Culture

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By: Rebecca Hammond
Photos: Bernie LaFramboise

YEARS AGO, PHIL AND I WERE WALKING HOME AFTER BREAKFAST at a now-defunct eatery with potatoes as good as their staff was rude, and were marveling that we kept returning for more punishment. We stopped to talk to a handsome, elegant man, barefoot, wearing only athletic shorts and a diamond earring, who was smoking a cigarette and looking up, watching a friend on his roof trying to catch a stranded baby raccoon. The three of us chatted, then Phil and I headed home. And we looked at each other and said, “Oh, that was Councilman Covey!”

If there’s a such thing as a Jack of Many Trades for social change, Ferndale has just regrettably said goodbye to one. Longtime resident and champion of gay rights, water issues, and social justice, Craig Covey is returning to his home state of Ohio. He’s a former Ferndale mayor – the first openly gay mayor ever in the State of Michigan – city councilman, and CEO of MAPP (the Midwest Aids Prevention Program). He’s the creator of the Ferndale Pride Fest. He held a seat on the Oakland County Water Commission, and the Oakland County Commission. He ran for office and won many times, and he wasn’t afraid to go for long shots and lose either, like running for Oakland County sheriff against an incumbent. He appeared fearless and tireless, willing to take chances, prioritizing what he felt was right above any attempt to conform to what seemed uniformly popular. But popular he was, and very successful on a number of levels.

FF: Craig, you’re leaving Ferndale after decades of making a difference. What brought you to Michigan years ago?
Craig Covey: I came from Columbus Ohio in 1985 to become director of the Michigan Organization for Human Rights, the group that later became the Triangle Foundation. I had founded the gay rights group in Ohio, and Michigan wanted the same thing up here. I saw a kernel of possibility in Ferndale. This was 1989, and the downtown was an empty canyon. Woodward had adult theaters, strip clubs, and massage parlors. It was a blank canvas.

Metro Detroit did not have a “gay neighborhood” like every other major city. A few of us saw Ferndale as a possible place to try and attract LGBT people, artists, young folks, and other alternative types. It took a decade to make this happen but eventually they came to this eclectic, middle-and-working-class town, and created what we now know as this cool place.

Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated large cities in the country and, for all of the diversity in the region, very few were promoting it as the amazingly positive thing that it is. Visionary leaders such as former city manager Tom Barwin had a role in understanding the importance of attracting the
“creative class.”

When did you first run for office?
I got involved in local politics pretty quickly, as I had been an activist since my early teens in Ohio. With gay leaders like Rudy Serra and Ann Heler, we began to work toward a gay rights ordinance by 1991. That effort of course took ten years and three ballot initiatives. At that time Ferndale was still under the control of conservatives and “Reagan Democrats.”

I first ran for city council as an openly gay candidate in 1995, and came in last place. But, under the leadership of folks like Chuck Goedert and Bob Porter, Ferndale started to become more diverse and progressive, and I won a seat on council just in time for the millennium.

What was that decade of Ferndale’s transition like?
The push-back from all of this was quick and sustained. Certainly, there was resistance from the top levels of the police administration and others to our notions of inclusion and diversity, particularly around matters of race. To this day, Ferndale has the least number of officers of color than any city around us. As the march toward high-end development and further gentrification continues, I hope the city does not price itself out of reach to young people, seniors, and ethnic and racial minorities. It would be a shame if we turned into another Royal Oak or Birmingham.

That seems an ongoing risk. What were the strengths you brought to all this?
I’ve always been best at providing leadership to start new things and provide the creative angle to challenge the status quo and rock the boat. I’m less effective sometimes at sustaining more mature organizations. Of the several careers paths I participated in here, my favorite was the election and holding of political leadership.

But, after 13 years as a councilman, mayor and commissioner, there was no path left to continue such work. With Republicans gerrymandering districts and many Democrats staying in their offices for decades, it was time to go. When I first moved to Michigan in 1985, my Congressman was Sander Levin. When I left the state last month in 2017, my Congressman was still Sander Levin. There are very limited opportunities for energetic Democrats with new and progressive ideas. Young people need to get involved and run for local office so we have choices in our elections.

What’s sending you back to Ohio now?
I had always planned to move back to my home state eventually, and set the age of reaching 60 as my deadline. I had always planned on getting some land and living in a more bucolic setting. I want to hear crickets and the wind more, and less car alarms and police sirens. Besides writing a book or two, I will be planting trees and advocating for Mother Earth.

What memories do you hold most dear?
I’m proud of many great things about the City of Ferndale. We put the city on the map and folks noticed. It would be surprising to many here now that just a few years ago the City banned tattoo parlors, massage therapy, and even dancing in the down-town. Gay people and African Americans were barely tolerated. The downtown was barren, and the neighborhoods bordered on shabby. Today it is full of energy, young people, and at least purports to be welcoming to all.

Is it smooth sailing from now on?
The danger is to lose perspective and not go over-board. If three festivals per summer are great, that doesn’t mean that having ten festivals is better. If 20 clubs and restaurants are cool, that does not mean that we should allow 40. If building some new apartments or lofts is desirable, that does not necessarily mean we should construct high-rises and fill every single space with expensive development. If bike paths are desirable, that doesn’t mean we need 42 giant yellow walk signs on less than a mile of Hilton Road.

