Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

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Gretchen Carlson. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hundreds came out to hear a former TV anchor at the forefront of the #MeToo movement at Stony Brook University April 17.

Gretchen Carlson, the television anchor who forced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of Fox News to resign in July 2016, helped create the backdrop for the #MeToo movement. As the most recent in the “My Life As” speaker series offered by the School of Journalism at SBU, she described in graphic detail how she came to play that role in what has been called “The Year of the Woman.”

Carlson filed her lawsuit July 6, 2016, alleging sexual harassment after being let go by Fox June 23of the same year. She described being harassed, and said Ailes “spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities.” Subsequently, other women came forward to similarly accuse Ailes, and by Sept. 21, Century Fox, Fox News’ parent corporation, had settled the lawsuit for $20 million. More important than the money to Carlson was the public apology.

That is just the bottom line on the exceptional life of Carlson. Born and raised in Minnesota, she is the granddaughter of the pastor of what was then the second largest Lutheran congregation in the country. She too was used to being in the spotlight. A child prodigy, she was a violin soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at age 13, was the valedictorian of her high school class and entered the Miss America pageant in 1989 at her mother’s suggestion and won. She was the first classical violinist to wear that crown. The money that came with the honor went toward her senior year’s tuition at Stanford University, from which she graduated with honors. She also managed to fit in a year of study at the University of Oxford in England, where she focused on the writings of Virginia Woolf.

She has, no doubt, healthy self-esteem. Interested in a career in broadcast journalism, she worked her way up the ladder as reporter and anchor from smaller to larger stations, reaching CBS in 2000. She became cohost of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.” In 2005, Fox News made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she became cohost of the morning show “Fox and Friends.” Then, in 2013, came “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.”

Along the way, she was subjected to sexual harassment of varying degrees. She finally complained to Fox’s human resources department, and when her contract was up in 2016, she was let go. That was shortly after she repulsed the alleged sexual advances of Ailes, setting up her grounds for the lawsuit.

Since she lost her job and won the lawsuit, she has been working hard to stand up for other women who may be faced with similar circumstances. She has spoken to many groups across the country, mentioning a recent talk at an all-boys high school. Carlson ardently believes that sexual harassment is not just a women’s problem. She posits that it is a men’s problem, and that boys at a young age need to be taught by the men in their lives to respect — and how to act with — women. She is using money from her lawsuit toward foundation to give young women leadership training and call out their courage.

On Jan. 1, Carlson was elected chairwoman of the board of the Miss America Pageant. She said to expect some significant changes.

Recently I received a voicemail message asking me if we were planning to cover fairly a contentious issue currently in the community. The speaker cared deeply about one side, and said he understood that we had friends on the other side of the issue. As a result of those ties, were we going to favor them or, at the least, bury the story in the back of the paper where no one would read it?

Forty-two years ago this week, a handful of us started The Village Times in a tiny office but with great ambition. We promised to serve the community according to “the highest ideals of a free press.” It was 1976, the bicentennial year. We were well aware of the singular role the press played in the American Revolution and the sanctity with which the Founding Fathers viewed the press. Today, we acknowledge other forms of free speech and press by putting them all together and calling them “media.”

But the press, specifically the printed word on newsprint, will always be where my heart is in this business, no matter that we now have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a place on YouTube and are called TBR News Media. We’ve gone viral on the internet, with over 17 million views for our story and video dealing with school safety in Rocky Point, and to have that kind of reach certainly impresses me. Nonetheless the printed story, the elegance of crafting exactly the right words to describe a scene or an issue or emotion, laid out efficiently and attractively, and most especially truthfully and fairly on a page, with pictures to drive home the information, gives me enormous professional satisfaction. Words as precision tools are not respected the same way on the more frenetic media.

Nor are truth and facts always respected there. Because there is little or no vetting, some people take advantage of the lawlessness to write the most astonishing things, slanted or even untrue as they may be, and others willingly believe what they read. Right now, Facebook, which was started in 2004, is facing the consequences of publishing unmonitored content presented as news or advertising, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg tries to answer hard questions put to him by the U.S. Congress.

