Thursday, January 15, 2009

Little Urban Artists Represent the South

With the Presidential inauguration just a few days away, I am quite pleased (and a little smug) to hear that the kids from Ron Clark Academy will be performing at four of the inaugural balls on Tuesday. At one of the balls, one of the students will share the stage with Usher (who is one of our fellow Southerners--born in Dallas, TX, but raised in Atlanta) and Patti La Belle. If you have not seen the kids performing "Vote However U Like," which is a play on T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" (T.I. is also a Native Atlantan), please go and watch it NOW: These little darlings made my eyes tear up every time I watched them perform and/or speak; I was on Obama overload, wrapped up in the idea of history in the making, watching Oprah cry on a stranger's shoulder, and these boys just made my heart weep with sentiment. These kids make me want to have kids. And that never happens. Ever.

Located in Southeast Atlanta, near Turner Field

Reason # 6 for Why I love the Dirty South: Ron Clark Academy: Ron Clark Academy was founded in 2007 by Ron Clark, who was made famous by Oprah after winning Disney's American Teacher of the Year in 2001. Located in Southeast Atlanta, Ron Clark Academy is an inner-city school, a former awning and tent factory transformed to an independent school for fifth through eight graders. The school incorporates teaching methods that were proven to be successful in other schools including Harlem. The private school was an idea that both Ron Clark and Kim Bearden (Cobb County teacher recipient of a national Disney Award) conjured specifically for at-risk kids in Metro Atlanta.

In December 2008, Oprah donated $365,000 to the school, $1000 for each day of the year, she said. After hearing of the check, sixth and seventh grade students had their "Dear Obama" song recorded by Imagemasters. The song addresses issues/topics that the students believe Obama should address during his Presidency, including bringing our troops home and "stand[ing]up tall for the middle class;" the song was written as a follow-up to their first performance (which was aired on ABC's Good Morning America, CNN, and BET).The kids will be fitted for tuxedos and ballgowns. Be prepared to have your heart swell with pride.

These little munchkins are heart breakers (or heart throbs?)

Ron Clark Academy's philosophy: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson. You can support the academy by visiting:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Homage to the Dirty South

Every time I visit my in-laws, I am forced to travel up North to the tiny town of Merrimack, NH: population of 26,558 in 2007 according to, three Dunkin Donuts, zero Targets, and Red Sox paraphernalia galore. I marvel at small town life, where the American Legion is the hot spot (well, you can get Absolut Vodka for $2.60 and a Bloody Mary for a $1)--and every man, strangely enough, reminds me of King of the Hill. During these trips, I have a terrible tendency to note reasons why I love the South and I make a mental list, so that the next time I hear someone diss a Southerner (which happens as often as each time a baby drops their binky), I am well-equipped with some cold hard facts (or just my biased Southern opinion).

1. Our Women Are Delicate Flowers of the South: Okay, so I started with an opinion, but there is something to be said about our women. If anybody has some sort of silly GQ or Esquire survey out there with some "evidence," let me know because me simply telling you that Southern women are better looking than Northern women may not be the best argument the next time someone says, "Southerners are dumb." Hey, well, our women are better looking! Examples: Eva Longoria, Corpus Christi, TX: Jessica Simpson, Abilene, TX: Beyonce Knowles, Houston, TX: Reese Witherspoon, New Orleans, LA.

2. Fried Chicken and Waffles: I love that we have regional food that is rich in culture (and butter). We eat black-eyed peas and ham hock on New Year's Eve for luck! The last time I had Southern food, I went to Mary Mac's Tea Room and saw Senator Max Cleland, who lost both legs and one arm during the Vietnam War and Southern as hell (Democrat born and raised in Atl). I ate my fried chicken, collards, mac & cheese, and passed on the ultra sweet tea. Other hot spots: The Collanade, Glady's Chicken and Waffles, Son's Place and for more refined Southern, try Watershed or South City Kitchen. Just make a date with the gym the next day. Oh, and Paula Dean is ours--and from Georgia, too!

Mary Mac's Team Room: good Southern Soul food!

3. Atlanta Braves Baseball: Okay, hear me out for just a second. We are definitely not the Red Sox or the Yankees and we do not have any curses involving goats and yes, John Rocker was a former Atl Brave. But the Atlanta Braves were featured on TBS in Braves Baseball on TBS, starting in 1972, which was broadcast and distributed to cable throughout the U.S. The program received high ratings and Braves were dubbed "America's Team" in the 80's (we were the Dallas Cowboys of baseball!). Although most viewers were from the Southeast, the Braves picked up a following throughout the U.S. Every so often, I meet a friend's grandfather who is from the North, but loves the Atlanta Braves. Or a Northern friend who has a childhood photo of him/her wearing a Braves sweatshirt. The Braves Baseball on TBS ended in 2007 and during the final broadcast Skip Caray said, "To all you people who have watched the Braves for these 30 years ... thank you. We appreciate you more than you will ever know. ... Thank you folks and God bless you. And we're going to miss you every bit as much as you miss us." Rest in Peace, Skip Caray. Braves baseball is not the same without him...

4. Yes, We Do Have Good Schools! The South is often known for our poor SAT scores, and particularly Georgia, but we have good news, too. In 2007, according to US News and World Report, Georgia Tech was ranked #7 nationally among public schools and 35th nationally among all universities. In 2008, Kiplinger finance magazine ranked Georgia Tech as #16 for best value in public colleges. University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was ranked #1 while University of Georgia was ranked #4. Other Southern colleges include University of Florida (#2), Florida State University (#17), and University of North Carolina at Wilmington (#25). Kiplinger factors academic quality and costs (includes SAT, admission rate, retention rate, and cost of tuition and living). And drum roll: here is my salute to my alma mater, Georgia State University; in 2008, the US News and World Report ranked the J. Mack Robinson's School of Business's Executive MBA program #5 in the country (amongst its competitors: NYU (#1), Northwestern (#3) and Berkeley (#6). The Financial Time Report ranks GSU's School of Business #57 worldwide while University of Georgia is ranked #59 worldwide. Moral of the story: go get your MBA, ya'll!

5. Politicians--Our Pride and Joy of Atlanta: Every time I drive home on Freedom Parkway, I drive past a tribute piece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and I am comforted by his presence. MLK, Jr. was born in Atlanta and grew up in one of my favorite neighborhoods, the Old Fourth Ward. I have walked past this old Victorian on my way to Our Lady of Lourdes, its porch swing still in tact and a small plaque designating 501 Auburn Avenue as birth home of MLK, jr. You can tour his home for FREE ( and with MLK day around the corner, can you think of a better way to celebrate? I also want to salute our other leaders: Andrew Young, politician and human rights activist, was the first African American since Reconstruction to be elected to Congress from Georgia--I have driven and walked Andrew Young International Blvd. for years: Maynard Jackson, the first African-American to serve as mayor for a major Southern city--I used the Maynard Terrace exit off I-20 on a daily basis for five years: Senator John Lewis, our representative in Georgia's 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is known for his role in the Selma to Montgomery marches, where in the first march he was beaten mercilessly during a peaceful demonstration.

John Lewis during first march from Selma to Montgomery: Bloody Sunday.