A few words about Craig:
Monica Mills: Craig was a wonderful neighbor, extremely helpful mentor, fair, hard-working boss that led his staff well, and a friend Larry and I will cherish forever.

Councilman Dan Martin: Craig was always willing to take a stance on what he felt was right. It didn’t always make him popular, but he followed his passions and beliefs. He was a believer that by leveraging government you could make positive social change. He was a very credible public servant and a good friend.

Rudy Serra (former judge/county commissioner): His work for equal justice has been continuing since his arrival in Michigan. Craig grew to be a recognized leader of the LGBTQ community and then a valued member of the entire Ferndale community. His service as mayor of Ferndale marked an important, coming-of-age moment for the city. Craig moved to Ferndale during a time of increasing development, diversity, and prosperity. His election to council and, more importantly, as mayor, helped to solidify our community’s reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly area.

stephanie loveless, publisher of Ferndale Friends: In Ferndale’s 90-year history, there aren’t many who have left a bigger mark on our city. Craig was instrumental in making Ferndale a better place to live, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for it.

By: Sara E. Teller

EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF TALENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT created a new pilot program to help refugees successfully transition to American life. In May 2017, the Department stated in its official policy issuance: “The recent influx of immigrants (refugees and persons granted asylum, or ‘asylees’) and other persons granted legal authorization to work in the United States from distressed locations outside of North America creates a unique workforce challenge as many of the impacted individuals cannot document their prior educational and employment history. In addition, these individuals may face significant language and cultural barriers and difficulties finding adequate housing and transportation. Providing additional support and access to resources to this population via the workforce system is critical to ensuring their successful transition into Michigan’s workforce.”

The Refugee Navigator Pilot Program was born, and over half a million dollars was allocated toward its development. The program is being offered at all eight Oakland County Michigan Works offices, including Ferndale’s. It is also available in Kent, Macomb and Wayne Counties. These four counties were chosen because they are currently experiencing the largest influx of new American citizens.

The May official policy issuance further states, “The intent of [the] pilot is to assist all work-authorized immigrants, with overcoming language barriers, lack of a documented educational and employment history, and other barriers to employment and their successful integration into Michigan’s economy.” Navigators (as the pilot offices are called) “shall operate with a degree of autonomy within the Michigan Works! One-Stop Service Centers within each of the four designated counties. They shall have specific training in dealing with the refugee population.”

“WE BEGAN SERVICES in June 2017,”explains Pamela Bellaver, Supervisor of the Ferndale Michigan Works location. “We feel this program is important in assisting work authorized immigrants and legal refugees in their transition.”

With such great diversity in Oakland County, the Ferndale Michigan Works office specifically received a wealth of community support in establishing the pilot program. “We have experienced an outpouring of support in our community for this program and look forward to assisting as many individuals as possible,” Pamela said.

So far, everything has gone off without a hitch, and the program is operating as anticipated. “We have not experienced any challenges to date as we continue to spread the word about this excellent program,” she adds proudly. The pilot offers a wide variety of services to its participants, assisting with everything from pre-employment information sharing to post-employment professional licensure services and career advancement training.

WHEN A NEW CITIZEN enters a MichiganWorks pilot office, its employees will first determine whether he or she is eligible to receive assistance from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) adult, dislocated worker, or youth programs. A one-stop delivery system assists with outreach, intake and orientation to the program’s information. “Work-authorized immigrants referred for navigator-facilitated career services will be pre-screened to ensure that they have legal authorization to work in the United States and that they possess documentation to support their status,” according to the official issuance.

Officials clarify that the program is only for legal, documented American citizens, stating, “It is not the intent of this program to serve undocumented immigrants or anyone who does not have legal authorization to work in the United States.”

Once citizenship is determined, the office will conduct an initial skills assessment designed to enable career counselors to garner a better picture of each participant’s specific needs. These assessments include literacy, numeracy, and English language proficiency testing, as well as aptitudes and abilities (including skills gaps) assessments, and determinations of supportive service requirements.

After the center has an idea of what will benefit a particular individual, a list of available job openings will be provided and he or she will undergo job searches and placement assistance, as well as career counseling as needed. Information regarding in-demand industries and occupations will be offered, as well as tips regarding needed skills to obtain vacant positions, industry earnings, opportunities for advancement, and workforce and labor market employment statistics.

If necessary, referrals to other programs will be offered, including additional workforce development programs the individual may be eligible for. Upon request, participants will receive assistance and referrals to various other services that will help in his or her transition, including language acquisition or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, housing, health care and child care assistance, transportation options, opportunities to receive a high school diploma or professional licensure, public assistance, legal and financial services, and civil rights information. According to the policy, “Each navigator will be required to maintain a robust network of federal, state, local, philanthropic and faith-based organizations.”

Ferndale residents who know of any refugees or “asylees” who may benefit from pilot program can contact their local Michigan Works office at 248-545-0222.

By Maggie Boleyn

PSSSST…FERNDALE ISN’T JUST A HIP HAVEN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. Ferndale’s more senior citizens are a very active, and very involved part of the city as well.

Jeannie Davis, president of the Ferndale Senior Group, says the group provides a “new outlet for socialization.” She adds that board members strive to “work very hard to make the senior experience more enjoyable.”

Davis, who also writes the seniors column for Ferndale Friends, said her goal is “to make the group more visible.” She adds that Ferndale Seniors are an active group within the community, participating in events like selling T-shirts for the Woodward Dream Cruise, leading pub crawls, manning a rib tent and helping with other local happenings. “We are visible and viable,” she said. “We aren’t just playing bingo, and sitting and knitting.”

