for his not only saying he’d be back after his last trip, but actually returning.

The fact that he’s retained the same coaches and trainers who have been with him for years and that he supports his ex-teacher’s work in Africa speaks to his loyalty. What he gives, he gets back, too, thus making him a beloved star athlete and role model to the people and community he calls his own.

He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from and I doubt he’ll ever forget Africa. We don’t have much in common other than the same North Omaha roots, but the shared experience of seeing Uganda and Rwanda is something we’ll always have between us. That, and having the privilege of writing about the experience, is enough for me.

I never expected to be in Africa, let alone with him, but I’m glad it worked out that way.

Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha

August 1, 2015 Leave a comment

With Native Omaha Days in full swing, here’s a new story I wrote for the August issue of The Reader that sounds out some African-American residents for their take on northeast Omaha’s challenges and what can be done to revitalize that area. Hard copies should now be out and about in North O, Midtown, Downtown and the Old Market, among other places.

CULTURE 1

CULTURE 2

CULTURE 3

CULTURE JPEG

Brent Spencer’s fine review of my Alexander Payne book nets nice feedback


Brent Spencer’s fine review of my Alexander Payne book nets nice feedback

I only just now became aware of this fine review of my Alexander Payne book that appeared in a 2014 issue of the Great Plains Quarterly journal. The review is by the noted novelist and short story writer Brent Spencer, who teaches at Creighton University. Thanks, Brent, for your attentive and articulate consideration of my work. Read the review below and some nice responses I got to this news.

NOTE: I am still hopeful a new edition of my Payne book will come out in the next year or two. it would feature the additon of my extensive writing about Payne’s Nebraska. I have a major university press mulling it over now.

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film—A Reporter’s Perspective, 1998–2012 by Leo Adam Biga
Review by Brent Spencer
From: Great Plains Quarterly
Volume 34, Number 2, Spring 2014

In Alexander Payne: His Journey In Film, A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012 Leo Adam Biga writes about the major American filmmaker Alexander Payne from the perspective of a fellow townsman. The local reporter began writing about Payne from the start of the filmmaker’s career. In fact, even earlier than that. Long before Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and Cannes award-winner Nebraska. Biga was instrumental in arranging a local showing of an early student film of Payne’s, The Passion of Martin. From that moment on, Payne’s filmmaking career took off, with the reporter in hot pursuit.

The resulting book collects the pieces Biga has written about Payne over the years. The approach, which might have proven to be patchwork, instead allows the reader to follow the growth of the artist over time. Young filmmakers often ask how successful filmmakers got there. Biga’s book may be the best answer to this question, at least as far as Payne is concerned. He’s presented from his earliest days as a hometown boy to his first days in Hollywood as a scuffling outsider to his heyday as an insider working with Hollywood’s brightest stars.

If there is a problem with Biga’s approach, it’s that it can, at times, lead to redundancy. The pieces were originally written separately, for different publications, and are presented as such. This means a piece will sometimes cover the same background we’ve read in a previous piece. And some pieces were clearly written as announcements of special showings of films. But the occasional drawback of this approach is counter-balanced by the feeling you get of seeing the growth of the artist take shape right before your eyes, from the showing of a student film in an Omaha storefront theater to a Hollywood premiere.

But perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting the filmmaker to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. He talks about the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, undertaking the slow, and of the monk-like work of editing. Biga is clearly a fan (the book comes with an endorsement from Payne himself), but he’s a fan with his eyes wide open. Alexander Payne: His Journey In Film, A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012 provides a unique portrait of the artist and detailed insights into the filmmaking process.

Brent Spencer, Department of English, Creighton University, Omaha, NE.

HERE IS SOME LOVELY FACEBOOK CORRESPONDENCE THAT NEWS OF THE REVIEW PROMPTED:

July 17 at 8:30pm ·

 Fantastic review. Fantastic book, Leo Adam!
Leo Adam Biga's photo.

Coming Soon: A new book I wrote with Father Ken Vavrina, “Crossing Bridges,” the story of this beloved Omaha priest’s uplifitng life among the downtrodden

July 24, 2015 5 comments

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Blank bookcover with clipping path

COMING SOON A new book I wrote with Father Ken Vavrina-
“Crossing Bridges”

The story of this beloved Omaha priest’s uplifitng life among the downtrodden.

Look for future posts about where you can get your copies. All proceeds will be donated to Catholic organizations.

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Attention must be paid: In the spirit of Everyone Has A Story To Tell…


Attention must be paid

In the spirit of Everyone Has A Story To Tell…

Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “Everyone has a story to tell.” Few of us, however, behave as if we believe that sentiment to be true. Most of us ignore, if not dismiss the experiences of others unless those experiences happen to belong to a close friend or family member or unless the experiences are attractively, compellingly packaged in some commercial media product. It’s hard to deny we tend to tune out stories that do not immediately appeal to our sense of curiosity and thirst for drama, tragedy, inspiration, entertainment, titillation or pure distraction. We are increasingly reliant on media channels to tell us what is worthy of our attention. More than ever before we are programmed to overlook all but the most trending or iconic or marketable stories amid the glut of data – videos, sound bytes, headlines, texts, tweets – coming at us from a multiplicity of communication-information platforms. This tendency to abdicate our personal investment of time and energy and inquisitiveness to get to know someone in our immediate reality, such as a neighbor, a coworker or the mailman, to an impersonal web search engine’s recommended list of newsmakers and celebrities we will likely never meet, makes it harder for every day people to authentically know one another. In this supposed golden age of interconnectedness the irony is that we can find ourselves increasingly disconnected from each other’s true lives and intimate stories as we more and more settle for “knowing” people by their usernames, tag lines, logos and avatars and “following” their lives virtually via social media.
I believe this phenomenon accounts for the basic lack of respect that permeates too many interactions and transactions between people these days. If you’re too busy or stressed or self-involved or condescending to get to know someone, you’re more likely to be rude or indifferent to them.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. How we attend to people and to their personal stories and spaces is still a matter of choice, a matter of intention.

