End of an era

End of an era

Union Station Homeless Services announced on Friday that the nonprofit’s CEO, Rabbi Marvin Gross, will retire next year. 


“My time at Union Station has been enormously rewarding and fulfilling,” Gross said in a prepared statement. “This is due to the outstanding, dedicated staff members and talented, compassionate board members, volunteers and community leaders that I’ve had the honor of working with along the way. I am grateful to everyone who has been my partner in this journey.”  


Gross took the helm in 1994, 21 years after a group of community volunteers started the nonprofit as a simple hospitality center to serve poor and homeless men in downtown Pasadena. 


Gross helped lead the agency through an unprecedented period of growth that saw the agency expand its services to become the San Gabriel Valley’s largest nonprofit serving the homeless. 


Pasadena’s homeless population has been steadily dropping over the past several years. According to this year’s annual homeless count, Pasadena’s homeless population has dropped by 48 percent, from 1,216 in 2011 to 632 this year, and by five percent from last year. 


But the number of people not going to shelters and sleeping on the streets has increased over the past year, city officials have said. 


In July, the Union Station facility changed its policy and now only serves meals to people who are attempting to end their homelessness by enrolling in Union Station programs.


The agency’s board of directors has established a search committee of former and current board members and has retained the executive search firm Morris & Berger to conduct a nationwide hunt for Gross’ successor. 


Gross will continue to lead the agency until he retires at the end of June.  


“I am not saying goodbye yet,” Gross said. “There are still months of work ahead of us. It will be an exciting time as we continue to help people in Pasadena and throughout the San Gabriel Valley achieve decent housing, more stable lives and greater self-fulfillment.”

End of an era

End of an era
Officials with the Glendale News-Press and its sister publications are pulling their racks off city streets with the recent decision to insert all three publications into the Los Angeles Times.     
News-Press Editor Dan Evans made the announcement in a column published in Monday’s edition. The News-Press, along with the Burbank Leader and the La Cañada Valley Sun, are produced by the Times Community News division of the Los Angeles Times Media Group.
In addition, “We are ceasing publication of the Sunday edition — Feb. 9 will be the final one — and replacing it with a larger, more in-depth edition on Saturdays,” an upbeat Evans wrote in a note to readers. “This new edition, called Weekend, will have all of the Sunday features, including the always popular In Theory column and Marquee, our award-winning arts and entertainment section.”
Evans also wrote that starting Feb. 20, the News-Press will begin publishing a zoned edition that will focus on covering events in Montrose and La Crescenta. 
The changes come nearly 14 months after the Times closed the offices of its four local papers, which then included the Pasadena Sun. That publication was discontinued in July. The Leader operated out of the News-Press office on Brand Boulevard and the two Suns operated out of the same office in La Cañada Flintridge. All reporters and editors with the four papers were transferred to the Times main office in downtown LA in January 2013. 
The News-Press has a daily circulation of 9,264 Wednesday through Friday; 9,949 Saturday; and 14,878 on Sunday, states the company’s media kit. The Leader reports a 4,344 circulation on Wednesday and 5,433 on Saturday. The Valley Sun’s Thursday circulation is 6,667, according to the media kit’s figures.
All stand-alone news racks carrying the three publications will be removed and the newspapers will be inserted into the Times and placed inside a number of retail businesses. The News-Press and the Leader will also be available to readers with a subscription to the Times.
Evans’ column did not list which retailers would carry the paper.
An announcement about the changes was placed on news racks in the three communities. In Glendale, the placard tells readers to “look for the new Glendale News Press — including the new weekend edition — in LA Times news racks, Wed. through Sun.”
According to Evans, the change is due to an increasing number of thieves stealing the free newspapers and recycling them soon after being placed in the racks.
“Have you wondered why you were unable to grab a copy of the paper, even in the early morning hours?” Evans wrote. “Well, turns out a rogue group of recyclers would follow around our delivery truck and grab the papers shortly after they were put in the box. My guess is this was being done for recycling purposes, though the money gained seems hardly worth the effort.”
The Pasadena Weekly, which is owned by Southland Publishing, was owned briefly by the Times before that paper was bought by the Tribune Co. in 1999. In 2007, real estate mogul Sam Zell acquired Tribune Co. through a leveraged buyout that left the company with $13 billion in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2008. 

‘End’ of an era

‘End’ of an era

Anyone who sees a movie made by British writer-director Edgar Wright is likely to come away not only amused but thoroughly surprised and perhaps a bit baffled by what they just watched.

 First, Wright expertly mashed together broad comedy and scary thrills in the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” and then turned the buddy-cop genre upside down with the hilariously violent “Hot Fuzz” before failing at the box-office with his American debut “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.”

