Jim Godsil: Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names”

October 1, 2015
Noon gathering outside of Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Noon gathering at Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

With the assistance of wonderful weather, over 400 nurturing relatives and friends arriving during the course of the day, Milwaukee’s Jim Godsil celebrated his 70th birthday on August 22. Affirming his uniquely inclusive style, the festivities began with a relaxing bus tour and concluded with Godsil’s festive Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.”

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The date chosen honors the following important organizations in Godsil’s life: the 40th year of Community Roofing and Restoration – the main event sponsor, the 10th anniversary of the Milwaukee Renaissance Wiki Magazine, the 5th anniversary of the Sweetwater Foundation and the one-year anniversary of Heart Haus, the tour’s final destination.

Intermingling from “hither and yonder,” guests appeared representing diverse family members, community advocates, gender diversities, artistic professions, religious persuasions, political interests, age and education ranges and class designations.

“All I wanted to do was expand the value of my 70th birthday to include jump-starting a rainbow artist and adventurer boundary-crossing drum-bus party experiment,” Godsil said. “I hoped to introduce European Americans to the wonderful neighborhoods, galleries and studios of African American artists on the North side and introduce African Americans to a south side European American neighborhood. I hoped to mix up all of God’s children with good food, good drink, good music and a street party celebration and it worked!”

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Starting at noon, Godsil greeted his first round of bus riders as they gathered at Riverwest Coop and Café to board the 71-seat capacity Purple Cow Organics Bus donated for this event by Sandy Syburg. Traveling from all parts of the country, Godsil welcomed the attendance of his children Rachel, Megan, Joseph, and Bridie, as well as grandchildren Kate, Rebecca, Monilola, and Darragh, sons-in-law Jim Freeman and Ok Jeyifous, sisters JoAnn and Jean, and brother-in-law Joe Werth.

Jahme Tony Finlayson's musical acumen shared. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tony Finlayson shared rhythms on the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Northside – Part 2

On the bus, Jahmés Tony Finlayson’s adept drumming established a comfortable ambiance. Marquette University’s Bob Pavlik, Riverwest backstreet Mayor Vince Bushnell and Seton Hall Law Professor Rachel Godsil joined 40 Riverwest activists.

The tour’s initial stop was Mother Clara Atwater’s and Toussaint Harris’ Gingerbread Land, which included several brightly colored houses and Atwater’s Love Tabernacle church. There another ten people boarded the bus..

Gathering in Mother Clara's Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Gathering in Mother Clara’s Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The “rainbow” busload proceeded further into Milwaukee’s north side central city to explore additional treasures. The next stop was the Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery, located in Evelyn Patricia Terry’s two-story home.

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil said, “We feasted upon Fondé Bridges’ healing “Healthy Words” performance as Terry’s gallery greeter. The tour party went inside the gallery filled with room after room of beauty and listened to Evelyn’s great stories, which she continued after she boarded the bus to join the tour.”

Two young visitors to terry's gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Two young visitors to terry’s gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Passing by Dep’s Hall of Fade and proceeding west to Lisbon Avenue, the bus unloaded its passengers to view Muneer Bahauddeen’s Ogbe Meji Studio exhibiting his finely crafted ceramic art. Some viewers momentarily slipped into the Amaranth Café across the street to buy a quick treat. Bahauddeen spoke outside to visitors about his vision to create an Amaranth Urban Sanctuary. Everyone participated in Finlayson’s Drum Bus Circle and sang Godsil’s birthday song before boarding the bus with new riders.

Muneer Bahauddeen's ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Muneer Bahauddeen’s captivating ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Southside Finale – Part 3

Introducing Milwaukee’s Southside, the tour bus entered the site of the Old Main Soldiers Home Reef National Historic Landmark. Cleo Pruitt, who met us there, gave a moving tribute to forgotten soldiers of color as founder of the Rebirth of Freedom Project. She explained her vision of a future monument to them. Godsil observed, “The site astonished people with the terrible beauty of that sacred place.” Ms. Pruitt later joined the street party.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

As the finale, Ben Kohler’s Heart Haus team impressively hosted the Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” “Foolosopher” Sky Schultz, in white cloth, silently greeted enlightened bus riders – arriving an hour late without complaints

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders as they joined the street party. Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders.  Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zadowski reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zawadiwsky reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Joining the party already in progress, the travelers settled in to participate in the merriment. They listened to award-winning Christina Zawadiwsky read poetry within the shadow of a specially constructed street stage. Howard Lewis, Holly Haebig, Dena Aronson and Jay Anderson provided music.