Indeed, the Ferndale Senior Group is also embracing technology to help seniors connect with each other and with the community at large. “I love texting the Mayor,” Davis said. The Ferndale Seniors Group also has a Facebook presence, where Davis wrote: “Ferndale Senior Group is a social group comprised of people who are 55-years and over. Being a Ferndale resident is not a requisite.”

The Ferndale Senior Group meets twice a month on the second and fourth Wednesdays at 11:00 A.M., at the Kulick Center on Livernois. “These meetings aren’t just gabfests,” Davis promises. “It’s always a learning experience.” Recent guest speakers included a visitor from the Ferndale Historical Museum and the group also hosts a candidate forum, where attendees can meet, greet and ask questions of candidates running for office.

Elected officials also visit the Ferndale’s Senior Group although, as Davis hastens to clarify, “We are not a political group.” The visits are merely to provide information to attendees. Politicians and candidates do well to court senior voters. According to ElectProject.org, at any time, more than half of registered voters over the age of 60 can be relied upon to cast a ballot in elections. In presidential voting years, 70 per cent of registered seniors will cast a vote, in person or by absentee ballot.

Davis notes that a mayoral town hall is also another feature of the Senior Group. She said that plans are in the works for Mayor Dave Coulter to hold a town hall meeting at the Kulick Center on October 11. “Anyone can come,” Davis added.

The Ferndale Senior Group also offers short day trips to nearby places such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Zoo, Cranbrook, and the River Walk on the Detroit River in Downtown Detroit. “We’re constantly looking for different things,” Davis says. “We want to give them something more to talk about than daytime TV and aches and pains,” she adds. The group offers a wide variety of inexpensive things for people to do.

The Senior Group allows anyone to attend meetings; however, persons who become members receive discounted rates for events and activities, Davis says.

Money Magazine pointed out that “The best places to age well have lots of jobs, good public transportation and active communities.” Davis, who retired from running her own business as a real estate appraiser, considers Ferndale as a “senior-friendly” city. “Ferndale is a very walk-able community,” she said. “Also, we love the ‘businesses on Nine’, especially Western Market.” Davis says. She adds that Ferndale’s Metro Detroit location means there are plenty of opportunities for visiting cultural venues and volunteering.

Davis, who has lived in Ferndale since 1960s, concludes that Ferndale seems “genuinely fond of seniors.

By David Wesley & stephanie loveless

SEVEN YEARS AFTER MICHELLE MIROWSKI LAID THE FOUNDATION for the Underwood V radio collective, and more than 20 years after free-speech activists all across the country began clamoring for access to the public airwaves…Ferndale is about to switch on the dial for our very own community radio station: 100.7 FCR FM.

The project is still in development, but as the ink dries on these pages volunteers are testing the equipment for the station. The station is expected to go live with a test signal and recorded information in the weeks ahead with a full programming schedule by Fall.

Ferndale Community Radio (FCR) is physically located inside of the Rust Belt Market at the northwest corner 9 Mile and Woodward. Owners Chris and Tiffany Best have generously offered rent-free space for the FCR broadcast studio, as well as a place on the Rust Belt roof for the essential tower and antenna.

FCR is a 100-watt LPFM (short for Low Power Frequency Modulation) station, with a projected broadcast range of perhaps two miles in any direction. We’re about to find out exactly how far FCR will reach, as soon as all the bugs get worked out. LPFM stations are required to make sure their signal does not interfere with existing, mega-watt commercial stations. Because of the congestion on the radio dial, FCR is likely to be the only LPFM station licensed in the Metro-Detroit area in the foreseeable future!

LPFM licenses are only available to community-oriented, educational, non-profit organizations. In this case, the non-profit behind FCR is Underwood V, a collective founded by Mirowski and friends. Board members include Mirowski, president; Dave Phillips, secretary/social media; Dave Kim, treasurer/promotions; Jeremy Olstyn, programming/training; and Keith Fraley, radio engineer. They are looking to fill DJ and other station positions. Interested volunteers should contact
ferndaleradio@gmail.com.

THE MISSION OF THE STATION is to provide a kind of “hyper-local programming” that is impossible to find anywhere else on the dial. Their mission statement speaks of “community engagement, promotion of community events, specialty broadcast, and more. Potential programming for the station includes: On-air book clubs, interviews with local news-makers, coverage of government and board meetings, sports coverage,” etc.

The road to Ferndale’s first and only community radio station began over 20 years ago, when LPFM stations didn’t even exist. Ferndale Friends publisher Stephanie Loveless helped lead a national movement of democracy activists who ultimately convinced Congress and the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 to create the LPFM service, so that ordinary Americans could actually use the airwaves we already own. However, the powerful broadcast industry was able to limit the new rules so that it was impossible for even one LPFM station to go on the air in all of Metro Detroit.

However, eleven years later, President Obama signed legislation which loosened those rules enough so that it finally became possible for Metro Detroit to have one LPFM station – and it had to be in Ferndale!

So, FCR is practically a miracle. Our miracle. But it only exists because Michelle and her friends stepped up and applied for a construction permit when the FCC opened up a licensing window three years ago.

That was the easy part.

