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When I think about Black History, I like to reflect on the contributions that black people have made to the world of music. Jazz, blues, folk, classical, soul, rhythm and blues, rock, and my personal favorite, hip hop.

Hip hop has it’s roots in 1973, with DJ Kool Herc’s parties in his Bronx apartment building. The music and culture was born from the racial, economic, and social struggles of black communities living in the projects. Decades later hip-hop has grown and spread it’s branches around the world. I can’t possibly cover the richness of hip-hop history in one blog post. If you are interested in learning more about the history, culture, and the art of hip-hop, check out this booklist by fellow My Librarian, Karen E. But while I have the proverbial mic, I want to share a little bit of my experience with hip-hop and take you on a quick journey through my love for the music.

Run DMC Raising Hell album cover"It's Tricky"

As a kid, growing up in the 1980’s, my world revolved around school, friends, Atari, and music. My very first concert (at least the first one that my parents didn’t drag me to) was the Run DMC and Beastie Boys Together Forever tour. My little brother, my best friend, and I piled into the family station wagon, with my dad at the wheel, headed to Pine Knob ampitheater in Michigan. All three of us had been obsessively listening to Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill, but seeing these artists perform on stage was when I knew I was hooked for life.

"Bring the Noise"

I could see the light at the end of my high school experience. The possiblities ahead of me seemed endless, and terrifying. My thoughts were moving from focusing on the immediate issues of how much homework was due, to focusing on the world that I was entering as a young adult. And one day my brother comes home with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back cassette. My mind was blown. Here was a soundtrack that was angry and loud, that spoke to my blossoming political and social frustrations.

3 Years, 3 Feet, and Reachin'

In my young adult years my mind focused on how I fit into the world. I found connection and comfort in the music of De La Soul, Arrested Development, and Digable Planets. These groups brought a new postivity-focused voice to hip-hop.

"History"

Fast forward to today. I've found an artist or album to fit my every mood. Mos Def when I want to relax and reflect. Missy Elliot when I feel like dancing. Danger Doom when I'm feeling down and need a laugh. A Tribe Called Quest when I'm feeling nostalgic. The Coup when I'm feeling funky.  My favorite hip-hop artists are poets, entertainers, musicians, revolutionaries, historians, and teachers. Hip-hop is a powerful form of music. Hip-hop is beats and rhymes, rhythms and bass. Hip-hop is a culture.




Often we need to contact government officials or agencies but knowing where to start can be daunting. Here is a quick list of useful contact numbers and websites to help you reach who you need in government:

Portland, Oregon City Hall with the Portland Building in the backgroundLocal Government

Mutnomah County is, of course, more than just Portland. The following cities in the county have websites and general information phone numbers where you can connect to agencies and officials specific to those communities:

 The League of Women Voters of Portland provides a handy pamphlet of local and state elected officials, including local school districts.

 

State Government

There is no general information line for the state of Oregon. You can visit each agency’s website for their individual contact information or you can look in the state agency directory.

Looking for more information about Oregon government?  Try the Oregon Blue Book.   

 

President Obama addressing a joint session of Congress, 2009Federal Government

USA.gov is the place to start online when looking for any information related to the federal government. Among other things, it includes links to find services, agencies and a telephone and email directory.

 In print you can take a look at the Federal staff directory for an extensive list of who’s who in the Federal government.

What about states other than Oregon? Caroll’s Publishing Company prints an excellent set of contact information guides for the Federal government as well as nationwide CountyMunicipal, and State governments. 

As always, Multnomah County Library staff is happy to help you find the information you’re looking for.  If you have any questions about this topic or anything else please let us know!

Podcasts and zines- I love them.  Have you tried them?

I love listening to podcasts while I’m crafting, cooking or cleaning. Podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded or streamed on your computer or device. If you like audiobooks you might like podcasts. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a podcast about it somewhere on the internet. Many interesting podcasts can be found on (National Public Radio website) NPR. And of course the Multnomah County Library has podcasts. If you need help finding podcasts ask us. We’d love to help!


I love zines too. Zines are independent publications or homemade magazines a sixth grader told me when I asked him “what are zines?” Zines cover many subjects. Subjects that mainstream press may not cover. Of course the Multnomah County Library has zines. So when podcasts and zines meet up it’s a marriage made in heaven. Or just a really great podcast all about how zines can sometimes find their way to publishers. Take a listen to From Zines to Publishing podcast when some local creators and publishers get together and discuss the publishing landscape for zines. We also have a zines to books list and this is part 2.

