Nyack Sketch Log: Blue Rock School

by Bill Batson

Where in Rockland County can you find the Thorny Passage or the Gate Leading to Nowhere and Everywhere. In a fantasy written by J.R.R Tolkien or J.K. Rowling on the shelf of a local library? On a stage, as the name of an obscure work by Edward Albee or Samuel Beckett? If you guessed a converted turkey farm in West Nyack, you’d be right. These landmarks, christened by children, are on the grounds of the Blue Rock School, a K-8 learning community where kids play and imagine as hard as they study.

Clare Potter

The main building at Blue Rock has a fairy-tale quality.  Once -upon-a-time a turkey farm, the property was purchased in the 1930s by Clare Potter, the fashion designer credited with creating American Sports wear and her architect husband, J. Sanford Potter. They called the place where they designed clothing and buildings Timbertop, which became the name of her clothing line. Residue from their sartorial and architectural endeavors must have enchanted the soil. Found object sculptures, a totem pole, and the rough-hewn seats of an outdoor amphitheater have risen up on the land where turkeys were once raised.

Blue Rock School is the fourth incarnation of the educational vision of Margaret Flinsch, the grandmother of the current Director Caty Laignel. Flinsch created her first school in Princeton, New Jersey in the 1920s. She was inspired by the needs of working class women. Flinsch sought to “help mothers who had to make a choice between the income they so desperately needed and the care of their children during working hours,” according to the Princeton Nursery School website. When African American families registered, initial funding was withdrawn. “My grandmother was horrified. She confronted that prejudice. She forged ahead and was able to found the school,” Laignel said.

Blue Rock School founder Margaret Flinsch

Decades later, while working with parents and teachers in North Carolina in 1982, Flinsch incorporated her humanistic and creative approach into a school that took its name from the blue rock face on the mountain above the original school house in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As a  progressive and teacher driven educational model, when many of the transplanted New York staff members longed for home, the school was relocated; first to the historic one-room school house on Oak Tree Road in Palisades in 1987 and then, to Clare’s turkey and fashion farm in 1990. Flinsch remained active in the school throughout her life, attending meetings up to the age of 102.

Laignel has been at Blue Rock for 18 years. Her background is with arts education and performance organizations. In addition to running the school, Laignel leads the drama program. “Teachers strike the philosophical tone of the school. They are passionate people, continually invested in how children learn across all subject areas,”Laignel said.

In keeping with some of the best practices in education that prioritize problem solving and play, Blue Rock students can be found outside year round, no matter the weather. Even on clear days, rain gear is on stand-by, in case skies turn gray. “The children are very hands on at Blue Rock. Working hard. Raising chickens. We have a garden. We participate in clean up. It’s about having agency and making an effort, feeling your own power to make change,” Laignel described.

While you can track mud into the classrooms, digital devices must be left at home  “Already, around the founding of the school in the 80s and early 90s there was a lot of concern about children and television. About children becoming passive, and being exposed to commercial interests, about children searching externally for happiness apart from their imaginations and play,” Laignel said.

This philosophy also addresses our current age of ubiquitous online media bombardment.  You won’t find children staring at screens anywhere on the Blue Rock campus.

Their stated goal is to create a secure setting where children can discover, for themselves, the relationship between ideas, skills and expression. Their literature describes the school as a place where thoughts, feelings and aspirations are developed through relationships with teachers and peers.

Flinsch was informed by Marie Winn’s “Unplugging the plug-in drug.” A television producer, Winn argued that watching too much television can be detrimental to a child’s development and to family life. “I grew up with passion for books. I was brought up on story telling,” Laignel said.

Blue Rock 30th Anniversay

Moonlight Masquerade

On Saturday, April 28th the Blue Rock School will celebrate its 30th Anniversary in Rockland County. Free and open to the public, the teachers will host workshops and collaborative art experiences, older students will share their projects and alumni will speak. In the evening there will be a Moonlight Masquerade Dance and Silent Auction at the Nyack Center. For more information on the day and tickets for the dance click here:

Summer Play Camp

A refreshingly simple and creative approach to summer fun, Summer Play Camp at Blue Rock School offers a variety of hands-on activities for children ages 3-12 on our charming, wooded campus. Children can engage in puppetry, woodworking, swimming, cooking, sewing, chess, science & nature, art, music, drama, outdoor games, water play, hula hooping and much more! Five-week program, M-F 9:30-3. Click here for rates, campus tour and registration details.

Each year at Blue Rock starts with a story, told by Laignel, that is based on a theme developed by the faculty.  Last year the theme was India. This year’s theme is indigenous people all over the world. A recent play was staged that explored, Native American, African and Mayan cultures.