Not to revel in another media’s troubles, but everything printed in a newspaper is vetted, even the ads, the sources of the ads and, to the extent possible for facts, the letters. That does not mean everything you might read in our papers is correct. We can and do make mistakes. But those are, or should be, immediately acknowledged and corrected in the next edition. Nor are we without bias, however hard we try. But if we try for a truthful and balanced presentation in every story that we print, to a large extent we can succeed. We reserve our opinions for the opinion pages.

At least, so I believe. With such a long track record, I was quite surprised to hear that question on my voicemail. The caller left his number, and I was able to return his phone call. We had a heart-to-heart talk, and that, along with the story we wrote, I trust, persuaded him that we had dealt with the matter fairly. If he were trying to encourage us to lean in his direction on the issue, his strategy clearly didn’t work.

Here are some of the other things newspapers don’t do. We don’t compile personal information about our readers and then sell that information to potential advertisers. We don’t even sell the names and
addresses of our subscribers, although we have been asked a number of times. Your privacy is not for our profit. We don’t write stories about businesses in order to get their advertising. Our newspapers have never been hacked. But I wouldn’t mind having a couple of their billions. And forgive my pride if I suggest that there is some kind of old-fashioned honor that underpins a good newspaper serving its community. That’s not a sentiment I associate with the internet.

It was five years since I had a colonoscopy, so I made an appointment to repeat the procedure. It was not a date on the calendar I was looking forward to. I understand the importance of this test for me, so I did what I had to do. My dad died of intestinal cancer, as did several of his siblings, so the family warning is clear. Had this test been available at the time he was stricken, and his cancer discovered, I have little doubt that my dad, a robust and athletic man, would have otherwise lived a longer life than his 70 years.

A 2015 German study published in the European Journal of Cancer confirmed that colonoscopy screening “will lead to substantial reductions in the colorectal cancer burden.”

So what is a colonoscopy? I write to explain the test in the hopes of encouraging any readers who might be postponing and avoiding that appointment to take care of that little task once they turn 50. It is my understanding that in most cases, health insurance will cover the costs, which in itself is evidence of the importance of the test. And the experience is not so awful. In fact there is, so to speak, a silver lining, but more about that later.

Here are the details. A flexible tube, called a colonoscope, with a video camera on the end that is connected to a large screen in the room, is inserted through the rectum and allows the gastroenterologist to examine the inside of the large intestine. The physician then searches for any abnormalities such as polyps, which can turn into cancer, and usually removes them. The scope rides on a cushion of air that is provided, kind of like a maglev train moves along smoothly without touching the ground through magnetic levitation. The actual procedure takes only about 30-45 minutes, but between the prep at the office and the recovery, it’s a two-to-four hour event.

The first time I had this test, I wanted to be awake to see the inside of the intestine, which is actually quite beautiful. It looks like a braid, as much more surface area can effectively fit into a small area. Tiny red and blue blood vessels crisscross the sides. Of course in order to see all this clearly, the intestine must first be totally cleaned out, which is probably the less pleasant part of the whole deal. Some fasting is involved, anything red, like a tomato, or a seed or nut that might block the view, is to be avoided, and in the last 12 hours before the test, a liquid laxative that spikes 64 ounces of Gatorade is ingested.

I was advised to wear loose and comfortable clothing and to leave cash and jewelry at home. Upon arrival, I was given two of those infamous hospital gowns, one to face front and the other the rear. My clothes were secured in a locker, and after a thorough history was unhurriedly taken, the nurse placed an intravenous (IV) line into my arm.

After my first experience, I chose to be fully sedated this time. I was given the good news, that all was well, when I awoke. As a result of the sedation, however, I could not just get up and drive but needed to be accompanied by a companion. In my case it was my son, who could steer me through the hallway and into the car, then drive me home. Shortly after I arrived back in the kitchen, I realized I was ravenous and began refilling my intestine.

There is a mild bit of bloating after the test as a result of the air that is added, but that is not particularly uncomfortable and disappears within hours. I was advised not to drive a car, operate any machinery or power tools (unlikely), drink any alcoholic beverages or make any important decisions until the following day.

There are other forms of the colonoscopy that are somewhat less invasive, but my understanding is that this variant is the most thorough and therefore the most desirable. As for the silver lining? I did appear to lose a couple of pounds, at least for now.

