Juneteenth should be a celebration of unity, right? What with slaves being freed and all. But the holiday reportedly left some bruised feelings at one local government agency.
The Harris County Central Technology Center, which manages the county's computer systems, has a large cafeteria that's regularly used for staff birthday and holiday parties.
As Juneteenth approached, plans were bandied about for a potluck lunch. Unfortunately, according to some employees, at least one white staffer who asked about the June 18 party was told that it was for blacks only.
"Numerous complaints about political correctness" began circulating in the hallways, a worker said.
The center's executive director, Steven Jennings, says he asked around after a call from the Houston Press. "I was told no one was precluded from coming or told not to come," he says.
"We have over 215 employees, and I don't know if everyone got the news," he says. "The initial communication was by e-mail and word of mouth to black employees among the group planning it, but it was open to everyone Maybe somebody got their feathers ruffled because they weren't personally invited."
Juneteenth celebrates the Texas announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation; maybe a better way of announcing Juneteenth parties is needed. -- Richard Connelly
At the rate The Order of the Phoenix has been plowing through sales records, it might seem curmudgeonly to point out there are still those in Texas who have yet to be won over by Harry Potter's charms. Rather, that's just what they fear.
In the most recent report on banned and challenged books in the public schools, the ACLU of Texas found J.K. Rowling's series under fire more than any other book during the 2001-2002 academic year. Of the 71 overall complaints last year, 67 charged scary Harry with "mysticism/paganism" -- teaching witchcraft in schools, that old demon that has long haunted the religious right.
Potter may have survived these witch-hunts, but he didn't come through entirely unscathed.
The Hondo Independent School District near San Antonio has an informal policy prohibiting teachers from reading Rowling aloud to classes. At Houston's Golfcrest Elementary School, a parent pulled a child from an assigned reading of Harry Potter to an alternate book.
And on the day the newest book was released, Rowlett-based evangelist Eric Barger condemned what he called "alleged Christians" who would endorse "demonic entertainment." Harry may still need to work his magic. -- Michael Serazio
RIP, Doug Michels
Houston lost something big with the untimely death June 12 of architect Doug Michels, 59. Not just the off-the-wall imagination that helped spawn the Cadillac Ranch and "Media Burn," the renowned performance-art piece where he drove a Cadillac through a pyramid of television sets. Houston also lost the chance for the world's lar-gest woman.
The puckish Michels, a Houston resident who died during a visit to Australia, was an enthusiastic promoter of "The Spirit of Houston," his vision for a chrome statue of a shapely female the size of Williams Tower.
Now it won't get built, we guess (surely he had the financing all but lined up). When it comes to outlandish architecture, we'll have to settle for Tilman Fertitta's silly Ferris wheel instead. -- R.C.
Thinking Man's Game
There were a lot of things to like about Rice's baseball team bringing home the school's first national championship in any sport. For one thing, they play in one of the city's nicest stadiums, in a great urban setting, and it didn't take a huge gift from taxpayers to build it.
Better yet was that they beat Stanford in the College World Series. Nothing against Stanford, the Rice of the West, but having those two teams compete for the title meant the rosters were filled with actual student-athletes who attended class and even planned to graduate. You could peruse player bios and see majors listed like economics, American studies or biochemistry and not snicker.
Hey, nary a playground management major in sight. -- R.C.
Last week's Houston Press cover feature ("Dead End," by Craig Malisow, June 26) reported how economic doldrums and lagging donations were sending the homeless -- and the agencies who care for them -- into especially dire straits.
If the situation seemed like it couldn't get any worse, it has. The Star of Hope called an end to its men's shelter overflow program last week.
The shelter has had a nearly 50 percent increase in services since 1998, and has operated above capacity since moving to the current Ruiz Street location in 2000, according to spokesperson Marilyn Fountain. Through the overflow program, which cost the shelter about $300,000 a year, the Star of Hope could provide space for up to 125 men even after the shelter filled its 349 beds. They slept on floor mats and chairs in the shelter's dayroom.
The shelter has also laid off five employees in order to spare the Star of Hope's programs involving life skills, employment and transitional housing, Fountain said. She doesn't expect the overflow program to return. -- Craig Malisow
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The South Belt Fourth of July parade will have a rare theme -- civil disobedience -- when it marches forward this Independence Day in violation of city laws. Houston police in Clear Lake have agreed to look the other way (maybe to redirect traffic?) rather than ticket participants for failing to stop at red lights or for having horses on public streets.
Organizers say the event has been staged in good faith as a "mobile festival" for 14 years, without the need for a permit that would legally condone such flagrant paradelike activities. A city ordinance allows for only two parades per day in the city, not within four hours of each other. Nearly a year ago the Lindale Park Civic Club nabbed the somewhat-less-hellish 10 a.m. slot for its 2003 July Fourth procession.
Last week, city officials brokered a last-minute compromise to let the planned flag-waving slide. Still, South Belt organizers fear that next year's parade might not be possible under current city regulations.
Said local Lucy Peterson: "It's a shame that you have to fight the government to have a parade to celebrate your freedom." -- M.S.