“We focus on the self and the community, on emotional health and collaborative skills, the ability to live with others, what we call grit, the effort muscle, resilience and powering through. Learning is when you make mistakes and keep trying and figure it out. This approach has led our graduates to excel in various fields. They are interested in learning and have the essential skills that apply whether they become scientists, writers, doctors, architects or artists” Laignel said.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy provided Blue Rock a lesson plan in resilience. “Our school lost eleven trees, a van, and a well-loved tree house built by the Middle School,” Laignel told Natural Awakenings Magazine. “Given that no one in our school community sustained injuries, we felt extremely grateful as we put the school back in shape over the next week. On our first day back in session, the children and teachers gathered together for a story that highlighted the importance of cherishing our time on earth, the need for change in the cycle of life, and the impermanent nature of all things. Everyone then headed outside to help clear the play areas and grounds. Wishing to get their play spaces in order to return to favorite games and activities, the children took on the clearing of brush with great gusto and camaraderie,” she continued.

The environs of the school, shaped by the winds of extreme weather and the hands of current or former students was the model for a collective landscape portrait project in April 13.  On that day, I organized a Flash Sketch Mob at Blue Rock School, a public art event that was inspired by the Nyack Sketch Log.

On most days, the energy at Blue Rock is a throw-back to the time before technology relegated children into their own digital silos, when summer vacations and weekends witnessed a pack of indefatigable children in perpetual motion. But when given the task of observing and recording the school, the intensity of each student’s focus was astonishing. “There was a happy buzz all day about how quiet, focused  and peaceful the children all were during the sketch mob,” Laignel said.

The photos taken of the Flash Sketch Mob by Kindergarten teacher Lucia Gratch begin to capture the playful and profound spirit of Blue Rock School. I suspect that every day in this magic kingdom imagineered by 89 students and 20 staff members has a similar vibe.

When you visit Blue Rock School, you’ll be startled at how quickly you’ll find yourself transported to that recent analog past, where learning meant getting your hands dirty building a fort, crawling through a thorny passage and opening up a gate to nowhere and everywhere.

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On Saturday,  April 28th the Blue Rock Scchool will celebrate its 30th Anniversary in Rockland County. Free and open to the public, the teachers will host workshops and collaborative art experiences, older students will share their projects and alumni will speak. In the evening there will be a Moonlight Masquerade Dance and Silent Auction at the Nyack Center. For more information on the day and tickets for the dance click here:

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Blue Rock School © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Sam Waymon is on a Rock & Roll

by Bill Batson

Sam Waymon did Nina Simone, his late sister, proud when he came to the microphone at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony on April 14th. “They said I had three minutes, I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I’m going to take the time necessary to say what I got to say,” Waymon declared. Any Nina Simone fan knows that if she hadn’t passed away in France in 2003 and been in Detroit for her induction, she would have said the same thing. But the job of taking the stage was left to Waymon, whose own legend as a singer and composer, and a defender of his sister’s legacy, continues to grow.

You can welcome Sam home from Motown on Record Shop Day, Saturday, April 21 at Kiam Records Shop at 95 Main Street at 1p.  (Kiam will open at 8a with free donuts and coffee from Boxer donuts. Traditionally, lines form early) Waymon will be signing deluxe color vinyl editions of the original soundtrack for Ganja & Hess, a groundbreaking film from 1973 that Spike Lee remade in 2015.

Over the last three years, Waymon has been on a (rock and) roll. Picking up an award for his sister at a nationally televised event one week and attending an album release the next are just two dates on his R&B renaissance timeline. Here are a few more of Waymon’s recent triumphs:

    • Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
      In February 2015, Spike Lee’s remade of Ganga and Hess titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus premiered. The reboot featured Waymon’s song, You’ve Got to Learn. Ganja & Hess, released in1973, and directed by Bill Gunn, contains Waymon’s music and his performance in a scene shot in the Nyack Center when it was an active church. Ganja & Hess is the story of a black vampire. The film was honored as one of the ten best American films of the 1970s by the Cannes Film Festival.
    • Hell-bound Train, Heaven-Bound Travelers and Verdict: Not Guilty
      In July, 2015 Waymon wrote the music for the new Library of Congress/Kino Lorber released restoration of these pioneering African American films, made by an evangelical Christian couple, James and Eloyce Gist, during the 1920s through the 1940s.
    • Personal Problems
      Billed as the first all-black soap opera and shot in the 1980s, Bill Gunn and Ishmael Reed’s Personal Problems, had its first U.S. theatrical release in March of 2018. Waymon stars as a character described in one review as a “smooth-ass musician”with mellifluous tunes and dapper charm.

Sam Waymon in Nyack

Waymon moved to Nyack in the 1970s with the independent filmmaker Bill Gunn where they commenced a creative collaboration that produced the script and soundtrack for Ganja and Hess, a classic cult movie that blends afrocentric themes and vampirism. They lived in a house in Upper Nyack.