This year the real March Madness wasn’t basketball. It was the number of nor’easters we in the Northeast endured. This will forever be the year of the nor’easters, one right after the other with snowfalls, flooding and especially the high winds. Many old trees are no longer with us. As the first quarter of the new year ends, we are hopeful that the old adage, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” will prove to be true. The forecasts are promising.

We have some exciting plans for the community that we believe will further enliven the next quarter of the year. On June 12, TBR News Media — that’s us — will offer a new event. It is called Cooks, Books & Corks, and it will be held at the Bates House in Setauket. For those who might not know the location, it is that lovely house inside Frank Melville Park, near the Mill Pond, usually used for wedding receptions, and it can be reached via a driveway opposite the Emma Clark Library and just past the two entrance roads to Strong’s Neck. We will have balloons and signage marking the way.

So what is Cooks, Books & Corks? It is to be a grand marriage of mind and body on a joyful June Tuesday evening, from 6 to 9 p.m., that will combine good food from local restaurants with good books by local authors, all of which will go down easily with some good wine. We are encouraging the restauranteurs to bring tastings of their favorite dishes and the authors to offer their books for sale throughout the event. The views from the bluestone patio and the picture window are beautiful and serene in the middle of the woods, and we will hope for a soft, summer breeze to erase all memories of past nor’easters.

Besides being just plain fun and a forum for our local restaurants, local wineries and celebrated authors, Cooks, Books & Corks is a fundraiser intended to pay for an intern from the Stony Brook University School of Journalism this summer. We have held such fundraisers for that purpose in the past, and the internships have helped launch several young journalists into their careers. Tickets will be $50 per person for the food and wine, and although not tax deductible, all funds will go toward paying the intern. The cost of any books you might choose to buy will be up to you. We hope there will be irresistible books for children offered for sale as well as for us adults.

Further, a ticket to Cooks, Books & Corks will enable the purchaser to have a reserved seat at the Stony Brook premiere of our film, “One Life to Give,” to be held on June 24, a Sunday evening. The film is a prequel of sorts to the story of the Culper Spy Ring that played a vital role in the Revolutionary War. Headquartered in Setauket, Washington’s spies fed critical intelligence to the Patriots of such high value that, in one instance, information enabled French soldiers to disembark safely from their ships and join the fight in the colonies. The cable channel, AMC, ran popular stories of the spies, “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” for four seasons, which ended last year. Our full-length film, by contrast, endeavors to be historically authentic.

More details about the premiere will be forthcoming. I do want to give you this heads-up for the coming enjoyable events we have planned for the community. We think they will make you proud of where you live. And why do we do this? That’s easy. We’re committed to strengthening the sense of community because we are the community paper. And website. And social media. And now producers of historical films. Happy Spring!

A man at a March 14 PTA meeting in a high school in Rocky Point, New York, confronts a student in the aisle and holds a knife over his head. The pocket knife is closed and the man is trying to make a point about the need for security on behalf of the students in the school, including his two daughters. It is a heart-stopping moment, and the video was provided to TBR News Media by a senior student named Jo Herman.

We ran the video, along with the story of the meeting, on our website, Facebook page and YouTube. Such is the world we live in and the concern of parents around the nation that, to date, the Facebook video post has been seen by more than 11.3 million viewers. The total reach for all our Facebook posts last week was in excess of 17 million. That’s 17 MILLION plus, about the same as the entire population of the Netherlands. In addition, there have been many thousands of shares and comments on our Facebook page and our website. These numbers were supplied to us by Facebook Insights, the dashboard of Facebook and the most authentic source.

If ever we needed evidence of this world we are living in today, and the heartfelt concern of parents
throughout the United States, here it is. Could there be any parents who feel untouched by the concern for the safety of their children in the schools? Children have become the latest targets of an assassin’s gun.

These are not jihadists doing the killing. These are not ideologues carrying out the murders. These are our own citizens, in many cases children themselves, who are able to procure weapons and turn them on their teachers and classmates. Those 11 million viewers and all the rest of the parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends of children who haven’t seen this video are no less terrified at the tragedies that have already been perpetrated and the violence that may yet come.

What is to be done? There are many reactions. Our children have realized their political clout and called for action with their walkouts and 17 moments of silence. Politicians in various states have proposed legislation, even passed legislation in one state, Florida, to try to gain control of this madness. The state is being sued for doing so, and the president offers words.

