Our Summer Love Affair with the Beach

Each summer from the golden sands of the Oregon Coast to the vibrancy of South Beach, from the retreats of Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard to Malibu and Santa Monica’s iconic pier, from the Gulf to the quiet beaches of the Great Lakes, we participate in thriving numbers in the summer ritual of heading to the beach. Hundreds of millions of Americans head/pack up for the beach each year. For many in places such as the relaxing Outer Banks or bustling Ocean City the exodus from city to seaside is a daylong, week-long or even summer long experience.

What is it that brings us to the beach in droves as soon as Memorial Day dawns and keeps us enthralled through Labor Day? Perhaps it’s the quiet early morning walk or jog with the rising sun as a backdrop and man’s best friend at your side. Maybe it’s the relaxing and soothing sound of the ocean that makes any problems or stress seem an ocean/world away. For others it could be the strolling the boardwalk seeking out the perfect bargain or funnel cake.  Maybe it’s the excitement of catching the perfect wave on a surfboard or boogie board or paddle boarding along with the tide. Seemingly plenty of us simply enjoy getting lost in our favorite book while trying to get that perfect tan.

I must confess as I write this that  I too am participating in this right of summer, listening to the gentle rumble of the waves, feeling the gentle breeze the warm sun overhead and the din of hundreds of fellow beach bums swimming, chatting, “sandcastling”, “volleyballing”, and sun tanning.

Our love of summer and the beach means that the end of the season can leave us reluctant to leave. Indeed in some places, ushering out the beach-going season can be a semi-mournful experience. At one of Delaware’s popular beach communities, Bethany Beach, the annual Jazz Funeral (watch videos of the event here), serves as a way for beach lovers to playfully bid adieu to the summer season in New Orleans style.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate then that Michael Jackson’s “Never can say Goodbye” can be heard playing in the background as I conclude this blog. For when it comes to bidding the beach farewell, for the beach lovers the sentiment is best penned by Denzel Washington’s character in the movie John Q, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later”

The Generous Life

Its February now and Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog has seen his shadow promising us six more weeks of winter. Given the unusually warm winter most of the country is experiencing that might not be such a bad thing. By now the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are small blips in our rear view mirror as spring approaches. A common theme during the holidays is always giving, whether that is gifts to loved ones or giving of our time or resources to the less fortunate.

One of the most poignant statements from the holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life, was never actually spoken. “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away” represented a life motto for George Bailey’s father as he fashioned his business around investing in the lives of others. At a time of crisis George would implement this motto and adopt it as his own creed, something that would turn out to be richly rewarding to him throughout his life.

Likewise, others have found that this notion of giving and generosity need not be limited to the holidays but can be part of our daily lifestyle. From the Giving Pledge where wealthy millionaires such as Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerburg pledge to give away most of their life fortunes to the Paying it Forward concept to charity work millions of Americans seek to give to the life of others. It’s important not just to think of generosity in a financial context. We might then be tempted to delay our generosity until we achieve abundance. Generosity can be shared through time, encouragement, conversations, friendships and many other ways often with those nearest to us.

For Christians the spirit of this motto is reflected in many places within the Bible but captured well in 2 Corinthians 9:16 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” This most often is the case through life as people welcome others who have giving spirits and their generosity typically opens doors or opportunity and relationship which previously might have remained closed.

In the end, most realize that no matter your belief, we can’t take our talents and possessions with us when life concludes. However our legacy of generosity can follow us. So pour into the lives of others and experience the rewards of making a difference in their life and your own. For it’s through giving that we receive.

A New Year, A New You

It’s a New Year now, and of course everyone is promising changes and new actions, participating in the annual quintessential rite of the New Year; hoping for better things. Many of us pledge New Year resolutions only to not see them realized by year’s end. How then can we make good on our resolutions for the coming year and experience positive change in our lives? Here are three simple things to keep in mind to ensure that this year differs from last year.