Sam Waymon’s R&B Renaissance


Record Store Day
StrangeDisc Records will release a deluxe color vinyl edition of the original soundtrack Ganja & Hess, 1973, a groundbreaking film that Spike Lee remade in 2015 – Waymon wrote the music for the film and gave a powerful performance as a preacher from the pulpit of the church that is now the Nyack Center. Only 1000 records have been printed. Waymon will be at Kiam to sign copies. Free donuts and coffee from Boxer Donut.  Doors open at 8a. Line forms earlier. All this fun on Saturday, April 21 at 1p at Kiam Records Shop, 95 Main Street, Nyack.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Broadcast
The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will air on HBO at 8p EST on April 29

Maureen’s Jazz Cellar 
Sam Waymon and Jeff Doctorow will present Piano Meets Guitar on Friday, May 11 at 8p and 9:30p. $15. Doors open at 6p. Maureen’s Jazz Cellar is located at 2 North Broadway.

Go Fund Me
Concurrent with these professional triumphs, Sam is having some health and housing difficulties. In addition to his search for stable and affordable housing, last month, Sam found out he would need to undergo a second round of radiation treatment for a very rare form of skin cancer. Visit Sam’s Go Fund Me here.

The home overlooking the Hudson was built by Daniel Perry in the 1830s. Perry operated a boat building business from the property. Perry’s descendants sold the home to screen writing legend, Ben Hecht in 1929. Hecht came to Nyack to be close to his writing partner Charles MacArthur. In a confluence that foreshadowed the activities of Waymon and Gunn, Hecht divided his time between cultural and political activities. Hecht was a major supporter of the Zionist cause and used the home for fundraising events and strategy meetings.

When Waymon and Gunn arrived in 1969, one of their first visitors was Charles MacArthur’s wife, Helen Hayes, who regaled the newcomers with stories of pool parties held by the former occupants. Hayes’ welcoming gesture is remembered fondly by Waymon as one of the most meaningful days at the residence, on a par with their audience with the President of Nigeria and literary gatherings that included Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, and Gunn’s closest friend James Baldwin.

But the most memorable and certainly most choreographed visit was from the heavyweight champion of the world. In 1975, Minister Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, learned that Gunn was being considered to write the script for an autobiographical film of the life of his disciple, Muhammad Ali. Before a deal could be struck, Gunn and Waymon were flown out to Chicago to meet with Minister Muhammad. Upon their return, they got a call from the boxer.  Even though the spiritual leader had given his blessing, Ali would not agree until he met Gunn at his home. The visit was a success and work on the project proceeded.

During this period,  Gunn wrote and directed Ganja and Hess, a film that was honored at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 as one of the best American films of the decade. Waymon’s multidisciplinary talents are on display in the film in which he composed the score he performs. As a low budget effort, many of the props and furnishings, including the Rolls Royce and the Jaguar, belonged to Waymon. Gunn’s prolific career as a playwright, novelist, actor and film director ended in 1989 when he passed away at Nyack Hospital.

Waymon developed as an artist along side his sister, celebrated songstress Nina Simone. Sam and Nina (Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon) were raised in Tyron, North Carolina with six other brothers and sisters. Their parents, Mary Kate and John Divine were both ministers of the gospel. Both Sam and Nina started piano lessons at the age of three.

Simone recorded 40 albums and has influenced artists as diverse as Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Alicia Keys. During their partnership, Waymon was her manager and organist. They traveled the world performing, but they also found time to lend their talents and efforts to the Civil Rights Movement. Waymon still has scars from a march where non-violent demonstrators were set upon by a mob with bricks and batons. Sam and Nina performed at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

As a surviving sibling, Sam was an outspoken critic of the recent Hollywood production based on his sister’s life. He was particularly critical of the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone. Over 11,000 people have signed an on-line petition that echo his objections. For Waymon and others, Simone’s dark skin and African features defined and circumscribed her life. They are incredulous that actors of Simone’s racial identity were passed over for a performer who is reportedly using facial prosthetics and skin paint to portray the singer.

Sam Waymon and Duane Jones in Ganja and Hess

The auditorium where the Nyack Center holds after- school programs, Rivertown Film screens movies and the Chamber of Commerce operates the indoor winter Farmers’ Market was a set for Ganja and Hess. The opening and closing scenes of the film were shot there when the space was a sanctuary for a church. Waymon was cast as a pentecostal preacher, singing and stomping in front of extras who were members of the congregation that worshiped in the space at the time. Waymon shared the scene with Duane L. Jones, the actor who played the leading role as Ben in the classic 1968 horror film that launched what is now a national obsession with zombies, Night of the Living Dead.

Through his music, the enduring legacy of his collaboration with Gunn and his defense of his sister’s name and memory, Waymon acts as a guardian of the African American cultural universe. Waymon has expressed a concern that history has a way of remembering the battle but forgetting the blood. Through his composing and performance, Sam Waymon won’t let us forget either.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Sam Waymon is on a Rock & Roll © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Kids Explore Nature & Art at Strawtown Studio

by Bill Batson

Every month for two years, she guided parents and their children through Harriman State Park, sometimes for full moon hikes. Those forays into nature flowed into Strawtown Studio, a popular nature arts program, that includes a summer camp, afterschool and community programs, now offered along both sides of the river in Rockland and Westchester. Meet environmental artist, educator and advocate Laurie Seeman. 

