The Big Read cranks up in DC this week. Under the chairmanship of Dana Gioia, the National Endowment for the Arts decided to launch an initiative to support local efforts to present community reads and address what they sited as a declining readership among American adults. D.C.’s been hosting Big Read events since 2007. I’ve been part of that launch and this year’s Big Read events presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC. DC is reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines for the 2010 Big Read DC.

The way I see the Big Read the local goal is to uncover and gather in DC stories inspired by a Big Read book.

This evening at 6:30 PM the focus is TEACHERS and their true-life stories at Barnes & Noble Booksellers (555 12th Street, NW). The event is titled “Why I Do What I Do.” There always has to be a reason for the season. The storytellers are real teachers and educators: Delores Bushong, resource teacher for gifted students at Wakefield HS (Arlington, VA); Rita Daniels, executive director of Literacy Volunteers and Advocates; and Frazier O’Leary
a star English teacher and baseball coach at Cardozo High School (Washington, DC). DC’s public high schools are reading A Lesson Before Dying thanks to another generous grant from Reading Is Fundamental.

Door prizes, give aways and cookies. It’s free. Big Read DC activities will happen during the months of April and May. Visit The 2010 Big Read DC is presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the DC Public Library.

If you’re a DC area teacher, tutor, or educator who assigned A Lesson Before Dying to your class for the Big Read DC, the Humanities Council would like to know about your experience teaching the book. Fill out this survey and share your story.

Filmfest DC also kicks off this week. The opening night event is tomorrow with a screening of “Hipsters,” a film by Valerie Tordorovsky. I guess it’s “Beehive” with a Communist swing. The price for opening night is $40 and includes a reception at Mazza Gallery near Chevy Chase. Will there be cake? This is FilmfestDC’s 25th year.

My involvement is with a new series “Justice Matters.” These films are being presented to highlight how the medium addresses and can influence change around social justice issues. Two of the films on my plate are “Soundtrack for a Revolution” and “Sun Behind the Clouds.” You can meet the filmmakers Dan Sturman, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam at a free Filmmakers Breakfast Salon (breakfast is on your own) Saturday, April 24 at 9:30 AM at Busboys and Poets (5th & K Streets, NW). RSVP filmfestdc2010[at]gmail[dot]com.

Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a film by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, tells the story of the civil rights movement in the U.S. through the “movement music” protesters, picketers, and other activists sang during marches, inside jail cells, and at organizing meetings. The music is performed by a new generation of professional musicians including John Legend, Joss Stone, Mary Mary, The Roots, as well as veterans like Richie Havens, and the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama. Archival footage and interviews with key activists like Andrew Young and John Lewis are part of the mix. The film will be shown on Friday, April 23 at the Regal Theater on 7th Street (Verizon Center downtown). See more in this clip.

The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom,” a film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, gives both background and updated information on Tibet’s quest for independence from China. In this documentary Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is caught in the middle of a struggle between a super power who wants to exert its full control over the Tibet province, and a Tibetan movement for independence. Though the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” or compromise with China doesn’t seem to appeal to either side, the reality is time is running out for one generation. A new generation’s desire to take another path to freedom is coming of age. The film will be shown Saturday, April 24 at 7 PM at the Regal Theater. See more in this clip.


Monday I attended the funeral for David Mills, aka on this blog as Undercover Black Man. The service was held at the University of Maryland Chapel in College Park. Mills’ nephew Clifton Porter II has posted a eulogy on the UBM blog “blowing UBM’s cover.” Porter also delivered the eulogy at the funeral ending with the P-Funk pledge and perhaps epitaph: “…to funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk.” Mills was the author of an oral history of George Clinton and P-Funk.

David Simon, co-creator of the new HBO series “Treme” (with Eric Overmeyer) praised his friend’s work and gestures when a line or scene struck home (the downpunch that went no where), Mills’ ability to jump into the eye of the storm without fear of reprimand, and love of writing and story. Simon met David Mills while they were students at the University of Maryland working on the campus newspaper. I asked David Simon about the tribute to Mills at the “Treme” premiere party in New Orleans last Saturday. [Note: as of yesterday, “Treme” has been renewed for a second season by HBO.] Simon said there was a traditional New Orleans second line, a funk band, and they planted an oak tree in David Mills’ memory. I’ll visit that oak tree when I go to New Orleans to pick up where I left off with the “Church Lady Cake Diaries.”

After the funeral I crept back onto UBM’s blog to read about his life in New Orleans. It’s been a struggle to read the blog as it was an on-going chat with David that is now finished…maybe. The family has decided to keep it on-line. I believe it will inevitably become a very important document and maybe even my road map when I return to New Orleans, the city apparently where David Mills was no longer undercover.

Rest in peace David. We miss you.