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee .

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee Matz .

Internationally collected artist, Della Wells and her great grandson, Momari Dejohnett, visited  the designated inter-generational play area and Bahauddeen’s Peace Post Clay Table.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Occupying a corner of the Heart Haus porch, Tim Green skillfully scratched records and played a range of music, welcoming revelers as they gathered “food and drink” from the house. Tables covered with Cheryl Sitzler’s African patterned tablecloths transformed the space.

Scrumptious rainbow entrees came from The Riverwest Coop Café, Juan’s Mom’s Tamale, Curt’s Chicken, Timbuktu and Martha’s Mighty Fine Foods. Janine Arseneau placed her six freshly baked fruit pies on a table in the street.

Janine Arseneau's delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Janine Arseneau’s delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt, an awarded documentary filmmaker, directed filming of this historical event.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Enjoying every moment, along with his guests, Godsil noted, “A European American retired doctor told me it was the most significant trip he had ever taken. An African American elder said it was a life-changing experience to see 20 and 30 African Americans celebrating with scores of European Americans in a south side residential neighborhood.”

Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of !00 Names. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil’s Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” Photo © by Lee Matz.

Revelers delighted in the impact of Godsil’s mindfulness as a community and world force. Many openly expressed appreciation for Godsil’s refreshing wisdom, activism, buoyant nature, enthusiasm, supportive language and visionary joyfulness. He plans many more celebrations until his 100th birthday!

Evelyn Patricia Terry's Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry wrote this blog. Jim Godsil’s interest in associating with creatives of like minds from many facets of the community particularly impressed her. Volunteer editors and proofreaders are welcome and needed as artists continue to strive to increase our state’s art profile. Reach her at the email address terryevelyn@hotmail.com with any corrections. Plus, because hacking into websites happened, Terry is reconstructing her website.

“Oh that glorious Wisconsin”….landscape.

April 26, 2011

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

April the month of Earth Day is about to close and we ‘Sconies should be proud of the attention paid to our conservation trinity of Nelson, Leopold and Muir. Gaylord Nelson got his customary credit as the father of Earth Day, while John Muir and Aldo Leopold were the subjects of new, nicely produced video biographies.

As the videos showed, Muir and Leopold were scientists and philosophers, but also eloquent and lyrical writers. No line in either man’s work, so strikes us home state folks like Muir’s ecstatic, “Oh that glorious Wisconsin wilderness,” where the Scotch farmer’s son experienced, “Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons.”

Glorious it was and in Wisconsin, the Muir family farm, but it was not wilderness—at least if you define wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  That’s how the United States government defines it in the Wilderness Act of 1964 and I think most of us would agree that wilderness presumes the absence of “man.”

The Marquette County where the Muirs settled in the 1840s was a mix of woodland, grassland and wetland as yet largely “untrammeled” in the negative sense posed by the Wilderness Act. But “man” was much more than “a visitor” here. Native people had been living on this land, managing and shaping it for thousands of years before the wagon bearing the Muir clan bounced onto the premises. The sedge meadow flanking Fountain Lake, the bluestem prairie where young John and his brothers wrestled, the patches of tough oak and hickory “grubs” that persuaded Muir to keep his breaking plow “trimmed” so they might be more easily sheared off, were components of a landscape created by earth, water, climate and the hands of men and women.

Fire was their chief tool, and the grasslands—prairie, savanna, wet meadows–covering nearly all of southern Wisconsin until the arrival of immigrants like the Muirs, their handiwork. As Muir wrote, “Had there been no fires these fine prairies, so marked a feature of the country, would have been covered by the heaviest of forests.”  He went on to say that the “farmers prevented running grass fires,” and as soon as they did so, “the grubs grew up into trees and formed tall thickets so dense that it was difficult to walk through them and every trace of the sunny openings vanished.”

