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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

Teaching creativity

One view of all the hullaballoo about women’s bodies and women’s forward or backward emancipation:

“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”
-- Gloria Steinem

And it’s kind of hard to believe that in 2012 this sort of discrimination against female equality is still present in this nation. I remember back in the 60s I was having my tubes tied (or trying to) and I needed written permission from my husband, and this was the law of the land, or at least New York state at that time.

I remember my first outing as a conductor of a small church choir, and having most of the men walk out. And the same happened at Skidmore (Skidmore, would you believe it?) when I was a music director for a theater production of Kurt Weil’s musical “Three Penny Opera.” Which, by the way got outstanding reviews -- especially the pit orchestra. And being a composer of female persuasion was not exactly a walk in the park. I was always uneasy and unsteady in my body, never knowing to go for dumb blonde or smart-ass brunette. And even now being a woman does not make running QUEST any easier. I have never been a member in good standing of the “good old boys club” in Schenectady.

People don’t seem to know how to react to me in most instances. I always put out my hand immediately to offer a comradely handshake to new acquaintances. But many folk actually back away from the time-honored moment of greeting.

Plus, I am not a social worker or a teacher of academics but rather an auto-didact and voracious reader, who taught creativity all across this nation. Teaching creativity also makes people learn to share and work together for the greater good of the end project. Dancers working with musicians, composers working with cellists, even visual artists working in new ways with different art forms and people.

And producing venues, well there’s a huge lesson in cooperation to be shared with this one. One of the most amazing people I ever worked and colluded with was Bill T. Jones (pictured), a man of such genius and work ethic, he sure could have left me weeping in the dust, but his generosity of spirit was like a drink of cool water on a hot and dusty day. His show “Fela” is coming to Proctors in Feb. 2013 -- go, go. I am, and I hope that we can garner some free tickets for some QUEST kids.

This show is serious 20th Century black history. And Bill is a master at getting the absolute right point come right at cha. And for those of you who don’t know Bill, he has had HIV/AIDS for over 20 years, his partner Arnie Zane died of AIDS decades ago. If you wish to view an uplifting and athletic piece go to S.P.A.C. this summer and see “Dead Man In The Water.” One of Bill’s signature pieces, a powerful (and I do not use that term loosely) uplifting paen to the human spirit, this piece spoke to the AIDS epidemic as it was emerging in this country. I will bet by the end you will be standing on your feet, screaming "Bravo!"

Spark of madness

As I look back on all the directions my life has taken, I feel lucky as hell. And as doors were opened to me so I wish to open new avenues to all my children at QUEST. The vistas of life are endless. Always remember:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
-- Robin Williams

And yes, madness is another necessity for creativity and following new directions.

Now the governor this past week put a cap on salaries for the CEOs of nonprofits. And it was quite a bit lower than some of our local nonprofit leaders. I am very interested to see what will happen. Supposedly no state funding will be given to agencies which do not reflect these figures (and are still quite generous); also 85% of all monies must go directly on programs not administrative salaries.

And since I am by far the lowest paid executive director in this area and beyond, Channel 6 came to interview me. I love these quick shots -- “Hello we would like to do a follow-up interview; we will be there in 20 minutes. Can you accommodate us?” And old ham that I am I says yes, as I stand there in my soiled and old work clothes with my hair noticeably uncoifed; I wax long and loud on the issues at hand and then never get to see the finished product. But it seems that everyone on the Hill does, even 10-year-olds are up at 11 watching the news. (This gives me hope -- kids watching the news) And people yell and honk as I go by; “Saw you last night,” they’ll respond, and “My mother really liked your clothes.”

My fans, what can I say, are as poor or poorer than I am, but relate in some small way to this white lady who walks with a cane and talks like a teamster. No one of any consequence monetarily ever seems to take notice of my public forays, and whenever I meet them in various situations, “Oh you’re from QUEST?” they say “Never heard of it -- what exactly do they do?” And frankly I am getting tired of hearing that. “Pay attention” I want to yell, “Attention must be paid!” But I just meekly say “Oh really, that seems so odd we get so much media coverage.”