Next, they had to find a physical location for the studio, antenna and tower. And there were innumerable issues involving the City of Ferndale which had to be overcome: Not too many people walk into City Hall hoping to launch a non-profit community radio station, after all. This was brand-new territory for everyone involved. They had to find an engineer and a properly-qualified team for the construction of the tower and antenna. Negotiations with the landlord, etc.

This project would also require a significant amount of money – in fact, a little over $15,000 just to get started. So, on top of everything else, our worthy Underwood V volunteers were now charged with hustling up the cash, via social media, fundraisers, and underwriting agreements with local businesses. These fundraising efforts continue, and if you are interested in contributing, go to www.ferndaleradio.com. And local businesses are encouraged to underwrite the station financially in return for generous on-air mentions.

MANY TIMES OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, it looked as if the money would not be found, and the whole project would have to be scrapped. But FCR supporters refused to accept defeat, and in recent weeks the decision was made to start purchasing the necessary gear: FCR is GO!

With the help of The Rust Belt and tons of local donations and support, Michelle and her team are ready to make the fresh and impactful change in radio that will nourish local talent and influence Ferndale life through the years to come.

FCR will have an impact on the Rust Belt too. Shoppers will be able to hear the station inside while they shop and will be able to meet the FCR team. It will create a more unique shopping experience.

Ferndale Community Radio will give the Ferndale residents another tool to communicate with each other. FCR has given the city something extremely unique to look forward to as it’s extremely rare that a city has their own community station!

Once they are up-and-running, they plan to partner with lots of organizations in Ferndale. For example, the schools. This will also be a great forum for local musicians from all genres to have their music heard. This will be an avenue for the creative projects that make Ferndale so noteworthy. The station will be here soon – to enrich our already vibrant and talented community.

Initial Sponsors & Underwriters
Ferndale Friends
The Rust Belt Market
Jim Shaffer & Associates
Western Market
Stange Sports
Found Sound
Crane Optical
HiLo Guy
313 Brand Co.

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie LaFramboise

If you’ve ever had fresh eggs for breakfast,” Holly Belian says, “you’ll understand the first reason we wanted to raise hens.” Holly and her wife Julia have lived in Ferndale since the summer of 2009, and have been raising hens for the past four years.

Chickens in Ferndale? You bet.
Ferndale is one of several cities in Michigan that allow hens to be raised on your property. The list includes Berkley, Hazel Park and Royal Oak, among others. Ferndale has about two dozen personal chicken coops within the city. Holly and Julia both raised hens before, and when the opportunity became available to raise hens in Ferndale they wanted to give it a shot. They had both raised them in rural settings, in Southern Illinois and Texas, and trying it in an urban setting was intriguing.

The Details
City Ordinance No 1118 Sec 5-8 allows for residents in single-family homes to keep up to three hens in the backyard. Rental properties must supply the city with a letter of approval from the landlord. You need to submit a dimensioned site plan and pay a $35 permit fee at the time you submit your paperwork. The dimensioned site plan must include property lines, structures, set-backs, driveway and elevation of coop with materials. Plans must be to scale. Slaughtering of any chickens at the property is prohibited.

Benefits Of An Urban Farm
Besides delicious eggs, they’re part of Holly and Julia’s retirement plan.“We bought our house primarily for the extra deep backyard, and put in a big vegetable garden,” Holly said. “We also planted lots of fruit trees and bushes. Add in fresh eggs from the chickens, and we can almost become independent from store-bought foods.”

“The city presents a unique set of challenges and benefits to a homeowner,” said Laura Mikulski, who runs the web site, FerndaleChickens.com. “We have hawks and raccoons in Ferndale, which are chicken killers and strong steps have to be taken to prevent them from killing your birds. They add a layer of improvement to our sandy soil in Ferndale by way of their manure, which helps urban gardeners like myself.”
Ferndale resident Jill Marentette said hens fertilize gardens very well, and some residents might move their coops and the garden to get the maximum benefit.

Secret Garden
On a visit to Holly and Julia’s backyard, one finds more than just hens. Packed deep behind a lush growth of blackberries, peach trees and tomato plants is the coop. There, we meet Dottie (a speckled Sussex), Figaro (Austrolorp) and Lacey (double-laced Barnevelder). Their hens survive just fine in the winter, although they don’t like stepping on the snow. They also have a tiny house for shelter, warmth and, of course, laying eggs. Hens typically lay an egg about once every 25 hours. So, on a given day, Holly and Julia get anywhere from zero to three eggs. While the $35 yearly permit fee may not make eating your own eggs much more feasible than buying them at a store, nothing beats homemade. “Their eggs are amazing,” Holly said. “Truly delicious, and we know exactly what goes into them.” Even the good, organic eggs you pick up at the farmer’s market can’t stand up to getting them from your own backyard.

Pesky Or Bothersome? Hardly.
These hens don’t mind strangers, although Dottie did give me a couple pecks on the leg when I entered her turf. But who wouldn’t be protective when a strange man comes into your coop? The hens made barely a peep.Laura even touted how great it can be to get to know a hen’s personality. “They can be kind to each other, or cruel, just like people,” she said. “They have a depth to their personality that I never expected. All of this has made me even more conscious of my purchasing habits, as the environment of factory farming seems more and more impossibly cruel after you see how much joy the birds take in living and being able to do chickeny things.”