For all this talk about the distancing, distorting effect of media, good journalists continue playing a vital role as storytellers who focus past the noise of all that clutter to flesh out the narratives of individuals from every walk of life. Human interest stories they’re called. Far more than filler or fodder, they are portraits and snapshots of a society and a period. They are windows into the human soul. They remind us of our shared traits and of our boundless differences. They are markers for the human condition. I’m proud to say I make my living doing this. I’ve even branded myself – God knows we all need to be able to reduce the sum of our parts to a brand in order to be relevant in today’s hash-tag environment – with the tagline: “I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions.” Which is to say, as the cliche goes, I write about what makes people tick. I prefer to think of it as giving voice to the things that drive people to create, to endeavor, to aspire, to grow, to build, to sacrifice, to carry on. The reason I devote myself to this discipline and calling is that I truly do embrace the notion that we all have a story to tell. For that matter, we all have many stories to tell. In one way or another, we’re all subjects and characters worthy of being interviewed, profiled, remembered because we all have things to teach others and to move others.

It would be a shame, wouldn’t it, if someone, and it just happened to be me, didn’t tell the story of an Old Market eccentric named Lucile who dressed all in orange and decorated her home with decades worth of architectural remnants she’d collected? Or what about the classical violinist who plays in major symphony orchestras and rigorously practices Buddhism and incongruously lives in a trailer and works a warehouse day job. I wouldn’t have missed his story for the world but the world almost missed out on it if not for him telling me the story of his life and me writing it up and getting it published. Then there’s the master of Spanish classical guitar who once shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with his legendary mentor and yet who continued to compete in professional rodeos, Why put his fingers and hands at great risk? Because Hadley loved his art and his cowboy roots equally. Both were necessary expressions of his unquenchable lust for life.

I loved the story of the little old man from the Pennsylvania German anthracite coal mines. In his youth he broke horses along the Colorado River and during World War II he helped the U.S. military learn the secrets of advanced German jet fighter technology. Then as a venerable scholar he translated the massive diaries of a 19th century German prince whose expedition of the vanishing Western America frontier provided an invaluable glimpse of life in that period.

I’ll never forget a woman and her remarkable transformation, which is happening as we speak and continues to bloom. In relatively short order she’s gone from life as a substance abuser, stripper and prostitute to surviving a failed marriage to raising three children on her own to finding her and her family homeless at times as she tried getting things together. While still homeless off and on she launched a business making skin lotions, cleaners and scents using shea butter. Her business has attracted major backers and her products are now sold in stores across America. The topper to all this is that she wants most of the proceeds to support an African mission she’s established to help villagers who harvest the shea butter she uses in her products.

Memorable too is the music lover from Omaha who was part of an all-black WWII quartermaster battalion. He and 15 others from Omaha – they called themselves The Sweet 16 – served together all the way from induction to basic training to North Africa to Italy. After the war Billy earned money as taxi driver, railroad baggage handle and gambling house proprietor. He also quietly amassed a staggeringly large music collection and made sure he and his war buddies stayed in touch via reunions.

I could go on and on. The point is, remarkable, compelling stories are all around us. Until you ask, until you show some interest, you just won’t know that Brenda, the spirited old woman singing karaoke at the local bar, performed with Johnny Cash and toured Vietnam during the war with an all-girl band. You’d never guess that Helen, the elderly school para, was the lead trombonist in a multi-racial all-girl band that played the Apollo Theatre and all the top clubs and concert halls from the start of the Great Depression through the war. You’d never learn that Marion, the double amputee confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, was arguably the best all-around athlete to ever come out of Neb, and that he integrated Dana College, where some of his athletic marks still stand 60 years later.

More recently, there’s the story of the priest who shook off his small town Neb. roots in one sense but never lost his homespun quality in another sense while ministering to diverse peoples in underserved communities and developing nations. Father Ken worked for Mother Teresa serving lepers in Yemen. He ran Catholic Relief Services humaniatian aid programs in India and Liberia. He learned many lessons in crossing all those cultural bridges and borders and he shares those lessons in a new book I collaborated with him on that comes out this fall. Then there’s Bud, a young man who has risen out of harsh conditions in northeast Omaha to become a world boxing champion. I recently traveled with him to Uganda and Rwanda, Africa, a pair of countries he’s visited twice in the last year. I went to chronicle his ever expanding exploration of the world and how the self-sufficiency and empowerment programs he witnessed in those East African nations relate to what he’s trying to do at his B & B Boxing Academy in North Omaha.

It is my privilege to tell these stories. Because I am a storyteller by trade, I also see it as my duty. With all the ready means for communication available today, I think it’s incumbent on us all to tell our stories and to tell the stories of those around us. That means talking to people and capturing their stories in words and images and putting those stories out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or an amateur, a staff reporter or a stringer or a freelancer or a citizen journalist or a blogger. It doesn’t have to be journalism either. It can be stories told through still or moving images, through music, through poetry, through fiction, you name it. Off-line, on-line, hard cover, soft cover, CD, DVD, slide show, stage show, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good. It’s all about getting it down and putting it our there. It’s all raw material that can be the basis for dialogue, discussion, or study. Take my word, once you tell a story that distills the essence of someone, it will leave an impact on that person and their family. It will captivate an audience and it will start a conversation. And more stories will follow and reveal themselves as a result. It’s all about acknowledging lives and experiences. Preserving legacies and memories. To be passed on. To be discovered and rediscovered. Lest we forget, lest we never know, attention must be paid.

