Morning Lecture Recaps

Smithsonian curator Curtis talks need for non-white narratives in museums

Ariana Curtis, curator of Latinx studies at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, speaks about race and culture in museum spaces Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As curator of Latinx studies at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Ariana A. Curtis advocates for accurate and inclusive historical narratives that depict everyday people, not just the extraordinary. 

“Marginalized racial, ethnic and gendered identities do not deserve recognition because one person poked a hole in a racist and patriarchal system to become the first woman, the first black person or the first Latina,” Curtis said. “Our everyday experiences belong as part of our national narratives because we exist.”

At 10:45 a.m. on Thursday in the Amphitheater, Curtis gave her lecture “Creating We: On continuum of Latinx and African American Identity” as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

The Fulbright scholar began by explaining her own identity as an Afro-Latina and African American from Western Massachusetts, home to the country’s densest population of Puerto Ricans prior to Hurricane Maria. Curtis grew up surrounded by classmates who were the children of immigrants from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

From a young age, Curtis knew that immigrants are not just people of color, that Latinx is not a race and that black people are culturally diverse. 

“Those were fundamental truths of human diversity that I grew up with,” she said. “I share them with you now because I have learned over time that experiencing this depth of diversity was unusual.”

Curtis said her experiences are intertwined with her work as a museum curator and have allowed her to tell accurate histories as the first curator of Latinx studies at two different Smithsonian museums.

Curtis joined the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2013. Around this time, Anacostia broadened its mission from a focus on African Americans to urban communities, mirroring the national increase of Latinx populations. 

“My position as Latino studies curator created an official space not just to talk about Latinx urban populations, both established and emerging, but also to visually display stories and people within multiracial, multiethnic, diverse urban contexts,” Curtis said.

On her first day at Anacostia, when Curtis introduced herself to an older, African American female colleague, the woman threw her hands up and said, “You people have such difficult names.”

“I laugh when people identify me as Latina because of my first name, Ariana,” Curtis said. “My siblings are Bryan, Derrick and Johari. Being Latina had nothing to do with why my African American mother chose the name. She just liked it.”

This colleague, Curtis said, did not see her as part of her community.

“I had assumed an immediate shared sense of belonging based on our mutual blackness,” Curtis said. “What I received from that exchange was a rejection of shared identity and an assignment of Latinx ‘other,’ this refusal to see each other.”

This first day jolted Curtis and prompted her to reexamine allying phrases like “black people” and “people of color.”

“Non-white people do not necessarily know anything about one another’s histories, how to address each other, or even consider themselves in an alliance,” Curtis said. “Those phrases are descriptions, not promises or coalitions.”

Curtis resolved to use her position to answer urgent questions about the relevance of Latinx studies and to showcase the past and present diversity within Washington, D.C.

“For decades, Washington, D.C. was known affectionately as ‘Chocolate City’ because it was predominantly black,” Curtis said. “That chocolate, however, was not all African American.”

Ariana Curtis, curator of Latinx studies at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, speaks about race and culture in museum spaces Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

In her two exhibits at Anacostia, “Bridging the Americas” and “Gateways/Portales,” Curtis gathered poetry, art, archival recordings, artifacts and photography to highlight Latinx stories, from Afro-Panamanian parades to movements for college access for undocumented students, as well as the Dominican salons where black women gathered to discuss the natural hair movement.

“There were stories of community leaders and political firsts — most of them women, by the way — but the majority of the images in this award-winning exhibition depicted everyday life in urban spaces,” Curtis said.

Although both “Gateways” and “Bridging the Americas” are gone — Anacostia does not have permanent exhibits — Curtis said they allowed the museum staff and the community to see and appreciate the many identities that call D.C. home.

In 2016, Curtis joined the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. Although she was not on staff for the museum’s opening, Curtis was delighted that her colleagues had woven black ethnic diversity throughout the museum, such as the inclusion of Afro-Latinx athletes, politicians and military personnel.

“This inclusive reality sets a didactic and emotional tone for the visitors, the staff, the collection, the programming and the public,” Curtis said. “It represents an institutional decision about how this collection will be built and who this museum will represent.”

In terms of the museum’s representation of Afro-Latinx women, Curtis highlighted two particular artifacts.

The first was a dress worn by Celia Cruz, a black Cuban woman known as the Queen of Salsa. The first time Curtis saw this dress at the NMAAHC, she said her heart skipped a beat.

“I will never suggest that museums do not collect and display material culture from famous women,” Curtis said. “But being extraordinary, like Celia Cruz, is atypical. Singular stories of famous women are aspirational, but do not create a broad base for incorporating women’s history or Afro-Latinx history.”

The second artifact was a wooden boat seat that an Afro-Ecuadorian woman named Débora Nazareno once used to navigate the waterways of Ecuador. It is decorated with a spider and a spider web, representing Anansi or Aunt Nancy, “a character out of West African folklore that traveled via the transatlantic slave trade and rooted in the African Diaspora, including in the United States.”

This object — the very first donated to NMAAHC — is Curtis’ favorite because it breaks patterns by representing an everyday woman’s story without depicting her via a portrait or clothing.

“It is a reminder that no matter the political rhetoric, African American culture, like all U.S. culture, is globally constructed and globally connected,” she said. “The popularity of NMAAHC shows that people worldwide are hungry for alternative perspectives of our shared history.”

Those visiting Curtis’ galleries may never know they were curated by an Afro-Latina woman. Although Curtis’ exhibitions are not authored, she said her curatorial voice matters.

“To borrow language from Wynton Marsalis’ talk on Monday morning, I have a responsibility to not lie to myself about what being a black Latina curator means, both in challenge and reward,” Curtis said.

Curtis said her experiences at black museums are not representative of her field, where white men make up 93% of museum directors and 89% of board members, according to a 2018 study.

“We know that public history perspectives are overwhelmingly white and male,” Curtis said. “You have heard of #OscarsSoWhite. Well, #MuseumsSoWhite is also a thing.”

Another study Curtis cited found that Americans across all ages, races and geographical locations consider museums the most trustworthy source of information, above local papers, nonprofits and academic researchers.

“So museums’ trustworthiness exists despite movement from within the museum field to openly acknowledge that museums are not neutral,” she said. “The reality of who is telling the story matters in what stories are being told. It matters to how the stories are told.”

Although she is an introvert, Curtis said she feels it is important for her to discuss her experiences with racism, microaggressions and exclusion. She also feels responsible for documenting a diversity of people, not just the white or famous.

“Museums can literally change how millions of people see women and which women they see,” Curtis said. “To be clear, it is not only important that I see myself in official public narratives like those of museums. It is equally as important that you see me.”

Bird Runningwater Spotlights Importance of Indigenous Filmmakers and Stories

Bird Runningwater, director of the Sundance Institute Indigenous Program, delivers his lecture “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, N. Bird Runningwater travels the world in order to amplify indigenous stories. Ultimately, he wants all Americans to see these stories on their movie screens, as well as in their textbooks.

“I really feel like there’s still a lot of history, a lot of wisdom, a lot of culture and a lot of perspective — especially from those of us coming from matrilineal, matriarchal societies — that can contribute to the learning and ongoing development of our country and society,” Runningwater said.

At 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Runningwater gave his lecture on “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“At this point, what I call my life’s work has been dedicated towards really dismantling this notion of invisibility that we, as indigenous people to North America, seem to exist within in our larger American media and popular culture system,” he said.

His work has also been dedicated to exploring representation, but also “dismantling the history of misrepresentation.”

Before introducing Chautauquans to generations of indigenous filmmakers and artists, Runningwater began his lecture with a background of his ancestry, with a geographic range that spans the entirety of North America.

On his father’s side, Runningwater’s Chiricahua great-grandfather was born as a prisoner of war in Vernon, Alabama. Upon release in 1930, the Chiricahua were told they could share land with the Mescaleros in New Mexico, but they could not return to their ancestral land. In a similar vein, Runningwater’s maternal great-great-grandmother, White Buffalo Woman, was forcibly relocated from Colorado to the Cheyenne land in Oklahoma.

Runningwater was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, and grew up speaking Cheyenne and Apache. Recently he returned, for a 12-day, coming-of-age ceremony, to sing young women into womanhood.

“We sing all of our songs going back to the creation of the universe and the Earth from the Apache perspective, going back to our first person who was created, … White Painted Woman,” he said. “These young women basically reenact her life, and they’re given that honorary title during that ceremony.”

According to Apache belief, White Painted Woman’s two twin sons told the Apache to migrate south from Alaska, to where the tribe settled near the present-day U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think under today’s immigration policies, we probably wouldn’t be let into the country, even though it’s our own land,” he said.

Unfortunately, Runningwater said that this Apache story is not communicated in American education systems or in cinematic history.

Runningwater’s desire to communicate indigenous stories is shared with his boss and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, who purchased the land in Utah that would later host the Sundance Resort after he was asked to audition for a Native American television role.

“(Redford) was particularly appalled by that, and so it kind of led him on a personal quest,” Runningwater said.

Redford began inviting Native filmmakers, writers, directors and actors to meet and discuss filmmaking. Together, with Chris Spotted Eagle and Larry Littlebird, among other collaborators, the Sundance Institute was born.

For the first 20 years, Runningwater said Sundance struggled to gain traction with indigenous work.

“It was around 1992 when they finally brought on Native staffers who had relationships with Native communities to carry out the work,” he said. “That’s when it really took off with creating very specific workshops and labs to support Native filmmakers.”

Now, Sundance has cultivated four “generations” of Native filmmakers.

The first generation, which includes Spotted Eagle and Littlebird, largely focused on documentaries because filmmakers could secure funding from the Public Broadcasting Service and other organizations.

“They all had aspirations to eventually work in fiction film,” Runningwater said. “Of all these people, only one, Merata Mita from New Zealand … she’s the only Māori woman in New Zealand to direct a dramatic feature film.”

The second generation of Native filmmakers saw more fiction films, such as “Grand Avenue” by Greg Sarris and “Smoke Signals” by Sherman Alexie and Chris Eyre. The latter’s script was rejected six times before Sundance finally agreed to film and finance the project. “Smoke Signals” went on to become the second-highest-grossing independent film of 1998, and won the Filmmaker’s Trophy and Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival.

“Smoke Signals” served as a major inspiration for the third generation of Native filmmakers. As members of this third generation began their filmmaking journeys, Runningwater joined Sundance and broadened the Indigenous Program to support more filmmakers from around the world.

Two notable filmmakers from this third generation are Seminole-Mvskoke director Sterlin Harjo, who directed “Four Sheets of the Wind” and “Barking Water,” and Māori director Taika Waititi from New Zealand, who directed “Eagle vs Shark” and “Boy” before being tapped by Marvel Studios to direct “Thor: Ragnarok” in 2017.

“These two scenarios are ideal for us in terms of our position as filmmakers,” Runningwater said. “We can identify them at the short film stage, give them an interesting script, put them through the Sundance writer’s lab incubation process, spit them out the other end with a feature film and then, ideally, the industry would take notice.”

Another example from the third generation is Sydney Freeland, a Navajo, or Diné, trans woman who directed “Drunktown’s Finest” and recently directed episodes of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“That’s a major accomplishment, I think, to have a Navajo director have two prime time episodes of episodic TV on a major network,” he said.

The fourth generation of Native filmmakers has been focusing on short-form content and has pushed Sundance to explore immersive media projects, including virtual reality storytelling.

“They’ve grown up with technology, but they’re also balancing a commitment to their culture, a commitment to language, but also a commitment to technology,” Runningwater said. “They’re really unlike any generation, I think, that has come about, so we’ve really been able to create some great work.”

The fourth generation is also the first, Runningwater said, to predominantly feature women.

Among these female filmmakers are Amanda Kernell, a Southern Sami director from Sweden; Peshawn Bread, a Comanche director who is currently working on a film about a Native dominatrix; and Ciara Lacy, a Native Hawaiian director whose documentary “Out of State” examines how Native Hawaiians have reconnected with their culture while in prison in Arizona.

While Sundance has helped foster greater indigenous representation in film, Runningwater said there is still a long way to go to combat a canon of misrepresentative cinema.

“Our indigenous filmmakers carry much more of a burden than other filmmakers do, because we have 100-plus years worth of cinema that we have to deconstruct in our work,” he said. “But then we also have to create something authentic and innovative and new.”

According to a study conducted by IllumiNatives, a nonprofit dedicated to authentic depictions of Native communities in popular culture, between 0% and 0.4% of all characters in prime time television are Native American. Furthermore, 87% of state-level history education standards fail to cover Native people in a post-1900 context. 

“So basically, we’re erased from history books, and we’re also erased from the screens,” Runningwater said. “I fan the flames of creativity, and I’m cheerleading and encouraging our young talent to keep going and fighting against the system, (so they know) there are these opportunities that they can really create something new and help contribute to the cultural fabric of this country.”

Another challenge for Native filmmakers, he said, is convincing film distributors that there is an audience interested in Native stories.

“A lot of times they’re part of those people who have come from this education process where we haven’t been represented, and so they look at an indigenous film and are at a complete loss,” Runningwater said.

Fortunately, Runningwater said digital platforms like Netflix have helped Native filmmakers somewhat circumvent this hurdle. Additionally, Runningwater was recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; in the role, he would be granted an Oscars voting position, as well as a voice in the nomination process.

“I think I’ve had seven filmmakers that have come through my program that have also been invited to join the Academy, so the steps are incremental,” he said. “They’re small, but we’re all on the same page. It’s kind of a given value that so many of our indigenous filmmakers, not only in the United States, … continue to fight to be represented in our own countries.”

Harvard Professor Sarah Lewis Examines Representation in, and Power of, Art and Images

Sarah Lewis, author of “The Rise” and guest editor of Aperture’s “Vision & Justice” issue, speaks about the power of images in the history of racial identity and justice Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

When Charles Black Jr. was 16 years old, he went to a dance at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. It was there that, instead of socializing with young women as he intended to do, Black became so transfixed by one trumpet-player that he would later describe the performance as an encounter with “genius.”

The man he saw perform that night was Louis Armstrong, and Black — who would join the legal team of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, as well as become one of the preeminent constitutional lawyers of the United States — cited that evening at the Driskill Hotel as the day he “began walking toward the Brown case, where (he) belonged.”

Sarah Lewis, an award-winning scholar, best-selling author, and professor at Harvard University, offered this anecdote during her 10:45 a.m. Tuesday lecture in the Amphitheater as an example of “what aesthetic force can do.” For the second morning lecture in a week titled “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center,” Lewis distilled for the Amp audience the “Vision & Justice” course she teaches at Harvard — a class that the school incorporated into its core curriculum after the Aperture issue of the same name, guest edited by Lewis, garnered nationwide acclaim in 2016.

Among the individuals Lewis thanked at the beginning of her lecture — including a former Harvard student who attended the talk even though, as Lewis noted, he is “not being graded anymore” — was her grandfather Shadrach Emmanuel Lee. As a junior at a Brooklyn public high school in 1926, Lee asked his teacher why the representations of excellence that filled his history textbooks were exclusively white. His teacher told him that African Americans had accomplished nothing to warrant their inclusion. Lee refused to accept that answer, and was later expelled for “impertinence” after asking again and again.

“He went on to become a jazz musician, playing bass, and a painter,” Lewis said. “And here I am, two generations later, teaching at Harvard University about the very topics that he was expelled for asking about. I’d like to just think it’s a testament to what is still possible in this country.”

Images are integral to the affirmation of humanity’s dignity, Lewis argued, adopting the framework her grandfather employed in the early 20th century. She recalled a question a Chautauquan had asked Wynton Marsalis during the question-and-answer period after Marsalis’ 10:45 a.m. lecture on Monday in the Amp: “At the age of 70, what can we do to improve this country, besides voting and donating?”

After acknowledging that both voting and donating are important acts of citizenship, Lewis introduced another action the audience could perform in the service of racial justice and freedom in the United States — “To question what you see, why you see it, and what it means.”

“I’m going to ask you to do this because we are in an urgent, almost perilous moment,” Lewis said. “This country has been in such moments before, yet this particular one has a distinct character. It offers near-daily reminders that the fragility of American rights has not only been secured by norms and laws, but by how we judge — how we quite literally see each other. And how we refuse to see each other.”