Easy Upkeep
“There is almost no maintenance,” Holly said. “Feed has to be bought, but three hens don’t eat much. And instead of scraps going into the compost heap, we give them to the chickens to supplement. Fresh water every few days in their thermos. We also provide some grit to help them process the eggs, and diatomaceous earth to roll in during the summer to keep them bug free.” Holly and Julia clean or resurface their yard two times a year, and regularly check the yard to make sure it’s secure from critters. Julia said they do see some digging from time to time, but their hens have never been in danger.

Learn More
Do you know anybody who raises hens? Interested in pursuing it yourself? Check out ferndalechickens.com for easy-to-find and easy-to-read information on what Ferndale residents needs to know. You’ll also find help tips and education blog posts. “We support each other and communicate in times of need,” Laura said. “This is true of Ferndale and beyond. Neighboring cities use Facebook and social media to reach out to fellow chicken keepers for advice and help when medical needs arise.”

EACH YEAR, ONE SPECIAL INDIVIDUAL who personifies the purpose of the Sierra Club’s Green Cruise is awarded the title of “Green Cruiser of the Year.” On July 25th, the Southeast Michigan Group chapter announced Thomas E. Page as the 2017 winner of this honor for his activism and connection to the biking community. The SEMG chooses this person based on the actions they’ve taken in the previous year to promote the cause of bicycling.

Page, a Detroit resident, is the 13th recipient of the title and previous winners include Andrew Staub in 2016 and Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll and Detroit Bike City, in 2015.

Page is a native Detroiter, and attended the University of Detroit. He served as a Detroit police officer for three years, and is currently retired. He has been active in fundraising for bike repair stations and bicycles for students at the University of Detroit Mercy.

The Green Cruiser of the Year award will be presented to Page on September 9th at the Green Cruise.

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Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos by Bernie LaFramboise

ANGELA MARIE LIPPARD IS AN ADVOCATE in every sense of the word. Through her job at the Area Agency on Aging B-1, she helps aid older LGBTQ adults in receiving assistance and promotes learning and acceptance. Lippard also volunteers with Christ the Good Shepherd church as a deacon, where she works to represent the church as a supportive, safe place.

Lippard spoke to me about what she has learned through advocacy, how others can get involved and, of course, her love for Ferndale

IS: What sparked your involvement and advocacy with the LGBTQ community?
AML: I am married to a man, so most people presume I’m straight, but I am a part of the community; I’m an out bisexual. Those in the LGBT community have always been in my circle of friends and part of my family of choice.

IS: Can you tell me more about your job at Area Agency on Aging 1-B and projects that involve LGBTQ outreach?
AML: I have been employed at the Agency for over ten years. The information we offer ranges from housing to funding for long term care to Medicare basics. Last fiscal year, our call center received just under 90,000 calls. Our agency is a non-profit.

I am so very thankful to work for an agency that has long been LGBT affirming. We have staff dedicated to training healthcare and other human service professionals on best practices when providing services to LGBT older adults.

Because I could attend several trainings for serving LGBT older adults and the knowledge I’ve gained from serving the LGBTQ community, I have been utilized to train staff at our agency. This was an honor, because it gave me the opportunity to be out to agency staff, and spend more time talking about the trans population and give staff resources.

IS: Tell me more about the Christ the Good Shepherd Church and your volunteer work as Deacon?
AML: I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Detroit Mercy,
and while I’ve been employed in human services my call to ministry never went away. As a deacon I officiate weddings, which has included some of my dearest friends in the LGBT community. I offer funeral and memorial services. I also preach at Mass, and provide support to our church members.
Our church is new and our community is still growing. However, we have very gifted clergy in our priests and other fellow deacons. We have a community that is very giving, too. Most of my work as a deacon is outside the church. I make sure our church is represented at Ferndale Pride and Transgender Pride in the Park. I also try to attend every event for the transgender community to show support. I will volunteer when possible, but I am careful just to attend because that is a space for me to listen and people in the trans community to be heard.

IS: Why do you think this advocacy is important and what advice do you have for others wanting to get involved?
AML: Outside of caring and acting out of genuine concern for others, we better ourselves by advocating for the marginalized. There are several areas to advocate…Show up, learn and listen. I encourage people to go to events like the Transgender Day of Remembrance (November) and Transgender Day of Visibility (March). Read stories from diverse perspectives within the LGBT community—remember the ‘T’—remember people of color and people with diverse economic backgrounds. If you listen and learn, the community will tell you what they need from you and how and where to advocate.

IS: What made you choose Ferndale?
AML: I have always had a connection to the city. My mom has worked in Ferndale for 38 years. I went to school at the University of Detroit Mercy, so Ferndale was a regular hang-out when I was in college.
In 2005, I moved to a small apartment in Ferndale. My husband, Paul Collom (I kept my last name), moved in not too long after. Paul and I bought a house in Ferndale in 2009. More specifically, my husband and I come from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and we wanted to live in a community that was not only open to, but celebrated, diversity.

IS: What is your favorite thing about Ferndale?
AML: I love that Ferndale has the feeling and energy of a large city, but small enough where I can get to know people in the community—where elected officials know my name and are willing to hear my concerns.

I hope people make a commitment to keep our city diverse and welcoming.

By Mary Meldrum

MANY FERNDALE RESIDENTS KNOW DR. FRANK MISKENA as the veterinarian/owner of the West Woodward Animal Hospital on Nine Mile Road. Many are unaware of his amazing history and experience as soldier and diplomat.

