My first Five Keys graduation!

Sherri (right) was Shanon’s in-custody teacher

I’ve only been teaching at Five Keys since October of 2017, so this May was my first opportunity to take part in the end-of-year festivities. I’ve been to many graduations, mostly my former second- and third-graders, so I generally watched from the audience side of the auditorium.

But this time, my graduating students were adults, and I was up on the stage of the Solano Community College Theater handing out diplomas. All graduations have common elements: the director/principal/head/president greets and presents the graduating class, proud family members cheer as their loved ones cross the stage, and either a guest or a faculty member utters wise words to live by and wishes the graduates bright futures.

Jorge & me

Two distinguishing characteristics of a Five Keys version of this ceremony are (1) most of those accepting their high school diplomas received at least part of their education while incarcerated, and (2) the age range of the graduates may be anywhere from 19 to 90, which means some of those in caps and gowns had children and even grandchildren celebrating this milestone with them.

But what stood out for me were the students’ speeches. They were so grateful to everyone who had supported them, even if some didn’t have any friends or family members there to watch them get their diplomas. They related some of the difficulties they’d encountered along the way–and to be sure, some of them have surmounted huge obstacles–but the tears that day were all about happiness, and most of the speeches focused on the future. Some wanted to go to college, some wanted to start their own businesses, and some just wanted to find a job that would keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Only two of the fourteen grads who walked the stage that day had been my students, but I felt a swell of pride not only for Jorge and Shanon, but also on behalf of all those graduating. And I enjoyed being  part of this wonderful community that included my fellow educators, Jorge’s smiling auntie who carried a big bouquet of balloons, and the deputy sheriff who cut and served cake to her former inmates.

Even after I climbed into my car afterwards, I was giddy with positive energy. Although I suppose it could have been a sugar rush from the cake…


Launching Quirky Berkeley!

quirky berkeley
Things were hopping at Berkeley’s North Branch during Quirky Berkeley‘s launch party. Photo: Dave Peattie

Another reason to love our library: last night, Berkeley’s North Branch hosted the launch party for Tom Dalzell’s new book, Quirky Berkeley. Published by local Heyday Press, it is a collection of visual delights culled from the quirkiest of little cities–our own Berzerkeley. From Buldan Seka’s Giant Ceramic Freaks on Spruce Street to the whimsical steel structures of Mark Bulwinkle all over Berkeley, his book documents all those fun double-takes one experiences when walking Berkeley streets. The book is a natural follow-up to Dalzell’s wonderful blog of the same name. Rather than attempt to describe any theme myself, I am borrowing words from Heyday’s publisher emeritus Malcolm Margolin, who sums it up in his foreword so perfectly:

And then there’s Berkeley, and the pilgrimage of Tom Dalzell to what are, in my mind, shrines to the revolutionary and dangerous idea that we can build a vibrant community not by hiding our uniqueness but by sharing it with the world.

Tom Dalzell
Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A slide show of highlights from the book ran continuously, and John Storey’s photos of selected art hung on the walls of the library wherever there was room. Besides the author, attending celebrants included Margolin, dozens of well-wishers from the community, and many of the featured artists themselves. The promotion provided by yesterday’s Berkeleyside article no doubt added to the throng of those who paid the library a visit on a Monday night.

Refreshments were served, which shouldn’t surprise me but still does because I think of libraries as sacred places unsuitable for Oreos and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not that I don’t imbibe, mind you; I never pass up free food. . . Stacks of the feted volume were sold, and Dalzell signed each copy presented to him by appreciative fans. Since Tom pointed out two of the artists standing nearby, I got signatures from Doug Heines and Rob Garross too! Mark Bulwinkle was scheduled to be there, but we left before the merriment drew to a close, so I may have missed him.

Special shout-out to supervising librarian Jack Baur, who puts on events such as these at Berkeley’s North Branch. (No, not Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer from “24”…) You can see him behind the circulation desk in the far left of the panorama shot, sporting a ginger beard and a lavender shirt. You know, in case you want to recognize him and thank him for the lovely job he does.




This entertaining account of a first-time award-winning YA author brought a big smile to my face. I don’t even know her, but after reading this, I feel like I do. Of course, I’m the teensiest bit jealous, but it’s so great to hear success stories.

Oakland Book Fest Does It Right!

Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Oakland Book Festival. Situated downtown at City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza, just steps away from the 12th Street BART station, it was billed as “One Day, Seven Hours, 90 Writers, 40 Events.”

It was my daughter Kylie’s last day home on her short visit from Baltimore, which has claimed her heart as no other city has (though Oakland is probably a close second). I wanted to spend my precious last minutes with her how she wanted to spend them, but I made the suggestion that we check out the book event. To my delight, she was game. And she was even more excited when she discovered who was speaking.

Two people she’d read about in school and admired were among the panelists: former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown and scholar and writer, Frank Wilderson. Since their panels were later, we wandered around Laurel Books in its new digs on Broadway and perused the booksellers’ booths in the plaza. I managed to buy only one book, Bad Indian, which had been recommended by the professor of a recent course I took on Native American Literature, History,  and Politics.

We splurged on frozen custard cookie sandwiches as we listened to a self-professed nerd rap on stage at the amphitheater. Since this was a very public place, all kinds of people were among the crowd, including a woman wearing a wire hat shaped into a spider who told all of us to follow Jesus, and if we didn’t, we’d arrive at judgment day to find that Jesus would not only keep us out, but according to this woman, he would tell us, “Fuck you!” At least she offended Christians and atheists alike…

When we arrived for the first panel we’d chosen, Question Everything, we were turned away because the room where it was meeting was at capacity. Disappointed but not broken, we improvised. Because Kylie wanted to ensure she’d get a seat for the panel called Radical Cities, Radical Lives, where Brown and Wilderson would be speaking, she sat at the head of a line for an hour and a half, where she made friends with two women while they  waited together and talked about racial politics.