Consider this. A puppy dies on an airplane and within 48 hours, there is legislation passed to attempt to prevent such an unhappy event from happening again. How many more youngsters and adults must die before we can get our arms around this horror?

Social media can be great. It can be a miracle thread that connects us, informs us, unites us. It can also be a misery, as governments around the world are realizing. Facebook has been corrupted by its inability to prevent personal information from being stolen by nefarious thieves. But it has delivered a loud and clear message with the frenzy of response to a single incident in a small town on Long Island: The population is frightened, more frightened than by any attacks made against us by foreign nations or religious fanatics in the past. This threat is inside our defenses and until now seemingly unstoppable.

Yes, we need gun control. Yes, we need mental health services. Yes, we need greater vigilance. Yes, we need protection. We need all of that and more. Most of all, we need leadership, not contention, because this is a
moment that is shaking our republic in its heart.

People sometimes ask me if I am going to get another dog. Even people I don’t really know have stopped me in the supermarket or the post office to ask. They know about my dog, Teddy, since I have written about him, described his antics and, at the end, the pain of losing him. Those who ask probably have pets of their own, and they understand the deep relationship we humans have with our animals. They also know what is coming for them because beloved pets die. We are lucky if they keep us company on our journey through life for a decade and a half. And we mourn them as we would mourn the death of any beloved family member.

Initially we wouldn’t consider replacing him. Every night, when we arrived home and opened the front door there was no four-legged furry bundle fishtailing with joy to welcome us. The house was just dark and empty. We needed time to grieve. “Just get another dog,” said those who didn’t understand that dogs are not like widgets, one replaceable with another.

So we went through the spring and didn’t see him sniffing at the crocuses and daffodils as if in wonder at how they had gotten there. After all, they hadn’t been there yesterday. In summer, he wasn’t here to dash across the sand and fling himself into the water for an instant cool-down. As the fall came and the beach grass turned russet and gold, he did not run happily along the beach with us, perfectly camouflaged by nature’s backdrop. And this winter, with the first snow, he was not here to roll ecstatically on his back and make snow angels on the front lawn.

It’s coming up on a year now since we have been without a dog. It has also occurred to us that no one has had to get up early to walk the dog on the weekends. We haven’t had to go out in the wind and rain, or the cold and dark for that last walk of the night. There were no elaborate plans that needed to be made for dog care when we left for vacation or a weekend away from home. We didn’t need to dash to the vet for an emerging “hot spot” or note the time on the calendar for a rabies shot. There has not been any sudden despoiling on the most treasured rug in the house. And we have not had to deal with the frantic teething that puts clothing and window sills at risk as a new puppy settles in.

We have thought briefly of different possibilities. We have a friend who has a golden retriever puppy named Chewy with almost identical coloring and inquisitiveness as Teddy, and we have offered our services as sometime babysitters. So far we have done so once. After loving up the pup, the rest was just work and it wasn’t the same. Substitute dogs are like substitute teachers: Happy to have them come and happy to see them go.

It has been 45 years since I have been without a dog in the house, and there is a void that won’t go away. One of my sons and daughters-in-law are thinking of getting a dog. If so, they would come often to visit and bring the dog. Would that replace what is missing? I have my doubts. That would just mean more work without the primary connection.

So profound is that connection that the latest trend in employee benefits for large corporations is “pawternity leave.” That means a couple of days paid time off for an employee to bond with a new four-legged family member or to mourn the death of a beloved pet. Some companies are even encouraging their staffers to bring their pets with them to the office when at work.

So, will we get another dog? There have been four dogs sequentially in my life already, and there is certainly room for more. I just don’t know if l can bear the loss of yet another. As my mother used to say, “We’ll see.”

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To mark Presidents Day, here are some bits of information about our favorite president, Abe Lincoln, as culled from the internet, with thanks to Jeff Crilley at The Rundown daily email newsletter:

• First, our 16th president hated to be called Abe. He preferred being called by his last name.

• Lincoln practiced law without a degree.

He had only 18 months of formal schooling.

• He wanted women to have the vote in 1836.

• Lincoln read the Bible every day but never belonged to an organized church.

• He was an enthusiastic wrestler and took part in bouts.