Art can help overcome “the blind spot around our privilege shaped exactly like us,” Lewis said, by not only illuminating “what we already know,” but also “what we don’t know we don’t know.” This was the central question of a trip Lewis and her students took to Washington, D.C. In preparation for their visit, which included a tour of the Capitol Rotunda, Lewis showed her students a short clip in which a diverse group of Americans read an excerpt of the Declaration of Independence. The video reveals that each person gathered in that room is a living descendant of one of the original Declaration signers, all of whom were white men. It pauses on the still of these contemporary Americans positioned like their ancestors in John Trumbull’s 1818 painting “Declaration of Independence.” The image, in Lewis’ words, looks like “the world has rushed in.”

Around the time of the creation of this painting — one of the pieces currently showcased in the Rotunda — citizenship necessitated that one had to be white, male and own property.

“What is the definition of the journey between 1790, and the current day?” Lewis asked. “Has the enlargement of the idea of citizenship — of who counts and who belongs — just been a legal narrative, a series of amendments? Or has it been a cultural one?”

As an art historian, Lewis admitted her bias for the latter portrayal, and spent the remainder of her lecture arguing for culture’s role in determining the “health” of a representative democracy.

“Representative democracy has also meant measuring life through representation itself,” Lewis said. “What we put on stages becomes our collective currency to assess who we are.”

She characterized the story of Black and Armstrong as an example of art as a catalyst for justice, and the detailed plan of a 17th century slave ship, “Description Of A Slave Ship,” as “evidentiary proof of slavery’s inhumanity.” NASA and William Anders’ 1968 photograph, “Earthrise,” helped galvanize the environmental movement by “(having) enough coalescing force to do what rational argument alone could not.”

In December 1861, Frederick Douglass — who was the most photographed man of the 19th century — made the case for the role of images in advancing society. At the beginning of the Civil War, an age during which the new science of photography was weaponized to cement racial hierarchies, Douglass contended that it is inside the gap between “the fact of life” and “the ideal” where “moral imagination” can emerge.

By sitting for photographs, Douglass “was subverting the stereotypes that were being hardened through these images with his own body,” Lewis said. According to her, he is “one of the earliest art historians focused on racial justice in this country.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was an artist too, Lewis claimed, as she shared a copy of his seminary transcript, which documents the C+ and C grades King received for two public speaking classes.

“It occurred to me that we would be nowhere in this country without the power of the arts to overcome collective failure,” she said. “And here, of course, the arts include the power of oratory and the style, distinctive as it was in the body of King.”

In 2015, the photography magazine Aperture asked Lewis to guest edit an issue. Initially, she declined. She agreed when Aperture allowed her “to focus on this understudied nexus of vision and justice.”

“The centuries-long effort to craft an image, to give honor to the full humanity of black life is, in and of itself, a corrective task for which, as Douglass knew, the camera has been central — even indispensable,” Lewis said, before exhibiting a few chosen images from the Infinity Prize-winning issue, including Awol Erizku’s “Girl with the Bamboo Earring” and photos by Pete Souza, chief official White House photographer for President Barack Obama. 

“Understanding that relationship of race and the quest for full citizenship in this country requires an advanced state of literacy,” Lewis said. “It’s especially important today as we’ve been able to witness injustices in a firsthand fashion on a massive scale, via technology that would have been unimaginable decades ago.”

The viral dissemination of Eric Garner’s 2014 killing by a New York City Police Department officer, as well as Dylann Roof’s self-styled portraits before murdering nine African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, are significant spaces of potential visual analyses, Lewis said. Such considerations become all the more important, she argued, when we know that every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were made in the entire 19th century.

“How many went to Selma because they were moved by an image of injustice on the television?” Lewis asked. “How many figures like Charles Black Jr. were struck still by the power of the arts to deliver a message that rational argument could not?”

Turning to art censored by the U.S. government as a testament to the image’s capacity to inform society, Lewis displayed photographs that chronicled the internment of Japanese Americans. One, a 1942 photograph by Dorothea Lange, framed a large sign placed in the window of a store. The sign reads, in all caps, “I am an American.” The store belonged to Tatsuro Matsuda, a man forced to evacuate Oakland, California, as a result of Executive Order 9066.

“Although the sign was hung as a public plea to his neighbors, the empty street suggests that no one was listening,” Lewis said, reading from a short essay one of her students wrote about the photograph. “The photograph’s impartiality mimics the distance between former neighbors and fellow citizens. The sign, too, functions as a memorial — what was once a proud statement of presence, of ‘I Am,’ now becomes a somber lesson in the futility of Japanese Americans’ fight for citizenship.”

In the final portion of her lecture, Lewis shared images of Thomas Crawford’s sculpture, “The Indian: The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization,” and a wall of jars of soil — an aspect of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — that honors victims of lynching in every county in Alabama. Circling back to her field trip to D.C., Lewis spoke about standing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and looking out to see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the distance.

“My colleague Tina Campt reminds us that, in the context of race, possibility comes with an examination not just of the future tense — ‘what will be’ — or even the future perfect tense — ‘that which will have happened’ — but what she refers to as the future real conditional — ‘that which will have had to have happened,’ ” Lewis said. “It is, as she argues, an orientation towards ‘what should be true.’ It involves living the future as an imperative, rather than a subjunctive. As a striving for the future you want to see right now, in the present.”

To conclude, Lewis played a video created by her students — a series of images set to a recording of John F. Kennedy’s eulogy for Robert Frost, a speech that is often titled “Power and Poetry.”

“I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens,” Kennedy narrated, as photographs of James Baldwin and Serena Williams flashed on the screen. “And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world — not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity, but also for personal distinction.”

Wynton Marsalis Opens Week with Thematic Preview of ‘Ever Fonky Lowdown’

Wynton Marsalis, managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and world-renowned trumpeter and composer, speaks about “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” Monday, Aug. 19, 2019 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Wynton Marsalis was 22 years old when he won his first two Grammy Awards, becoming, in 1983, the only artist to ever win for both jazz and classical records. His father, Ellis Marsalis Jr., attended the ceremony in Los Angeles, but was careful to avoid feeding his second-eldest son’s ego.

“I was looking at him and he said, ‘I hope you don’t think that this means you can play,’ ” Marsalis said, quoting Ellis. “I’m so happy to have him here, because he is always for real.”

With his father watching from the audience, Marsalis considered the state of truth and freedom in America as he opened the final week of Chautauqua Institution’s 2019 season — “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center” — with a lecture at 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 19 in the Amphitheater.

Marsalis structured his talk around an in-depth explanation of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” an intricate, board game-style composition that, in the tradition of his Grammy Award-winning “Black Codes (From the Underground)” and 2007’s “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary,” critiques the idea of American freedom through the prism of race. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” at 8:15 p.m. Thursday in the Amp.

Entering the Amp gates on Monday morning, Chautauquans received a program that outlined several of the “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” details upon which Marsalis elaborated in his lecture. After an introduction from Institution President Michael E. Hill — during which Hill reminded Chautauquans to avoid “an extended jam session” during the backstage meet-and-greet — Marsalis began by expressing gratitude for his parents and for their struggle “to get not just their portion of the American Dream, but to realize the dream of living and being recognized as a human being.”

He then launched into his artistic vision for the epic piece to be performed on Thursday evening.

“ ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown’ is a game of buying in and selling out,” Marsallis said, describing how the piece is “written in symbolic language” and revolves around “leadership exploiting followers” through bluster and the promulgation of stereotypes.

“Who is we, and who are they?” Marsalis asked. “ ‘The Ever Fonky’ examines the integrity and results of the culture we create every day by serving the tension between our dream vision, television, mythology and the underlying facts that we have actually experienced.”

The players of “The Ever Fonky” game include “The Hustler,” otherwise known as Mr. Game; the “Rubes,” or O Glorious People, Mr. Game’s followers; the “Rebel,” or activist, community organizer and civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer; and the “Savior” — the piece’s “moral compass.”

“The game is about gaining the confidence of everyday people and exploiting us into accepting a predatory narrative that creates greater wealth and comfort for us, and poverty and pathology for them,” Marsalis said.

The goal is to make “us” comfortable with that narrative, and to promote “the forever war between the haves and have-nots.”

According to Marsalis, there are seven objectives of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” and the achievement of those objectives determines if a player earns five available “prizes” at the game’s end.

However, no matter how a player plays, the conclusion leads back to the beginning — a “Return to start” card on loop.

First, Marsalis said, Mr. Game convinces O Glorious People to join him in the name of freedom. Then, he introduces the falsely nefarious presence of “others” as a crooked basis for community, followed by a “gang-recruiting” method of perpetrating acts of violence against those “others” in order to solidify the bonds of his expanding empire. Although O Glorious People might have qualms about their participation, they experience the associative glory, “like wearing their favorite team’s football jersey.”

Breaking laws requires that Mr. Game and his Rubes must justify their actions by rewriting legislation and reframing offensive attacks as defensive — protection against the crimes of the “others” who haunt our midst. Mr. Game forces the persecuted “others” to “get on board” and then forgoes any memory or responsibility for the horrors he has committed. 

For Marsalis, the first half of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” ends on a note of “enjoyment and laughter,” while a voice of the dispossessed repeatedly screams, “But what would the savior think?” A disembodied voice responds: “The word is the will of God, not the will of the people.”

In the second half of the composition, Mr. Game gives players five “non-partisan prizes”: the freedom of segregation and homogenization; freedom from romance; “prime time pornography and the commodification of community”; constant surveillance; and finally, after players reject the revolutionary ideas of Fannie Lou Hamer, “freedom from thought and constructive engagement.”

Marsalis also described the “sirens” within the piece — singers who attempt to seduce with wisdom — and the three young men who dance to “represent the sweep of our youth going through the gauntlet of experiences that is ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown.’ ”

As they dance, Marsalis said, they try to emerge from the “Lowdown” with their sanity, humanity and optimism intact — a tribute to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

“We are the winningest winner in the whole wide world,” Marsallis said, inhabiting Mr. Game and the Glorious People in a Dr. Seussian-esque patter.

Despite the sweet-talking, con-man personality of Mr. Game, “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” is “not about (President Donald) Trump,” Marsalis clarified.

“It’s easy to put it on him,” he said. “Is the Klu Klux Klan why our education system is segregated? … Is that why our judicial system is the way it is, because of the Klan? … Is that because of the president? Or is that something in our character? Is it just us?”

That, he said, is the central question of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” — and it’s also why audiences stop laughing as the piece moves from the first half to the second. Marsalis summarized his argument with an anecdote about Marcus Roberts, a pianist with whom he played gigs for seven years.

“Marcus said, ‘When something goes wrong on the bandstand, I just assume it’s me. So that way, I’m doing everything that I can be doing to make everything right,’ ” Marsalis said, quoting Roberts. “The twist is, you have a choice to fight for something that isn’t directly benefiting you or not.”

Tracing his journey from his childhood in New Orleans, to his adult life in New York, Marsalis confided that “all of the perspectives (in ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown’) are things that I’ve experienced.”

“ ‘Ever Fonky’ means it is a groove that has been established across time and space,” he said. “ ‘Lowdown’ is the actual truth that exists beneath the public scope.”

Marsalis rejected the notion that the United States is the greatest country in the world, and asked what citizens can do “to rein ourselves in, in our stupidity, our greed, our callousness, our lack of concern for the condition of others as long as we don’t see them.”

“Where do we go from here?” Marsallis asked. “That’s what ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown’ tells us and leaves us with: Where do we go from here? It’s not ‘Don’t elect Trump.’ It’s not ‘The Klansmen or the people in the middle of the country (are causing all the tension).’ There’s no real left or right. … We’re in a position, and we need to wake up, and we need to fight for the country we want to see.”

To manifest that future, he argued, people need to do more than protest online. He encouraged the audience to fight for economic justice, and to abolish mass imprisonment and indiscriminate warfare.

“We are the United States of America,” he said. “We already have a history full of blood.”

Listing normalized injustices of the modern era — presenting identification at every checkpoint, encountering a room devoid of diversity, paying $800 for a bottle of pills necessary for survival — Marsalis urged the people filling the Amp seats to constantly ask themselves: “Am I free?”

“With ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown,’ the only thing I’m trying to do is pull the covers off of something and say, ‘Hey, let’s look at who we actually are,’ ” he said. “We’re in a tough spot. This is the time to assess who we are and step up to the plate and be for real about what we’re supposed to be about.”

Tarana J. Burke Discusses Me Too Movement’s Role in Shifting Power and Privilege

Founder of the “Me Too” Movement, Tarana Burke speaks about how the movement got started by saying “Community problems need a community response and that’s what the “Me Too” Movement is,” during the morning lecture on Friday, August 16, 2019 in the Amphitheater.

Tarana J. Burke is a survivor.

She is also an activist, advocate and founder of the Me Too Movement, in which over 20 million people have come forward as survivors, too. Rooted in Burke’s own story is a belief that has sparked empathy throughout a nation: Healing isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.

Burke spoke in conversation with Emily F. Morris, vice president of marketing and communications and chief brand officer, at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

The origin story of the Me Too Movement began in 2005, when Burke was working in Selma, Alabama, as the co-founder of Just Be Inc., a youth organization focused on the health, well-being and wholeness of young women of color.

“In that work, I realized that the girls that we were serving needed a different kind of attention,” Burke said. “It just felt like, if we didn’t make an intervention at some point early in their lives, then they wouldn’t have the foundation of worthiness.”

With Just Be, Burke wasn’t just hearing stories of survival from girls in the community, she was witnessing their stories unfold firsthand.

In 2006, Burke created a MySpace page so her Just Be efforts could have a place on the internet. But as she was working online and in person to heal those around her, Burke was also working on her own healing from the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. That healing process started long before the idea of Me Too was even conceived, when a “seed was planted in her.”

The seed was planted in her childhood from the literature of black feminists, like Maya Angelou, whose 1969 work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings changed everything for Burke. Angelou’s recorded experiences introduced Burke to her first fellow survivor.

“It was the first time I encountered another person that had experienced child sexual abuse,” Burke said. “I didn’t have an understanding as a survivor; I never had survivor language, I didn’t grow up feeling like a victim or a survivor. You spend a lot of your time feeling complicit in your own grief. The guilt that I carried was for what I had done to contribute to the abuse.”

In one of Burke’s high school English classes, her teacher played a video of Angelou performing “Phenomenal Woman,” the first time Burke saw Angelou and heard her voice. As Angelou’s work had done before, listening to that poem changed Burke — but this time, in a new way.

“My understanding of what I had experienced and what she had experienced, was that the connection we had was wrapped around trauma; it was that we had a shared trauma,” Burke said. “She knew what it was to feel what I felt, she knew what it was to hide that.”

What Burke learned about Angelou’s healing was that she had mastered a way of making the world see her as someone “other than who she truly was.”

“When I saw her read the poem, it was this moment of shock because I thought, ‘I believe her,’ ” Burke said. “I believed every word she said; I saw the smile, I saw her standing regally, I saw her being confident and I thought, ‘How is this possible?’ ”

Burke questioned those possibilities because she had dedicated her life to being the “best possible child,” the only way she knew how to mask the parts of her history she wanted to leave behind.

“It was about trying to be perfect,” Burke said. “I had perfect grades; I was a perfect student; I was a perfect athlete; I did not get in trouble. I followed the rules because I thought, ‘I have to do everything right, because if I don’t, then they’ll see, then they’ll know.’ ”

Ultimately, what Angelou planted in Burke was a series of questions: “Can a body that holds this kind of pain, also hold joy? Is it possible? Do I deserve it? How do I get it?”

As Burke reflected on her community in Selma, it occurred to her that no one would plant those questions if she wasn’t the one to do it herself. So, at 14 years old, Burke started her work as an activist.

“At the same time that I am, from an interpersonal standpoint, trying to understand what healing looks like for me and what it could look like for these girls, I also was very confused about why we were not standing up as a community to push back against what these children were experiencing,” she said.