1) Set Goals: If you fail to plan you plan to fail. It takes 21 days to make a good habit or break a bad one. Designate a period of time create new practices and habits. What will you do in those 21 days? Be specific about concrete actions you can take to achieve your goals

2) Take Action: If we seek positive changes we must take steps to make them happen. Wishing and resolving isn’t enough or even setting goals aren’t enough. Whether it’s going to the gym, saving financially or pursuing your education, establish a routine of activity that will accomplish your goals.

3) Be Persistent: On New Year’s Day energy and focus for your new goals run high in the euphoria of expectations for the New Year. Will you be persistent enough to stick to your goals and activities after the initial excitement of the New Year has worn off? That’s where many resolutions are lost. Make sure you are persistent in both planning your work and working your plan.

With preparation and hard work we all can take some positive steps to make our goals and dreams come true in 2012.

Have blessed and progress-filled New Year.

Why We Still Love It’s A Wonderful Life

So it is Christmas Eve 2011 and I just finished my much anticipated big screen viewing and annual tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t seen it theatre-style on the big screen I highly recommend it. Viewing it in the theater (a packed one at that) caused me to reflect on why it is that we had all journeyed out to see a movie which most of us had seen numerous times and that was ironically being shown on television at the same time. As the lights came up at the conclusion, men and women alike were seen and heard shedding tears and clapping(as if it were a new movie), it dawned on me that this movie shares a unique place in American, and even international Christmas traditions.

In 1946 the movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring James Stewart and Donna Reed premiered in New York receiving mixed reviews and failing to reach its break-even point financially. Perhaps this is fitting given the movie has now been ranked as the American Film Institute’s Most Inspiring Movie and has become a Christmas season staple seen by generations the world over, and shown consistently in primetime each year on television. How exactly does a black and white movie that predates television itself continuously find its way into our collective holiday movie psyche each year?

I must confess that I am a little biased as It’s A Wonderful Life is not only my favorite Christmas movie, but my favorite movie of all time. That being said, here are a few reasons why I believe the movie continues to remain a Christmas tradition for so many:

1) It is still relevant. For a movie filmed during the Herbert Hoover administration that features two-piece telephones and record players, we can relate to the movie now more than ever. Watching the movie one is struck by the cords of economic unrest and foreclosures as a result of the Great Depression, as well as a nation at war. (WWII) Changes in technology have yet to alleviate the need for basic human needs and desires; economic security and general happiness and well-being.

2) It tells our story. Almost everyone can relate to having hopes and dreams which are either delayed or are unrealized, often in sacrifice of the betterment of our families, friends, or due to circumstance. George’s frustration and failure to leave Bedford Falls to see the world and fulfill his dreams resonates with many of us who are still longing to do the same in one way or another but have not been able to due to our responsibilities. There is a George Bailey in all of us.

3) It represents ideals. From love and faith, to family, to entrepreneurship to homeownership and patriotism the movie captures quintessential and timeless notions of who we are as Americans in this small town atmosphere of Bedford Falls. These universal ideals and many more found in the film resonate across decades gone by and strike a positive chord with us today.

4) It emphasizes life. Perhaps the most compelling theme in the movie and that with which it concludes, is the notion that despite life’s challenges, despite our personal troubles and failures a life well lived is not wasted regardless of one’s affluence or lack of it. Our net worth should never be confused with our self-worth, something Potter underestimates where George is concerned. A wonderful life is one which invests into the lives of others, our family and friends, and one which demonstrates that when we fall; they can and will be there to pick us up.

These themes and many more represent why even at 65, It’s A Wonderful Life keeps making a welcome repeat performance during one of the most cherished times of the year.

What is your favorite part about the movie?

What is Christmas?

Christmas is arguably the most widely celebrated holiday in the world only surpassed by New Year’s Day. As its name implies, for Christians it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago, an event which ushered in hope, joy, love and peace. These principles have been embraced in celebration of the holiday both by Christians and non-Christians alike. Similarly Christmas represents a time for gift-giving, spending time with family, friends and loved ones, and for relaxation and reflection. Overall the holiday and its season leading through New Year’s Day have come to signify a period of cheer and good will towards all.