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The farmers may have prevented the grass fires, but not by swatting at them with wet blankets or organizing bucket brigades. They stopped the fires by plowing and clearing away the grass and shrubs that were their fuel and by removing the people who ignited them. In 1848, one year before the Muirs settled on their farm, the last natives to hold a recognized claim to land in the vicinity, the Menominees, were ordered north to their reservation on the Wolf River. With them, they took the fire that shaped the landscape.

Muir had a blind spot when it came to recognizing the landscaping work of native people. He always saw the direct hand of god at work, and did not admit that god’s work could be and was performed by skin clad natives who were as ingenious and—for all we know—as spiritually-minded as he. I wish that Muir had recognized the role native people played in creating the first patch of earth he came to know and love, but his omission does not invalidate his experience or his message.

As shaped by native people, the Muir farm was the glorious place where nature streamed into a young man’s soul and wooingly taught him wonderful glowing lessons.

–Michael Goc


The pigs know…it’s all about dirt

September 23, 2009

A friend of mine just started farming his parent’s land and he invited me out to help dig potatoes last weekend.  Before we got down on hands and knees in the dirt to unearth the tubers, he said the pigs needed a shower.

The three dudes, as he calls them, were weighing in around 200 pounds after about 8 months of eating. On Sunday, when I arrived, they were lumped together in the shade. Pigs don’t sweat, my farmer friend told me. When he got the hose out, they came trotting out in a hurry to splash around and get their snouts down in the newly created mud puddle.

As I spent the next hours harvesting purple, red, and gold potatoes, all found like prizes hidden within the rich soil, I thought about Will Allen.

Will Allen is a very successful farmer in urban Milwaukee. Will inspires people to garden, to grow food, and to improve their landscapes and lives. And he says, with impressive conviction, that to grow food in poor or tainted soil is irresponsible.

His main message is this: It’s all about the dirt.

Will Allen bought the last parcel of agricultural land in Milwaukee and, back in 1993, connected with teens from the surrounding neighborhood to provide work restoring the soil and the greenhouses to grow food. It was an area of the city where people needed jobs and that offered residents no other options for fresh veggies. That was the beginning of Growing Power.

To hear Will go through a brief history of the past sixteen years is jaw-droppingly inspiring. Now he travels the world sharing his techniques for creating huge quantities of high quality soil, putting it to high-density use, fertilizing it with worm castings, and changing the landscape for the better.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council brought Will Allen to Madison last week as a pre-event for the Wisconsin Book Festival (October 7-11 in Madison). The room at the Goodman Community Center was overflowing with fans, followers, and some new faces (now known as the recently converted). Forget about fire code, people were crammed in there! By the end of his talk, Will had everyone happily yelling “Soil!” when he asked, “What is the key to feeding everyone healthy food?”

And what do soil, dirt, and farming have to do with the a statewide cultural organization like the Wisconsin Humanities Council?

Dena Wortzel, the director of the WHC, may have said it best when she explained, “For our part, what we hope to do is help folks in Wisconsin use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone.”

The event was planned to bring people together to talk about what’s going on, what people are excited about, and how new ideas can be realized. This conversation, on-going and building, is part of a history, heritage, and legacy in Wisconsin.

“I don’t know if it is in the air, the water or the soil,” Dena continued, “but for more than a hundred years, Wisconsin has been home to visionaries of land and community, from John Muir to Aldo Leopold, to Will Allen – as well as less publicly known, but equally passionate people like all of you.”

I’m with Will on this one: it must be in the soil!

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

Island of Refuge

August 25, 2009
Administration Building, Wisconsin Home of the Feeble-Minded, 1897. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

Administration Building, Wisconsin Home for the Feeble- Minded, 1897. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

The recent passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founding mother of the Special Olympics, reminds me of the progress we have made in how we perceive and interact with developmentally disabled people.  Shriver’s work was part of a larger movement to return these “special” people to the mainstream of society that many of them had been locked out of for decades.