• He defended the son of his most famous wrestling opponent against murder charge.

• Lincoln was known to battle depression most of his life.

• He was the first president:

— born outside the original 13 states, on Feb. 12, 1809;

— to use the telegraph and
communicated with his generals as if it were the internet;

— to have a beard;

— to be assassinated.

• Lincoln was the only president to have a patent. It was for a device that freed steamboats run aground.

• He had no middle name.

• He loved eating oysters.

• He didn’t drink, smoke or chew tobacco.

• Lincoln was a big animal lover. He wouldn’t hunt or fish.

• His favorite food was fruit. He was also fond of chicken casserole.

• His cat, named Tabby, supposedly ate with him at the White House dinner table.

• His dog was named Fido.

• Lincoln didn’t play any musical instrument.

• He almost fought a duel that was canceled at the last second.

• Lincoln was a circuit court judge in Illinois.

• He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran for the U.S. Senate and lost both times, although once he won the popular vote but lost the election to Sen. Stephen Douglas.

• Lincoln lost his bid for vice president at the GOP convention in 1856.

• He argued a case before the Supreme Court in 1849 and lost.

• His first business failed.

• His shoe size was 12-14.

His coffin was opened five times, although grave robbers failed in 1876.

• Lincoln’s life was saved twice when he was young.

• Lincoln has no direct living descendants.

• Lincoln was estranged from his father and didn’t attend his father’s funeral.

• His animals died in a White House stable fire.

• Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

• Lincoln was photographed with his assassin John Wilkes Booth at his second inauguration.

• Booth’s brother saved the life of Lincoln’s son on a New Jersey train platform.

• Lincoln was shot at in 1864, and the bullet put a hole in his stovepipe hat.

• Lincoln kept his important papers inside his hat.

• Lincoln’s guest at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who canceled at the last moment.

• Fido was killed by a drunken assailant a year after Lincoln died.

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Here are some sentiments about that undefinable emotion: Love.

Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colors seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there is no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.

            — Bob Marley

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

            Lao Tzu

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our full potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.

         — John Lennon                                         

I heard what you said. I’m not the silly romantic that you think. I don’t want the heavens or the shooting stars. I don’t want gemstones or gold. I have those things already. I want … a steady hand. A kind soul. I want to fall asleep, and wake, knowing my heart is safe. I want to love and be loved.

              — Shana Abé

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As I write this column, Tuesday, I am thinking of the State of the Union address that President Trump is scheduled to give to Congress and the nation in the evening. What does each of us think about the state of the union at this time? Do we know enough about what’s happening in the country to offer a credible picture in this first month of the year 2018?

We know we have problems. Big problems, if you follow the newscasts. We have a Congress that people seem to agree is “broken,” and a president without precedent. We have an economy that is the largest in the world, yet our citizens are divided into those enjoying its fruits and the rest who have been left behind. We have a remarkable health care system that is not accessible for everyone. Our schools are uneven in their teaching, especially in subjects like math and science. We have to deal with racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism and lots of other “isms,” as well as gun violence, drugs, gangs, North Korea, Russia, the Taliban, you name them. It’s enough to addle the mind.

Then I think of the other side of the story, the story of what America means to me. When my grandchildren have their children, they will be sixth generation Americans. We are deeply rooted here in our country but not so much that we have forgotten how we got here and especially why we came. My father’s family arrived in the second half of the 19th century from Riga, the capital city of Latvia set on the Baltic Sea. We don’t know much about them except they were dairy farmers, and they managed to buy property and continue with that life after they landed and settled in Connecticut and upstate New York. My dad, the middle child of nine, left the farm for the big city when he was 14, got a job at the bottom of the ladder in a hardware store, lived in a boarding house in Brooklyn near his older brother, worked hard and for long hours, saved his pennies and ultimately started several hardware stores on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was about then that I came along, the middle child of three.

We know more about my mother’s side of the family. Her uncle, her mother’s brother, left the army in the Ukraine after a perilous stint at the beginning of the 20th century. He joined his uncle in Corona, Queens, who taught him how to use a sewing machine in a clothing factory. He realized he could earn more if he owned a machine and could hire himself out to the highest bidder, then understood he could do better still if he owned the factory. His four children all graduated from college, his daughters became teachers and his son served as a judge in the District and Criminal Courts of Suffolk County.