Born in Baghdad in 1949 to a Royal Iraqi Air Force officer, Dr. Miskena graduated from Baghdad University at age 22 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine and surgery. He served as an officer in the Iraqi army, including a two-year tour in the country’s northern section as a company commander, veterinarian and translator. After that, he returned to the university as an instructor of veterinary parasitology.

Fleeing Iraq after Saddam Hussein rose to power, Dr. Miskena immigrated to the United States in 1977 and soon earned a master’s degree in pathology from Michigan State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He became an American citizen in 1983. The next year, he joined the U.S. Army as a captain and served on active duty for 12 years.

In 1996, he moved to the Detroit area and bought a small animal hospital. That same year, he transferred to the Army Reserves and served his adopted country as a civil affairs officer for more than a decade. He was the senior cultural advisor on numerous deployments to several nations with many different units, including Kosovo and Iraq. In this position he acted as an ambassador, and provided a friendly outreach to troops of all nations.

In 2003, he became the cultural advisor to the U.S. commanding general in Iraq and served as the political/military foreign advisor for the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) Command. Dr. Miskena achieved the rank of colonel and is a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal, the Bronze Star for meritorious service, as well as many other awards both from the United States and Iraq. Until his retirement on March 9, 2009, he had the distinction of being the highest ranking Iraqi-American in the U.S. Army.

Besides his veterinary degree, Dr. Miskena likes to point out with a wink that he has earned numerous degrees from the Universities of Experience and Lifelong Learning. Recently, Dr. Miskena wrote a book to share his knowledge and experience in forging friendships among disparate cultures. In the copy-editing process of publication at the time this article was written, it is expected to be available in the next few months. Warrior Diplomat, by Dr. Frank Miskena is a compilation of his mostly military stories throughout his life, and the great lessons he learned from them.

Although in the course of his travels and international military work he has become a friend and ally of people from many countries, the majority of the experiences he describes are between the people of the United States and the nations of the Middle East. Many of the topics, examples and recommendations are common to all people trying to understand or integrate into another culture. Readers can learn from someone who is completely comfortable in both cultures how U.S. soldiers and Iraqis in particular interact, as well as some of the different ways they see themselves and each other. The book is full of human interest stories from Dr. Miskena’s own experience. Many of the stories are the same used when teaching cultural awareness training to members of the militaries of the United States, Iraq, and other countries.

He has been proud to serve his adopted country as a specialist in Political and Cultural Affairs here in America, in Kosovo, and during two deployments in Iraq. These adventures enabled him to bridge cultures and to promote the understanding and appreciation so sorely needed to bring about peace and security in these regions.

“Our Iraqi brothers are learning how to deal with each other, but there is still much infighting,” explains Miskena. “Some are coming to their senses and are realizing they have to prove to the populace that they are the party to vote for because of constructive policies, not clan affiliations.”

Our Greatest Challenge
Dr. Miskena realizes that remain many questions as to how to bring about full safety and stability in Iraq. He understands that the United States is a super-power with the capability of winning conflicts by force, but he believes that the greatest challenge we face is winning the peace; what we have to get better at is waging peace.

“My hope is that both military and civilians will come to a greater awareness of the benefit and the absolute need for mutual cultural appreciation in every aspect of global society in the 21st Century.”
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over, and there are still many roadblocks to the path of peace, but Miskena believes we are taking the first steps. He believes that his birth country is on the long road to democracy.

Frank’s Philosophy
Power lies with the people, not in oil or agriculture. Miskena believes that we need to help the Iraqi people build their identity again. Iraq civilization has a rich culture and history of art and education. A big believer in literacy and higher education, the state of the Iraqi education system – which was extremely good when he was growing up in Iraq – is presently very disappointing to Miskena, who sees it as the only way Iraq will ever gain stability and distinguish itself again.

“I am sitting between two nations all the time. And here is the beauty of how I think. Twice, I went up to see God and came back. Two heart attacks almost killed me. When you think you’re almost carrying your life in your palm, you see power doesn’t mean a thing.”

He has seen the horrors of war. In reference to Abu Ghraib, where Iraqi prisoners were housed: “It has a smell I can’t forget. It smells like death.”

A gentle man who envisions a peaceful future, he sees that we could help a farmer in Afghanistan to plant wheat and not poppies.

“I am a diplomat and a warrior. Also, I am a healer because I am a doctor. I care about the human part of the globe, but also I am a veterinarian. I care about the human/animal bond. Animals show ultimate love, that is, not to seek anything in return. I want to give more than I take.”

Photo and story by Kevin Alan Lamb

NO MATTER YOUR TRADE OR PASSION, all roads leading in the direction towards progress are paved with fear, frustration, and doubt. The secret you see – finding something inside of you that no one can take away – something that is yours, God-given, but man-made, and hold onto it. Be driven by faith in your abilities and efforts, and find a way to remind yourself of the vision no matter the breakdowns and pit stops along the way.

Creative careers will never stop testing you; that is why they are the most beautiful and satisfying. The life of an actor isn’t an easy one, but it sure is remarkable for those who navigate the journey. Folks like Bello Pizzimenti.

Pizzimenti was born in Ferndale, and attended the Detroit Waldorf School where he performed his first plays. He later attended Cranbrook upper school, where he lived in residence throughout his high school years. While performing in the annual winter musical, he was discovered by a Canadian director who invited him to join an international production of Les Miserables in Windsor, Ontario. This proved to be the launching pad for his life and long road towards assuming the role of other identities on stage. After attending Western Michigan University, where he received his BFA in musical theatre, Pizzimenti chased his dreams to live in Harlem and pursue a career in the biggest city in the world.