I decided to catch the end of a panel on famous Oakland writers that included an expert on California’s first poet laureate Ina Coolbrith, who was also the librarian for the city of Oakland over a hundred years ago. And in the same room afterward I enjoyed readings by Ayelet Waldman and Akhil Sharma, who were quite entertaining.

oakland book festWhile Kylie nabbed a front-row seat watching two of her idols, I dashed across the plaza to Laurel Books to watch a late addition to the program sponsored by Mother Jones magazine on the state of police and their portrayal in media. The presenters were knowledgeable and well spoken, and a lively Q&A session made for interesting conversation.

I applaud the people who put together this amazing program centered around books. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the festival is that it’s completely free and open to the public. I hope this becomes an annual event because I could easily make this a tradition…

Another Oscar Night come and gone

Gold Trophy

Well, I did not see as many Oscar-nominated movies as I’d hoped, but I did see 18 of the movies that were up for awards last night, including all of those that were up for best picture and any for acting.  I saw most of those up for writing awards but only one of the foreign films and one documentary. Luckily, I will still be able to see many of those on Netflix in the coming months.

My predictions weren’t too bad—I got 10 out of 24, but I missed a few of the big ones. I thought Boyhood deserved best picture, but I certainly think that Birdman was worthy.

I’m very happy that Julianne Moore and J.K. Simmons both won for their performances. And I’m glad that Birdman took home the award for best original screenplay and that The Imitation Game won best adapted screenplay. graham moore

The acceptance speech by its writer Graham Moore was the best of the evening. “Stay weird” will be the catch phrase we remember most from last night. We should all be thankful that his suicide attempt at age 16 was not successful.

The big surprise of the evening for me was how beautifully Lady Gaga can sing. She did Julie Andrews proud belting out a medley from The Sound of Music, though I wasn’t exactly clear why that was part of the night’s program.

Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t bad, but I would love to see Ellen DeGeneres back as host. He did throw a good zinger right at the beginning, referring to Hollywood’s “best and whitest,” a clear dig at the lack of diversity represented by the nominations.

Of course Birdman director Alejandro Iñárritu is Mexican, so not all the awards were handed out to white people. And he appealed to the U.S. to treat recent immigrants with dignity, considering we are a nation based on immigration.

And I congratulate John Legend and Common for their win in writing the best song, “Glory.” Despite the few nominations that seemed to value diversity, the crowd loved their moving performance of this song from the film Selma and gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

Credit Unions rule!


I figure there are always things to rant about, but today I just want to take a moment to sing the praises of my credit union, USE.

Yesterday I realized that my debit/credit card was not in my wallet, my purse, my car, or anywhere in the house. So I gave up ever trying to find it and called USE’s 24-hour phone number to report a lost card. I talked to a real-live person and canceled my card within a few minutes.

Today I drove to my local branch of USE (where I nabbed a parking place right in front of the office in downtown Berkeley!). I was able to walk right up to the window, explain my situation, and receive a new debit/credit card within five minutes. FIVE MINUTES! There’s no way that would have happened so quickly if I were still with Wells Fargo.

It was so fast and easy, I still had the time and energy to go to Costco to get my gas tank filled and pick up one of their amazing five-dollar roast chickens.

So thank you, USE. I am so happy that I switched over to a credit union.


Peace Day doesn’t let us forget


3 paper cranes

Eleanor Coerr wrote Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in 1977, and it has become a beloved children’s tale, translated into umpteen languages so that children all over the world can learn the heartbreaking true story of a little girl who lived in Hiroshima and was two years old when the United States dropped an atom bomb on her homeland. She seemed fine until she was eleven, when dizzy spells sent her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was her friend Chizuko who gave her a paper crane and suggested that Sadako make a thousand of them, based on the Japanese legend that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted one wish. In the book, Sadako was able to make only 644 before she died, but friends and family members completed the task and buried Sadako with a thousand paper cranes. However, others say that Sadako did complete a thousand and kept going, but of course she still died.

Sadako monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

A statue of Sadako and a crane stands at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to remind us of all children who have died as a result of war. Every year at 8:15 am (the time the bomb was dropped) the Peace Bell is rung and everyone says silent prayers on behalf of the atomic bomb victims. The Peace Declaration is read aloud, calling for an end to nuclear warfare and promoting peace worldwide. Rather than making the ceremony only about mourning the dead, Peace Day has turned a day of tragedy into one of hope.

And on the fourth floor in the children’s section of Berkeley’s main library close-up 2 of kotodowntown we commemorated Peace Day a day early by reading excerpts aloud from Coerr’s book, accompanied by four people playing koto, a Japanese stringed instrument that is truly marvelous to look at. After the reading, children and parents made origami cranes with out of paper provided by the library with the goal of folding one thousand to send to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Art and music librarian Debbie Carton arranged for the musicians and readers, and she even brought her own mother, Joy, and daughter, Audrey, to read portions of the story and fold cranes.

At the end of the story, all the readers said the prayer together:

This is our cry

This is our prayer

Peace in the world

Heiwa no inori

It was a beautiful way to remember a tragedy. By keeping the memories alive, maybe we can ensure that nuclear war won’t happen again.