In those experiences, Burke learned that community problems require a community response. According to Burke, a vast majority of sexual abusers are family members and people familiar to the survivor. Particularly with black girls who are hypersexualized by society, these “morally wrong” relationships result in multiple layers of oppression, which Burke said people are not paying enough attention to.

“The thing is, it’s about race in some ways, but it’s also about class and economics,” she said.

And the loss of survivors’ stories is not accidental, as they are often overshadowed by the stories of their abusers — for example, in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, an American financier who was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, who recently died by suicide in prison while awaiting trial.

“We have heard his name ad nauseam for the last couple of weeks, we have heard all about the money that he made, all about the powerful men he flew around in his airplanes, all about the ways he came to wealth and who he was associated with — what about the girls?” Burke asked. “The part that drives me batty about the way we talk about this moment, is that we don’t realize we are building this on the backs of survivors, we are trading on the labor of survivors for salacious headlines and gossip, and it’s really disgusting.”

The weight of the movement’s conversations “on the backs of the survivors,” Burke said, has everything to do with power and privilege. And just because there will never be a culture without hierarchy, she said, that doesn’t mean society must continue to operate as if hierarchies are the only influencing social structure.

“I do think, though, that we can shift culture in such a way that people can understand that because you have power and privilege, doesn’t mean you have to abuse it,” Burke said. “The building blocks of sexual violence are around the abuse of power and privilege.”

As much as those building blocks are a result of power and privilege, they’re also a result of systems. Harvey Weinstein, for example, “could not do what he did over the time period he did it, without being a part of a larger system that people want to protect.”

“You have to talk about systems and dismantling systems, and one of the systems that upholds sexual violence is capitalism,” Burke said. “You can look at R. Kelly, or you can look at Harvey Weinstein, but there had to be people who were more invested in what he could provide, in what he represented. He generated millions and millions of dollars, and the fact that he had the power to generate that money meant more than any one person’s humanity.”

When it comes to changing the society in which sexual violence thrives, Burke said the challenge can’t be met by an individual, given “an individual didn’t get us here.” And while the violence may not disappear, action can be inspired, like when her efforts sparked 15 million people to engage in hashtag #MeToo in 24 hours.

The Me Too Movement that had been around since 2005, went viral in 24 hours in 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted for women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply with “Me too.” Burke recalled the Sunday morning the hashtag went viral. As soon as she wrapped her head around what was going on, Burke said her first feeling was panic, mostly because “the white people got my stuff.”

“Who was going to believe that a 44-year-old black woman from the Bronx started this work?” she said.

Burke believes her work took off “by the grace of God.” Since she knew her purpose was serving others from the age of 14, Burke had a moment while looking through the hashtag when she asked herself: “Tarana, are you going to be who you said you are?”

What she saw through the hashtag was thousands of people pouring their hearts out, thousands of people talking about the worst thing they’ve ever experienced, on the internet. As those stories were shared, Burke knew there would be consequences: Some people might post something that no one would “like,” and they would feel terrible; some people would be triggered; some would have nightmares; some would wake up and not know what to do with their new realities — all because of the conversation she started.

“I think, honestly, the failing of the field that does work around sexual violence was everybody was a deer caught in the headlights, and nobody responded to the survivors,” Burke said.

In the midst of the millions using the hashtag, headlines were focused on everything but the survivors, Burke said.

“We have literally turned our backs on these people who raised their hands to say, ‘This thing has affected my life and finally, I get to say something; finally, I get to open up my heart; finally, this thing I have been holding in the pit of my stomach for 30 years, I get to let it out,’ ” Burke said. “And then people walked away from them. It’s horrible.”

Burke thought the movement would quickly lose momentum, but as more and more powerful figures were held accountable, she was put in the spotlight to comment on their actions. Burke said her responses were repetitive, until Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who she said sexually assaulted her while the two were teenagers at a house party in Maryland.

It was a pivotal moment because it proved to Burke just “how little” people knew about sexual violence and survivors. As people made comments about how Ford’s testimony “could have been better” if she just remembered more and hesitated less, Burke saw the way the portrayal of survivors in television and pop culture has affected the real-life figures they represent.

“I was first sexually abused when I was 6 years old,” Burke said. “I am 45 years old, and that means I have spent 39 years trying to forget. I have spent every day of the last 39 years wanting to know less and less and less of the horrific things that were done to my child body. I don’t want to remember. God bless her for not remembering everything — that’s how we survive.”

The hashtag took off globally as well, particularly in India and Sweden. And just as it is not confined in the United States, Burke said it is crucial to note that it is not a women’s movement, either.

“Men’s first role in the Me Too Movement is as survivors,” Burke said. “We have to acknowledge and make space for men to be survivors first, before we ask them to change behavior, before we talk about them as perpetrators.”

More generally, Burke wants people to move away from a “survivor versus perpetrator, crime versus punishment world” — instead, she wants people to focus on harm and harm reduction.

“When you harm a person, you have to be accountable for the harm that you’ve caused,” she said. “There has to be an examination of where these things come from, and if we don’t make space for it, we will never get to a different model of it.”

The bottom line: Forgiveness is vital if people are to move forward.

“There is always room for forgiveness,” Burke said. “I think that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you always come back. Sometimes, forgiveness is about acknowledging that the other person is a human being, forgiving them in your heart, but removing them from your space.”

Bill McKibben Calls for Individual Action and Collective Climate Change Reversal

Author, Environmentalist and Co-founder of Bill McKibben gives a lecture about impacting political action on climate change Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Bill McKibben is no theologian, but he firmly believes that the oil industry has more money than God.

And the industry’s gain became humanity’s loss. Between the lies and deception that funded the oil industry’s cause, more than 30 years of precious time was stolen — time that could have been spent bringing the fight against climate and resource degradation to a successful end. If that end is a possibility at all.

McKibben, environmental activist, author and founder of, an international organization that encourages the use of renewable energy and divestment from the fossil fuel industry through political action and grassroots organizing, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 15 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

In 1989, Mckibben released The End of Nature, which is now considered the first book on global warming written for a general audience.

His book issued warnings of what was to come because, at the time, it was clear what the environment was facing and still faces: When coal, oil and gas burns, carbon dioxide is released, and the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out into space.

But what he didn’t know 30 years ago, was how fast and how hard that carbon dioxide would impact the Earth, mostly because it was an “experiment the world had never carried out before.”

“Scientists, it turns out, are conservative in their projections, and the planet turned out to be extraordinarily out of balance,” McKibben said.

Last summer, McKibben took a trip to Greenland, home to one of the world’s greatest ice shelves. There is so much ice in Greenland that if it all melted, it would raise the average level of the ocean by 23 feet. The trip’s intent was to take two women, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, from Marshall Islands in Micronesia, and Greenland native Aka Niviâna, to the top of an ice sheet and have them perform a poem that showcased the linkages between their homelands in the face of climate change.

“It was extraordinary to watch because it reminds us, among other things, that climate change is the greatest injustice that we have yet to figure out how to work on this planet,” McKibben said. “The iron rule of global warming is the less you did to cause it, the quicker and harder you are going to feel it.”

While riding above Greenland in a helicopter, McKibben witnessed a glacier collapse into the ocean below, a powerful example of what he said is happening everywhere, all the time.

“It was both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sinister,” he said. “Something like that is happening every second, of every minute of every hour of every day on this planet. Every time it does, the ocean rises a fraction of a millimeter. And over time, this kind of global change is reshaping the planet on which we were born.”

Since there is no plan that could refreeze what has already melted, McKibben said the world’s current state is one of “enormous peril, with precious, little time to solve it.” And that’s the worst news he has to offer.

The good news is that over the last 15 years, scientists and engineers have done their jobs “just about as well as politicians have done theirs badly.” The cost of solar panels and wind turbines has fallen 90% over those 15 years, making it the least expensive way to generate power around the world.

“If we really wanted to make that all-out push, there is no practical or technological reason that we couldn’t, in relatively short order, replace the coal, gas and oil that currently powers our world, with the sun and the wind that wash across this planet every day,” McKibben said.

And over those same 15 years, McKibben’s idea of creating change has evolved. He used to believe people would read his book and then they would change. Then he believed if enough books were released and enough speeches were delivered, leaders would take necessary action. But after a certain point, it became clear to him that “we had long since won the argument,” because by 1995, the world’s scientists were in agreement about what was going on.

“We won the argument, but we were losing the fight because the fight was not about data and reason,” McKibben said. “The fight was what fights are always about: money and power.”

The fossil fuel industry, the world’s richest industry, had enough money and power to continue its business model for a few more decades, even if it would cost the planet itself. Over the past five years, McKibben said investigative journalism from the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism School have painted a clear picture of what the fossil fuel industry knew and what they did — or didn’t — do about it.

As it turns out, by the early 1980s, the fossil fuel industry knew “pretty much everything” there was to know about climate change, and at the time, Exxon was the biggest and most profitable company in the world.

“There was year after year when Exxon made more money than any company in the history of money,” McKibben said. “They had a great staff of scientists and their product was carbon, so of course they were going to find out what was going on.”

By 1983, Exxon’s senior scientists had informed the senior executives how much and how fast the planet was going to warm. To compensate for rising sea levels, the executives started to build drilling rigs higher above sea level. What they did not do: tell “any of the rest of us.”

“Instead, they embarked on a highly expensive, industry-wide campaign to build the architecture of deceit, denial and disinformation, that has kept us locked for 30 years in a completely sterile debate about whether or not global warming was real — a debate that both sides knew the answer to at the beginning, it’s just one of them was willing to lie,” McKibben said.

According to McKibben, that lie was the “most consequential in human history.”

“A small price on carbon 30 years ago, would have begun to steer the ocean liner that is the global economy a few degrees in a different direction, and 30 years later, we would’ve sailed into a different ocean,” he said.

McKibben said one can chart the power of that lie by looking at the presidents on either end of it. Thirty years ago, Republican President George H.W. Bush believed climate change was a real problem and said he would fight the “greenhouse effect with the White House effect.” Three decades later, current Republican President Donald Trump said “climate change is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese.” 

Once McKibben realized climate change was a fight and not an argument, he began to think about how fights are won. Realistically, the fight to mitigate climate change couldn’t be won by outspending Exxon, Shell or BP. However, history does suggest that, from time to time, people are able to come together in movements that — when large enough — can counterbalance power.

One of those movements was McKibben’s International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24, 2009. With 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, CNN called it the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

Pictures flooded the internet of communities participating in Wales, Cape Town, Bangladesh, London, Beijing, Sana’a and many others. McKibben, who had always been told “environmentalism was for rich, white people,” was struck by the photos.

“Most of the people we were working with around the world were poor, black, brown, Asian and young, because that’s what most of the world is composed of,” McKibben said.

McKibben showed a photo of a group of children from Haiti, standing in water after a powerful hurricane. In the photo, a little girl holds a sign that reads “Your actions affect me.” McKibben realized that statement is true for her, but the opposite is not true for many global citizens and leaders who might see the photo on the internet.

“There is really very little anyone in Haiti can do to solve this problem,” he said. “They can’t burn less fossil fuel because they are hardly burning any now. They can’t come to the White House and protest because we don’t let Haitians come into the country, let alone for something like that.”

In other movements and protests, internal change has been impactful. Earlier this year, the TransCanada Corporation changed its name to TC Energy and announced they would, yet again, delay the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline because “too many people are in the way.” Examples like that have a ripple effect, McKibben said.

“You also, by demonstrating that it is possible to stand up to the oil industry, set in motion a series of events which means that now, every pipeline, every coal mine, gets fought and fought hard around the world,” he said. “That is extraordinarily good news because we win an awful lot of those fights.”

Whether it be a campaign, protests, movement or even signs, every effort in the fight for balance matters, McKibben said. And stories of the “big and the powerful” against the “mighty and the few” have been told again and again, which always begin the same way: with people acting outside of their comfort zones.

“The planet is way, way outside of its comfort zone, so you need to be, too,” McKibben said. “That means different things to different people.”

For McKibben, going outside of his comfort zone took him to a place he never thought he would go: jail. Just last week, he was arrested after an “immigration and climate” protest, as climate is driving people to leave their homes.

“What choice do they have other than to move?” McKibben said. “The United Nations estimates between 200 million and 1 billion climate refugees this century — there’s got to be some answer for that beyond walls and cages.”

Although he is not encouraging anyone to get arrested, he doesn’t consider it to be the worst possible outcome.

“Getting arrested?” McKibben asked. “It’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world — the end of the world is the end of the world.”

McKibben’s hero, Martin Luther King Jr., often quoted Theodore Parker who said, “We must believe that the arc of the universe is long, but that it bends toward justice.”

The arc of the physical universe, on the other hand, is short and it bends toward heat.

But young people should not have to be the “cannon fire” in efforts to reverse the damage; people of all ages need to take charge, McKibben said. But regardless of age, what is being done now is not enough, and that isn’t even the hardest truth for him to reveal. Even if people do everything right from here on out, there is no way to know if the fight will ever be won. There are no guarantees. No concrete answers. Only faith and the will to try. 

“If we do not solve this problem soon, we will not solve it,” McKibben said. “We are called upon to act with all that we have. It is the fight of our time — and we need you.”

Joi Ito Explores Innovation in Tech World and Hopes for Future

Director of the MIT Media Lab Joi Ito gives a lecture on the ethics and goverance of technology Wednesday Aug. 14, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Occasionally referred to as the “department of none of the above,” Joi Ito’s Media Lab does not prescribe to any singular discipline; rather, it believes in holistic approaches that predict the future by inventing it.

Ito, activist, entrepreneur and director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

Programs at MIT are “separated like church and state”; the labs focus on funding and research, and the academic programs focus on degrees and courses. But Media Lab does both.

“We learn through construction rather than instruction, and that allowed us and gave us license to match church and state together and say we are going to do projects, we are going to build things,” Ito said. “But over the course of building things, we are going to also learn things.”

Just as “drunks look for keys under the lampposts because that’s where the light shines,” Ito said the students in the Media Lab have the potential to find “keys” too, as long as they are given the proper tools to explore. 

“The image we have is, we give our students and faculty flashlights so they can walk around between the lampposts and find important things that wouldn’t otherwise be found,” he said.

Ito said the lab is “lucky” to operate with a unique funding model that includes over 90 contributing companies. Ito refers to the Media Lab’s financial support system as a “gym membership.”

“I call it a gym membership because they all have to pay even if they don’t show up, and they have to work really hard to get anything out of it,” Ito said. “But they show up, and it’s all discretionary and all of the intellectual property and all of the ideas are shared by all of the companies.”

Companies like Google, Sony and Samsung work alongside the lab to help Ito and his students “work on the future together,” which Ito said creates an opportunity to invent technology no one else will fund. The last time Ito hired a professor, the job posting said the lab was looking for a professor of “other.” The professor had to be interested in two fields that had nothing to do with each other, and that MIT was not already researching.

“If they could get funded anywhere else in the world to do what they wanted to do, they shouldn’t come, and if anyone else would hire them to do what they want to do, they shouldn’t come,” Ito said. “That’s the core DNA of our lab: try to constantly be looking for the other, try to explore those spaces that no one else will do because we have both the freedom and responsibility to explore those places.”

In the “early days of the lab,” Ito said its mantra was “let’s just build things.” Now, the work is more focused on the societal and ethical implications of technology.

The lab is currently comprised of 25 areas of focus, ranging from synthetic biology to the future of opera, to education and learning, to robotic limbs. Of the focus areas, 30% have to do with life sciences.

When Ito was hired as director of the lab in 2011, he had yet to earn an undergraduate degree — everything he learned, he learned online.

Director of the MIT Media Lab Joi Ito gives a lecture on the ethics and governance of technology Wednesday Aug. 14, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“It turned out that my sensibilities of building things on the internet were very similar to the sensibilities of the Media Lab,” he said.

But the internet didn’t always have the capabilities it does now, and according to Ito, things moved rather slowly at first.

Jobs before the internet, like those in economics, were straightforward; one learned a certain set of skills and then repeated them throughout their life.

Then the internet happened.