As mentioned in my earlier blog, the Christmas footprint on our collective calendar continues to expand as early as October, often eclipsing Thanksgiving, driven almost entirely by the commercial side of Christmas, as annual profit windfall for retailers. Experts estimate Americans will spend $465 billion  on holiday purchases this year, an average of $786 per shopper. While gift-giving is intrinsically tied to the core story of Christmas itself, and its larger cultural traditions, it should never be the main focus of the holiday. Often the greatest gifts one can receive such as love, cherished moments and memories, family reconciliation don’t come packaged in a box.

The increased focused on commercialism have led to debates in the public square between some within Christianity and others outside decrying the commercializing of the nature of the holiday. This debate led one recent column, much of what I enjoyed,  calling for a separate Christian Christmas holiday called “Jesus Day.” While I share Ms. Sullivan’s notion of the importance of a holiday that retains its original intent and meaning, I also appreciate the value of a holiday that is celebrated, legally in countries, the world over, even if not completely for religious reasons. Christians will always celebrate Christmas regardless of the date. Christmas hasn’t always been observed on December 25th, nor is it universally today. Drawing such a distinction on the calendar would further marginalize people from the core principles of the holiday as opposed to inviting them to understand and embrace those ideals.

One of my favorite things about this season is that even while many celebrate Ramadan and Chanukah rather than Christmas, the season still is recognized as a time of hope, joy, love and peace and good cheer. While you might not experience that good cheer on Black Friday, you are likely to experience it in everything from a carol, to a concert, to canned food drive or around a cup of warm hot chocolate after enjoying  holiday ice skating. Regardless of our perspectives let’s embrace the common desire of the season to give and receive love and concern for each other. There is room at the Christmas dinner table, tree, mall (maybe not parking lot) and the manger, for all.

What Detroit Means To Me

What Detroit Means to Me

Detroit. That well-known name represents many things to many people. For some, it signifies a 32-mile long river which feeds into Lake Erie, one of busiest waterways in the world, and a place for boating, fishing and reflection. For others the name Detroit represents its founder’s Cadillac “city of the strait” an idyllic location that represents the only place in the country where one has to head south to enter Canada.

Detroit is also synonymous for the nation’s auto industry that helped turn this once small fur trading post turned into an international metropolitan city and icon. For many others Detroit is Motown, Hitsvile U.S.A., the place with rich musical talents that gave rise to the musical careers of The Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. More recently this musical legacy has included the likes of Anita Baker, Aaliyah, Eminem and Kid Rock.

For the sports enthusiasts, the city has been voted best sports city by the Sporting News. Detroit is Hockeytown USA, home to the Red Wings, home to MVP Justin Verlander and the A.L. Central Champion Detroit Tigers, where the NBA champion Piston’s “Bad Boys” once patrolled the hardwood against Michael Jordan where the Lions play football on Thanksgiving and where Barry Sanders once spun defenders in 360 circles on his way to the end zone. Detroit regularly hosts major sports events such as Super Bowls XVI & XL, the 2009 NCAA Final Four and 2005 MLB All Star game among others.

Detroit for me however is all of these things and more. It’s spending time with my family past and present. It’s my grandfather working tirelessly as the second African-American bus driver in the city and later as a real estate agent. It’s my uncle teaching for years at Detroit’s iconic and newly awarded state football champion, Cass Tech High School. Detroit is church picnics or sunsets at Belle Isle, the nation’s largest city-run island parks. Detroit is the gospel music sound of the Winans family, the Clark Sisters, Thomas Whitfield, Fred Hammond and Marvin Sapp and many more. Detroit is Vernor’s Ginger Ale, Faygo Pop and Better Made chips. It’s a city of great faith with over 5,000 congregations many of which strive to make the city a better place and serve the poor. It’s a place with surprisingly friendly people as many visitors discover. It’s gritty, it’s determined, it’s tough, it’s imperfect, it’s hopeful. It’s Detroit.