Q: What are some of the more significant memories you hold on to from your time with “Les Mis,” in Windsor?
A: I remember the moment my high school choir teacher told me right after a performance that a director from Canada had been at our show, and that he was specifically interested in me for his production. That was very exciting. I remember the day of my audition for the show, which if I remember correctly was also my first day of rehearsal. We were essentially inside a storage space in a warehouse in Windsor. I thought I was just singing for the music director and the director, because they were the only ones in the room with me. What I didn’t know was that the two young men playing Enjolras and Javert were in the next room listening to me as well. I finished singing, and they came out with huge grins on their faces to greet me and welcome me to the cast. Shortly afterward the rest of the cast arrived, and we started rehearsing.

Most importantly, I remember the friendships. Some of the best times of my life were had that Summer, and in the following years during my regular trips to Windsor. I had a sense of belonging and a sense of self-confidence that I had not had before. It was the summer that made me feel that a professional life in theatre was for me.

Q: What was one of the best and worst moments from your time in Harlem pursuing acting after undergrad?
A: Some of the best: Being cast in a workshop performance of Tectonic Theater Project’s adaptation of Carmen. I got to work with Moises Kaufman and the rest of the team, as well as a powerhouse cast of performers. We presented at the Guggunheim, and when one of the other performers had to go to the hospital the day of the performance, I stepped in on short notice to cover his solos. Moises was impressed by me and I was subsequently called back several times for a full production of the show, though I was ultimately not cast.

And, performing in my only NYC-based full-length professional play, BACK by Mickey Bolmer. As a cast we were encouraged to explore and to have fun, and I found myself feeling very free, loving, and open as a result. It was a professional experience in which I could truly say that I enjoyed the process.

Some of the worst: Botching several of my opportunities with Tectonic, and subsequently being called in for them less and less often. Feeling that I did not live up to the potential that Moses saw in me. Accidentally not learning the entire musical cut required for an audition, leading to a very embarrassing situation for everyone in the room. Dealing with contracts and/or offers that conflict with each other. I’ve probably gotten stomach ulcers panicking about these situations over the years.

Q: What drives your passion for acting?
A: These days, I don’t know. I used to be in it for fun. Then I was in it for success, recognition and money. Now I’m in it because it’s the only skill I have that people are nice enough to pay me for.

Q: Tell us about Chasing the Star…
A: It’s an independent film by Collective Development Inc., a Michigan-based film company I first worked for during my senior year in undergrad. We shot it in the desert of Yuma, AZ, which was awesome because it was my first time getting to go to a very specific environment for a shoot. It made it feel much more authentic for me as an actor, and I think it makes the film much more authentic feeling as well. Plotwise, it’s the story of the Three Magi essentially. There isn’t a ton of source material on their backstory (to my knowledge), so a lot of the circumstances come from the imagination of the writer, which is all to the good as it makes the three men much more human. They are all flawed, and have to reconcile their past over the course of the story. I play the youngest Magi of the three, Gasper.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: Who knows? Best-case scenario is I stay honest with myself and listen to my gut, intuition, whatever you want to call it. Maybe I’ll end up in a rock quarry. Maybe I’ll just read books and hide from the world. Maybe I’ll keep acting. Maybe I’ll find something else. Hopefully, I’ll be there when and if people need me.

By Mary Meldrum

JACK ARONSON, WELL-KNOWN FOUNDER OF GARDEN FRESH GOURMET in Ferndale, remembers people who would come into his shop to apply for a job, and had to bring their sister or their mother or a friend because they could not read, write or comprehend the application. They needed help with the very fundamentals of securing a job. That stuck with him.

Now, after both growing and selling their business, Jack and Annette Aronson have formed a foundation of their own and they are throwing a large amount of their money, almost all of their time, and a colossal amount of energy toward local literacy programs. Their level of giving back to Ferndale and the surrounding area is stunning.

Jack is chairman of the board for the non-profit Beyond Basics, which is a 501(c)(3) student-centered, literacy non-profit, serving students in Detroit public schools since 2002. Jack and Annette are also the driving force behind the younger program, The Ferndale Literacy Project, in Ferndale High School.
With as much as 60 per cent of Ferndale High School’s student population migrating from surrounding communities, Ferndale has been overwhelmed with students who arrive reading several grade levels below where they are supposed to be. The Ferndale Literacy Project is designed to address that.

“Reading is the springboard for everything,” contends Jack. He is passionate about helping kids to get on the right track early. Speaking to the skill levels in our country, he adds, “Reading in the United States is a catastrophe right now.”

He is right. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, it was estimated in 2013 that approximately 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read, and 21 per cent of adults read below a fifth grade level. And worse, 19 per cent of high school graduates cannot read. It has not improved since
2013.

Locally, the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund reports that 47 per cent of people in Detroit are illiterate. In nearby suburbs, up to one-third are functionally illiterate. That 47 per cent represents approximately 200,000 souls who have significant trouble with reading, speaking, writing and computational skills – everything a person needs to function in this world as a productive adult.

Within the tri-county region, there are a number of municipalities with illiteracy rates rivaling Detroit: Southfield at 24 per cent, Warren at 17 per cent and Pontiac at 34 per cent.