“Suddenly, everything was connected; suddenly, everything moved faster; suddenly, everything became complicated,” he said. “The after-internet world was a world where everything changed. Newton’s laws turned into a local ordinance, and the laws of physics didn’t work anymore. There was a fundamental shift in the way we have to live our lives.”

The impact of the internet has not fully run its course, Ito said. According to him, the internet is doing both tremendous damage and providing tremendous advantages, an idea described by Amara’s law.

“(Amara’s law) states that we always over-anticipate the short-term impact of technology and underestimate the long-term impacts,” Ito said. “I still think we are at the point where we have yet to see the full effects of the long-term impact.”

The first internet server in Japan was housed in the bathroom of Ito’s Tokyo apartment in the early ’90s. All he needed was a few thousand dollars’ worth of internet service technology, most of which he bought as “junk parts” online. What the server allowed was, first, an opportunity for kids to crack into telecommunications as entrepreneurs, an example of “permissionless innovation,” as he had no boss or investors. Second, it also drove the cost of communications to “nearly zero.”

“By lowering the cost of communications, it then created more layers where we could have this permissionless innovation,” he said. “If you think about it, cost is what increases the cost of failure, but it also increases the number of adults you have to have in the room.”

But with less adults in the room, more problems can arise. Ito, with other faculty members, created a set of principles to implement into the Media Lab to address some of those inevitable issues.

The first principle is emergence. With any complex group, Ito said, emergence will occur — and it must be allowed to do so.

“What’s really important is that I think these kids, as we start to democratize and make things available, we can’t do top-down control,” he said. “I think we have to figure out how order emerges.”

Another principle is resilience. Ito thinks people are too focused on reducing their ideas to investments and monetary values.

“What we need to try to do is build a system that is resilient, and I think resilience comes from plurality and heterogeneity and different approaches, rather than trying to reduce things to single measures,” he said.

Director of the MIT Media Lab Joi Ito explains that the work at the lab is created to positively impact society during his lecture on the ethics and governance of technology Wednesday Aug. 14, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

An additional principle is “disobedience over compliance.” For disobedience, Ito took insight from Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, “It is a moral imperative to obey just laws, but it’s also a moral imperative to disobey unjust laws.”

“Science moves forward by questioning those status quo ideas,” Ito said. “To me, disobedience is an essential piece of academic freedom.”

The last principle Ito discussed was learning, and its importance over education.

“I think that education is what other people do to you, and learning is what I do to myself,” he said. “I think what we need to do is learn to learn. If you learn to learn, you will learn forever.”

But Ito remains unsure as to where people lose their desire to learn and have fun exploring life’s unknowns.

“What happens when a kid suddenly doesn’t want to do their homework anymore, when learning suddenly becomes this chore, when jobs become this thing you do, when you have to have work-life balance because work is so awful?” Ito said.

To be released in September 2019, Ito’s forthcoming Resisting Reduction examines Silicon Valley’s technology takeover. Ito noticed computer scientists in Silicon Valley believe the entire world can be reduced to a formula and that “everything is about optimizing and winning.” The region has thrived on receiving community, national and global feedback about the limits of the technology they have developed; in response, Silicon Valley companies push those limits further.

“They are saying computers will become God and God will just figure it out, and all of this humanity and social foo-foo won’t matter anymore because computers will understand everything,” he said.

Although it may look like their takeover is going to last forever, Ito said even pandemics run their course.

“I am worried we have a cancerous pandemic right now and we are headed in a bad direction,” he said.

Part of that “cancerous pandemic” is a broken system that places too much blame on individuals rather than the system itself.

“We say it’s about the willpower of the individual when it’s not,” Ito said. “It’s the market, it’s the system, it’s this whole crazy machine that we have created that is just now trying to optimize each separate thing.”

To adapt to a more circular model of systems and individuals, Ito models part of the lab on the Krebs Cycle of Creativity, developed by MIT Media Lab faculty member Neri Oxman. At the top of the original cycle is arts, science, engineering and design. In the Media Lab, Ito said the top is perception, and the bottom is production and utility.

“We think science is taking the perception of the natural world and converting it into knowledge,” he said. “We think that engineering is taking that knowledge from science and converting it into utility; and we think that design is taking that utility and converting it into products and social behavior; and we think that art is taking that social behavior and converting it into perception.”

Ito’s adaptation of the cycle focuses on the social side of science, rather than any economic or numerical values. Ito grew up in Japan, where instead of asking “How rich can I become?” people ask, “What kind of ancestors will we be?”

Generation Z, the world’s largest population block, seems to be more focused on asking the right questions, Ito said.

“I think they are different,” he said. “They are very sober, they blame us for everything, but they are very different. Many of them feel that more than enough is too much, and they are disgusted by excess in waste. I think this next generation has a fundamentally different wiring, and I am heartened by them.”

Ito is especially heartened by Generation Z’s use of technology and social media in creating social change in movements like Me Too and Time’s Up, through the efforts of young people after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the Google Walkout and hashtag #TechWontBuildIt.

To conclude his lecture, Ito told his “favorite story” of U.S.  Representative John Lewis who forgave the KKK member who severely beat him during a 1961 Civil Rights march. When people ask Lewis how he forgave him, he tells them, “You always have to leave room for the humanity in the other to come out.”

“For me, I think that is essential,” Ito said. “There is a lot of hate; I think we are afraid of China, I think we are afraid of tech, but I think a key thing we need to do is step back and really allow the goodness to come out. I think it’s there in our kids, and I think it’s there in the hashtag #TechWontBuildIt movement. Bashing won’t fix it — that nuance is essential, and I hope you all will join me.”

Hudson’s Kenneth Weinstein outlines points of ‘geostrategic competition’

President and CEO of Hudson Institute, Kenneth Weinstein, speaks to the chautauquan congregation on the importance of shifting power balances and defense mechanisms, as well as how to cope with watching the world’s power economics change throughout the years during his morning lecture presentation on Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In a moment of unprecedented innovation, Kenneth Weinstein believes nations are racing toward the finish line of a geostrategic competition.

For that race, Weinstein has developed eight points necessary to understand the present and future of geopolitics around the world, as well as what it will take for the United States to prevail in the end.

Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute, a think tank and research center dedicated to nonpartisan analysis of U.S. and international economic, security and political issues, gave his lecture, “National Security and Next Generation Technology” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

First point: Technology and innovation are critical to geostrategic competition, and people need to think creatively about the challenges they pose.

In his career, Weinstein has been influenced by 20th-century strategist Herman Kahn, an “extraordinary thinker and legendary futurist.”

“(Kahn) had this ability to sense the direction the future was going and the ability to ask very hard questions about the threats the United States face and how we might beat them,” Weinstein said.

Kahn founded Hudson Institute in 1961, the year Weinstein was born. Kahn also served as a model for Dr. Strangelove in the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove,” but Weinstein would argue the two were nothing alike.

“(Kahn’s) views were that you had to think through the worst possible outcomes to avoid them, you had to figure out how to mitigate them,” he said. “(Kahn) always tried to point the way to a brighter future.”

Kahn, like Weinstein, understood that technology and innovation were key to transforming lives; collectively, they have raised standards of living, provided access to resources and created a sense of leisure previous generations “could have never dreamed possible.”

Technology has also transformed the world of geostrategy and the future of nations, Weinstein said. Kahn, who came of age in the era of nuclear weapons, understood that when technology is in the wrong hands, it is detrimental to humankind.

“In this period, (Kahn) tried to think through the unthinkable, imagine the very worst, prevent things from happening and talk through the public sector of all sorts of scenarios,” Weinstein said.

Second point: Strategy is needed because, unfortunately, all of the world isn’t Chautauqua.

“I think one of the key things strategists tend to make mistakes about is we tend to mirror our image, we tend to assume that other countries and other peoples have the same aims that we do,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said there are countless examples proving that assumption to be false: When the Soviet Union collapsed, people assumed democracy would “triumph there”; after the Iraq war and Arab Spring, people assumed a secular democracy would arise and take root in the Middle East. Additionally, there was once hope that the whole world would move toward a “market-driven democratic state,” a false hope Weinstein said was fueled by technology.

“We came to believe that as citizens around the world got increasing access to information, that they would be able to stand up against authoritarianism, they would be able to stand up against tyranny, and that the proliferation of information systems in technological breakthroughs would break the authoritarian grip on populations,” Weinstein said.

Autocracies have been successfully overthrown in places like Ukraine, but in other locations, freedom movements, especially those connected to social media, haven’t seen the outcomes they hoped for. For example, in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was overthrown in 2011, only to be replaced by subsequent governments that are “arguably less free” than his autocracy.

Third point: Strategists are often wrong; not in identifying phenomena, but in figuring out the critical importance of those phenomena.

“Strategy is a hard line of work to be in at the end of the day; you are asked, in a sense, to predict the future,” Weinstein said. “It’s not a science. History doesn’t work in a straight line, people make mistakes — big mistakes.”

Weinstein said information systems and social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, had the potential to put “pressure on authoritarian regimes from below.” Hope for that potential, according to Weinstein, drove many Americans to believe opening China’s economy to the global economy would increase China’s internal freedoms.

“Opening China to global trade was hoped to lead to liberalization, which would lead to an openness (in) society,” he said. “In particular, if you looked in the lives of the internet, people sat down and said, ‘China absolutely needs the internet to stay competitive in a global economy to learn about what’s going on in the world, and China can either deny its citizens access to the internet, but if it does this, it will be stuck in poverty.’ ”

China’s other choice was to face political pressure and allow full internet access, which is the only way to stay competitive, according to Weinstein. If China wanted to buckle down on internet use, it would have taken hundreds of thousands of specialists to monitor it. Weinstein thought that was impossible to do — until China proved him wrong.

“China decided, as did other authoritarian regimes, like Russia and North Korea, that they couldn’t afford this to remain in power — the Communist Party couldn’t have the internet and keep the party in power,” Weinstein said.

Fourth point: Information is also central in military affairs, and those affairs are “high-tech, data-driven strategy warfare.”

With the introduction of barbed wire and machine guns, warfare evolved after World War I. By World War II, offensive strategy involved mechanized warfare, which included battle tanks and more sophisticated air cover. Turning to the Cold War, nuclear weapons gave defensive strategy the edge.

“In the end, as we look back, neither side wanted to fight a war because we feared what the devastating consequences were,” Weinstein said. “Other developments make fighting below the nuclear threshold less costly, including missile defense, precision weaponry and so forth.”

A key milestone in defense transformation was the 1990-91 Gulf War, “the first war of its kind” — high tech and data-driven.

“It became an audacious laboratory for a new kind of warfare,” Weinstein said. “The U.S. deployed long-range precision strikes, for the first time, a new kind of advanced weaponry that proved to be highly successful.”

Fifth point: Strategic adversaries came to benefit from other technological advances and battlefield transformations.

Just as the Chinese kept a close eye on the internet, the country’s military planners kept a close eye on what the United States was doing in the Persian Gulf War.

“They saw our unprecedented 42-day victory in 1991, and realized a strategic rethink was necessary for the People’s Republic of China to remain a competitive, growing military power,” Weinstein said.

Sixth point: In regards to technological innovation in China, the use of new information systems can impede civil liberties, especially among ethnic minorities.

In 2015, the Chinese government issued a state geostrategy, the Made in China 2025 plan, which is designed to achieve rapid advancement in areas of high technology, including civilian technologies that are critical to domestic security, yet encroach on civilian privacy.

“This pull of government geostrategy seems to control the next generation of technologies — from facial recognition software, to artificial intelligence, robotics, mnemonic sciences, the next generation of mobile 5G systems — and place China geometrically ahead of the competition,” Weinstein said.

Through facial recognition data and cell phone tracking, Weinstein said China has created a “social credit” system that represses individual freedoms.

“In China, it has everything to do with monitoring citizens’ loyalty to the Communist Party,” Weinstein said. “It’s a social credit that goes with them wherever they go; whether they apply to colleges or universities, when they try to buy a railroad ticket, when they try to buy an airplane ticket and when they try to apply for a job.”

According to Weinstein, the key to China’s system is having access to personal data about a variety of individuals.

“Eventually, in a high-tech future, using artificial intelligence technologies and other technologies, this data will be able to be mined for all sorts of purposes,” he said.

Seventh point: The quest for information and information dominance makes the battle over the future of 5G mobile phones critical.

The Chinese government has offered billions in subsidies to Huawei, a Chinese multinational technology company, to become the leader in 5G technology globally.

“Huawei has unprecedented ties to the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese military apparatus,” he said. “On the surface, it looks like a normal company like Samsung or Nokia, but imagine if the Soviet Union had the wherewithal to develop this kind of high tech that stole the most complex technological secrets to produce the most highly powered information and communication system of its time.”

Weinstein said the introduction of 5G technologies proves that the world has entered an “infosphere.”

“(This is a) moment in which China will be able to create a global infosphere: information it has from around the world, a massive data collection system that is going to be ripe for artificial intelligence harvesting for all sorts of strategic and nonstrategic purposes,” he said.

By 2025, Weinstein said three-fourths of the world will be “interacting with 5G capability,” which brought him to his eighth and final point: How can the United States stay ahead?

For that question, Weinstein doesn’t have a happy ending, or even a solid answer.

“It is a tough question,” he said. “You don’t need a complex artificial intelligence system to know I have painted a very gloomy picture strategically.”

Weinstein said he owes the hope he does have to the Trump Administration.

“I give the Trump Administration credit for breaking conventional wisdom over the China threat,” he said. “Over the past 30 years or so, there has been a belief that China’s rise as an economic power would eventually transform China internally. I give the administration credit for empowering the kind of analysts who recognize the China challenge.”

The best news, Weinstein said, is that though the United States has only entered the early stages of the “geostrategic competition,” there is a chance the country may prosper as much as, if not more than, China.

“Our system is much stronger, much freer and much more innovative than the Chinese system,” Weinstein said. “At the end of the day, we in the United States, we in the West and our allies around the world, prove strong enough, creative enough and dedicated enough to meet this challenge and point the way to a brighter future for mankind.”

Robin Wright Expands on Global Power in Age of Perpetual Disruption


No straight line could ever depict history, and through 50 years of twists and turns, Robin Wright has witnessed, firsthand, the creation of a convoluted trajectory.

At the beginning of that line are some “basics” that Wright said need no elaboration: Russia is trying to recoup its losses as a superpower; China is increasingly a major power, a challenge and a rival to the United States and across the globe; power is shifting from West to East.

Beyond the basics, Wright proposed six “big ideas” to define “where we are and where we are going,” a line that, although not straight, may be easier to follow.

Wright, contributing writer at The New Yorker and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, opening Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

Wright’s first idea centers on “perpetual disruption,” not to be confused with politics.

“In the past, we’ve had breaks after traumatic events; be it a civil war, the Great Depression, two world wars, the Cold War,” Wright said. “We could step back, we could regroup, we could create new institutions and think about how we could prevent those traumas from happening again.”

After World War II, the United Nations took shape with “creative energy and thoughtful perspective,” becoming the first successful global organization. Then the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established and paved the way for a number of countries’ independence in the decades that followed. Following that was NATO, a security mechanism, and for “development and prosperity,” the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created.

“Today, in the 21st century, we don’t have that luxury of time to regroup after traumatic events,” Wright said. “The glut of information too often distracts us and diverts us from thinking big, from addressing those issues.”

The pace of change is perpetual, and according to Wright, it is never going to slow down.

“We are in uncharted territory, in many ways, in adapting to what’s unfolding,” she said. “And in many ways, we don’t yet have the new institutions and the thoughtful leadership giving a lot of thought to these kinds of changes. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of action on the big principles.”

Wright’s advice? “Strap yourselves in.”

The second big idea is that the world is in the process of reordering, perhaps the most significant shift in the 500 years since city-states evolved into nation-states.

“The world map went through extraordinary change in the 20th century,” Wright said. “It was the age of the end of empires in France, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union — they’re gone.”

In the 20th century, there was a “proliferation of countries.” In 1945, the United Nations was comprised of 51 countries. In 1948, the year Wright was born, there were 57. Currently, there are 193.

“By the end of the 21st, there will probably be more countries in the world,” she said. “The map will change further, and yet the reordering, in some ways, is more interesting in the ways we’re becoming parts of something bigger.”