Kenneth Doswell

 

BettyJean Couture owner Kenneth Doswell Photo: Oregonlive

Kenneth Doswell is the owner of Bettyjeancouture. He made personal history in 2014 when he received his first national fashion award, Designer of the Year at New York’s Full Figured Fashion week. He only designs for women.  Doswell’s designs are a fashion work of art combining nostalgia with contemporary elements.  He ignores trends and creates beautiful, longlasting fashion.  For most, he is a well kept secret.  If truth be told, Doswell entered the fashion scene at 8 years of age. He designs and creates clothing for leading women. The beauty of it all, his clothes are affordable and he’s right here in Portland!

 

Further Exploration: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/06/north_portlands_kenneth_doswel.html

Available at Multnomah County Library: Michelle Obama, First Lady of Fashion and Style by Swimmer, Susan

 

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

by Gretchen Rubin

From the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Rubin now offers advice on how to structure our habits to pursue happiness and well being.

Girl in the Dark: A Memoir

by Anna Lyndsey

A young woman writes of her sensitivity to light which forced her to live in darkness with only audiobooks as companions. Her book was a sensation at the London Book Fair for beautiful writing.

Rust: The Longest War

by Jonathan Waldman

It destroys cars, fells bridges, sinks ships, and nearly brought down the Statue of Liberty. The Pentagon calls it "the pervasive menace". The author explores the effects of corrosion on all aspects of our lives and the engineering endeavors to keep it at bay.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

by Matthew Crawford

From the bestselling author of Shop Craft as Soulcraft, the author now tackles the challenge on how to master our own minds and remain focused in a world full of distractions.

The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama

by Larry Holcombe

The author uses declassified Freedom of Information documents along with eyewitness accounts to reveal the evidence of extraterrestrial activities on earth and the government's attempt to cover up the incidents.

Know Your Beholder

by Adam Rapp

A hilarious and heartbreaking novel about a "down on his luck" musician and how he manages to put his life back together with the help of some unusual characters.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star book jacketIn my search for something to read last weekend, nothing seemed quite right.  Then I happened upon my small collection of Paul Theroux books and I knew he was (no pun intended) just the ticket.  I’m a big fan of Mr. Theroux and have been saving Ghost Train to the Eastern Star for the right moment.  Ghost Train traces one of his earlier journeys documented originally in The Great Railway Bazaar.  That trip, which took place in 1973, chronicled Theroux’s mostly train journey from London across Europe and Asia, visiting India and Japan and returning west via the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Writers often travel in the footsteps of others but Theroux follows his own path, visiting old and new countries in order to see what has changed and what has remained the same.  Along the way he applies those same standards to himself.  

In Ghost Train, readers learn early on that Theroux’s previous trip took place under trying circumstances on the home front.  As the father of two young children he embarked on a long and seemingly pointless journey against his wife’s wishes.  While the trip brought him a measure of fortune and fame, his marriage never recovered.  In Ghost Train we find an older, more settled Theroux.  Without the family troubles to plague him, he traveled a second time with a more solid sense of home.  Theroux follows his earlier trip as closely as possible.  Politics prevented him from visiting countries like Iran and Afghanistan but this time he traveled through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and visits Cambodia for the first time.  

Travel writing as a tale of adventure changed with the advent of air travel.  Travelers began to focus on the destination instead of the journey.  Theroux’s travel writing excels because it brings travel writing back to those earlier times.  For Theroux, the arrival, the departure and all that happens between the two are fodder for explanation.  He incorporates history without distracting from the narrative.  He frequently meets with local writers, in this case Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak in Istanbul, Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka and Haruki Murakami in Japan.  He observes the conflicting economies in India, finding sadness at the overwhelming poverty while every rickshaw driver he sees is using a cell phone.  

Ultimately Theroux is a keen observer with a novelist’s heart.  Ghost Train is classic Theroux, peopled with interesting characters that bring shape and form to each trip.  Like his other works, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star allows the reader to sit alongside Mr. Theroux, watch over his shoulder and share the journey.  As with his other travels, the journey is well worth it.

Deena Pierott

 

iUrban founder Deena Pierott Photo: nten\.org

In 2011, Deena Pierott starts iUrban Teen with a focus on introducing, supporting and propelling students in the vast areas of technology. Specifically, iUrban aims to increase technology participation in male Black, Latino and Native American teens. Through interactive summits, tours, trainings and a hands-on approach, iUrban garners national attention. In 2013, Pierott is recognized as a Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion at the White House. More good news: iUrban is right here in Portland!

Further Exploration: http://iurbanteen.org/

Available at Multnomah County Library: African American Firsts in Science and Technology by Webster, Raymond B.

The Golden Cage follows the journey of three Guatemalan teenagers as they attempt to illegally cross the dangerous Mexico-US border in pursuit of the American dream. This movie has a variety of elements that make it stand out. The film addresses a social reality with a vigorous narrative and a cinematographic freshness.