How did you become a nature and art educator?

When I first arrived in Rockland County in 1997 with my two small children, 5 and 7, I wanted to gather folks to spend time together outdoors. The Little Feet Hiking Club was started for children and parents. For two years, we went out for hikes every month of the year into Harriman State Park during the day, and also at night under the full moon. I saw how much it meant to the children to have creative exploration time in nature with community. I also saw their natural tendency to create art with nature.

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What was the first step?

The hiking club came to the attention of the Director of the Nature Place Day Camp in Chestnut Ridge, and I was invited to develop an art program for the camp. Over three years, I developed the first Earth Art with Children programming with a talented staff of 5. Based on the great success of the Earth Art program, and the camp leadership training I gained, I saw the need to take it further and turn it into a full summer program.

Laurie and Joanna

In 2002, I formed Strawtown Art & Garden Studio and held the first summer nature arts program on the grounds of the Marydell Faith & Life Center at the base Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack

For two years we held family workshops, and an after-school program there, with woodlands, grassy meadows, wetland habitat, and the Hudson River, with all it’s life to inspire us. In 2015 we returned to Marydell and are now expanding our programs!.

Marydell is where I met Joanna Dickey. She first came on board as a summer staff artist, and now 15 years later we have spent thousands of hours outdoors together leading programs and developing Strawtown.

Joanna grew up in Upper Nyack within blocks of the river and she always says that she never knew the amazing things about the river before she came to Strawtown.

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Children paint on a bridge with the sounds of a stream running under them.

Why do you call your program Strawtown Art & Garden Studio?

I was living on Strawtown Road for many years, in West Nyack. I liked the word Strawtown. Straw has since become symbolic for us. When you peel the dry outer layer off straw you find shining gold inside! “Straw” also represents nature, and “town” the people.

I understand that you were in the art world before you became an educator?

I worked as a contemporary Art Dealer and Curator in NYC with my life long friend Wendy Cooper during the art boom in the 80’s and 90’s. Known as Cooper Seeman, we curated shows, and advised clients in building their art collections. I thought it was the greatest work in the world, but does not compare to working outdoors with children.

What kind of art do you make?

My own art is all about listening in and responding to the natural world around me. I create art from plants, make pigments from rocks, look closely at the ever-changing forms of nature. I also stage the outdoor studios that we spend time in and design the lessons. Creating and developing the programs is my art too.  Then there is the distinction between earth art and environmental art, where the environmental art aims to communicate, educate, activate.

What life experiences informed your environmentalism?

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Painting with pigments made from ground wet rocks and Japanese ink.

When I was 7, we moved to a neighborhood in Endwell, NY on the edge of a meadow where a creek meandered below. The creek became my best friend.

A half-mile south there was a shale ravine with tons of fossils. I have now come to realize I grew up in the Marcellus Shale area.

When I was 10, bulldozers appeared one day and they engineered my creek to accommodate a big tunnel for a nearby road overpass. It was shocking. 

Painting of Tappan Zee Bay and Nyack from Sleepy Hollow

I have since learned a whole lot about creeks and waterways, and that straightening a stream is detrimental to the health of the stream. I advocate for two streams in Rockland in particular right now.The Sparkill Creek, with the Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance, which I was founded in 2010 in response to a Strawtown class experience in the creek, when a young student remarked about her concern for the creek. You can read the wonderful story on the website sparkillcreek.org.  I also have a strong relationship with the Minisceongo Creek in Haverstraw, it’s one of our outdoor classrooms. This creek is the site of a citizen science eel migration monitoring project with the NYS  Department of Environmental Conservation. The youth of Haverstraw have joined us in this aquatic study for 4 years, and it’s the greatest way to learn.  This is s a two-month project each spring, opened to all interested, and it is underway now.

What can you tell me about the life of the Hudson River near here?

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Working with a sein net, children learn who lives in the Hudson River.

We live in the Wide Bays area of the river with Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bays. The widest span of the river is Haverstraw to Croton, 3.4 miles across. Haverstraw Bay and has been designated the most “Significant Coastal Fish & Wildlife Habitat” of the Hudson River” by the New York State Department of State Division of Coastal Resources.

So few people know this, or know that this region area holds 5 of the 40 rated significant habitats, the others are; Piermont Marsh, Hook Mountain, the Hudson Highlands, and Iona Marsh.

When I learned this I advocated to have this area listed in our County Comprehensive plan, which never before had never listed the Hudson River as one of our precious natural resources.

Strawtown teaches on both sides of this extraordinary river area. We love giving the river kids and their families the opportunities to explore and learn right along with us. No two days or outings are alike!

What do you see is important about the role of art in nature education and advocacy?

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Laurie Seeman ( far right) and Joanna Dickey ( 2nd from right) with students.