The concept of “America first” seems individualistic, but Wright said the reality is that the United States is part of more than 70 regional blocs and international partnerships. Some are pivotal, others small, but they affect everything from commerce, to security, to football.

In 1994, the United States embraced the North American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty the current administration opposes. Yet, the same principles are being embraced in the 2018-drafted United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

“It is that same idea of being something bigger,” Wright said. “We are better off, we are more efficient and we are more prosperous when we work with a wider array of countries.”

Becoming a part of “something bigger” calls for sacrifices and compromise when it comes to sovereignty, control over the future and, particularly, identity.

“The 21st century will be, as a result of wanting to be part of something bigger, not just about hopefully spreading democracy within countries, but also the principle of establishing democracies among countries,” Wright said. “No country wants to give up having a little bit more than the next guy, to be safer or more prosperous.”

That power struggle means embracing an identity that is bigger than nation-states have been before.

“The transition is going to be messy as we try to figure out: Who are we?” Wright said. “Who decides for us, whether it’s about policy or trade, how we fight wars? Even who the enemy is? It will be a source of incredible turmoil, but it’s one of those big ideas that will define our times.”

The third big idea is that the measures of power are shifting.

“The size of a country’s military, the size of its arsenals, are still important, but other things are increasingly defining, increasingly indicating of power, others’ power and the endurance of power,” she said.

Power will be defined by connectedness, Wright said, which is influenced by three things: access to information, the speed of that access and the security of that access. The access and control of data and information is already a “battlefield,” as seen with Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Power will also be increasingly defined by access to natural resources, specifically water. Currently, 17 nations, representing 40% of the global population, face severe water shortages or distress. By 2030, the number will increase to 45 countries.

“The last time I was in Saudi Arabia, I was struck by a sign on my bathroom mirror that said, ‘Water is more precious than oil,’ ” Wright said.

The definition of power will also rely on a country’s adaptability to change and perpetual disruption. For example, in 2011, a young Tunisian fruit vendor, angry about corruption and bribery demanded by police inspectors, refused to give in to their demands, resulting in the police inspector taking his fruit. The vendor protested, and when he was repeatedly rebuffed, he went out in front of the governor’s mansion, covered himself in paint thinner and lit himself on fire.

The anger over his desperate act ignited the Arab Spring, and Wright said the younger generation’s actions represented one of the “most important turning points in the Middle East.”

As part of the nation’s response to outraged youth, Tunisia invested in education, so much that its budget allocated more for education than every European country except for Denmark and Iceland. By 2011, more than half of the young population received some kind of advanced education. But at the same time, unemployment among those with advanced education was 32%.

“A society had changed and done the important things necessary … had adapted, (but) had not figured out a way to incorporate the very people it was educating,” she said. 

Wright returned to Tunisia in 2012, trying to get a consensus on what had changed since the Arab Spring began.

“The message was the same, in different ways and different words: ‘We have far more freedoms, but far fewer jobs,’ ” she said.

In 2014, Wright returned to Tunisia again, this time as an international monitor for their first democratic presidential election. According to Wright, the country “did it right”; they debated a new constitution in town halls across the country for two years and, among other promises, said the document guaranteed Muslim women more rights than American women. And yet, for that election, the lowest voter turnout was among the younger generation.

“The bottom line is, adapting to change at the pace today, is achingly hard,” Wright said.

The fourth big idea is that the nature of warfare is changing — in terms of the weapons market, as well as who or what is identified as an adversary. In the second half of the 20th century, Wright said the nuclear bomb caused the most fear, where in the first half of the 21st, the suicide bomb commonly generates the most anxiety.

“It’s a reflection, in many ways, of how our adversaries have changed,” she said. “Wars today are less between states, and more often between states and non-state actors: militias, terrorist groups, extremists.”

The United States has only fought one conventional war since the Korean War. In the 21st century, the two biggest U.S. adversaries have been ISIS and the Taliban, both non-state actors.

“These wars are often much harder to fight and the enemy much more difficult to understand,” Wright said.

The fifth big idea centers around “the assumptions of liberal democracy.” Between 1946 and 1999, 64 democracies collapsed because of coups or insurgencies.

“For that first half of my life, the failure of democracy was like a light switch — it went on and then off, and it often was dark in these countries for decades to come,” Wright said.

In the second half of her life, Wright has seen democracies die at the hands of elected leaders, often with the support of the public, congress, parliament and even the courts.

In 1980, Wright was the pool reporter on Pope John Paul II’s plane when he went to the Philippines to tell President Ferdinand Marcos that the “gig was up.” Even though the end of Marcos’ reign was an “amazing transition,” Filipinos elected Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, one of the “most murderous thugs in the world.”

“The death of democracy by election is a recurrent theme these days,” Wright said. “Democracy has been floundered, failed, or the idea of democracy challenged, from Turkey, to Poland, Hungary, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Peru and sweet little Venezuela, the first democracy in Latin America.”

Between 1995 and 2017, the number of French, Germans and Italians who supported a military rule tripled. Between 2000 and 2010, she said, 40% of the world’s democracies failed due to the rise of populism. 

“For the second half of my life, democracy or the challenges to democracy, are like a dimmer — it slowly, slowly goes darker, and no one quite notices until it’s too late,” Wright said.

To avoid noticing that darkness only when “it’s too late,” Wright said, people cannot assume that current ways of life, based on founding democracies, are sustainable without periodic change.

“Democracy, in some ways, is the most fragile form of government; it depends on a sense of goodwill, the embrace of compromise, a spirit of common good among its citizens and the participation of its citizens,” she said. 

Though democracy is based on rights, those rights don’t tell the whole story. Democracy also requires responsibility.

“Everybody wants their rights, but not enough people want the responsibility, the responsibility to ensure not only our rights, but the rights of others — all others,” she said.

The sixth big idea is the good news.

“We have so much to celebrate,” Wright said. “We should not be distracted by the mean-world syndrome, that makes us think, in headlines and on television, that everything is going to hell. It’s a tempting thought, but there is a lot of good news.”

In 1945, there were 12 democracies. Now, there are 99.

“More than half of the world’s population lives in some form of political pluralism — some strong, some weak — where the idea has been embraced and governments have had to accommodate their people,” Wright said.

In warfare, the number of armed conflicts has dropped 40% since the end of the Cold War. Wars now tend to be “low-intensity conflicts” and 90% fewer people are dying in violent struggles than in the 1950s.

As for terrorism, Wright said state-sponorsed international terrorism is a “shadow” of what it was in the ’70s and ’80s. Only 5% of terrorist groups win or achieve their goals, and 18% end up negotiating.

“It’s usually because their goals have to do with a change in the type of government, a demand for rights, demand for recognition of a minority, or in some cases, a majority,” she said.

Life in general is improving, too. On average, child mortality is down, and productivity and life expectancy have all increased globally.

Above all, Wright said the most important thing to remember is that history and change do not exist on a straight line; never have, never will. Regardless, Wright remains an optimist.

“I know we have the intelligence and the tools and the ability to make things better,” Wright said. “The transition is going to be tough everywhere, but the thoughtful discussion, the kind you have at Chautauqua, gets us through these periods and helps create something different and better in the end. Just keep reminding yourself, among all the divisiveness and challenges, that we are all in this together.”

President Michael E. Hill and Krista Tippett Close Week’s Theme with Discussion Reflecting on Grace

From left, Founder and CEO of The On Being Project Krista Tippett talks about what makes a good interview with the 18th President of Chautauqua Institution Michael E. Hill during the final morning lecture of Week Seven Friday Aug. 9, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Krista Tippett began her week on grace with three elemental questions to pursue: “What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other?”

With Tippett ending the week on the other side of the conversation, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, had the opportunity to ask a question of his own: “After a week dedicated to grace, do you know any of the answers?”

Hill interviewed Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Tippett is a journalist and a diplomat with a degree in theology. According to her, the subjects of religion and spirituality are not merely subjects, they’re part of the human enterprise.

“It’s a part of life, this religious, spiritual, moral, ethical part of us,” Tippett said. “We didn’t know how to talk about that in journalism, which meant, in large part, we didn’t know how to talk about it in public.”

In post-9/11 America, Tippett saw a need for religious conversation, which is why her public radio show was originally titled “Speaking of Faith.” The evolution to “On Being” reflected the reality that much of the show’s material did not center on conventional understandings of faith, but rather the broader concept of humanity.

“What I started to realize was that what we were following were the animating questions behind this part of life, which have been pursued for thousands of years, most intentionally by our religious traditions,” she said. “These are repositories for sophisticated thinking and questioning in conversation across generations, and they are universal human questions.”

Out of her three elemental questions, Tippett said “Who will we be to each other?” is inextricable from the others.

“Who we will be to each other is really going to determine whether we rise up to the best of our humanity, or fail to do so and get back into survival mode,” she said.

The decision to rise up or revert to a rudimentary approach to life is a “hard call,” Hill said. And according to Tippett, those calls can be influenced by modern-day issues, but even in the absence of politics and social concerns, people are undoubtedly reshaping the world and contributing to seismic shifts in society.

“We are the generation redefining elemental human things like marriage, family and gender,” Tippett said. “Do you know how huge that is?”

At the root of the redefinition are the technologies “unsettling the ground beneath our feet,” the same unsettling many human generations have experienced before. However, Tippett said this generation’s technology is unique in how personal it is to users.

“They, the railroads, fire, electricity; they didn’t do this,” Tippett said. “Our technologies are implicating themselves in the human condition. They are redefining and reworking the way we do things like learning, creating community and falling in love.”

Partly due to technology and partly to the globalization of economies and cultures, Tippett said people are now living in an unprecedented proximity to difference.

“It’s stressful whether you welcome it or resist it,” Tippett said. “Physiologically, in our brains, we are having to rewire ourselves.”

So why is it harder now than ever before to be good to one another? Tippett said it is because humanity is living in a “complicated moment.”

“If we could just get really self-aware about that and get a little bit kinder to ourselves, then I think we would get kinder to others and just let that be true,” she said.

While staring at screens, Tippett said people have lost sight of their intelligence and conscience. At the dawn of the hand-held device age, adults held their devices as “little, baby, tyrant inventions” — people were in control of the technology. But now, Tippett said, people are no longer the adults in the room.

“One of the things we are so fascinated by, and so creative in our fantasies, is about what happens when our technology becomes intelligent and conscious,” she said. “We’re not fascinated enough that we are already intelligent, and we’ve been conscious a long, long time. We have the capacity to become wise, which I think is the capacity we need to grow into, to grow up our technologies.”

Aptly titled, Becoming Wise, Tippett’s 2016 book explores what it means to live. According to her, wisdom is a characteristic separate from knowledge and accomplishment.

“The measure of a wise life is the imprint it makes on the lives around it,” she said.

At the beginning of her radio career, colleagues told Tippett that audiences would not tune in to long-form pieces. Luckily, she knew enough to know they were wrong.

“There was this wisdom by the experts who knew better than I did, they thought that people just don’t have long attention spans anymore,” she said. “They just didn’t believe it; they underestimated us.”

Tippett said the generation of young listeners has grown over time, but her audience has remained intergenerational, which the experts also underestimated. Tippett said there was a “condescending notion” that young people wouldn’t listen to long shows with big words and older guests.

“It’s just not true, and it’s bad for us to act that way,” Tippett said.

Hill said he experiences the same stereotypes about young people at the Institution. People often recommend the lecture platforms become more like TED Talks, to which Hill responds: “Never.”

“It’s not that young people don’t want to deeply engage, it’s that they engage in community differently, and how do we decode that?” Hill said. “I truly believe this deep inquiry is what feeds the soul of the younger generation.”

The younger generation also has an understanding of the deep need for wisdom from their elders, Tippett said.

“They want to be (in their elders’ company), and we owe them that,” she said.

Tippett doesn’t focus on age when she picks her guests. Instead, she searches for wisdom and voices “not shouting to be heard.”

“We really are very intentional about looking just below the radar,” she said. “The easiest thing in the world, and also the way to get a big hit, is to interview celebrities. We all know, in our own lives, that in our communities, in our fields of knowledge and work or passion, there are these heroic figures who form generations; who are rock stars in their world and no one has ever heard of them outside of it.”

To find those stories, Tippett said people need to stop getting distracted by what’s big and loud and value where wisdom, knowledge and a “graceful creation of realities” is occurring.

“We’re very caught up in seeing the challenge defined the way it is defined in media and politics, which is, ‘Here is this extreme,’ and, ‘Here is that extreme,’ and the only way we are going to frame this issue and work around it is to duke it out — it’s not working,” Tippett said. “It’s not how change happens, it’s not how we live our lives.”

People tend to think that if their work can’t convince people to reconsider a certain position, then there is no point in trying — a dangerous idea, according to Tippett.

“We think, in our imaginations, that whatever that worst example of what you think you’re up against, you think that if you don’t have them in a room, or if what you create couldn’t convince them, what’s the point of trying, and that’s a lie,” she said. “We have to start, we get to start, having the conversations we want to be hearing where we live, with people who are touching lives in the places we live in.”

To introduce Tippett’s Civil Conversations Project, Hill read an excerpt from Becoming Wise: “The crack in the middle, where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see the other as evil, this is where I want to live and I want to widen.”

The Civil Conversations Project, as described on Tippett’s website, is an “evolving adventure in audio, events, resources, and initiatives for planting relationship and conversation around the subjects we fight about intensely — and those we’ve barely begun to discuss.” One of the biggest barriers to increased social understanding and progress, Tippett said, is the enduring “American can-do spirit” of wanting immediate results.

“We’re not actually going to have answers that we can all live with, peacefully, for a long time,” she said. “We have to live with the questions until we can live our way to the answers. The point is to create a space of humanization and relationship, so that what is dividing us no longer defines what is possible between us.”

According to Hill, Tippett got him in “deep trouble” his first year as Chautauqua’s president. In preparation for a speech, Hill read Tippett’s Becoming Wise, in which she wrote: “I always rush to add qualifiers when I use the word civility; words like ‘muscular,’ or ‘adventurous,’ because it can otherwise sound too nice, too polite and too tame.”

Hill said he gleefully grabbed the concept of muscular civil dialogue, and got “chased around” all summer because it was “too masculine, too much.”

Tippett said civility has become a controversial word and an obstacle in the way of change, considering “language is really all we have.” According to her, words like justice, peace and kindness have been ruined by too many bumper stickers and Hallmark cards.

“With all of the things we want to talk about that matter, we actually have to constantly be mustering an ecosystem of language and lived behavior to say what we are saying,” she said. “Whatever the connotations are in my mind, I cannot assume that any of those are the connotations in your mind.”

Tolerance has now been claimed as a civic virtue — only a baby step in the right direction, Tippett said.   

“Tolerance is about the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment,” she said. “Tolerance is separate but equal.” 

American society has encouraged a collective mentality that requires people to check their “identity bags” at the door; so the challenge now is to “live in wholeness.”

“How do we let all of our deep, deep differences in, and craft a shared life?” Tippett said. “What civility is going to mean with that robust question, it’s exciting.”

As the week’s theme explored grace in life, death, love and loss, Tippett said every discussion exceeded her expectations for the week.

“There is some kind of creative synergy that happened between you choosing that topic and us saying ‘yes,’ ” she said. “I think when we got the deep theology, it meant so much more. One outcome of the week, for me, is that the word ‘grace’ has been planted in me and in the project; and when we produce these shows in the months to come, it will be with our audience, which is all over the world.”

Serene Jones & Krista Tippett Explore Grace’s Theological Foundation & Equality’s ‘Misguided Perception’

Theologian Serene Jones in conversation with Krista Tippett, creator of “On Being” and curator of Week Seven, “Grace: A celebration of Extraordinary Gifts” Thursday, August 8, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

She named her daughter Charis, the root of which means grace; her three books center on grace; and her theological journey has considered grace at all stages.

With all of that in mind, Krista Tippett said Serene Jones has “rock-solid grace credentials.”

Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” interviewed Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the first female president in the seminary’s 180-year history, at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

The aptly named hymn resounds, “I once was lost, but now I’m found,” and from that, Jones found her life transformed.