My mother’s grandparents and parents, alarmed at the unrest in their homeland in the first decade of the 20th century, followed the family chain, established themselves financially in New York City, and saw to it that their offspring were educated so that they might further contribute to society and share in its benefits.

This is the American Dream. This is the route that countless individuals and families followed for 400 years to reach their goals amid the freedom and security of the United States, Has that dream been achieved by everyone here in America? Certainly not, and the situations where people are chained to the past or even the present are heartbreaking. The national goal is to bring the American Dream to all living within our borders.

Except for Native Americans, we all started out as immigrants, foreigners in a foreign land, and those who came voluntarily — along with those who didn’t — aspired for more. Some came with more skills and resources, some with less. Some had supportive family networks, some arrived alone.

The American siren song still exists. The formula does work. I see it realized by people locally every day. For all the cynicism and the partisanship, whatever the shortcomings and injustices, this is still America.

On the day of the State of the Union, this is what America means to me.

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Dear Grandson Adam,

Thank you for lending me your book last weekend. While you were off skiing with the rest of the family, I was totally absorbed reading your high school homework assignment, “A Raisin in the Sun,” in front of a crackling fire in the lodge. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play, you know, in 1958, which was the year I graduated from high school, so I can tell you how remarkable her characters and themes are for that time.

The story takes place in Chicago, on the city’s gritty South Side, and tells of a poor black family living in a three-room flat with a bathroom in the hall that is shared with others. The grandmother, Lena, whose apartment it is, sleeps in one bedroom with her daughter, Beneatha, who is in college. Walter, Lena’s 35-year-old son, is a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman, and he shares another room with his wife, Ruth, who works as a cleaning woman in different homes. Travis, 10, is their son and he sleeps in the living room/kitchen on a sofa that is made up for him each night, which means that he doesn’t get to sleep until any visitor leaves.

When we meet them, the family is excited about the imminent arrival of a “big check,” that turns out to be the proceeds from an insurance policy on the life of Big Walter, Lena’s late husband. The value is $10,000, which in today’s money would be about $160,000. The introduction of this money into the plot is the fulcrum around which the characters, their roles in the family dynamic and their situation in society are defined.

Walter desperately wants to start his own business with the funds, viewing entrepreneurship as a way to rise above a humiliating life stretching out before him as a chauffeur. There are tense exchanges between him and Lena, as he passionately explains to his mother that he can go into partnership in a liquor store with a shrewd friend who has figured out the financing, but they need startup capital.

Lena, for her part, thinking back to their not-so-distant ancestors of slaves, values freedom more than financial success, and certainly doesn’t appreciate the prospect of selling liquor to their neighbors. However she wants to see her son as the prideful head of the family and recognizes his despair at the life in which he feels trapped in mid-century America.

Ruth, who is pregnant, loves her husband and understands that his grind, as they enter middle age, is eroding their marriage. She is the life-giving mother of the next generation and it is she who ultimately urges optimism after Lena makes her pivotal decision. I hesitate to tell you what that decision is because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you. This is a play well worth reading if you have the chance, if only for the messages that continue to be so relevant today.

Beneatha is a most interesting character, attracted by the romantic allure of the distant continent from which her people originally came, albeit unwillingly, yet determined to make her own way through education, the upward mobility ladder presumably offered by the American Dream. She eschews the idea of advancing herself through the traditional female strategy of marrying rich, much touted for her by Walter. At a time when most medical schools were admitting only one or perhaps two women in each freshman class, she is planning to become a doctor. She will need money to pay for that education, and Lena recognizes that fact.

The play is about poverty, masculinity, femininity, opportunity, integration, honor, tradition and especially racism in American, and looks into the future with remarkable prescience. Has much changed in our country over the ensuing 60 years? In 1959, the play received standing ovations and critical acclaim. It was, after all, the first play offered there by an African-American woman, only 28, that purported to tell the truth about black lives. Hansberry came from a wealthy family and could present her initially optimistic message of a different life.

In answer to the question, it could be said she at least started the conversation on Broadway. Racism discussed is, however slowly, racism destroyed. It is up to your generation, Adam, to continue the fight. 

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