I then mumble some facts and figures, watch their eyes glaze over and sigh as they move on to the “good old boys” network, where they guffaw and slap each other on the back and make golf dates for the morrow. “Left out again” I whisper. But not really. My people, the ones who are important to me always remember me and laugh and hug and we always shake hands. So, I am part of the “Good Old Neighborhood” network. And there I am always a star and a friend worth having. How could it get better than that?

We did an after-prom party at QUEST and it was wildly successful. 85 teens in tuxedos and gowns pulled up in limos and regally entered our doors. No drugs, no alcohol. (We confiscated one bottle of vodka in the parking lot.) No altercations, just a D.J. and lots of rap-alongs and dancing and simply hanging out. We patrolled the parking lot and environs and had zillions of chaperones. And all of us got our rewards just watching them drive up and get out, the royalty of the street.

Every agency around should have done the same. Instead they closed their doors, their eyes and their minds and smiled. Many, many times I have come forward and said there should be teen parties on Fri. or Sat. nights. If we all shared the responsibility it would be simple and not involve much work. I believe that we as youth agencies (especially if we receive funding from the city) have a responsibility, which must be followed, to all their clients. I believe that some of these agencies even have funding for street outreach and closing later in the summer.

One of these agencies raised $120,000 at their last fundraiser and had all kinds of help and support from various businesses. $120,000 is our entire budget for the whole year. That is if it’s a good year. This year it will be less. Maybe the salaries of their CEOs should be posted online in an easily referenced spot. Or (I like this even better) hung on the front entrance door of every building. These numbers are supposed to be public knowledge; we are the public, ergo more transparency please.

Someone unknown to me approached one of my board members. They are both crossing guards, the board member and the aproachee, and she asked for my phone number; she evidently reads my blog as soon as it’s up, likes what she sees and wants to volunteer. Again, I feel buoyed by love. But where are the members of the overall community with money and power and why do they turn their faces from us? Well, I have my army of the streets, and I believe they are important; if nothing else this shows that the people I work with and care about are paying attention.

Last week The Old Convent of Sacred Heart/ St. Columbus Church on Emmett Street burned down. It was a beautiful old stone building. It was the first convent that Sister Rosemary, now of St. Josephs and formerly of Sacred Heart, had entered on her long journey of service to this community. And yet no one seems to care.

The building burned to rubble and is now demolished. No makeshift altars of remembrance here. Destroyed by 8- and 10-year-old children. Neighbors adjoining the building came forward and told of young children 11 and under entering the building with baseball bats late at night and smashing windows and doors. This had been going on for some time before the sad edifice burned to the ground. I ask again -- where is our community policing?

Last weekend the Albany police held another children’s event. The 8th annual bike rodeo for kids in Arbor Hill and beyond. Mazes and trick courses at various age levels and difficulties set up for kids to ride through. Police to volunteer (that’s volunteer folks) and guide kids, and hand out prizes. Everyone got a bike helmet. Billed as an anti-violence program, these officers need to be lauded for their empathy and commitment. Thank you P.A.L.

Police are needed to be friendly faces on the Hill and Mont Pleasant and Goose Hill and Central State. I wonder where the highest number of police are sent and in what categories (walking, biking) I would like to see a percentage please.

More and more I see police cruising upper Union Street and even parts of Niskayuna. There seems to be a permanent man on a bike in this area all the time. Though I am now seeing more graffiti and gang members hanging at these corners. I personally saw three Four-Block members sitting on the steps of a barber shop in that area last week. The city's crime is expanding, who is speaking out about this? We can form a city watch which can connect the Neighborhood Watch groups from the city. It’s called civic empowerment. As a group we have more power; let’s work together and let our voices and our votes be heard.

For some reason this has been a very difficult blog for me to write. I had to make myself on several different occasions sit down and I had to drag the words up from my gut. Sooo here's a funny tidbit from one of my longtime favorite comedians, Roseanne Barr:

“I had left home, like all Jewish girls, in order to eat pork and take birth-control pills … The physical craving I had tried so hard to deny finally and ultimately sated…but enough about the pork."

Nuff said.

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