It’s why I’m a big proponent of oral history projects that collect the stories of rank and file citizens right alongside those of community, business, and elected leaders, celebrities and social mavens. I’m trying to put together one of these projects right now in North Omaha. We can never really know or appreciate each other until we tell our stories and share them.

Now that’s what I call connecting.

NOTE: You can sample the stories I tell about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions on this blog-
leoadambiga.wordpress.com
Or on my Facebook timeline or FB page, My Inside Stories.

Music-Culture Mixologist Brent Crampton: Rhythmic anthropology and pure love of human bodies moving


Sometimes it seems as if Brent Crampton has cornered the market on cool in Omaha with this weaving the social fabric thing he does at House of Loom.  The near downtown club he co-founded and co-owns epitomizes cool in its decor, craft cocktails, diverse crowds, multicultural music, themed events, and down-for-anything vibe.  Crampton’s long cultivated a dynamic, inclusive social scene bound by a love of music and a spirit of exploration.  House of Loom is where it all comes together in a heady brew of influences that excite the senses,  The ambience, the music, the drinks, the people, the conversations, the dancing, and last but not least Crampton himself, who serves as host, DJ, programmer, and cultural mixologsit, make it a kind of hipster heaven.  His passion for what he does is palpable.  Here’s my profile of Brent in the new issue of Flyover Magazine (http://flyovermagazine.com/), the new quarterly publication from Bryce Bridges that’s devoted to celebrating the creative soul.  Check out more creatives in the new issue available for subscription and at select area venues.

Music-culture mixologist Brent Crampton: Rhythmic anthropology and pure love of human bodies moving

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in Flyover Magazine (http://flyovermagazine.com/)

Brent Crampton is a prince of bohemia whose branded lifestyle Loom “weaves the social fabric” by having diverse people interact through music and dance.

A DJ entrepreneur with a serious case of wanderlust, he applies a mix tape sensibility, informed by journalism and religious studies degrees, to sample, celebrate and cross-pollinate cultures. The ever curious Crampton, an Omaha resident but world citizen, curates and emcees music and dance-infused multicultural happenings.

“I think the same way I mix music I mix life experiences because I listen to a wide range of different styles of music and I eat a wide range of food and I hang out with a wide range of people. To experience the rich cultural vibrancy you have to get out of your comfort seat and create friendships at the margins.”

His events intersect African-American, Latino, LGBT and various international communities, including Omaha’s West-African, Indian, Brazilian and Jamaican populations.

“When we do those events it’s really important for us to reach out to people who identify with that culture to have them collaborate and consult with us. It’s a community thing. In a small humble way we use Loom as a tool of social transformation.”

For five years he and Jay Kline practiced the Loom social theory at a rotating series of venues. Then, in 2012, they partnered with Ethan Bondelid to give their cultural experiment a nightclub home, House of Loom. This funky oasis with eclectic decor and craft cocktails is dedicated to “mixing life, bringing people together, connecting through music, releasing in dance.” Situated just south of the popular Old Market entertainment district and just east of the historic Little Italy neighborhood, it’s inconspicuously set back from busy 10th Street.

Righteous house music sets and themed parties attract a creative demographic that recalls the hipsters and Beats of another generation. Known as the gayest straight bar in town and as a meta cosmopolitan night spot, Loom is a club and creative salon in one, Blending cultures is at its heart. As the music revs up, swirling bodies and colors animate the intimate space. The heat and noise rise as inhibitions loosen.

Having a permanent home, Crampton says, “allows us to take that ideology and transfer it to a seven-days-a-week brick and mortar space where we explore different aspects of our philosophy beyond just a dance event into spoken word, music performances, visual art…”

Crampton, whose hippie-dippie demeanor matches his New Age leanings, is seemingly everywhere at once at Loom, his tall frame hard to miss in the rub of people at the bar, in the lounge or on the dance floor. He really takes center stage when grooving in the DJ booth. He first felt the DJ call attending Omaha and Kansas City raves.

“I was really enamored with that dynamic call and response cycle of the DJ playing the music and watching people gyrate their bodies off the beat and how that fed back to the DJ. I remember making this very conscious decision of I’m going to become a DJ, I’m going to buy the gear and do this, and that just set me off on a whole course.”

From the sanctuary of the DJ booth he sets the vibe with the beats he selects.

“I kind of have this total freedom, within the jurisdiction of good music, to just do what I want to do. One of the powerful things about music is this veil it tears down that somehow we’re separate from each other.”

He takes a certain pride in providing the vehicle for interracial unions that get their start at Loom. From the booth he sees connections happen all around him but when working he mostly enters a zone.

“You kind of create a bubble where you’re doing your thing, you’re aware of what’s going on but you don’t try to think about it. It’s that sensation you get when you’re about to jump off a cliff into water,” says Crampton, who made that leap in Maui, Hawaii.

He credits Omaha’s burgeoning indie music scene of the late 1990s into the start of the new millennium with broadening his musical education. An Omaha concert he attended then featuring The Faint and Tilly and the Wall at the Sokol Auditorium made a big impression.

“I had the sense when I walked in the room I was walking upon a conversation I had been missing out on. It was articulated very well and it had a whole movement behind it. I just wanted more of it.”

He says unlike many DJs who grew up around their parents’ great vinyl records, he didn’t have that.

“I mean, there was music around growing up but it wasn’t this central theme. I discovered a passionate connection to music later in life.”