Crossing the Mexican border to the USA is a controversial topic and there have been books, documentaries and other art that portrays the narrative of this crude reality. The Golden Cage is different in that it presents documentary elements and uses real-life participants; at times you can feel a special connection and compassion for the protagonists. The director Diego Quemada-Diez, who also wrote the screenplay, never imagined that this production would earn him and his cast one of the most recognized awards in the world at the Cannes Film Festival in the category  of “Un Certain Regard”. Quemada-Diez spent 10 years compiling testimonials and creating the content of the story. He found three talented non-professional actors after casting around 3,000 people.  A girl disguising herself as a boy opens up the story, and short dialogues emerge in a neutral tone at times without expressions. The dialogues all have something in common -- “dreams of gold”.  Find more stories of border crossings and uncertain futures here.
 

D’wayne Edwards

 

Pensole Founder D'wayne Edwards Photo: bmeccommunity

When he's 17, he crushes the competition in a Reebok design competition. While attending college, he secures a job with L.A. Gear, an old-school footwear company. Every day he submits shoe drawings and a suggestion to hire him as a shoe designer. After submitting a total of 180 sketches, he’s offered a job as the youngest footwear designer in the industry at that time. Eventually, his hard work and determination land him a job at Nike as design director for brand Jordan. His designs sell more than $1 billion, he owns over 30 patents and designs shoes for some of the world’s top athletes, woosh! He decides to leave Nike and use his own money to start Pensole, a shoe design academy. And he’s right here in Portland!

Further Exploration: http://www.pensole.com/founder/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Footwear Design by Choklat, Aki

I am a philosophy professor and chair of the Philosophy Program at Southern Oregon University. Having been trained in both Indian and Western philosophy, my reading covers a wide spectrum. For the last several years I have become interested in issues in political philosophy, the role of scientific literacy in modern democracy, and issues at the interface between science and religion. I see reading as a walk I am taking with a friend while exploring a subject. Depending on the topic, the conversation can be calm or passionate. Either way, the dialogue almost always enriches my life. This has required me to buy a few more bookshelves.

Here are some reflections on a variety of books I have been reading. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

While there are thousands of volumes written about the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from as many perspectives as one can imagine, the pages of Princeton philosopher Danielle Allen’s reading of the Declaration are filled with rigor and passion. Allen walks us through the document, helping us understand and appreciate the significance of various ideas and making a case the true freedom is not possible without equality. Each chapter is nicely organized in manageable lengths for easy reading.

I highly recommend reading the book, especially today as we are working through several social and political challenges.

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

In this book, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the New York Times bestseller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, takes up some of the moral dilemmas we are encountering more and more in our society -- fighting wars, selling admission to colleges, drug testing -- and subjects them to moral scrutiny. Sandel argues that in the end, to separate markets and economics from morality “is not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

The book is an excellent resource to get us thinking about the issues we face today. It also illustrates how philosophers go about doing philosophy.

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel

Is everything, including mind/consciousness, ultimately reducible to material/physical substance and process alone? Or is there something more to it? Philosophers and theologians have been debating this question for centuries, if not longer. Ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), the debate gained new life, especially with those who pushed to explain mental phenomena in terms of material processes.

In Mind and Cosmos, renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel, makes a provocative proposal that arguments to reduce mind/consciousness to a physical foundation is, as he puts it in the title, “…almost certainly false.” The book has given rise to some interesting and, in some circles, even acrimonious exchanges. In reviewing the book, the Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that Nagel’s thesis is the “…shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene

Human beings may be unique in facing moral dilemmas. While historically there have been answers galore as to how one ought to behave, modern cognitive science and neuroscience are challenging and offering new insights into what constitutes morality and where we get it. In fascinating book, Harvard social scientist Joshua Greene explores how the human brain processes morality, shaped by evolution and cultural forces. In this very accessible book, he offers a moral framework, to help us examine and inform our moral quandaries.

The book will be of interest to all those who are interested learning about how new sciences can and are shaping our sense of morality.

Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science by Sissela Bok

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

The last few decades have seen increased interest, attention, and research focused on happiness, a fundamental human emotion. While philosophers have discussed the concept for centuries, new research is shedding fresh light on how happiness can enhance and shape our wellbeing in society. In Exploring Happiness, philosopher Sissela Bok offers a philosophical overview of happiness from Aristotle to what neuroscience is telling about this subject. In The Politics of Happiness, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, offers a broad survey of how new research on happiness can help us address some of our vexing social and economic problems. He touches on such challenges as income inequality, marriage and families, and quality of political leadership.

The Boks articulate a complex subject clearly and I recommend the books to anyone interested in understanding the present human condition, and perhaps why we need to rethink our approach to solving some of our personal, social, and political challenges.

Here are some other books on my bookshelf (outside of my professional reading):

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O Wilson

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

For more reading recommendations customized for you, try the My Librarian service.  My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

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