Art provides a way to come to a greater understanding of nature. When making art we can realize more than we would by breezing by on a walk. We take time to look closely, to take materials into hand, to observe relationships, and then to respond. Through time for reflection with nature and art we can discover our “ecological self”. So important for these times.

Art is also a way of seeing new possibilities. It opens up the way for new thinking, problem solving, strategy and communications. It also can brighten the difficult day!

In many ways the importance of the nature and art connection travels out of the classes. What we learn with the children is what informs my ability to speak for the natural world in public places, and with decision makers.  When I go out regionally to speak for our waterways I always think,  “It’s not enough to take care of the children, we have to take care of the world they live in too”.

What are your plans for this year’s Strawtown Summer Program with Children?

To go out to discover the world with friends, create all kinds of art, and find answers to our three leading questions Where are we? Who are we here with? How are we all doing together? The questions nearly say it all!

Space is still available for the Strawtow’s After School Program and Summer Program  for children ages 7 – 12.  The summer program runs for 6 weeks from July 2 through Aug. 9:  Mon. – Thurs., 9:30a-4:00p (1st week is Mon-Fri, skip 4th July). 

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Kids Explore Nature & Art at Strawtown Studio © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Suicide by Assassination

by Bill Batson

No one took Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life on April 4, 1968, he gave it. In an act that was the ultimate example of the non-violent philosophy he championed, King absorbed a fatal blow, borne of the racial animus his 14 years of non-stop activism hoped to end. James Earl Ray may been have convicted of killing the anti-racist, anti-poverty and anti-war leader with a Remington Gamemaster rifle, but King consciously signed his own death warrant by living the social gospel of his faith to the letter. In a speech publicly opposing the Vietnam war, given at Riverside Church in New York exactly one year before his death, King said “Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”

King’s death came eight days before Good Friday, the date when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As a third generation Baptist preacher, the martyrdom of Christ on the cross was a cornerstone of his belief system, as was the story of the resurrection of Christ on Easter. King did not seek martyrdom, or a violent death, but early in his ministry, he quickly came to expect both. Subjected to constant death threats from the moment he took the pulpit at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the epicenter of the 381 day bus boycott that broke the back of segregation in public accommodations in the South, King preached “God grant that we shall choose the highway, even if it will mean assassination, even if it will mean crucifixion.” He was just 27 years old.

Fourteen years later, King’s choices were racing him towards the destination he prophesied in Montgomery. James Lawson, Pastor of Centennial Methodist Church and leader of the Vanderbilt Sit-In Movement invited Dr. King to Memphis. His hope was that King could lead a mass protest that would result in better working conditions and wages for the cities lowest paid workers, the garbage men. Like prior campaigns in Montgomery and Birmingham, King would use creative non-violence and passive resistance to achieve social justice. In his letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. King describes his strategy this way “non violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

Unlike Montgomery and Birmingham, King had weeks to reach goals that had taken months to achieve. Complicating and compressing his calendar was the fact that on May 2, King was launching his most ambitious undertaking, the Poor People’s Campaign, a one-way march on Washington where protesters would set up tent villages and engage in protests aimed at disrupting government until Federal legislation was passed that would ensure economic equality. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter,” King had begun it ask, “if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger? ”

King was also facing the compassion fatigue of the public and the fickle attention of the media. After a decade of protests in the south, and spasms of riots in the north, The Post-War idealism of the Kennedy/Johnson era was yielding to “Law and Order” cynicism of Nixon/Reagan ethos. King’s trip to Memphis was actually an attempt at a do-over. A March 25 protest for striking Sanitation workers had devolved into a riot. If King could not demonstrate that his philosophy of nonviolence could prevail, his Poor People’s Campaign and this very relevance, were in jeopardy.

In Redemption, Martin Luther King Jr’s Last 31 Hours, author Joseph Rosenbloom reconstructs the civil rights leader’s last day and a half. Facts contained in the readable volume portray King as an unstoppable life force moving toward the immovable object of fate. For those looking for the more elusive evidence of a conspiracy to silence the voice of non-violence, there is plenty of ammo.

At 5:05 pm on April 3, King’s police protection was withdrawn. If a police detail had been on duty on April 4th, which was customary law enforcement protocol when King, who was the object of constant threat, traveled, Ray’s plot may have been exposed. The binoculars and rifle muzzle that Ray had to stick out the window of his sniper nest in an adjacent rooming house could have been observed and investigated.

Memphis Police Director Frank Hollman never conveyed the volume of threats against King. Hollamn was a former FBI agent who rose to the ranks of Inspector-in-Charge of bureau’s headquarters in Washington. Scholar David Garrow has extensively documented the bureau and its director J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with “neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.” In fact, Rosenbloom shows that while Hollman drew down King’s security, he left a surveillance team up and running.