Fittingly for a man of many interests, the well-springs for his music passions include skateboarding culture and the African diaspora. He reverently watched videos of his counter-culture skateboarding idols that featured cutting-edge music from the coasts.

“I was being exposed to music I wasn’t hearing in Omaha at all. I looked up to these skateboarders and so if they were into that music then I was into it. Then I started purchasing that music. I was hearing The Roots years before they became popular. I got turned onto house music. That was really helpful because it allowed me to break out of a Midwestern mold of just being influenced by whatever I heard on the radio or MTV.

“When I walked into the world of Electronic Dance Music (EDM), I had an immediate open-mindedness to it. I’d already been prepped for being into different things.”

Some mentors guided him, including former DJ James Deep, who schooled him in the craft of emceeing.

Jack Lista opened his mind to the music’s origins. “He educated me on the historical context of dance music in America. Being a straight white kid in the Midwest I really had no idea where this whole world of music came from I was listening to. It came from a very black, Latino and also gay place. It really blew my mind away but it made a lot of sense. House music is the root of EDM but the root of that is disco. I began a musical pilgrimage and in the process it changed my route from being influenced by what I was hearing at raves to being influenced by how the African diaspora has affected music around the world.

“It’s not something we’re taught or are aware of culturally. That gave me a deep appreciation for the places it came from. I became a student of the whole black experience in the Americas and the music that followed. That’s what I started funneling into.”

It all plays out at Loom, where an evolution is under way.

“If Loom in its first five years was about the party, Loom the next five years was about being a business and Loom in its next chapter is going to be about investing in its soul. I think we’re going to take all the best parts of everything we’ve learned and channel that towards more of what we want to do, when we want to do it rather than being obligated by paying rent.”

Soul yearnings feed Crampton, adopted “from the womb” and raised by parents who encouraged his creative expressions.

“My incredibly loving, supportive parents didn’t really leave me lacking.”

Yet he surmises the “jumping from one culture or subculture to another” that adoptees like himself tend to do “is rooted in not having a foundation in some ancestral past.”

“It’s about trying to find yourself, to find your place,” he says. “I definitely have tendencies of that. I’m not bound by the past and so that gives me a lot of cultural mobility to say, If I’m not this, what am I? Well. I’m a person of the world and that can mean a lot of things, and so I choose to celebrate and explore different aspects of human expression. That has allowed me to have a certain open-mindedness, which has translated to my vocation, which I think has allowed me to live in Omaha, Neb. and be a proponent for multiculturalism.

“So, yeah, what I do vocationally is directly related to being adopted.”

He takes his spirituality seriously enough that soon after celebrating Loom’s ninth anniversary with a March 14 blow-out party he went to a remote site for a silent retreat.

“I don’t identify with one thing or another but I definitely feel like I’m walking a spiritual path. It gives me another way to interpret the world.”

There’s even a small altar above a fireplace in Loom containing incense, myrrh, sage, candles and religious artifacts.

Another way he refreshes his inner self is through travel. He’s visited Hawaii, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Miami, London, Mexico, Peru and Cuba, among other locations.

“When I go to places I definitely experience the music there. Brazil has always been on my bucket list.”

Most everywhere he’s travels he DJs. An opportunity to gig at what he calls “probably my favorite nightclub in America” – Cielo in New York City’s packing district – held special meaning for Crampton because, he adds, “It was one of the influences on House of Loom. It was some sort of life goal to play there.” laying the noted Slowdown in Omaha meant a lot to him, too.

Crampton, who sees himself producing music at some point, is sure Loom will continue doing its thing.

“I kind of feel like we’re just hitting a stride. We all have this renewed sense of energy and inspiration. People need an escape to release tension and there’s a certain connection and sense of community you make through social gatherings. Music and dance is our preferred medium to bring people together. You may think you don’t have anything in common but if you’re in that same space sharing the love of the beat in that same moment, boom, there’s your first connection.”

The shared smiles and feelings of optimistic energy expressed then, as well as the personal relationships that form, are what drive him.

Though he worries about burn-out, he’s loving the freedom to just think-up and create these “artful expressions of multiculturalism.”

Visit http://www.houseofloom.com and brentcrampton.typepad.com.

Moving right along: Educators, dancers, advocates, activists Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin not slowing down in retirement


For all of us there are people in our lives, even if tangentially, who we admire for the way they, well, live.  Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin are two of those people for me.  This married couple just knows how to do life right.  At least that’s the distinct impression I get whenever I’m around them, which is rarely and then only for brief visits, but my instincts about people are good and all evidence suggests my perception about them is right on.  There’s a joyous spirit to them and their pursuits, both personal and professional, that largely remains elusive to those of us, like me, who fall on the depressive, anxious side of the spectrum.  Oh, I’m sure they have their dark, down moments and struggles like anyone else but I suspect they are far more positive than negative in the balance of things.  I also know for a fact they intentionally, consistently keep themselves healthy in mind, body, spirit by virtue of their degreed disciplines, specializations, and passions having to do with physical education, recreation, healthy aging, and dance.  They are active people and in retirement they’re still moving right along, just as the headline for my New Horizons profile about them says.

 

 Cover Photo

Moving right along: Educators, dancers, advocates, activists Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin still on the move in retirement

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in the New Horizons

 

Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin are aware not everyone is as fortunate as they are in following their passion work. Their magnificent obsession happens to be health, physical education, dance and, more broadly speaking, the humanities.

They were already married and established in their respective fields when they joined the University of Nebraska at Omaha staff in 1980, where the next four decades they pursued their professional lives. Today, they look back fondly on distinguished educational careers that often intersected with one another.