Wisconsin began its segregation of the developmentally disabled and of those suffering from epilepsy in the 1890s. After years of debate and numerous revelations of the inhumane and often abusive care provided by local governments, the legislature established the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble-Minded.  Brutal as it sounds today, the term feeble-minded was accepted usage in the 19th century, when moron, imbecile and idiot were the clinically accepted headings under which degrees of intellectual disability were filed.

The Wisconsin Home was built on one thousand acres of wild parkland on the banks of the Chippewa River east of Chippewa Falls. The setting was truly idyllic, with fresh water springs, grassy meadows and groves of tall trees. The location reflected the not inaccurate belief that the country was a healthier place to live than the city. And it was isolated, away from large population centers. The reformers who founded the Home wanted it to be an island of refuge whose “inmates” would neither do harm nor be harmed.

"Inmates" at the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded, 1900s. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

"Inmates" at the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded, 1900s. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

Twenty formidible brick and stone buildings were in the original plan, later expanded to twice that number and more. The first inmate  crossed the threshold in June 1897. By October, twelve hundred were admitted.

Most were children of poverty, the offspring of parents without the means to care for a child with special needs, or orphans who, because of their disability, were not likely to be adopted by extended family or friends.  Fear was  a motivating factor. Parents and local officials feared that the slow-witted boy would mature into an unmanageable, dangerous man and the simple-minded girl would develop into a promiscuous breeder of more children just like her.

The humane, progressive, forward-thinking course was to sequester these youngsters on the island, train them to perform the simple tasks of farm labor, handicrafts and house keeping, and put them to work. They would raise and preserve nearly all the food they ate, build much of their furniture, make, mend and launder clothing, cook and clean, maintain the grounds and, as teenagers and older, care for younger inmates.  Given  useful work and a productive role, they would remain on the island for life.

As the initial training programs succeeded and were improved by the addition of  “special education” classes in the early 1900s,  they sowed the seeds of the Home’s demise.  If developmentally disabled people could be trained to function on the island, they could be trained to function off of it as well.

A 2009 Special Olympics champion.

A 2009 Special Olympics champion.

It took many years of slow progress in the law, medicine, education, civil rights  and, most importantly, in the attitude of  those of us who are not developmentally disabled for the “inmates” to be allowed to leave the island.  For that attitudinal change we owe much to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and countless other less-heralded activists.

The “inmates” of 1897 are today’s Special Olympians and on the island no more.

–Michael Goc

The Public Option

August 10, 2009

Historically-minded people often discern similiarities between events past and present and can’t resist the temptation to share them.  So be warned, here’s one now.

The current debate over the expansion of the federal government’s role in providing health insurance to Americans resembles the discussion–to put it mildly–that occurred in the mid-1930s on whether the United States should fund the extension of electrical service to rural areas unserved by investor-owned utilities.  It was the 1930’s version of the familiar public-versus-private debate that is as old as the republic.

The need was obvious. Ninety percent of the six million American farmsteads did not have electricity. Basic amenities that urban Americans had enjoyed for decades–modern lighting, running water, indoor toilets–were absent, as were “luxuries” like radios, refrigerators, automatic hot water heaters and kitchen stoves that did not burn wood.


In the 1930s, standards of living on American farms lagged far behind those in cities. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

That was in the farm house. In farm yards, barns, sheds and shops, electrical power would save labor, make for a better-lighted, safer working environment, increase productivity and boost income. An electric water pump meant a farmer had only to turn the handle on a faucet to water his livestock instead of pumping hundreds of gallons by hand or relying on a windmill that did not always spin. Electric motors could also power the numerous choppers, grinders, mixers and loaders that were vital to handling everything from shelled corn to shredded silage. Electricity would bring American farming into the 20th Century.

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Rural Electricification Administration. The following year, Congress appropriated $100 million and charged the REA to make low interest loans to public and investor-owned utilities to run power lines in rural areas.