Even if King had known the full scale of the danger that awaited him in Memphis, he was determined to proceed. People who fear for their lives often changed their routes and routines, not King. Every time he visited Memphis, he stayed in room 3016 of the Lorraine Motel. Ray could have learned where King was staying by watching local television or reading the Commercial Appeal. Rosenbloom suggests that “precautions did not interest him (King) because he did not think anything or anybody could protect him against a determined assassin.”

King was unafraid. The day before his death Rosembloom could portrait King’s composure by pouring over the accounts of multiple FBI informants that have been de-classified. From these pages, King was reported to have said “I’d rather be dead than afraid.”

No, King was not afraid to die, a fact that the FBI was counting on. Yale Historian Beverly Gage recently uncovered the first copy of an un-redacted “anonymous” FBI letter sent to King suggesting that he kill himself. It is not widely known, but King tried to kill himself twice as a teenager. The attempts were reported in Time Magazine in 1963. In A First Rate Madness, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi chronicles that some of histories greatest leaders during times of great upheaval suffered from depression. King kept good company in Ghaemi’s historical psychological diagnosis, including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi.

The FBI wanted King to take his life by his own hand, in punishment for mortal sins and shortcomings documented in tapes that the FBI threatened to release. King, despite numerous bouts of depression, refused to commit an act of self-violence.

The highway that King chose to travel, that led to his martyrdom through assassination, is a heroe’s journey of mythic and divine measure. By passively resisting oppression so stoutly that he welcomed an painful death, King transfigurated from flesh, into a holy ghost that permanently resides in the psyche of our nation.

His example, and the techniques that he normalized, such as petitioning the government through mass protest marches, elevating rhetoric and economic boycott flow from the child gun control activists of Parkland, Florida as if they were possessed by King.

When a CNN anchor asked former King lieutenants Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson what King would do about gun violence if he was alive today, they both corrected the broadcaster, asserting that King lives.

When King’s grand daughter, Yolanda, age 9, spoke at the March for our Lives in Washington DC, you could hear that King’s cadence and spirit are still on the national stage.

When you watch the last public words spoken by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Masonic Temple on April 3rd, you see a man who knew he would not live another 24 hours. In Rosenbloom’s book, Jesse Jackson described “a mysterious aura around him” after King gave a speech that some described as his most electrifying. King slumped back into his chair, reciting the Battle Hymn of the Republic in a barely audible voice as the crowd convulsed in cheers and tears. The abolitionist anthem was a fitting choice for King’s Final official statement. The words portray the epic struggle that we won we are dedicated to the advancement of human rights and dignity and the tumult that accompanies social change.

Here is the complete last passage from Dr. King’s eulogy to himself:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Suicide by Assassination © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Jerry Donnellan 1946 – 2018

by Bill Batson

After sustaining three injuries in the same battle in Vietnam and losing the lower portion of his leg, Jerry Donnellan lived a full life as a veteran’s advocate, and for a short time, the road manager for Frank Sinatra. The former director of Rock Vets (County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency), died in his Valley Cottage home on Friday, March 23.

Donnellan recognized that returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers were joining a line for Department of Veteran Affairs services that includes, Vietnam, Korean and World War II vets, like my father, depicted here in Rome in 1945. Donnellan used his 25 years of experience as an advocate to led local government’s efforts to support veterans.

“Jerry was a guy who always had a good joke and a big smile. He was a dear friend of ours. As one of the founders of the Park Conservancy Jerry saw a need and filled it,” said former Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White. “Without Jerry there would be no Music on the Hudson, no new playground or skatepark and certainly fewer flowers, no educational programming, no new gazebo and a whole lot less to smile about on our waterfront”

Donnellan was also the president of New York Vets, the non-profit entity that raises the money to operate the Camp Shanks Museum. Always eager to deflect praise, Donnellan wouldn’t accept the title of museum curator. “You can call me the aesthetic custodian,” he would modestly concede. From 1942 until 1946, 1.3 million soldiers passed through Orangeburg’s Camp Shanks on their way to their deployments. Known as the “Last Stop U.S.A,” Camp Shanks was the embarkation point for 75% of the troops that fought on D-Day.

He was less demur about the accomplishment that Camp Shanks symbolizes. “We were a different country before Camp Shanks was built. In the early months of World War II, we were losing. We were coming out of the Depression. We were the 15th or 16th ranked military power. The Army Corp of Engineers arrived in September 1942 and by January 1943 they put up 2500 buildings. You can’t build a deck in three months nowadays.” Donnellan declares, suggesting that this explosion of ingenuity and effort led to our victory in the World War.

Camp Shanks Monument
Photo Credit: Michael Herrick via hmdb.org

Donnellan marveled at how Camp Shanks “rose from the mist like an American Brigadoon, and then disappeared.” In 1946, Camp Shanks was converted into Shanks Village, a transitional housing facility for returning vets. With typical humor, Donnellan reflected on the irony that the soldiers who followed General Dwight D. Eisenhower into battle, found his leadership difficult to escape. Many of the returning vets who stayed in Shanks Village attended Columbia University on the G.I. Bill, where General Eisenhower was installed as President in 1948. “They must have thought Ike was following them,” Donnellan said.