A soon to be retired dance educator and choreographer, Josie led UNO’s award-winning resident dance troupe, The Moving Company, whose concerts explore myriad subjects in diverse spaces. David’s an emeritus professor of health education and public health who led many community health initiatives and is now an environmental activist.

Besides their mutual interest in health education and recreation, they share in common a passion for performance – she’s a dancer and he’s a musician – along with art, activism and advocacy. In addition to being each other’s favorite dance partner, he’s often accompanied, on guitar, performances she’s danced in or directed-choreographed. He’s even danced with The Moving Company himself.

The two actually met over dance – at a Brigham Young University social ballroom dance workshop in Provo, Utah. He came to the workshop from Saskatchewan, Canada, where he was teaching at the University of Regina and she traveled there from back East, where she was teaching at Robert Morris University in her native Pittsburgh.

They both actively promote healthy aging through activities like dance and Tai Chi and they use their expertise to support progressive, humanist causes.

Married 38 years and residing in the same Dundee house they’ve always lived in, they are parents to a daughter, Quinn Corbin. She describes her folks as “an incredibly inspiring couple,” adding, “They always follow their passion and work incredibly hard while still taking the time to meditate every day as well as view life through a positive yet realistic lens. They both care for so many others and are heavily involved in the community.”

Her parents are friends, colleagues and collaborators with a large circle of fellow creatives and concerned citizens.

 

 

©photo vt David Conway

 

 

Putting down roots

These Omaha transplants were both teaching in Pittsburgh when they accepted offers from UNO. He was completing his Ph.D. and she was following him wherever he landed. He weighed options in Boston and Indiana when jobs serendipitously opened for each at UNO.

Before Omaha David Corbin never lived anywhere longer than eight years. His educator parents moved the family from Ohio to New Mexico when he was young and he came into his adolescence in that sun-swept and desert land, living on a ranch in a small Sandia Mountains town. His folks taught at a two-room schoolhouse. He attended a school 18 miles from home. He often rode into town on one of the family’s horses. Before his senior year his parents accepted positions at an American school on a U.S, military base, Fort Buchanan, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he graduated and after getting his teaching degree in the States at the University of New Mexico he returned to Puerto Rico to make his living as a teacher and musician.

Music’s been a big part of his life since age 12. As a young man his father played bass in touring bands. When David got struck by the folk and rock explosion, his father gave him his first guitar lessons. David headed up a band during high school in New Mexico. A popular song then, “El Matador,” by the Kingston Trio was naturally adopted as the fight song for his school, nicknamed the Matadors. David’s group performed the tune before basketball games.

His band’s gigs extended to ski resorts.

“We didn’t get paid. We got room and board and free lift tickets. We didn’t care,” he recalls of those free-spirited adventures.

He led a band all through college at UNM.

“After college I became solo in Puerto Rico. i worked on cruise ships and I was teaching by day and playing by night in bars.”

A tee-totaler, he never imbibed at those night spots, but he was burning the candle at both ends.

“Looking back, I wonder why in the world was I doing that. After working a full school day I’d get home at 4 p.m,, take a nap, go to work at 10 to sing and play guitar, get off at 2 a.m. and then have to be back at school at 7:30.”

Even though his parents were educators, he says it was really his older brother Charles “Chuck” Corbin, a noted fitness-wellness educator and author, who influenced him to pursue a physical education track.

After Puerto Rico, David’s roaming began again. He studied at the University of Oslo (Norway), he taught in Fort Worth, Texas, he earned his master’s from the University of Ohio, he taught in Maryland, he lectured in Canada, he attended an intensive course on human sexuality at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University,

Josie, meanwhile, rarely left Penn. before he came into her life.

Her father was a coal miner turned hobo hell-bent on being a lumberjack before contracting tuberculosis. He then learned the craft of fine motor watchmaking and clockmaking. Her father and mother raised the family in an undeveloped Pittsburgh suburb that was more like the country. The eldest of three, Josie led adventures in “these great woods behind our house.”

But it was work, not play, combined with a self-sufficient attitude that was most impressed upon Josie by her folks.

“Work, work and work. We were the Metal girls and we could do anything – this was the philosophy. We went hunting and fishing, we skinned rabbits, we chopped off cement from bricks so my father could salvage brick.”

Running parallel to that blue collar, tomboy lifestyle were the dance lessons she took from age 3 on.

“This Metal girl had an unbelievable opportunity. The Carnegie Museum of Art had this wonderful program called the Tam O’Shanters. Kids from the public schools were selected to come every Saturday for free. I did that from third grade through high school, by which time we were going to the Carnegie Mellon Institute of Art. So I had free art lessons, I saw different exhibitions. It introduced me to this whole other world. It was really amazing.”

That experience is so ingrained in her, she says, “when I go to museums or older institutions to get a drink from the old brass fountains it just all floods back.”

“One of the highlights of my life came when the Durham Museum (Omaha) asked me to be a scholar in residence,” she says.

Fine art and higher ed were not part of her parents’ experience and she appreciates that these things became a vital part of her life.

“I was first generation college,” she says. “I went to Slippery Rock Sate College  (Penn.). I actually played soccer on a sheep field there. I was always in dance, Dance then was part of physical education. Now you go to study dance. Then I went to the University of Pittsburgh (for her masters). I taught three years in the public schools – health and physical education – and did dance and choreography. Then I went to Robert Morris, where I founded Orchesis (the greek word for dance).”

UNO’s company was originally called Orchesis after a nationwide modern dance  movement and honorary society.

Metal-Corbin stretched herself while at Robert Morris.