“I once was a happy, but confused Christian child, and now I am a wiser, still fundamentally happy, but humble Christian leader; humbled by my life, but also by the complexities, horrors and gifts of the Christian faith,” Jones said.

The Christian faith was a fundamental part of Jones’ life. She grew up attending a Disciples of Christ Christian church, where her father was a minister.

“Our church was the center of our life,” Jones said. “I had the wonderful advantage of growing up in a progressive Disciples community, so it was where I learned, from the time I could walk, about social justice, racism and what it meant to be a church.”

In the teachings of her church, Jones learned the meaning of grace and the purpose it serves.

“From the time I heard the word ‘God,’ I thought, ‘God means love and love is universal, and we are all loved,’ ” she said. “That’s grace.”

So where does theology fit in? To Jones, it serves as “a place and a story.”

“Theology is the place and the story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, of the world, of the possibility of God,” Jones said.

For Jones, that place sits “windswept, but defiant” on a plain in Oklahoma; specifically, in the middle of a farm in the outskirts of Billings.

“I go there again and again, to this dusty piece of land, to remember what is true and to find God,” Jones said. “I go there to find my story, my theology. I go there to be born again, to be made whole, to unite with what I was, what I am and what I will become.”

The state of Oklahoma, where both Tippett and Jones grew up, has a “complicated moral and ethical thinking in its DNA,” according to Tippett. Jones said the story of her dichotomous family settling in Oklahoma is a microcosm of all the conflicts and contradictions of modern-day America.

The family of Jones’ grandmother arrived in Oklahoma on a wagon train from Pennsylvania; her family was largely a Godly and upstanding one. Jones’ grandfather, who her Pennsylvania-born grandmother would eventually marry, came on a train from Tennessee with his family, running from the law after a family member killed a man and stole a horse.

“It was the meeting of these two different worlds: One, this staunchly, Disciple homesteading couple and one, these renegade outlaws,” she said.

Growing up, Jones spent a lot of time in Okemah, Oklahoma, a city she said embodies the birth of the state and added to the complexity of the 1921 Tulsa race riots; it all comes together in a “troubling story.”

Jones was listening to a lecture at Yale University, and behind the lecturer hung postcards of lynching victims. At one point, a postcard fell. It had a photo of a young woman and her son lynched from a bridge. At the bottom it read, “Laura Nelson, 1911, Okemah, Oklahoma.”

Theologian Serene Jones in conversation with Krista Tippett, creator of “On Being” and curator of Week Seven, “Grace: A celebration of Extraordinary Gifts” Thursday, August 8, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Jones saw the location, her world “imploded.” In 1911, the town’s population was around 300, two-thirds of which were her family members.

“There was no way that my family did not know, or most likely participated in (the lynching),” Jones said.

“But it’s not a story that can be passed down,” Tippett said.

“If they had not participated, they would have told the story,” Jones said.

The complicated “story of us,” found in Oklahoma’s history, was also apparent in another part of Jones’ life. Jones attended a Christian summer camp, and as her group sang “This Land is Your Land,” she found out — for the first time — that there were more verses to the song.

“It was like singing a beloved hymn and suddenly discovering that you have only been singing a fraction of the song, and the hard parts were locked off,” she said.

They began singing the standard verse, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York island; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, This land was made for you and Me.”

Then came the verse Jones had never heard.

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me. One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office, I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering, if God blessed America for me.”

Because the “hard parts were locked off” for her, Jones could not develop a full understanding of the song. Similarly, Jones said, good theology must be “public theology.”

“What is theology if it’s not talking about our collective lives, the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we are supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?” Jones said.

Tippett and Jones were at Yale Divinity School at the same time, but never met. But Tippett remembers walking by one of Jones’ systematic theology lectures, the first time she heard Jones mention the importance of John Calvin in theology.

Jones said people are surprised she “actually likes Calvin,” but he wasn’t always a figure she admired. However, after a year of living in India and the Philippines in the midst of civil war, she saw Calvin in a new light.

“I suddenly found in John Calvin a writer who was trying to engage a community of people who felt sieged and oppressed,” she said. “Quite literally, there was a war taking place against French Protestants; they were fleeing to Geneva, and John Calvin was trying to give them sustenance. He was trying to tell them a story about God that would get them out of bed in the morning, which changed everything about how he sounded to me.”

One of Calvin’s fundamental beliefs was in the sovereignty of God, which means there is nothing humans can do that won’t “unfold before Him.”

“(Calvin believed that) God sees us and loves us, and that’s why we’re here,” Jones said. “The complicated character of human life is that, on one hand, God creates us to be glorious; he gives us powers of intellect and love and connection and art, and we are capable of amazing, extraordinary accomplishments. Yet, right next to this glorious side, is this weird propensity that human beings have — to choose what is not good for them, to choose evil, to sin.” 

Jones said Calvin won’t let go of the “broken part of who we are,” and according to her, no one should forget those broken parts — especially moments of trauma.

“One of the things I have learned is that not just individuals, but whole communities undergo trauma,” Jones said. “One of the characteristics of trauma is the deep human desire to repress it and to not deal with the harms that have happened.”

But the truth in both individual and collective trauma, is that the horror haunts people until they face the truth of what happened, Jones said.

“I think what is happening in our nation today is that all of the horrors of the past have come up to claim us — all of us — and they’re not going to let us go until we take the stride of reckoning with them,” she said. “But we’re terrified of doing that.”

Her perceptions of collective trauma have led her on a journey of understanding the construction of whiteness in America. Jones’ great-grandmother was Cherokee, and when Jim Crow laws were implemented in Oklahoma, her great-grandmother declared herself as “pure white.”

“In stories of white supremacy, liberal white people today want to put that in the past and not reckon with how close it is to who we are now,” Jones said. “For me, I wasn’t allowed that dangerous innocence once I saw it so close to home.”

At the heart of the nation’s turmoil, Jones said, is a misguided perception of equality.

“People, honestly, do not believe that we are all equal and loved equally and equally valued,” she said. “That crosses the aisle and it’s a theological issue.”

In both trauma and grief, Tippett said the concept of resolution is not theological because it’s not “reality based.” According to Jones, a more important moment than resolution happens when “grief becomes mourning.”

“To move from grief to mourning is to move from a place of sheer loss to a place of acknowledging the loss and mourning the permanence of the loss,” Jones said. “It can’t be fixed, but also, it creates a space in mourning for you to make sacred the pain, so the rest of your life is transformed by it. It allows the possibility of a future.”

Another theological notion of grace is repentance, a very “active and visual” concept.

“Repentance is a powerful word, and it means to walk in a different direction; it means to do it differently,” Jones said. “It’s much more than ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s saying, ‘That is horrible and this is the path we are going to walk on together to fix it’ — not fix it in the sense of cover up the past, but fix it so that the horrors that hold us don’t keep happening.”

Grace is more original than sin, Jones said, because “grace wins.”

“Our sinfulness is not who we are, and that means that in this theology, which is suffused to Christianity, is that the love of God, the love of the universe, is stronger and more powerful and persistent, larger, greater, more eternal than anything,” she said. “That’s grace, and that’s the grace that changes how we experience everything.”

One of Christianity’s greatest sins is that it refuses to engage other religions seriously — and with grace. According to Jones, all voices have to be included to get out of the “period of reformation” the world is in now.

“For me, I just turned 60 two weeks ago, and I realize it’s my work to do, but I’m not going to be here to see what comes,” Jones said. “That’s OK, but we have a lot of work to do in these next years of all of us together, even if we don’t know where we’re going.”

Imani Perry and Krista Tippett Examine Grace Through Racial Disparity and Finite Life

From left, award-winning author Imani Perry, and Krista Tippett speak on Week Six’s theme Grace, during the morning lecture on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 in the Amphitheater. Perry is a scholar of cultural studies, legal history and African American studies.

The first time Krista Tippett interviewed Imani Perry at Chautauqua Institution in 2014, their discussion was interrupted by a torrential downpour three times. Promptly after promising that wouldn’t happen again, a fire alarm did the trick, stopping Tippett mid-question four times.

But louder than the alarms was Perry’s call for grace in modern-day America, the force she said allowed her ancestors to hold on — making it possible for her, her sons and the country to “become.”

Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” interviewed Perry, award-winning author and Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Perry is a “cradle Catholic” from Alabama, who describes herself as “a child of the fragments of Christianity.”

“In my life, there is a dance between the traditional black, southern, coming of age, as my foundation,” Perry said. “On the other hand, my family is Catholic, which is rather unusual for that part of the world.”

Although Perry grew up in Massachusetts, she spent her summers alternating between Alabama and Chicago. Living in various places, she had encounters with a variety of people and spiritual traditions.

“I think of myself as a seeker, and I respond to that which resonates within, so my spiritual life is as promiscuous as my intellectual interests,” Perry said.

“Let’s say interdisciplinary,” Tippett said.

Perry was raised among divides — her mother and grandmother are Catholic, her great-grandmother was Baptist, her birth father was Lutheran, and the father who raised her was Jewish.

“The transition, personally, from sort of feeling like I’m this strange person entering all of these worlds, to actually thinking about it as a source of insight, offered me the capacity to connect with a variety of people, and that’s the process of maturing,” Perry said.

Perry recalled memories from her summers in Chicago, where she had undocumented friends who introduced her to an America she had never known. Her friends, only 10 and 11 years old at the time, did not answer their doors, out of fear that the knocking could be an immigration officer. When visiting, Perry would enter through a basement door to avoid causing unnecessary attention. Those friends were also navigating finances and work negotiations for their parents.

“Now, in this moment in history, we are repeating some of the worst parts of our history,” Perry said. “You see children being ripped from their parents in a way that is reminiscent of slavery, and that really is the repetition of the worst parts of our history. For me, it’s also a recollection of those intimate relationships with children who have the burdens of adulthood on their shoulders.”

When present-day becomes history, there will be an “us” to look back on, Tippett said. Perry said for her book, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation, one of the reviewers questioned her use of “we,” which she said shifts whom it includes.

For example, Perry said a “collective we” might involve the “Earth screaming.” At just 5 years old, Perry remembers people thinking the concept of human suffering resulting from environmental issues as weird, but now, there is scientific evidence the two — human suffering and environmental issues — are related.

To exemplify a more isolated “we,” Tippett referenced Perry’s 2016 “The Year of the Black Memoir,” an essay she wrote for Public Books. In the piece, Perry talked about Kenneth Warren, professor of English at the University of Chicago, who in 2011 declared there was no longer any such thing as African American literature because a black president was in the White House.

“One thing to ask is, ‘What is the investment in declaring an end?’ ” Perry said. “I do think part of the investment comes from the desire for the new, and so while it’s often a mischaracterization to say this is the end of history, the desire for the new is something that is meaningful.”

While efforts to recharacterize or reclaim history — particularly the lost and misrepresented history of African Americans — are necessary, Perry said people need to learn to “live in the remains.”

“You try to revitalize our commitments, but you can’t wipe away history in the midst of it,” she said. “It’s not just because there is the risk of repeating it, but because it lives inside us. All of the ugliness dwells inside us, but we still try to do things that are meaningful and live meaningful lives.”

For Tippett, having an African American president was an “extraordinary accomplishment,” but she said it also surfaced “all of the unfinished reckoning.”

“That’s not what everyone expected, and that was heartbreaking for me,” Tippett said.

Tippett read from an article Perry wrote for The Progressive in February 2019.

“Once upon a time, in 2008, we were all wistful that our grandmother didn’t live to see a black man become President,” Tippett read. “I mean ‘our grandmother’ in the collective sense. All of our departed really.”

In contrast, Perry said she was grateful her grandmother wasn’t alive for Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It was a feeling of ‘What will it take?’ ” Perry said. “What will it take for the nation, ‘us’ collectively, to take seriously our creed as foundation, not something that you can move in and out of based on anxieties and fears and resentments, but actually as a core value? That’s terrifying, after all of these generations of struggle and resistance, to not know what we do now.”

To work through those unanswered questions, Perry wrote her forthcoming book, Breathe: A Letter to my Sons. The book starts with a quote attributed to “everybody and their mother”: “It must be terrifying to raise a black boy in America.” That quote is an echo of words from W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk: “How does it feel to be a problem? To which, I seldom answer a word.”

Perry, who addressed this topic in relation to her two sons with Tippett in 2014, said she is “tired of that question.”

“There is an effect to the fact that 100-plus years later, the same question remains,” Perry said. “Part of what I’m trying to work through is yes, there is terror, but there is also incredible beauty. There is a way in which the repetition of the narrative of the terror almost evacuates the full humanity of their lives.”

Welcoming redirection, Tippett referenced a question in Perry’s book that is also directed toward her sons: “How do you ‘become’ in a world bent on you not being and not becoming?”

Tippett said it was interesting Perry still lives with that question, given her sons have access to more resources than most African American children in the United States.

“It was very important for me to acknowledge the class position of my sons and the way it geared their experiences, not just for black children, but for other children in the United States,” Perry said. “I think it is important to acknowledge that, because I don’t want to participate in fiction.”

Perry said she arms her sons with skills, intellectual tools, ethics, values and a way to make sense of the hostility from people whose responsibility is to treat them like members of the community.

“That’s the world they occupy,” she said. “It’s a complicated task and I mention it, in part, because I do want it to trigger, for readers, an ethical reflection on their part.”

Whether in her own life or the lives of her sons, Perry is struck by people who consider racial inequity to be “natural.” Perry said she has come to see whiteness as a “potent form of binding.”

“I think that it is a constriction; it cuts off the blood supply, it disciplines or threatens to discipline white people out of deep identification with other human beings, which I think is the natural state of things,” she said.

The concept of “whiteness” is derived from mythologies and acts of imagination, according to Perry.

“We can imagine differently,” Perry said. 

When videos of the murders of unarmed black people increasingly surfaced online, Perry said it was motivated by the misguided belief that something would change if people saw the realities of racism for themselves.

“I was skeptical of it then, I am very sure now, that the repetition of seeing a particular group of people suffering may have the capacity to make one identify with their suffering, but it also may deepen stigma,” she said.

But the issue, Perry said, is not that the visuals are insufficient, it’s the overall disbelief in the extent of racial inequality.

“That disbelief is actually at the cornerstone of the structure of racialization,” she said. “It’s not whether there is a visual recognition of it, it’s the ideological commitment that’s at the cornerstone of American history, and that has to be broken down. Videos, as tragic as they are, are not going to do that.”

Perry does not have a solid answer for what it will take to break down that cornerstone, but said the process will leave scars.

“I think we would do an ethical wrong if we didn’t acknowledge that there will be enormous growing pains,” she said. “Change is hard, deliberate or not.”

To bring the conversation back to grace, Tippett read an excerpt from Perry’s Breathe:

“This life we have is grace. In the Catholic tradition, there is a form of grace — that is the stuff of your soul,” Tippett read. “It is not defined by moments of mercy or opportunity, it is not good things happening to you; rather it is the good thing that is in you, regardless of what happens. You carry this down through generations, saying that endemic trauma of violent slave masters’ society, that the grace is the bigger part. It is what made the ancestors hold on so that we could become.”

Throughout Perry’s life, she has seen the repetition of mothers whose sons have been taken away, and is aware that she could live that reality. But resilience is present in those tragedies and the people who live on despite them, so the question becomes: “What does that tell us about how to be human?”

Perry searches for this answer in the midst of novelist Toni Morrison’s passing, which was revealed only hours before the Tuesday lecture.

“What her work has done for me and for many others, is to have us sit in the ordinariness of tragedy, with historical awareness,” she said. “There are specific forms of tragedy that we have a responsibility to respond to, to act, but there is also something universal.”

According to Perry, Americans are constantly in pursuit of life where tragedy doesn’t occur, avoiding conversations about death and other finite elements of life.

“We are all going to be there,” Perry said. “God willing, every meaningful relationship we have in our lives will end, and I say God willing because that means we have loved and lost, we have lived long enough to love and lose.”

The capacity of human beings to connect with one another, while they still can, is what Perry thinks people need to focus on, and according to Tippett, that starts from within.