Donnellan described the origins of his military career in the most self-effacing terms. “I was Rockland County’s least successful draft dodger. When I got out of high school in 1964, we had advisers in Vietnam, but we were not at war. I wasn’t anti-war. I just didn’t want to get up early and roll around in the dirt. The alternative was to go to college, where there were girls, music and beer. Unfortunately, I ran out of college before they ran out of war.” He was drafted in 1968 and injured near the North Vietnam border a year later. He received three Purple Hearts for his conduct.

After the war, Donnellan returned to Rockland County working as a stage manager for venues like Rockland Community College, Theater-Go-Round in Nanuet and the Westchester Premier Theater. One night in Westchester in 1976, Donnellan was drafted again, this time by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s road manager Bob Keirnan had to rush back to Las Vegas to help Ann-Margret stage her act, leaving Donnellan to call the show. Jerry spent the next 11 years as Sinatra’s road manager.

Donnellan lived for a while on houseboat that was moored at the Nyack Marina. Sadly, his floating home sank into the Hudson on October 29, 2012 when waters driven by Hurricane Sandy came surging up the river. The boat was not Donnellan’s primary residence. Donnellan and his wife Mari Ellyn had a house in Valley Cottage.

When Nyack Mayor Jen White called to mourn the loss of the houseboat, an iconic river village landmark, Donnellan suggested that the ruins be recycled. “If we stick a pair of fake legs with stockings and ruby red shoes underneath the remains and stick it on a flatbed, we can enter it as a Wizard of Oz float in next year’s Halloween parade.”

Donnellan receiving an honor at Dominican College

When Donnellan talked about himself he was always all laughs, but when he talked about his fellow vets, it was strictly business. “I want to make sure that every vet applies for the benefits that they have earned,” Donnellan

Just as sure as there are super storms on the horizon, there will be armed conflicts in our future. We would be fortunate if one in every thousand who answer the call of duty have half the humor and humility of Jerry Donnellan. That would make the future of our country and our communities, no matter what comes, more secure.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Jerry Donnellan 1946 – 2018 © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Creative Financial Planning

by Bill Batson

There is a fairy tale quality to the pyramid-shaped building on the east side of South Broadway near the corner of Cedar Hill Avenue. Baxter Hall is the first impression of Nyack for anyone disembarking from the bus line that originates in New York City. The Carpenter Gothic architecture announces a village that champions the arts, and the permanently placed water bowl on the curb celebrates our dog-friendly culture. This is the home of Creative Financial Planning, an enterprise started 32 years ago by Lisa Hayes and dedicated to making people’s financial dreams come true.

Hayes purchased and renovated the former church building in 2011. Erected in 1871, the address has sheltered two churches, the Universalist Church (1871-1904) and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1904 – 2010). The building is visible on the 1884 L.R. Burleigh map and listed in the legend. In order to preserve the history enshrined in the building, Hayes commissioned a report from architectural historian Hugh Goodman. 

Goodman’s excellently crafted account is equally divided between spiritual and structural considerations. Adding credence to the theory that Nyack was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Goodman reports that the Universalists “vigorously opposed slavery and favored post-bellum legislation such as the Fifteenth Amendment and the Freedman’s Act to enfranchise all American citizens.” Goodman also found a connection between the Christian Science Society in Nyack, that operated a reading room in that location until 2010 and their mother church in Boston, built by the faith’s founder Mary Baker Eddy.  “From October 1903 through June 1906, the local society gave their entire building fund on three occasions to assist in the building of the church in Boston,” Goodman reported.

As charming as its facade may be, ultimately, it was the ethereal quality of the interior  that attracted Hayes. “I was drawn to the idea of working in a space where the windows open and I can smell the fresh air and look out and see nature.”  This fondness of the outdoors was inspired by her grandparents who bought land in Hampton Bays and where her folks built a small, beautiful home on Shinicock Bay.”

Hayes’ entrepreneurial spirit emerged in that bucolic setting. “I started cleaning houses in the Hamptons to pay back student loans after I left law school. I started a business called “Helpful Hand.” My sister and her friends pitched in. It grew to 9 employees.”

As the enterprise became successful, Hayes became curious about investing. “Several self study books and exams later, I realized my calling. Financial Planning.” Now her team at Creative Financial Planning manages approximately $150 million in assets.

In most versions of the acronym CFP, the “C” means certified. For Hayes, creativity is the element that makes for successful financial planning and wealth management. “When I write financial plans and offer a blueprint of how the clients can achieve their goals, I incorporate creativity.” This predilection for imaginative thinking surely inspired her to acquire such an iconic building in our unique village. 

Hayes was also attracted to “a community that honors diversity and caring.”  Hayes has been on the board of Nyack Hospital for six years. “For 20 years plus, I have been on the board of the Center for Safety and Change. I support the Nyack Center and I’m helping to start a local nonprofit to help young people with financial literacy.” 