Sadly today, Detroit represents a shell of its former self geographically and economically. Gone are most of the big factories, many of the local businesses, and many of its residents that once numbered close to 2 million residents. Abandoned homes, businesses and even churches line many neighborhoods across the city. Political corruption, racism, crime, violence, poverty and unemployment have plagued the city for decades. Foreclosure and population have hit the city hard with the city losing a quarter of its population over the last ten years. A city of nearly 2 million residents in the 1950s has been reduced to just over 700,000 residents today. Today the city faces state financial receivership and substantial budget shortfalls that will one way or another reshape the scale and scope of the city for years to come.

The good news, even if it has been long in realization, is that all cities inevitably rise, decline, and rise again. That is the nature of the life cycle of every city. Perhaps this is what Father Gabriel Richard knew when he coined the city’s motto” after the fire of 1805 destroyed most of city. Detroit, which has been down in many ways for the bulk of half a century, will rise once more from this most recent slow-burning socio-economic fire that has decimated the city.  Positive signs can be seen in the recently revitalized and scenic Detroit Riverfront with miles of scenic landscaped walkways or in the recent economic activity in the city’s downtown and midtown areas. Events such as the Detroit International Jazz Festival, Detroit Electronic Music Festival (Movement), Detroit River Days, and Winter Blast all make Detroit attractive as a destination and represent signs of vitality. Much work however remains to be done in the city’s neighborhoods, schools and employment sector. There is reason for optimism even amidst some of the despair, Detroit after all has been here before.

As seen through the city’s history and through the lives of its residents including Detroiters from Elijah McCoy to Henry Ford, from Joe Louis to Thomas Hearns from Tom Sizemore to Tom Selleck, from William Boeing to Roger Penske and from Rosa Parks to Ben Carson; Detroit has, does and always will represent ingenuity and hope.

“We hope for better things, she will arise from the ashes”

Yes she will.

A Defining Moment

American History is full of defining moments, key junctures and historical forks in the road where either by political will, military fortune, divine providence, or apparent luck the future success of the country and peace and prosperity for its citizens is either saved or assured. This has been evident from every event from the American Revolution, through the Civil War; from the Great Depression to the Great Recession; from the Civil Rights Movement to Occupy Wall Street. Through challenges foreign or domestic America and its leaders and citizens have found ways to arrive at solutions to our most pressing social, financial, and political problems.

For millions of Americans however, this moment in time feels different. Perhaps it feels different because it is different. Unemployment and poverty levels have hit new record levels for many across the country. For certain segments of the country, the challenges are even more pronounced. According to the 2010 U.S. Census poverty among the Hispanic population is nearly 25 percent while that figure nears 30 percent for the African-American community. Unemployment has been hovering over 9 percent for the past couple of years the second highest rate of unemployment since the World War II era. Further escalating the frustration of many Americans is the widening wealth gap. While the comparisons between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the remaining 99 percent are widespread, the wealth gap also has intergenerational impacts.  A recent study which analyzed the 2010 Census found that the net worth of 65-year-old is 47 times that of a 35-year-old. This discrepancy is 10 times what it was a century ago and 5 times what it was in 2005.

At a time when belt-tightening is being required on Main street and to a lesser, but still noticeable degree on Wall Street, it now is being required on State Street. Government Federal, state and local levels is being faced with all kinds of budget cuts to services. This has been most prominent in the most recent Federal Debt discussions and debate with the recent Congressional “Super Committee”, a bi-partisan group of 12 members of Congress who were tasked with the responsibility to arrive at a plan that could obtain Congressional and Executive approval. Unfortunately the group was not able to even able to produce a plan to be taken under consideration by the Congress.  Perhaps this is an example of the inability of Congress to act which has earned it such low approval ratings. A recent Gallup poll placed the public’s disapproval rating at a whopping 82 percent.

Now, Washington’s political leaders face the challenge of addressing the automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion in 2012. Otherwise these across the board cuts go in to effect in January 2013. These cuts would affect both military and domestic spending an equal 50-50 split and while many programs are “safe” from the axe such as Social Security and Medicare benefits others such as educational grants, transportation and medicare payments to providers among many others are not. The key question over the next few months will be whether or not the government will be able to reach consensus on these contentious issues and what value will Congressional leaders place on which programs in an effort to reach agreement.