“That is, for each and every one of us, interior work — as much as it is work we do in conversation,” Tippett said.

For her own interior work, Perry said she turns to reading; for when one reads, they “enter a whole world of other human beings.”

“There is something very intimate about it,” Perry said. “So that’s why I’m a writer, because there is a possibility to get to that.”

Maria Bamford and Ophira Eisenberg Emphasize Importance of Humor in Vulnerability

Comedian and actress, Maria Bamford, left, talks about her life journey in an interview with Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR’s ‘Ask Me Another’ during the morning lecture Friday, August 2, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It takes courage to proclaim one’s innermost anxieties to complete strangers, but turning mental illness and existential despair into comically cathartic performances? That takes a lot more than courage; it requires evocative writing, eccentric characters and an abundance of voices. Maria Bamford has, reluctantly, mastered them all.

Bamford, stand-up comedian and actress, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Friday, August 2 in the Amphitheater, closing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” She was interviewed by Ophira Eisenberg, comedian and host of NPR’s and WNYC’s weekly radio game show, “Ask Me Another.”

The first time Bamford hit the stage as a stand-up comedian, she had a violin and a shaved head. Her parents “forced” her to start playing the violin at just 3 years old and said she couldn’t quit until she turned 16.

“Oh boy, I could not wait to get that cock-block out of the way,” Bamford said. “I used it in my act when I started because it helped distract from the fact that people didn’t like my material.”

When she moved to Los Angeles, she was relieved to find two other female comedians who played the violin while performing stand-up, giving her an excuse to finally ditch the act and try something else.

However, the shaved head was there to stay. Bamford said she was bald for ease and because it helped her “blend in with the men.”

“Comedy, at that time, was mostly men,” she said. “When you shave your head, no one is interested in talking to you after your set to tell you what they find funny; they think you’re ill, or perhaps, very angry — both of which are true.”

In the early stages of her career, comedian Frank Conniff suggested Bamford read The Artist’s Way, a book she said taught her to own her craft.

“It very much helped me define what I wanted to do and to start saying ‘I am a comedian,’ ” she said. “I think that half the trick of doing anything is to say that you’re doing it.”

Throughout her career, Bamford’s characters have been inspired by her family. Her mother does it to herself, according to Bamford, as a transcription of her day-to-day comments alone could serve as stand-up material.

“She said to me, ‘Honey, when you don’t wear make-up you look mentally ill,’ ” she said. “That’s just tight, succinct.”

Instead of comedy clubs, Bamford initially preferred performing in arts venues and empty coffee shops.

“If you’re going to do it, go where the love is,” she said. “If you like to fight against the tide, if you like a strip club at 2 a.m. where everyone is angry that you’re there and the nude lady has stopped dancing, then go for it, I tell you, go for it.”

Even now, Bamford is willing to do a show at any time, anywhere.

“I love low expectations,” she said. “But just like any job, you get into it for a specific reason, and I love attention. I love to be amplified and lit.”

Bamford will occasionally tweet her location and offer to perform for anyone who wants to show up. She most recently did that when she was invited to Harvard University to be inducted into The Harvard Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication and organization founded in 1876.

When she arrived at Harvard, she found out it was more of a party, occupied by young people with red cups and kegs who said “adorable things.”

“(They told me) ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to do after college,’ ” she said. “Do you know where you’re at? You’re at fucking Harvard. Yeah, you’re going to be fine.”

Bamford said Lampoon staff “hazed her” as part of her induction, demanding she tell them what the Lampoon is. Each time they asked, Bamford responded, “I don’t know,” until they eventually told her it was “nothing,” and gave her a medallion. She really just wanted a T-shirt.

“I’m sure someone who is more pleasant as a person would have enjoyed it,” she said. “I am irritable on the whole.”

Her induction was a great accomplishment, but her growth didn’t come without struggle, as Bamford said she has never had a solid mentor. Even Bamford’s parents were typically hands-off with respect to her comedic development — they just wanted her to be healthy.

“I was one of those kids who had mental health problems; I went in and out of the hospital for a little while, so they were just glad that I had a job,” she said.

Bamford has been open about her bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. Her Netflix show, “Lady Dynamite,” is based on her time in a psychiatric hospital, and she was awarded the 2014 Illumination Award by the International OCD Foundation for her work spreading awareness about living with mental illness.

She started incorporating mental health into her stand-up after a “breakdown, bipolar episode” in 2011. Bamford said when she was released from treatment, it was “all she could talk about.”

“You have to fill the hour, the time,” she said. “Do everything you can with what you have.”

Bamford said she was never worried about including the personal material because she no longer cared what other people thought of her.

“I was so lonely in that experience that I thought, ‘At least if I tell someone about my own experience, maybe someone else wouldn’t feel as lonely,’ ” she said. “That’s something I love about the comedy community, it’s very generous and it’s a place where you can talk about anything.”

The more she joked about it, the more it became her “schtick.” Fans started bringing prescription bottles for her to sign, which was fitting for Bamford, who said medication changed her life. Currently, she’s on 750 mg of Depakote, an anticonvulsant; 50 mg of Seroquel, an antipsychotic; and 40 mg of Prozac a day.

“It is life-changing,” Bamford said. “Some people aren’t into this; some people are more into, I don’t know, positive thinking, iowaska, I’m not sure. I do have to say, laughter is not the best medicine — medicine is, in fact, the best medicine.”

When Bamford was in a psychiatric ward, one of the therapists recognized her, but said she would never tell anyone that Bamford was in treatment.

“I’m in a county-stamped gown, in a pair of electric green gripper socks that are not my own —  you tell whoever the fuck you want, because all is lost,” she said.

Happiness, on the other hand, doesn’t have enough “zing” to be funny. Bamford noted that there are not as many comedy clubs in tropical locations as there are in New York City because there’s “no need.”

As Bamford continued to open up in her career, criticism toward her stand-up became more personal. Bamford said she enjoys making the most of the “heckling” during her shows.

“To heckle passively is to be alive,” she said. “My response to that sometimes is, ‘I know it seems like this isn’t a show to you and it’s not, it’s actually not a comedy show, it’s an intervention — myself and members of the community have all come together to confront you about how you’re a real jackass.’ ”

Bamford said one of her greatest failures starting out was a performance at Tempe Improv in Arizona. At the time, she didn’t have the requested 45 minutes of material, but said yes anyways, because “that’s on them.”

Bamford performed to a silent crowd. Afterward, no one talked to her and she was so embarrassed, she walked along the freeway, violin in hand, to go back to her hotel room and buy a ticket home for that night.

Eisenberg had a similar experience when she went to perform at a college in Erie, Pennsylvania. A Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game was on, and right before the third period, they turned the game off to introduce her. The audience booed and everyone, but one person, left.

“But the check cleared,” Eisenberg said.

To the “irritation of her manager,” Bamford has always been transparent about her contracts and income.

According to her, the payments for opening acts has not increased since she started working. She is currently working on a special where she is earning $275,000. Her opener? $150. Bamford is going to pay her $2,500 for her five-minute set.

Bamford and her husband have $2.2 million in assets, and she makes roughly $250,000 a year.

“It’s kind of awful and I’m not sure how to fight it,” she joked. “My husband and I, we’re atheists, but we are ethically competitive. We heard in most religions, you’re supposed to give 10% of your income away; we’re giving 11%. We don’t even fucking believe in heaven, but we’re going.”

Her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, asked Bamford to deliver a commencement speech, and when she asked them how much she would make, they told her “nothing,” it was an “honor” just to be invited. Bamford countered that with a request for $20,000. Bamford didn’t feel bad — she knew the university had a recent, and very successful, fundraiser where they received $900 million for their new athletic facility, “presumably for the poets.”

“The University of Minnesota was trying to suggest that I could not get paid for the one thing I paid them to teach me how to get paid to do,” she said.

The university followed up with an offer of $10,000, even though she claimed she would’ve done it for $600. Bamford said she felt so guilty, she gave the money away to help some of the students pay off their loans.

“It sounds like a nice thing to do, but that’s the only way I am able to do kind things: if it is in public and it is grandiose,” she said.

Bamford’s candid style has inspired thousands to try stand-up for themselves, including “Sally Love.” Sally, 75, started her stand-up career in January. Bamford asked her to come on stage and perform her bit, which Sally did without hesitation.

In her set, Sally talked about the challenges of online dating, saying men at any age are all the same; they still lie about their age, send unwanted photos and have “chinks in the armor.”

“What we want to see are pictures of their garages, their closets and we want thread count — we really want thread count,” Sally said.

Sally said she wants to create a new dating app that is “a mix of Match and Yelp.”

“We need user reviews,” she said. “If I had known that Stan had 10 guns and watches Fox News on TV all day, I could have saved myself a lot of time.”

Sally did find her knight in shining — but still chinked — armor: Mike, who was in the audience, cheering her on the whole way through.

Bamford and Eisenberg then wrapped up their conversation, providing light commentary on Sally’s performance.

“Wow, I think I might have to tighten up my jokes,” Bamford said.

Editor’s note: Due to time constraints, the lecture did not feature a Q-and-A to close out the morning; not that anything was left unsaid, anyway.

Managing Genius: Lewis Black and David Steinberg Reflect on Life and Legacy of Robin Williams


He was the Marx Brothers, but in one person — a naughty little boy, a genius, a nut, manic, utter magic — these were all words used by David Steinberg and Lewis Black to describe Robin Williams, stand-up comedian, Academy Award-winning actor and “life junkie.”

For “Managing Genius: 43 years with Robin Williams,” Steinberg, Williams’ manager of 43 years, and Black, Williams’ close friend, joined radio personality and comedian Ron Bennington in conversation at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.”

“I have really, truly been blessed to wake up every day, and know I was going to talk to Robin and be involved in what people really felt was the greatest comedy legend — he would actually ask me questions that pertained to what he was going to do,” Steinberg said.

Williams grew up a “very lonely child,” according to Steinberg. Williams’ father was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company and his mother joined him for a majority of his work trips, leaving Williams alone to occupy himself with his imagination.

“This overactive imagination started as a child because he had to be his own playmate,” Steinberg said. “He played in his head and he created his environment out of loneliness, and he continued that on.”

Steinberg said Williams also spent a lot of time playing “lonely sports,” first running cross country and then biking up to 40 miles a day.

“That’s where he used to decide who he was or what he was going to do and evolve some of his material stuff,” Steinberg said. “He was never afraid to try it out.”

Williams’ career began with stand-up comedy shows in the 1970s. In his shows, Williams never knew what subject he was going to touch on, let alone any of the specifics. Still, he was known for doing “really long shows,” and it got to the point where Steinberg would have to remind him that the audience members had lives and families to return to.

“Robin was just a life junkie. When he was on stage, he was just going to have the best time,” Steinberg said. “He was having fun, but there was a desperation; he had to end up with a big laugh. It was a lot like sex, he needed a big finish.”

Steinberg said Williams could get away with anything when he performed.

“He could say things in a room full of priests that would get someone’s mouth washed out, and he would get high-fives,” Steinberg said. “He had these gorgeous blue eyes and he was really just a naughty little boy who said ‘fuck it’ and got away with it.”

Williams couldn’t get enough of an audience’s attention — he wanted to “give everything and have everything.” Steinberg said he was so “nuts” at the beginning of his career that Steinberg had to hire someone to secretly follow him around.

“It was just so he didn’t hurt himself,” Steinberg said. “He was a young kid, a 22-year-old who was a giant superstar in every area and had, really, all the money in the world; but he never cared about money, he gave it away. That was never what motivated him — but enjoyment, he was an enjoyment pig.”

When Williams couldn’t fill his voids with enjoyment anymore, he turned to drugs and alcohol. In the late ’70s, Williams was addicted to cocaine and alcohol until the drug-induced death of a dear friend, and the birth of his son, convinced him to change. However, in 2003, he started drinking again.

Black saw Williams’ alcoholism up close when the two worked together on the 2006 movie, “Man of The Year.” The two would begin their day filming scenes, but even when they were done, Williams kept going. He would spend the rest of the afternoon smoking out back with the other actors, watching their scenes and giving advice when needed, and then he would venture to clubs, using open mic nights to continue practicing some of his scenes.

“It demands a level of commitment from the performer that is unheard of,” Black said. “What he had was a commitment on a level of, ‘I am going to do something that one would say is close to magic.’ It really was true magic.”

Black said Williams always woke up the next morning with an abundance of energy, ready to do it all again. One night, Black saw firsthand how he did it: Williams came down to a bar at midnight to have a shot of tequila and a shot of espresso.

“Williams turned to me and said, ‘I think I have a problem,’ ” Black said. “I said to him, ‘If you have a problem, I think I have to go to rehab today.’ ” 

After they filmed “Man of the Year,” Williams checked himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation center in Newberg, Oregon.

When he left the rehabilitation center, he immediately moved to New York City, to work on a Broadway show. Luckily, there were multiple Alcoholics Anonymous meeting locations in the area.

“There is nothing like a New York City 12-step meeting,” Bennington said. “It’s the most entertaining place you will ever go, but he would be so funny and sweet about the darkest things in the world.”

In his own life and the lives of people he met, Williams believed that humor could heal. Steinberg said he would visit hospitals and travel overseas on USO tours, spending hours with people to hear their stories and spark some laughs.

“He had the ability to withstand that emotionally,” Steinberg said. “There was no place he was unwilling to try to get to. He over-laughed, he over-cried, but it was all real. It’s how he felt. He didn’t try to mask his feelings to the public. He was who he was, and he was the most giving person.”

In September 2010, Steinberg and Williams went to New Zealand for a show after the country suffered a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. The day of the show, Williams spontaneously decided he wanted to donate 100% of the money back to the people affected.

“That was the first thing that came to Robin’s mind: The people need the show,” Steinberg said. “He wasn’t worried, as a lot of performers would be, with ‘Are the people going to be able to laugh?’ Robin said they needed a laugh, that he didn’t need the money and they did, and it was a perfect marriage of circumstances.”

Williams also visited victims of abuse and invited Make-A-Wish children to come on set with him, always making sure no press was around to see him do it.

“He had this horrible fear of people thinking he was trying to capitalize on something,” Steinberg said.

Williams had the same fears on his USO tours, Steinberg said.

“He didn’t want to appear as the Bob Hope for the Middle East wars,” he said.

When Black went to Iraq with Williams for their first USO tour, Williams read an entire book about the history of Iraq to prepare. Williams spent part of the trip giving people history lessons, quoting direct facts and lines from the book.

In that moment, Black realized Williams had a photographic memory, a fact he uses to debunk myths that Williams stole stand-up material throughout his career.

“He was so fast that he couldn’t have thought about it,” Black said. “I think people have wrongly accused him of that and at least in my time with him, I don’t think that was even close to being the case.”

Bennington said it was important to note that Williams was against war, but still chose to support the soldiers unconditionally.

“You cannot be against the troops, and be against the war,” Bennington said.

On the tours, Williams wouldn’t go to sleep until he shook the hand of every soldier on the base.

“It’s the level of commitment that these soldiers have, that’s the loneliest job there is,” Steinberg said. “It’s a horrible moment when you are pulling out of these bases and you’re leaving and they’re waving goodbye, and you know they’re staying. Those were the toughest moments for me.”

Black said it was the commitment of the soldiers to one another that struck him the most.

“If the American people had 3% of the commitment to each other that the troops have to each other on a daily basis, we would have no problems whatsoever,” Black said.

As the panel reflected on the laughs and life of Williams, who died by suicide in his California home on Aug. 11, 2014, Bennington noted the discussion also served as a reflection of Steinberg’s work.

“Good management is a nice thing to have, genius is a better thing to have,” Steinberg said. “The place where most guys, who do what I do, make that mistake is they forget which one is the genius.”

Williams was “utter magic,” portraying a genie, a scientist, a nanny, a teacher, among other iconic characters — a repertoire he developed, Steinberg said, because he was “fearless.”

“Robin spent his entire personal life and public life on a tightrope; he loved pushing the envelope,” Steinberg said. “Nothing in the world scared him. If he was asked to do something as an actor, he would always ask to do more. The thought of failure intrigued him and he was always fighting against that.”