Then the debate began. The power companies said that if they borrowed the entire $100 million they could extend power to another 200,000 farms–maybe. That would leave about 5.2 million unserved. A dismayed Senator Frank Norris, the prairie progressive from Nebraska, succeeded in amending the REA legislation to require that loans  be made only to organizations  agreeing to extend power to all consumers in their service area. Norris’s “all-inclusion” provision prevented the power companies from using taxpayer dollars to “cherry pick”  their customers. Obliged to serve both the big farm on the county highway and the hardscrabble homestead up the hollow, the power companies passed on the loan program.

Farmers themselves stepped up. Often led by university-extension county agents, they organized cooperatives that collected membership fees as low as one dollar per farm, established local distribution systems, and purchased power from the investor-owned utilities.

In Wisconsin, two cooperatives lay claim to the honor of being the first to deliver power to farmer members. On or about the same day in May 1937, Richland County Electric Cooperative and Columbus Rural Electric Cooperative energized their first power lines.

1950s Iowa farm kids, part of the first generation of rural Americans born on farms with electrical power.  Photo: Author.

1950s Iowa farm kids, part of the first generation of rural Americans born on farms with electrical power. Photo: Author.

Cooperatives spread and today there are over nine hundred rural electric cooperatives serving forty-two million people in forty-seven states. There would be more had the private utilities not responded as they did. Faced with competition from the “public option” they discovered that they really could extend service to millions–not just thousands–of farmers.

As a result, electrical power came to rural America. It was a precondition for the transformation that occurred in the countryside in the years after World War II.

What would a public option as real as the rural electric cooperatives mean for American health care today?

–Michael Goc

Listen. Watch. Change. (Then share your ideas with us.)

August 4, 2009

On Wisconsin Public Television Tuesday night, a 57-minute version of the feature-length documentary Playing for Change: Peace through Music premieres.

The video follows record producer Mark Johnson’s multimedia, multicontinent music project, which he says, “was born out of the idea that we have to inspire each other to come together as a human race, and that music is the best way to do this.” Sure, change is a word made trite in 2008, but there’s nothing trite about these artists or these songs.

Below, a cover of the tune that started it all, Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” The musicians in the clip had never met each other, and they performed (via Johnson’s mobile recording studio) in locations as distant as Santa Monica, New Orleans,  Zuni, New Mexico, Amsterdam, Caracas, Barcelona and Umlazi, South Africa:

Because I manage the Web site PortalWisconsin.org, I’m intrigued by Playing for Change. Our site’s mission is to support Wisconsin’s arts, culture, humanities and history, and we do this by bringing arts and culture lovers together with visual and literary artists, performers, authors, scholars and historians from around the state.

After learning about Mark Johnson’s project, I’m wondering how we can use PortalWisconsin.org to extend our reach — from Milwaukee to Lac du Flambeau to La Crosse, and all the places in between. Using the resources we have in place, how can we bring arts and culture to your children’s schools, to your neighborhoods and to your lives? Even more exciting to me right now, how might PortalWisconsin.org become a place where we inspire residents from the state’s farthest reaches to come together to create, much like Mark Johnson has?

Watch Playing for Change on WPT at 8:30 p.m., August 4; view Bill Moyers’ interview with Mark Johnson online;  or listen to an archived interview of Johnson conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio‘s own Jean Feraca (visit Here on Earth‘s April archive, and select April 21).

Then, send PortalWisconsin.org your comments and ideas. You can contact us at portalwisconsin@wpt.org, call us toll-free at 866-558-4766 or use the comment form below to post your thoughts to this blog.

–Tammy Kempfert

Football Under Cover (and Uncovered)

April 2, 2009

In a given nation, is gender equity in women’s sports a good measure of women’s status in general?

On Monday, Here on Earth‘s Jean Feraca interviewed brother and sister David and Marlene Assmann, who together created the film Football Under Cover (Marlene produced, and David co-directed with his filmmaking partner Ayat Najafi). The film documents their efforts to arrange a soccer game between Marlene’s German team and the Iranian National Women’s Team, as well as all the stumbling blocks they encountered along the way.