At this defining moment in the nation’s history with so much at stake socially, economically and politically,  its most important to pause before the next significant actions are taken and reflect upon a few key questions:

How did we get here? What should be done about it? What are the responsibilities of the younger generation? What should we value now?

All of these questions can be summarized by paraphrasing one over-arching question posed by Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Live?  For the decisions made collectively right now by leaders and citizens alike will determine how Americans will live for generations to come.

I would suggest a focus on a few key points for political leaders and citizens moving forward. First in this era of incessant partisan bickering a balanced perspective is more important than ever in considering the social and economic realities and needs of the country What balance can be struck between the public good and corporate or government interests?

Second, as needs increase around the country due to economic distress and the strains on our medical and other systems increase due to the aging Baby Boomer generation, boosting the nation’s nonprofit sector is imperative. This sector which employs over 13 million Americans, more than the finance, real estate and insurance industries combined, will be called upon increasingly to address the needs of our communities. Innovative and strategic partnerships with the corporate and philanthropic sector could serve as a boom to this industry and bolster employment.

Third, as economic times become difficult it is important individuals to receive as much assistance as possible regarding financial literacy and making the most wise decisions with their finances with regards to savings, home ownership and retirement. By enhancing the ability of Americans to live financially secure lifestyles we can ensure a more stable future for ourselves and for future generations.

Thankful for Thanksgiving

Is it me or does Thanksgiving seem to shrink more and more each year? To be sure it still falls on the 4th Thursday in November and it is still recognized as a National holiday. However it seems that the space the holiday has traditionally occupied within our consciousness is being challenged more than ever before. Thanksgiving used to loom as large or nearly as large as Christmas for many people. Recently Thanksgiving while still one of the most traveled holidays of the year is getting the big squeeze.

Between focusing on Halloween, travel plans, sporting events, Black Friday and the Christmas and holiday season; Thanksgiving seems to be losing its seat at the holiday table. Recently retailers such as Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s and Kmart announced plans to open for shopping as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night for the first time. I suppose that is one way to work off Thanksgiving dinner but it doesn’t do much for quality family time.

It seems that we aren’t the only ones whose plates are full at Thanksgiving. With a typical day which includes a schedule for many of preparation for the Thanksgiving meal, three NFL games, Christmas movie debuts and Thanksgiving night shopping Thanksgiving’s plate of activities is overflowing.  All of this of course is only possible if you haven’t already been standing in line at your local Best Buy for Black Friday shopping as some have been for over a week in Florida and Texas. A holiday that was once a respite from the hustle and bustle of our daily work, errand-running and shopping schedules, one that provided an extended amount of time to value family and friends has experienced role reversal and been placed as an item on a to-do list.

Growing up in my family and particularly my extended family, Thanksgiving, particularly the meal and the post meal group recovery was the main event and the destination. Between the initial family gathering and pre-meal prayers of Thanksgiving to Nana’s sweet potato pie and the board games with the family, I remember being not only full of food, but of family, fun and fellowship. Even though many of those Thanksgivings involved watching the Detroit Lions in the traditional NFL game, or eventually going to a movie, the memories I have of Thanksgivings past include funny family moments. I’m hard-pressed to recall what movie we went out to see or a shopping experience.

So this Thanksgiving let’s spend more time lingering at the dinner table in conversation, more time in the living room playing Taboo or Scattergories, more time sharing our life stories with our family and friends. In short, let’s spend more time enjoying the people and the tangible things who mean the most to us and less time caught up in the hustle and bustle of the next day and the next holiday. Through time spent with family and friends we have the opportunity to pause and gain perspective on those things that most important in life. At the end of the day what we remember most about Thanksgiving shouldn’t be shopping for Christmas.

The good news is these earlier store openings have sparked a pro-Thanksgiving backlash on Facebook and other sites. As we take our moments to reflect this Thanksgiving, let us take the time to enjoy the company of the people and places which mean so much to us.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions and memories?