“Not only did I found the dance company, I joined folk dancers from Duquesne University as an itinerant grad school teacher for Penn State University. I coached varsity basketball for women, I was the softball director, I was the cheerleader sponsor. I did a million things there.”

 

 

DJsculpture

Sculpture by Jamie Burmeister; ©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

 

Dance as life

Once at UNO she contributed to The Moving Company’s long legacy.

“I’ve been involved in the work of carrying on a tradition of modern dance at UNO that goes back to 1935. We’re in our 80th year of continued existence, which makes us one of the oldest modern dance university companies on the planet.”

There have been four directors – Ruth Diamond Levinson, Aileene Lockhart, Vera Lundhahl and Josie Metal-Corbin.

Bringing dance to people and places that don’t often see it is one of Josie’s passions. She’s done that as a Nebraska Arts Council Artist in Schools and Communities and via the Moving Company, whose mission, she says, is community oriented. “We were doing community engagement before it became the byword of institutions.”

Indoors or outdoors, kids to seniors, she’s made dance accessible everywhere, for everyone.

“We invite the community. When i came to UNO I wanted to see the dancers and the audience reflect north, south, east and west Omaha. I worked for a very long time to get diversity of audience and performers and today we are diverse in age, religion, language, race. you name it That is I think my biggest accomplishment.”

She’s been intentional doing outreach work with the Omaha International Folk Dancers and the African Culture Connection. She’s worked with a local ballroom dance group. She formed Reach for It, a dance class for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Her interest in dance as cultural rite, symbol and storytelling device found full expression in a native Bosnian dance-inspired piece she choreographed. The performance was accompanied by authentic music and projected images of the Bosnian-Serb War. Among the dancers and musicians were Bosnian refugees living in Omaha.

“I love collaborations, I thrive on collaborations, I always have from day one in my teaching career. You see, dance is very ecumenical. Dance is physics, dance is force, gravity, weight, flow and time, so connecting it to science in any way is a natural connection. We’ve done the water cycle dance, the spider dance…There’s an easy connection to math with patterns and forms and shapes. There’s most definitely a connection to fine art, to music, to language arts.”

She says “dance is very universal” but American culture doesn’t readily see its broad integration until someone like her choreographs a site specific work where you least expect it.

“A recent book I published a chapter in is about site specific dance. I illustrate how you can have dance on bridges, in the middle of water, on mountaintops. There’s vertical dancing now where people are hooked up on rigs and they do the mountain or climbing wall.”

Some of her favorite site specific work has intersected with some of the area’s most sublime spots.

“The first meaningful site specific piece I did here was with artist Catherine Ferguson, storyteller Nancy Duncan and musician Michael Fitzsimmons. We did it in a Joslyn Art Museum gallery with words, music and dance within a Catherine Ferguson installation of slate and rope. Then we did something through the galleries at the Sheldon Art Museum in Lincoln with works by artist Jamie Burmeister.”

She recalls another Joslyn performance that brought nontraditional dancers together for a piece that took some improvising.

“In 2005 The Moving Company was commissioned to respond to an exhibition, Renaissance to Rococo. I wanted the dance performed in the galleries among the works of art but was denied permission due to security issues. Our performance was relegated to the Witherspoon Concert Hall. I was disappointed but richly rewarded with the premiere of a piece I made for five physical education majors. They were future teacher candidates learning ways of integrating dance, language arts and sign language into the physical education setting.

“A quarterback, a coach, an assistant at Boys Town and two K-12 physical education majors made their dancing debut, much to the amazement of their peers. Although the site was a traditional stage to our Moving Company dancers, it was a very unexplored place to these newcomers. In this new environment they learned to navigate space, time, effort and relationships on a stage versus on a playing field.”

A few years earlier she assembled dancers at UNO to serve as models for sculptor John Lajba and his commission to create what became the “The Road to Omaha” bronze sculpture for the College World Series.

“Lajba and a photographer came to the UNO Dance Lab and worked with dancers as they performed combinations of running, jumping and lifting. Lajba used photos of the dancers as departure points for maquettes and ultimately some dancers sat for wax casts.”

Then there’s her work for the great outdoors.

“Two times we did a dance on the Glacier Creek Preserve,” she notes.

Northwest of Omaha, this topographically diverse nature preserve is dedicated to the study and appreciation of the tall grass prairie and associated ecosystems of Eastern Nebraska.

“The first prairie dance was based on a poem. It came out of an environmental presentation I did at Kaneko. Then when the preserve’s barn was dedicated we performed in the loft. David played music for it.”

She describes how a public byway became a medium for dance.

“Last year we did a dance along the full length of the Bob Kerresy Pedestrian Bridge. The theme was the fragility of U.S. waterways and our performance was synched with performances by dancers across the nation at 3 o’clock on April 6 to bring attention to the issue.”

Legacy

Now that she’s retired, she’s pleased the university “is going to carry on the dance company” with an interim director.

Metal-Corbin says while she’s stepping out of the field, she’ll always remain a part of dance.

“I don’t want to say that I’m through. I am a dancer, I’ll be dancing in my kitchen, I’ll be on the highways and byways dancing, but it’s not going to be these huge events. I am setting boundaries. There are other people that can do this now. I’ve done it and it takes a lot of energy. I now want to take my energy and put it somewhere else.

“I’m not fading away. I am leaping and stepping out and landing – I don’t know where. We will see what kind of a landing it will be. I’m OCD, and so it’s unlike me not to know what the next step is.”

There are still bound to be those whimsical moments, at home or in public, when the mood strikes and she, and sometimes David, too, trip the light fantastic, not giving a hang what people think.