Wright’s movies are the very definition of cult classics: Utterly oddball in nature and drawing passionate support from a smallish audience who find them entertaining, even if most mainstream moviegoers are confounded by his works. His latest film, “The World’s End,” continues Wright’s hot streak of earning 90 percent or more positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, while also unfortunately drawing rather low box office numbers.

Yet, those who complain that today’s movies are totally cookie-cutter and are yearning for a fresh idea they haven’t seen before, “The World’s End,” which is the perfect antidote.

Starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, who also top-lined “Shaun” and “Fuzz,” “The World’s End” follows a wild couple of days in the life of Gary King (Pegg), a hopelessly alcoholic loser who can’t get over the fact that he never finished an epic pub crawl while celebrating his high school graduation with his best friends. Those buddies have grown older and moved on with their lives, embracing marriage and careers, but Gary only has his fading irascible charm to get through life.

After opening the film with Gary recounting (via whiz-bang flashbacks) his high school derring-do and his buddies’ failed attempt to drink a pint of beer at each one of their small hometown’s dozen pubs, Wright reveals the adult Gary to be a wrinkled, washed-out mess in hospital-ordered rehab for drinking. But he immediately falls off the wagon, deciding suddenly that it’s time to round up the old gang and take one more shot at the pub crawl — now with steely determination to finish at the town’s most notorious pub, The World’s End.

But as the gang enters pub after pub, they start to notice that the mystical allure that these watering holes once held for them is gone. At first, they think the problem is that the bars have become homogenized by remodeling and gentrification, but then they discover a truly bizarre other reason for their hometown’s strangeness.

It’s impossible to describe the twist that sends “The World’s End” into its unique second half without requiring a SPOILER ALERT for the fact that a big surprise must be revealed. For Gary gets into a violent fight with a teenager in one of the pub bathrooms, and winds up discovering that the kid — and everyone else who lives in the town — is now a robot shell of his former self, and suddenly Gary and his gang find themselves in for a literal fight for their lives along the route of their crawl.

That audacious turn of events could have made the film fall apart, but instead Wright and his ace cast keep upping the ante with constant surprises, hilarious lines, impressively staged car chases and hand-to-hand combat scenes. And just as it seems the film might be losing its underlying wistful depiction of middle-aged angst under the weight of all the special effects, Wright, Pegg and Frost remember to redirect the proceedings to a surprisingly touching portrait of men having to come to terms with alcohol and loss.

Packed with thrilling stunts, wickedly funny dialogue and energetic performances from the lead characters, “The World’s End” provides a much-needed shot of creative adrenaline to the nation’s currently moribund multiplexes. With this weekend marking a final burn-off of lame movies that slipped through the cracks of summer release dates, treat yourself to this tasty cinematic concoction. You’ll be sorry to see it end.

End of an era

End of an era
Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz will resign on Aug. 2 and move back to his home in Gilroy in order to spend more time with his family, particularly his infant granddaughter, Jonah, the Pasadena Weekly has learned.
“The bottom line is that I am really looking for a different lifestyle,” said the 58-year-old Diaz. “The lifestyle of the superintendent is one that takes a total commitment of time, energy and passion. It has to be your first priority. I am getting to the point in my career that, after 35 years as an educator and 11 as a superintendent, I want a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.”
Diaz came to the district in March 2007 after the PUSD Board of Education decided to get rid of former Superintendent Percy Clark, whose professional undoing began shortly after he plagiarized a guest column that he submitted for publication in this newspaper. 
During Diaz’s time here, student standardized test scores increased by an average 52 points, outpacing the state’s rate of improvement. Nine of the district’s 29 schools are now considered high-performing, and PUSD’s drop-out rate has decreased significantly during Diaz’s time in charge.
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard credited Diaz with creating the “academic momentum” that led to an increase in student performances at the middle school and high school levels. 
“There had been some progress made before his arrival. Test scores at the elementary level had gone up,” Bogaard told the Weekly. But since taking over as superintendent, “Edwin Diaz has given an academic momentum to the PUSD that has been truly impressive, and the progress is at all levels of the K-12 system, particularly at the middle and high school levels, where he has implemented college and career pathway strategies. I am optimistic the school district will continue to progress and gain the confidence of the community.”
Bogaard said a decision to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent would be made by the Board of Education at a later date. Diaz notified school board members of his decision Wednesday afternoon. The Weekly agreed to embargo news of Diaz’s departure until Thursday morning. The paper goes to press Wednesday.
Before coming to Pasadena, Diaz served for six years as superintendent of the Gilroy Unified School District. There he led a successful effort to improve instructional programs and implement a management accountability system.
During his time in Pasadena, Diaz turned John Muir High School, which was in danger of a state takeover, into separate academies focusing on academics, arts, media, business engineering and environmental science. He also pushed for middle school academic improvements, and he built stronger partnerships between the district, Pasadena City College and the Pasadena City Council.
“I think the thing I am most pleased with is in the last three years people could have said, ‘You’re just cutting us every year,’” Diaz said. But they didn’t. “In spite of that, people still rallied and stayed focused and did not let that deter them and we still implemented some programs that are on the cutting edge, which will end up having some huge benefits for kids.” 
Diaz also saw his share of troubling times. In 2009, he suffered a mild stroke, which apparently has not had any physical impacts. The district also grappled with intense budget cuts at the state level, leaving the district with a $23 million deficit and forcing layoffs of nearly 100 teachers and administrators, along with the closure of two schools in Altadena.
“Even though achievement has improved, a significant closing of the achievement gap has not occurred,” Diaz said Tuesday. “I think we have a foundation for that, but the bottom line is I would have liked to have seen better results there. The biggest issue going forward is going to be sustaining the focus. What tends to happen over time is people look for a magic bullet that is going to make everything better. It does not happen. We have to look at what’s been done and build upon the good things, tweak things that need to be tweaked, but keep on moving forward. “
Internally, Diaz has been forced recently to joust verbally with Board members Ramon Miramontes and Scott Phelps, who have questioned the superintendent’s commitment to minority children and the need to hire educational consultants. Diaz said those battles had no bearing on his decision to leave. However, he admitted that they did not make his job any easier.
“Those types of governance issues make a difficult job even more difficult, especially when you are going through the type of things we are going through,” Diaz said. “We were constantly cutting millions of dollars and trying to put in the types of programs that will actually make things better. So when you have governance issues, it makes things much more difficult, and those are issues that need to be addressed. But that is not the determining factor in my decision to leave. If it wasn’t for my desire to have a different type of lifestyle I would stay here.”