Frank Oz Expands on Comedy Career as Puppeteer, Director and Actor

From left, Executive Producer and Showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy” Stephen J. Morrison interviews director, producer and performer Frank Oz about his comedic career Tuesday July 30, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Laughs are not given, they’re earned. But Frank Oz, a man who has received more laughs than he could count, couldn’t tell anyone how to earn them; he doesn’t know a thing about comedy, and honestly, he doesn’t want to.

Oz, a director, producer, writer, actor and Muppet performer, gave his lecture, “I Don’t Know Anything About Comedy,” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” A majority of Oz’s lecture was moderated by Stephen J. Morrison, Emmy-nominated executive producer and showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy.”

“If one knows, one cannot discover,” Oz said. “Knowing could mean uninspired, so on purpose, I approach things not knowing.”

As someone who doesn’t know anything about comedy, to be comedic, Oz said he had to acquire a “toolbox.”

“Your craft in that toolbox is years of trying things and failing, trying and being embarrassed and humiliated; trying, trying, trying,” he said. “The larger that toolbox is, the more able you are to stand on the cliff of the abyss and just trust that you don’t know. That’s where the good stuff comes from.”

Oz has performed with or directed stars such as Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Morrie Schwartz, Julie Hagerty, Joan Cusack, the Smothers Brothers, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers and Carol Burnett — and the list goes on, and on and on.

“Why did I tell you that?” Oz said. “It’s because I realized that all of these people that I’ve worked with take their comedy very seriously. The other reason is, I was trying like hell to impress you.”

Oz believes in the “seriousness of the preparation” of comedy. According to him, the underlying intent is always to get a laugh, and rigor is needed before that laugh is earned.

“If one knows, one does not go the distance, one stays safe,” he said. “I always say to my actors, ‘If you don’t make a fool of yourself, you’ll make a fool of yourself.’ I also say, ‘The safest thing is to be risky, the riskiest thing is to be safe.’ ”

Morrison started the discussion with the week’s theme, asking Oz, “What’s funny?”

“If I could tell you, that means I would know, and by knowing, it would not be as funny,” Oz said.

“Got it,” Morrison said.

The two could agree on one thing: Comedy is subjective. But Oz needed to make a clarification — comedy is not just “one thing.”

“It always bothers me, especially selling comedy, when people think comedy is one thing,” he said. “Comedy is from high wit to low buffoonery, and everything in between. It’s odd to me when someone says ‘comedy’ as if it’s a car — there are a lot of cars.”

Oz started in comedy at 10 years old, using puppets as armor from judgment.

“I was a kid with very low self-esteem. I didn’t think much of myself at all, and puppets allowed me to take a chance, a risk, and not feel rejected,” Oz said. “The puppet would be rejected; I would not be rejected. I didn’t have the courage to be rejected.”

Oz performed with puppets until he was 18, and stopped to focus on becoming a journalist. However, six months into journalism school, he was approached by Jim Henson, who saw Oz perform years prior. Henson needed a fourth person for his Muppet group and thought Oz would be a perfect fit.

“Somehow, whatever chemistry that was between Jim and I, Jim somehow brought out the comedy in me, and that was the beginning of how I got into comedy,” he said.

For the first four years of working with Henson, Oz was too scared to perform in different voices. Eventually, Henson forced him to try it out.

“In the dressing room I was so frightened that I looked in the mirror and told myself an old anecdote in show business, ‘If you can’t be funny, be loud,’ ” he said.

Oz went on to voice characters such as Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle and Yoda, all unique in their sound and backgrounds.

Working on shows like “Sesame Street” gave Oz an opportunity to try things over and over until he got them right. But with the trial came error, and Oz said he has a collection of “dead Muppets,” or characters that didn’t work.

With Bert, Oz said it took him over a year to think of a storyline because the character was so “boring.” Eventually, Oz decided to run with what made him boring: Bert’s favorite color is gray, he loves collecting bottle caps and all he wants in life is to be left alone.

With every character Oz creates, he said it’s important for them to have a “want” like Bert’s. For example, Cookie Monster was originally called “Monster,” until a segment aired where he won a quiz show, and when presented with the choice of $10,000, a new car, a Hawaiian vacation or a cookie, he chose the cookie.

“It’s not intellectual, it’s in (your heart),” Oz said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be happy with just one thing?”

In terms of creating the characters’ voices, Oz said there’s no code to crack — the voices come on their own.

“I’m a peasant, like everybody here. We all have our basic, universal feelings,” he said. “You don’t go for a voice, you get the character right and the voice comes — period.”

Out of the many mistakes he has made throughout the years, Oz said he has learned the worst thing a comedian can do is write out their material.

“What I used to do with characters is totally ad-lib,” he said. “I would have no lines whatsoever, but I would start with a strong attitude, and from that attitude we could riff. It’s a different kind of rigor — it’s a rigor of prepping yourself with something so you can feed off of it.”

As Oz got older, he realized he no longer needed the puppets that used to protect him, and so he tried his hand at a lifelong dream: directing. Morrison played a clip from “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” a film Oz directed in 1984.

In comedy, Oz said reactions are more important than actions. In “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” Oz was trying to get Joan Rivers to laugh at his character, Miss Piggy. When Rivers couldn’t produce the guffaw Oz wanted, he bought four gin and tonics — two for Rivers and two for himself — and said the rest of the scene came “naturally.”

“Necessity is the mother of all invention, right?” Morrison said.

According to Morrison, directors are many things — they are storytellers, problem solvers, producers and therapists. More than any of that, Oz said directors are “hopers.”

“You have all of these casts you put together, you have all the crew you put together, you have decisions as a director, you have decisions in wardrobe, you have decisions every single day,” Oz said. “At the end of the day, you don’t know if it’s going to work, so when it says, ‘Directed by Frank Oz,’ it should say, ‘Hoped by Frank Oz.’ ”

In addition to directing, Oz has acted in many films. Oz said he takes roles to become a better director.

“The reason I do those roles is not for acting; the reason I do those roles is to remind myself how frightening it is for an actor to be on camera,” he said. “I realized how naked one feels and how frightened one feels as an actor.”

Morrison played a scene from Oz’s 1988 “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” The scene involved three characters: Freddy, played by Steve Martin, Lawrence, played by Michael Caine, and Inspector Andre, played by Anton Rodgers. In the scene, Freddy is in jail and trying to recall Lawrence’s name for Inspector Andre. The entire scene was improvised by Martin as Oz was crouched out of camera range. When Oz felt that Martin had gone as far as he could with the improv, he tapped Rodgers on the foot to signal him to interrupt.

“A very high-tech and scientific solution,” Morrison said.

“What it says about the process of comedy is that it’s so much by feel,” Oz said. “It is so much from inside, so that’s why I don’t work intellectually.”

Morrison played a clip from “Bowfinger,” a film Oz directed in 1999, that taught him about the importance of rhythm in comedy. Oz said he made the mistake of interrupting his actors too many times.

“My biggest tool as a director is rhythm and to not think,” he said.

Morrison said he couldn’t imagine trying to direct Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in one film.

To that, Oz said: “Next.”

As Oz reflected on his extensive comedy career, he said there are still things he wants to accomplish. But there are no specifics; as long as it’s “good work,” he’s in.

“Number one, whatever I do is honest,” Oz said. “I like being a bit rebellious, to go underground and be a bit dark at times.”

Morrison closed by saying that some refer to comedy as “tragedy plus time.”

“I never understood what that meant,” Oz said.

“No, the tragedy is that we are out of time,” Morrison said.

J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier Shares Transformation and Legacy of Hawaiian Language

J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier talks about the importance of Hawaiian language and how she and many others have been working towards making it normal again for the language to be spoken in Hawaii, during the morning lecture Thursday, July 25, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Out of 45 grandchildren, J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier was her grandmother’s “golden child.”

For years, Kaniaupio-Crozier’s grandmother held onto what was left of the then-forbidden Hawaiian language. But when Kaniaupio-Crozier was born, her grandmother chose her to carry, or perhaps redefine, the legacy of her native language.

Now, after a lifetime of teaching, Kaniaupio-Crozier has learned what her grandmother always hoped she would: Aloha, more than anything else, means love.

Kaniaupio-Crozier, the E Ola! learning designer and facilitator at Kamehameha Schools Maui, and contributing member of the Hawai‘i Development team for the Duolingo language-learning app, gave her lecture “Renormalizing the Hawaiian Language” at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

“From the rising of the sun, high above Haleakalā, unto its setting on the sands of the bays of the high chief Pi‘ilani; from one level to another level; from the verdance of the deep forest to the glistening ocean; from my homeland, to here in Chautauqua — here I am,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said.

Kaniaupio-Crozier is the daughter of Antonia and Kuanoni Kaniaupio, the grandchild of Kauhiwaiokamakalepo and the great-great grandchild of Lakana, a descendent of Keaunui, high chief of the Ewa plains. Those ancestors, along with many more, are who allow her to share the love of Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian language.

“It’s not the things that I’ve done that define me and my identity, it’s the people I’m connected to,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “I recognize my ancestors and my children — for the work I have done and continue to do is not just for me or for the moment or to put some nice cash in my pocket — I do it because I know I have a responsibility to those who stand beside me in this good work and a responsibility to those who will come after me and continue to do the good work of sharing the spoken word.”

From the day Kaniaupio-Crozier was born, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo spoke to her in Hawaiian.

“She chose me, for whatever reason, to be the one that would carry on this language,” she said. “She was the first Hawaiian activist I ever met, but I didn’t know it. She held on to this language until I came into her life.”

Speaking Hawaiian was rare while Kaniaupio-Crozier was growing up, and when she realized she didn’t hear it anywhere other than her home, she “rebelled.”

“I thought, ‘Why are you speaking this language when the only people who speak it look like you?’ ” she said. “They were all kupuna, our elders. I didn’t see any future in this language living or surviving, so for (my grandmother) to speak to me in this language, it just didn’t make sense.”

When Kaniaupio-Crozier was 9 years old, her grandmother brought her to Hawaiian language classes at their local church, where the two were joined by her mother, father and grandfather every week. Considering her family already knew Hawaiian, Kaniaupio-Crozier was confused as to why they came to class with her — until now.

“I know now that they were there for me,” she said. “They were there to show me aloha, to support me in all my frustrations.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier attended Hawaiian language classes until she graduated high school. Excited by the chance to pave her own path in college, she decided to take Spanish for her language credit.

Her Spanish professor, Marjorie Woodrum, was a charismatic woman who demanded attention the minute she walked in a room — the kind of person Kaniaupio-Crozier realized she wanted to become. However, by the time Kaniaupio-Crozier entered her sophomore year, her school had implemented a Hawaiian language course and per her grandmother’s wishes, she took both Spanish and Hawaiian. When Kaniaupio-Crozier found out Woodrum was also teaching Hawaiian, the woman she once idolized suddenly lost her charisma.

“I was mad,” she said. “I was like ‘You don’t know anything about Hawaii, you’re not even Hawaiian. You are a white lady from far away who teaches Spanish, and that’s cool, but you’re going to teach me Hawaiian? No.’ ”

Kaniaupio-Crozier maintained a good attitude in her first-period Spanish class, but as soon as her second-period Hawaiian class rolled around, Kaniaupio-Crozier made sure Woodrum felt her disdain.

In response, Woodrum told Kaniaupio-Crozier that she understood her frustrations. Woodrum then pulled out a globe and asked her if she knew where Czechoslovakia is. Kaniaupio-Crozier did not, and that was the point.

On the other hand, Woodrum knew everything about Czechoslovakia. She knew its culture, its customs, traditions, how people dress, how they think, what they eat and what they value — all things she learned by speaking the language.

“(Woodrum) said, ‘You speak your language, you know who your people are, you know everything about them, but there are Hawaiian children in this school who know nothing about who they are because they don’t know their language — they haven’t heard it,’ ” she said.

Woodrum told Kaniaupio-Crozier she should be the one teaching the school’s Hawaiian class and in that moment, the entire direction of Kaniaupio-Crozier’s life changed.

“I understood what she was saying,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “Our language is our identity. Our language answers so many questions about who we are and why we believe what we do and why we think the way we do.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier went home and told Kauhiwaiokamakalepo she had decided to become a Hawaiian language teacher. The only way her grandmother knew how to respond was by telling her story.

Growing up, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo was beaten for speaking Hawaiian. On her first day of school, at 5 years old, her teacher covered her mouth with tape, telling her she couldn’t speak in class until she learned English.

“(My grandmother) said to me, ‘Do you know how hurtful that is?’ ” Kaniaupio-Crozier said.  “ ‘Do you know how painful it is to not be able to express your deepest emotions? At 5 years old, you’re told everything that you know is wrong, and you’ll be told that for the rest of your life. You can’t understand, not just the physical pain of being beaten with a frying pan for speaking your language —  but the emotional pain, the physiological pain. All of that kind of pain? You will never understand because that’s why I have given you this gift.’ ”

After hearing her story, Kaniaupio-Crozier said she felt a responsibility to her grandmother, and to every Hawaiian, to ensure no one else would have to endure that pain.

“It was wrong, and it should never happen again,” she said. “I was going to make sure that it wasn’t going to happen again.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier was unable to switch her major because her school did not offer a degree in Hawaiian language, but she forged ahead, believing that with her grandmother by her side, she could become a teacher anyways. However, five months later, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo passed away.

“I was mad,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “We were supposed to do this together, but then she left me.”

It didn’t take long for Kaniaupio-Crozier to realize her grandmother was still with her, just in a different way.

“She showed up, every day, with me,” she said. “She was always there.”

In Kauhiwaiokamakalepo’s passing, Kaniaupio-Crozier felt the presence of an unanswered question: Who would want to take her Hawaiian language classes? Her grandmother always said people would line up to take Kaniaupio-Crozier’s classes, a compliment she didn’t believe until her school approved a Hawaiian degree program and she became the first to graduate with a bachelor’s in Hawaiian language.

“That’s no coincidence,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “I don’t live my life by coincidence. I know that every step has been determined by my God, that every step he has already set up for me, and (my grandmother) was my prophet. I call her my prophet and my Hawaiian activist because she knew all of these things and she fought for it.”

Upon graduation, Kaniaupio-Crozier received multiple job offers. She went from teaching preschoolers, to university students and everyone in between — never interviewing for a single position. Even with Kaniaupio-Crozier’s success, her community still questioned why she pursued her career. According to Kaniaupio-Crozier, it’s because the language “touches so many hearts.”

“When you share it wide, people feel it,” she said. “They feel it in their guts and they feel it deep inside because everybody in the world has aloha in their hearts. At the core of every single one of us, is love, love that we want to share.”

In 1978, Hawaiian became Hawaii’s official language, along with English. Though that status is an accomplishment, Kaniaupio-Crozier said the state has a long way to go in terms of respect for the islands and their people.

“It’s become the token. It’s like, ‘Here Hawaiians, you have the official language of the state,’ but when we say we need more money to educate our children in their language, we don’t get it,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “When we want to protect our lands and protect our people, it’s not honored. It sounds really good to say that we have the official language, but the reality is it’s not official.”

Regardless, Kaniaupio-Crozier said over time, Hawaiians have become more and more interested in learning more about their culture — and the language especially. As a result, schools —  from preschools to universities —   have implemented Hawaiian language classes.

“Now we have hundreds of graduates and thousands of students who are not just learning Hawaiian, but are learning in Hawaiian,” she said.

Things got even better when Duolingo, a language-learning website and app, was launched in 2011. Now, more than 500,000 people across the globe are learning Hawaiian online. According Kaniaupio-Crozier, that kind of access is crucial for a language to survive.

“The more people that have access to our language, or languages in general, the more it brings us together,” she said. “It helps us to stand up for each other, it helps us to believe that the things that each group needs and wants for their people are good things. Language is the key; it’s the key for us to be able to unlock doors to know about people, to understand their culture and their identity.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier wonders what her grandmother would think if she saw the way Hawaiian language has transformed under her watch. Although she can’t know for sure, Kaniaupio-Crozier has a pretty good guess: “Ua ha‘i aku wau iā‘oe pēlā.”

“I told you so.”
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