In a concrete example of her commitment to share her wisdom, one of her financial planners, Dan Gwizdak, joined CFP 15 years ago as a high school intern. After graduating SUNY Binghamton in 2007, Gwizdak worked side-by-side with Hayes, and under her guidance earned his CFP® certification in 2011 through Pace University.

“I would like to see more equality in our society,” Hayes said. She is also concerned about the environment and supports the Nature Conservancy as well as the Cornell Lab for Ornithology.

Hayes’ embrace of equity transcends species. Not only does Baxter, her rescued AKC-registered Havanese have a building named after him, (yes, he’s the Baxter in Baxter Hall) he is a valued member of the CFP team “managing the overall vibe of Baxter Hall, working hard each day to ensure an environment that is serene, comfortable, and, above all, productive,” proclaims their website. You can follow his travails on Instagram at @BaxterMeansBusiness.

If you are a person who desires a bright economic future and wants to take control of your financial life visit Creative Financial Planning. And if you want to see a beautiful building, walk past Baxter Hall. 

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Creative Financial Planning © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: National Student Walkout Tomorrow

by Bill Batson

The last time a wave of student protest reshaped the political landscape of a country, Nyack High School students attended  classes in a building with a clock tower. After the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, (17 dead, 14 injured) the nation has witnessed a cadre of student activists who are making progress where adults have failed for decades. In the wake of shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (15 dead, 24 injured) and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (28 dead), a Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired and no major gun control measures have passed.

Is Parkland the fulcrum of our frustration with rampant gun violence?  Do these student protestors, booked on every news program for the last month, have their hand on the lever that moves public policy?  The proof arrives in Nyack tomorrow. On Wednesday, March 14, High School and Middle School students will participate in a planned national walk out called by these courageous children.

Since the mass killing in Parkland, a group of student survivors have successfully lobbied for enhanced gun control in Florida.  The new law, signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott on March 7, raises the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21, extends the waiting period to three days, funds more school police officers and mental health services, broadens powers to seize weapons, and allows certain staff members to carry guns in schools.

Political pundits where shocked by what the students had achieved in the “gunshine state.”  Progressive organizations have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours failing to move the dial an inch on gun control.  Predictably, the National Rifle Association is already seeking injunctive relief against the Florida law, but has public sentiment on gun control finally shifted? Opinion polls show an overwhelming 97% supporting gun control measures. Will the nation follow suit?

Thanks to the organizing of Parkland students Cameron Kasky, Alex WindEmma Gonzalez and David Hogg, parents across America are receiving a letter like the one Nyack’s Superintendent of Schools James J. Montesano sent on March 1.  Superintendent Montesano outlined a protocol “allowing for a brief educational walkout event with a return thereafter to classrooms” on Wednesday, March 14. The carefully crafted letter cites Nyack’s district mission and “our goal to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment”  to allow students who want to protest for 17 minutes in commemoration of those who lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas. Students that do not wish to participate will be “respected and supervised inside the school.”

Suddenly, America has a national students movement with recognized leaders who get split screen direct debates with the President.  The closest parallel that comes to mind is the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976, when African students withdrew from school to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the compulsory language in the classroom.  You can draw a direct line from Soweto in 1976 to the collapse of Apartheid in 1994.

Our country’s slow descent into a culture that condones gun violence stands in stark contrast to the swiftness of the student victory in Florida. The tragic timeline plays out on the Wikipedia page List of School Shootings in the United States. The first recorded shooting takes place in the 18th century. There is almost a hundred years until the next one, but that is where the tender mercies cease. By the mid-20th century, technology and distemper take over. There has been a school shooting every year in America since 1972.  Since, 2014, virtually every month and in every state that a school is open, someone has stepped into a hallway and discharged a weapon.  In 2018, there have been ten shooting, almost one a week. This  a slow boil of butchery that has captured us unaware, like the proverbial frog who doesn’t know he’s stew meat until it’s too late.

Speaking in Fort Lauderdale on February 17, three days after the shooting, Emma Gonzalez spoke with the spirit that would have made any member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) proud. SNCC was the student group that faced down the violence of armed supporters of segregation in the American south in the 1960s with their bodies during the Freedom Rides and sit-ins. “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence,” Gonzalez called out. “We call BS,” the crowd responded.

After Wednesday’s walkout, a March for Our Lives is being planned for Washington, DC on March 24.  Over a quarter million have signed the March for our Lives petition.  Another walkout of a more indefinite duration is being called for April 20th. One student, Alex Wind, says he will not return to school until meaning gun reform has been enacted. Shades of Soweto.

One of our countries greatest political thinkers, Thomas Paine once said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  Let’s follow the lead of these students, or get out of their way.  Or we follow the current trend and find ourselves living in a country where not a day goes by without a school shooting.  Join the growing choir, led by young voices, and shout #neveragain.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Pie Lady & Son © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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