End of an era

The only time I can remember lessons about black history seriously being taught in school is when ABC televised “Roots” in the late 1970s. Originally, we were only going to talk about slavery and the miniseries, but then a big-mouthed kid called a black kid “Toby.” It was only after the loudmouth got his ass kicked that the real discussion started, and we didn’t just talk about TV. We talked about black and white relationships, mixed families, lynchings, music, hair, sports, presidents, crime and ultimately America.

Before that, my teachers taught about Black History Month with such a lack of energy that I was shocked that they managed to stay awake themselves. It was nothing more than Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and even then King’s legacy was taught only as a supplement to the Kennedy administration’s accomplishments.

After spending some time in the library, I opened my mind and learned more than black history. I learned American history, and in it I saw men like Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy and the Black Panthers.

Through personal experience, I already knew about busing, but I was shocked to find out that Jackie Robinson was from Pasadena. Equally shocking was the fact that my teachers had no idea about the motivations and the struggles endured by most of these people who fought to end labels of color.

And although a large portion of the world does recognize those struggles, the message has been missed completely by some. As long as we label things with race, i.e. “black film,” “black activist,” “black boxer,” etc., we embrace racism and hold onto a “separate but equal” ideology.

That’s why it’s time to get rid of Black History Month. It separates us and advances the idea that somehow black history is not American history. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Black History Month, which had its origins as “Negro History Week,” began in the roaring ’20s, a time when the majority of Americans were living carefree lives blind to the Depression that was less than 10 years away, and black Americans were still viewed as ignorant and dirty.

Originally started in February by Harvard scholar Carter G. Woodson, because Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays were in that month, Woodson said he wanted “the world to see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history.”

Woodson also longed for a day when the celebration would not be necessary because people would be equal.

That day came after the institutionalized Civil Rights Movement, which gave way to the much more personal Black Experience, and in the Black Experience there were no more questions. Afros and songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” became beacons of identity that provided answers.

During the Korean War, my mother and other African-American women in Germany with their husbands were approached by people who asked to see their “tails.” They weren’t talking about their behinds, or even trying to insult them. They literally thought that black people had tails like a dog or a cat. Many people in Germany had apparently never seen a person of color.

In America, people were not quite as uneducated, but they were just as ignorant.

Some time after my family moved to Altadena in 1969, a woman who lived across the street from us began yelling to my older brother, Derek.

“Oh, boy. Could you come here?”

When there was no response, she came across the street and said to my mother, “I wanted your son to do some work for me.”

Never one to hold back, my mother gave her a quick education.

“He’s busy and he has a name, and it’s not boy.”

That’s why we needed Black History Month, not just to celebrate identity, but to educate people and advance equality. Today a black man does not have to carry the term boy, just as a black actor does not have to play Stepin Fetchit to get work.

“I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman said late last year, calling the month “ridiculous.”

You can look around you and see the fruits of Black History Months past every day in Pasadena —in our schools, police stations, halls of governments and newsrooms.

“Racism will only go away when we stop talking about it,” Freeman said.

My mouth is closed.

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