Nationwide, as much as 85 per cent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 per cent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. That means a full two-thirds or more of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail, in continuous conflict with the law, and/or on welfare. They can’t get jobs; they can’t get mortgages or cars and are mostly doomed to remain under-educated and flounder in poverty.

It is thought that low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs, but a recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher. Factors that contribute to illiteracy include poverty, parental involvement (or lack thereof), domestic violence and other overarching life crises that are out of the control of the student.

This is not about stupidity. This is about circumstances, and often those circumstances include a multi-generational problem – a legacy of illiteracy. Parents who cannot read themselves cannot teach their children to read, or help them with homework, or demonstrate to them what a life of literacy would look like. Many are children who grow up without a single book in their house; nobody has ever read to them; nobody has ever read them a bedtime story.

But most of these students want help. They ache for success, and they realize that they can never achieve it without the basic skill of reading.

In the report from the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, they place a particular focus on the lack of resources available to those hoping to better educate themselves, and that fewer than 10 per cent of those in need of help are actually receiving it.

If you can connect the dots, all this highlights in a dramatic way that this is not a problem . . . this is The Problem. This is the national crisis at the crux of everything that is going wrong in our country. Those who cannot read are screwed — and so are we if we don’t step up and help them.

Recovery of literacy in our youth is paramount to a better community and a better life for everyone. Jack Aronson understands the enormous burden illiteracy places on society, and the costly repercussions of standing by and not pitching in to change outcomes for the children in our community.

Ferndale Literacy Project
Stephanie Scobie is the reading specialist who has been hired to run the Ferndale Literacy Project which is embedded inside Ferndale High School and funded through the Ferndale school system. As they approach the end of their maiden year with 50 students enrolled in the program, she expresses that there has been some great progress and success so far.

“One student tested at the third-grade reading level at the beginning of the year, and in March of this year he is now reading at the eighth-grade level,” she smiles. That same tenth-grade student will be tested again before school lets out for the summer, and there is reason to believe he will be reading at the ninth-grade level by June. Stephanie goes on to describe how his progress in reading has changed this young man’s outlook, his self-confidence, and his actual physical presentation.
“He actually walks taller now and doesn’t hunch over anymore.”

People who can read generally take it for granted, but for those who cannot read or who struggle, illiteracy amounts to being ashamed of your mind. That shame is exquisitely painful for children in school when they are asked to read in front of the class, or when they bring home failing grades semester after semester, while their classmates can brag about getting As and Bs.

Children who are ashamed of their inability to read tend to avoid reading because it makes them feel terrible and embarrassed. There is a real fear in these children that they are not smart. Fear, shame, embarrassment, frustration and confusion all inhibit the ability for students to learn under normal circumstances. Add to this the other burdens of poverty, possible poor health and maybe not knowing where their next meal is coming from, and it is little wonder these kids can’t concentrate on a pop quiz or finish homework. Many are just navigating life by the seat of their pants every day with little security and nobody coming to their rescue.

The Ferndale Literacy program researched and invested in Vanderbuilt University’s computerized reading program, Read 180, which allows students to choose a topic they are interested in and it individualizes the stories to the child’s reading level.

Ferndale High School has dedicated a large room for its literacy project. Jack and Annette Aronson put up the money, and hired a team that has come in and painted and organized and stocked the space. They made it a clean, updated the room with new chairs and desks, shelves, books, white boards and markers. Part of the room is designed as a coffee and lounging space with several new armchairs. Once a month Jack and Annette bring in lunch for the kids, and several times a month snacks are available in the coffee and lounge area. Today the lunch consists of pizza, chicken, subs, cookies, chips and water bottles.

Children can relax and listen to their Read 180 program. This room is their haven and represents an amazing opportunity for these students to transform their lives and their future. The ability to read will not only impact their families, but also the trajectory of their lives, and they seem to know it.

Boots on the Ground . . . Your Boots
This program is young and, although they are experiencing good progress after only one year, it needs a lot of support. Jack and Annette Aronson’s foundation has contributed $100,000 to the Ferndale School System to launch and support this program, and to date, it has only 50 children enrolled. This Fall they hope to enroll 100 high school students into the literacy project. To handle that increase, more funding must be secured. Jack and Annette are asking for your help. Please contact Carol Jackson at cjackson0205@gmail.com to find out how you can get involved and make a difference. Goals can be reached if many contribute at least a little. The money donated to the Ferndale Literacy Project is passed through entirely. There are no administration costs involved, so every dollar has a direct impact. They are in the process of putting together a system where donors can make a smaller monthly contribution of $5 or $10 or $25 with an automatic withdrawal. In the meantime, please also consider making a larger donation, or ask about how you can volunteer your time to become a book buddy, a tutor or a mentor.

Another way you can help is to go to the Ferndale Literacy Project Facebook Page and like and share the heck out of the posts that come across your newsfeed. Help to spread awareness of the program. If you have some free time and any skills that might be of use to this organization, please contact Carol Jackson at the email address above.

This program is not only advancing the reading skills of students today, but helping the students to experience the joy of reading. With our help, they can break the cycle of multi-generational illiteracy and will ‘pay forward’ what they have learned to their children and community in the years to come.

These students are the pathway to successful futures in business, education, politics and community. Please help fund this project so it will continue for years to come. Any and all donations, no matter the size, are graciously accepted.