“Once while visiting a shop in Quebec City,” Josie recalls. “I became engaged in conversation with the hat maker at a millenary store concerning the art of modern dance. She was intrigued I was a dancer-choreographer. Before I knew it, she suggested a ‘trade.’ She asked me to create a dance within the store, and in turn, I would receive a discount on the beautiful hat I had been admiring and trying on. She locked the front door and for a few minutes I improvised dancing through the aisles and around the displays.

“She got her dance and I walked out with the hat.”

Quinn Corbin grew up expecting the unexpected with her parents.

“At times them dancing in the aisles of the supermarket or singing loudly on the street corners in New York City was embarrassing but I’ve always pretty much embraced it as have my friends.”

Retired or not, Josie’s spontaneity to break out in dance will never go away as long as she can still move.

Always a teacher, always of service

Even when she stopped concert dancing more than a decade ago, teaching still brought out the performer in her.

“When I’m teaching I also am performing. Every teacher who is a good educator is looking for a performance level. So every time I go into that classroom or studio I humbly feel I have a captive audience and I’m pulling out all the tricks in the book to engage people. Even though I stopped performing in formal concert at age 56 I was still directing, choreographing and teaching.”

She says the passion she expresses for her work is contagious.

“My (teacher) evaluations have always said, ‘She’s energetic, she’s enthusiastic,’ and the truth is it’s a quid pro quo. I get my energy because there’s people there, so they reflect things back to me. Or if they don’t, I have a genre to get them to move or to respond.”

Her ability to connect with students and to be a leader in her profession earned her National Scholar-Artist recognition from the National Dance Association in 2012, one of many awards recognizing her work in the studio and in the classroom.

All in all, she’s content with how her career evolved.

“I have worked very hard to create a body of work on the academic side and on the artistic side that’s been very rewarding. I’ve had the chance to work with so many different people I’ve given to but that in turn have given back. That quid pro quo is what I always try to do.”

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

Alone and together

David has his own recognized body of work separate from Josie. They respect that they are their own persons, professionally and otherwise.

“We’re two independent people,” Josie says. “We don’t speak for each other and people have honored that because I think we’ve kind of insisted on it. I’m not Mrs, Corbin. I have a hyphenated last name. I have my own professional title. He has his own professional title. David has his teaching, his writing and all these other initiatives that retirement allowed him to expand.”

He confirms he’s a man of varied interests, saying, “I have many passions. Certainly teaching and advocacy are among them. But I also enjoy music, nature, travel and reading.” Writing, too. He’s authored or co-authored many books in his field, including a pair of high school textbooks he worked on shortly after retiring. His brother Charles, whom he considers a mentor, was a co-author on those projects.

An earlier book the brothers did, Homemade Play Equipment, landed David on The Late Show with David Letterman Show. He’d sent a copy to the show. Years passed when a staffer called to request a video of what he’d demonstrate if he were a guest. Thus, he ended up showing Dave reuses of bicycle inner tubes, milk jugs, panty hose and other throwaways as resistance and strength training tools. Corbin utilizes some in an exercise program he conducts at deFreese Manor. He even gives Green Fitness workshops that emphasize getting in shape using fun, repurposed, low environmental impact devices.

He’s traveled extensively for his work, once serving as a consultant in Romania. He and Josie taught a stress management workshop in China. She says she’s grateful for the support he’s shown her to go after certain professional opportunities.

The couple have merged their interests and expertise to do many projects together. For years he’s taught, with Josie assisting, exercise classes and workshops for older adults, many of them for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging (ENOA). The pair ended up writing a book together, Reach for It, that grew out of their shared interest and experience in getting older adults moving to improve their health. David says, “The subtitle of that book is A Handbook of Health, Exercise and Dance Activities for Older Adults. I was teaching healthy aspects of aging at UNO at the time. Part of it was at that time there were no decent textbooks around, so it was kind of meant to be background information on aging, plus activities that people could do.”

David says introducing exercise to older adults may meet with resistance at first but once people participate they’re hooked.

“We were giving a workshop for ENOA and it was pretty obvious the group was very reticent to get involved. Some people had canes.

We actually had a parachute canopy (a tool to stimulate perceptual, cognitive and motor skills) and we said, ‘OK, we’re going to try this,’ and finally everyone was up. Then we got the activity going and one person took his cane, threw it down, and started dancing. We felt like Oral Roberts or someone,” he’s says, laughing at the memory. “So it turned completely around. It went from people rolling their eyes and I don’t want any part of it to active joyful engagement and movement.”

 

 

©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

Performance of “Thriller” at the Durham Museum; ©photo by Debra S. Kaplan

 

 

Parkinson’s program

Josie borrowed the book’s title for a dance program at UNO she started for persons with Parkinson’s.

“There are inherent therapeutic benefits of dance no matter whether you’re ill or you’re well,” she says. “The joy of movement, being with other people in a community of learners, sharing in the rhythm and the music – that’s the therapeutic part of it. You have a chance to be creative, sometimes to do problem solving. You’re moving in the kinesthetic domain, so if you’re under stress your body gets a chance to get rid of some of the stress products.”

She says the Parkinson’s program’s been well-received.

“It’s a very sound program. It’s based on one I studied in New York that is worldwide. At Reach for It we do 10-week sessions. This last semester we had speech, language and hearing students come – that’s really important because with Parkinson’s you have to exercise your voice as well as your body. We let in free the caretakers or drivers of the persons with Parkinson’s. So we have usually a nice circle of maybe 20 people at the UNO Dance Lab.. We always have live music.

“We’re in our fifth year. The Nebraska chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association and The Moving Company are the sponsors. We just got a grant to carry it forward, which I feel good about because I’m leaving and at least the funding’s in place. The person leading them now is Danielle Laurion, who is a dance therapist and a choreographer.”