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

The historic meet-up finally took place in April 2006–about a year after planning began–on Iranian turf and under Iranian terms. In part, that meant both teams were clothed from head to toe, and no males were allowed to observe the game. (David Assmann and Ayat Najafi had to wait outside.) Also, the filmmakers had to agree not to screen the film in Iran.

Through the process, David Assmann observed: “I have the feeling that [Iranian] men kind of tend to settle for their little private freedom that they are granted–but the women are actually very strong and pushing their boundaries non-stop. So that’s where the change in Iran is coming from.”

Brother and sister alike voiced their admiration for the strength of the Iranian athletes–and Marlene Assmann added that soccer has been an empowering force in her life, too: “It can give you respect from other players and also, for example, from men because you can prove easily you can do something and also … try to be more brave on the football field and then put it in your social life …”

American women enjoy enormous freedoms that have been denied to Iranian women, but as some Here on Earth listeners who called in Monday pointed out, we still have a ways to go. While listening to the program, I couldn’t help musing that in the U.S., such an expose might be called American Football Uncovered–in reference to the women allowed closest to our football fields, cheerleaders.

This Inside Islam broadcast, along with others, is a collaboration between UW-Madison and Wisconsin Public Radio. Inside Islam is a new media initiative that challenges preconceptions about Muslims and Islamic faith around the world. The series regularly runs on WPR’s Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders program, hosted weekday afternoons by Jean Feraca. You can listen to broadcasts you missed online or see what Jean has lined up for the coming week at www.wpr.org/hereonearth/.

This year, the Wisconsin Film Festival will host a companion series of Inside Islam films. Football Under Cover is on the roster (Friday at 5:00 p.m. at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre), and David Assmann is slated to appear. The 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival will screen 199 films around Madison, April 2 (today!) through April 5.

The 4 P’s

March 28, 2009

A while ago, I watched Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation, “The Past and Future of American International Leadership,” online at PortalWisconsin.org’s digital library.

Professor Jeremi Suri

Professor Jeremi Suri

Suri is a much-celebrated professor of history at the UW-Madison, who appeared at UW-Fox Valley last October to “unpack” the American international successes of the past. His research has led him to distill four qualities–or as he calls them, four “lessons of effective, enlightened and enduring American policy, to help us move forward,” nicely alliterated for our mnemonic convenience: prosperity, partnership, prudence and power.

A lot has changed in the five months since Suri addressed the Menasha audience. We emerged from what seemed like an interminable election cycle with the country’s first African American president. Nations around the world, in response to America’s crumbling economy, have struggled correspondingly. Unemployment and home foreclosure rates have soared, while the Dow tumbled. Words like stimulus, deficit and bailout–and acronyms like TARP and AIG–became part of our daily vocabulary, and numbers like billions and trillions became our reality. International turmoil continued to fester. Sasha and Malia got a puppy.

Professor Suri is scheduled to give his talk again next week, this time in Madison. Given the newer context, the ongoing political developments and the economic intricacies, I expect him to be as fascinating in March as he was in October. Real tests of some of his assertions loom closer than ever.

For brevity, I’ll indulge myself with just one more quote from Suri’s October Academy Evening–in reference to the third P, prudence. He says that a component of exercising the caution and wisdom essential to effective leadership lies in recognizing the “virtues of inconsistency:”

To me inconsistency is like sailing on a lake. You’re constantly adjusting to what’s going on–you still know about where you want to go, right? But any good sailor does not know exactly how they’re going to sail. You have to adjust to the wind, you have to tack back and forth … There’s a virtue in being able to adapt, to understand your conditions, to listen and watch and adjust, with still some sense of where you want to go.

I love a good analogy.

You can catch Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation this coming Tuesday, March 31, 7:00-8:30 p.m., at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Academy Evenings are free forums offered by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters to encourage public engagement with the state’s prominent artists and scholars. For those unable to attend, the Academy offers a variety of ways to watch or listen to these talks. Learn more here.

Finally, here’s a link to Suri’s book: Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente.

–Tammy Kempfert