David says the benefits of dance for Parkinson’s are well documented.

“Part of the philosophy behind it is that the rhythm of the music helps with the tremors and things like that. Music is part of it and rhythm is part of it. People will usually report they have an after-effect, too – they feel better for a couple of hours.”

“When you’re losing some of your physical movements in your flow, to get it back even for a short while is reassuring,” Josie says. “It’s well known in the Parkinson’s community that dance is beneficial. This is all about the healing powers of dance. Participants are moving in all ranges of motion and the thing is they’re with other people. You have a community of learners and these people want to have music and dance in their life. Instead of going to play bingo maybe or going to a book club, they’re going to a dance class.”

Last year she directed an impromptu private performance in the backyard of a longtime Moving Company supporter battling a terminal illness. Josie says the patron’s daughter shared that her mother seemed like her old self for the first time in awhile during the dance.

David says whatever your age, the best advice he can offer is “keep moving and exercising” and “emphasize what you can do and not what you can’t do.” After a 23-year gap, he did Bike Ride Across Nebraska last year and found it much tougher this time. But he did it.

 

 

©Cover photo by Bill Sitzmann

 

 

Public health

With that same can-do attitude he’s taken on public health issues and affected change. He helped get the smoking ban in Omaha and statewide. He helped get funding from the Master Tobacco Settlement to establish new public health departments in Neb. so that for the first every county’s covered by a local or district public health department.

“Both of these were collaborative initiatives, but I am proud to have played a role in each of them.”

His mission to connect people with public health issues is ongoing.

“I am still educating about the relationships between public health and climate change. If you ask people whether or not they support public health or taking steps to reduce the consequences of climate change you get somewhat tepid support. If you ask people if they support clean air and water and safe and healthy foods, you get very high support. Good public health programs and slowing or mitigating the consequences of climate change are essential to clean air and water and safe and healthy foods.”

He wishes Obamacare had gone much further.

“It baffles me the U.S. is one of only a few so-called developed countries that does not have universal health care. I think we should.”

He’s not shy expressing his views in public forums.

“I’ve certainly been active in writing letters to editors and op-eds for as long as I can remember. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in kind of major things. Sometimes they’re little. For example, I’m trying to get something going for a plastic bag ban here in Omaha, not because it’s the biggest issue in the world but it’s a way to get people talking about recycling in general – to get the argument going.

“The average person uses 500 single-use plastic bags a year and most of them get used for less than 20 minutes and then they’re tossed. We did a trash day at Prospect Hill Cemetery. I put all the trash on display – there were over 70 plastic bags. Of all the times I’ve been in the newspaper more people remember me for picking up trash. I still pick up the trash every day when I walk.”

He even produced videos about the evils of plastic bag proliferation. In one, he does a dance he choreographed himself.

He’s focused on environmental issues these days. He’s on the Sierra Club board. He’s president of Nebraskans for Solar. He’s on the Public Health Association of Nebraska board. He’s also a self-appointed watchdog at all Omaha Public Power District open board meetings.

“I think we’ve been pretty successful in getting them to have more wind power and less coal,” he says of his and other activists’ pressure on OPPD. “I follow a lot of the legislation.”

Environmental events he attended in 2014 included Earth Day Omaha, the People’s Climate March and the Harvest the Hope Concert in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

Happy trails

Just like Josie, he’s never at a loss for what to do. She says upon announcing her retirement “the first thing people said was, ‘Oh, you and David will get to spend more time together.'” She’s quick to point out, “We don’t need more time – we have good time. We’ve managed to figure out our own space. We’re not a couple that has to do everything together. But we do a lot together. We travel. We’ve done a lot of very good trips together.” They celebrate wedding anniversaries trekking to exotic locales.

“For our 30th we did Argentina and Patagonia,” she says. “In Buenos Aires we took tango lessons at an Armenian social club late at night. Then we took a little plane down to Patagonia and stayed on this sheep ranch. To me, it was what the creation of Earth must have looked like because we were on the water, no lights. Beautiful.”

“For our 35th we went to Iceland,” she says. “It was the best. Beautiful.

Little hamlets, horses, black and white sheep on the hillsides, no telephone poles, geothermic.”

David marveled at Iceland’s “one hundred percent renewable energy.”

They both like that Iceland’s tech savvy enough to have wi-fi in the most remote regions yet protects its pristine, lush, green environment.

On another trip they enjoyed the vistas of Vancouver, British Columbia, at one point staying in a tree house with all the amenities. They got around by sea-plane, kayak, tandem bicycle, hiking, bus, car and ferry.

In 1998 she made her New York City dance debut and has also performed in Lisbon, Portugal, Paris, France and Italy. In 2001 she led a large group of Moving Company dancers to Cesena, Italy to compete in the international Dance Grand Prix Italia. The UNO team won second place in Theatre Dance. David made the trip, too.

For their own personal travels, the couple often do self-guided tours she extensively researches, though their itineraries leave plenty of room for unexpected discoveries and adventures. Like taking tango in the wee hours of the night or suddenly dancing when the spirit moves them, wherever they happen to be.

A miniature sculpture by artist Jamie Burmeister, who was a graduate student of David’s, captures the effervescent couple in, what else, a dance pose that reflects their embrace of life.

“Their commitment to making the world a better place through their activities really inspires me,” says Burmeister, who simply titled the piece, “David and Josie.”

When it comes to living and relating, the couple answer a resounding yes to the question: May I have this dance? Their life is a living metaphor for the symbiotic give and take and affirmation that is dance.

 

 

 

 

 

©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

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