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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Lovely Pictures of Love Birds

To end February, the month of LOVE, I've chosen the following pictures of LOVE BIRDS – ENJOY

Celebrity Caricatures by a young Iranian Deaf Artist – Alireza Bagheri

Alireza Bagheri is a 20 year-old young artist born in Gorgan, a province of Iran.  I think he has accomplished an incredible mastery of the art of caricature at a very young age – you be the judge.

Albert Einstein
Barack Obama
Mr. Bean
Condoleezza Rice
Bruce Lee

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Bari-Kentan, an Armenian Tradition

Time goes by so fast and I find myself falling behind in completing all my planned posts on my blog.  February is almost over, and I had planned to post two more stories before the end of the month. 

Last weekend I came down with a stomach flu. Since then, I've been under the weather and unable to write. Blogging has kept me very busy. Sometimes I think why do I bother so much to write but then the encouragement of my peers gives me fuel to keep the engine running. Now I know what a tough job reporters, journalists or authors have.  

According to Catholicism "Mardi Gras," which is the French way of saying Fat Tuesday, is the last day of eating fatty animal foods before the ritual of fasting for Lent begins.  In Armenian tradition, this day is actually the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.  We call it "Bari Kentan," meaning Good Life.  

According to Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of practitioners as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes that are used at the Wednesday mass are gathered after the palm from the previous year's of Palm Sunday are burned.  

But since I'm not a Catholic, I'd like to use my mother's theory of why they say Ash Wednesday.  She says in old days, ash was used to clean pots and pans. So, the day after Fat Tuesday, on Wednesday, people cleaned every residue of animal food from their utensils, by using ashes.  And that's how the day came to be called Ash Wednesday. You may choose your own version, depending on how you look at things.

In Armenian culture, "bari-kentan" the last day before Lent, the same as in Western culture, has been marked with festivities, good food and even a masquerade. 

There is also another tradition in our culture that has passed down from our elders to us. And when we were young in Iran we have enjoyed it a lot.  It is to tie the feet of an elder male (a grandpa) and hit them with tree branches and ask them for money. It was a fun tradition but since we moved to these foreign shores, America, we have not kept the tradition of celebrating "Bari-Kentan." And I guess my kids don't know about the tradition. 

One of our famous writers Hovaness Toumanian who lived in late 1800s has a little story called "Bari-Kentan." The story goes: One day a husband brings home sacks of food (rice and beans) and tells his young wife that the food is for Bari-Kentan. The wife not knowing what Bari-Kentan means, (I guess not in every village celebrated the feast) thinks that it is someone's name.  So, she waits for couple of weeks and Bari-Kentan doesn't show up to pick up his food.  

One day when she was at the door, notices a man coming towards their home, he assumes that, he must be the guy who has to pick up the food.  She asks the stranger, if he's Bari-Kentan who is supposed to pick up the food. 

The man, realizing that the woman is in fault, says that indeed he is Bari-Kentan who has come to pick up the food. So the woman hands sacks of food to this stranger and he goes away.  In the evening when the husband comes home, happily, she tells him that Bari-Kentan came for his food and that she gave him all the food and he took it away. You may very well imagine what the reaction of the husband could be. This is one of the favorite stories that my grandmother used to tell us and I wanted to hear it over and over again.

Pope Benedict receiving Penitential Ahes

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

AMERICAN War Reporter, Marie Colvin, Dead in an ambush in Syria

This morning I woke up to a tragic news: Respected American journalist, Marie Colvin, who spent decades reporting on conflicts from Sri Lanka to Syria, focusing on the suffering of women and children in wartime, died in a fierce shelling attack in Syria.

Colvin, who was 57, was known for her courage behind the front lines and immediately recognizable for an eye patch that hid an injury suffered in a Sri Lankan ambush. She had been holed up in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. Sunday Times editor John Witherow confirmed her death during a "devastating bombardment by the Syrian army."
French photojournalist Remi Ochlik died alongside Colvin, the French government announced. Freelance photographer Paul Conroy and journalist Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro were wounded, according to Witherow and Le Figaro.
Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times for the past two decades, making a specialty of reporting from the world's most dangerous places. Her final dispatch Tuesday from a cellar offering refuge for women and children hinted at the horrors that eventually took her own life.
"It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire," she wrote. "There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off. ... Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbors. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.
"Fearing the snipers' merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen."
Colvin often focused on the plight of women and children in battles and Syria was no different. She gave interviews to major British broadcasters on the eve of her death, appealing for the world to notice the slaughter taking place.
It boggles the mind how people sacrifice their lives to bring justice to this Unjust World... I'm trying to raise awareness by posting this snippet, gathered from Internet. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Nelson Mandela once said that “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. The language of our thoughts and our emotions is our most valuable asset. Multilingualism is our ally in ensuring quality education for all, in promoting inclusion and in combating discrimination. Building genuine dialogue is premised on respect for languages. Each representation of a better life, each development goal is expressed in a language, with specific words to bring it to life and communicate it. Languages are who we are; by protecting them, we protect ourselves.

Did you know February 21 is the International Mother Language Day?  Learn a slice of History

International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62).

Monday, 20 February 2012

Abraham Lincoln

Today is Presidents Day (or, as we used to call it, Lincoln’s Birthday). That makes it a good time to talk about one of the great anomalies in Presidential history: the fact that President Abraham Lincoln, our Commander in Chief during our bloodiest war, took the time to review over 1,600 cases of military convictions during his 1,503 days in office, and that Lincoln pardoned a myriad of soldiers condemned to death.

In one case of desertion, President Lincoln said: “If a man had more than one life, I think a little hanging would not hurt this one; but after he is once dead we cannot bring him back, no matter how sorry we may be; so the boy shall be pardoned.”

In another case, the soldier’s father went to the White House to beg for mercy for him. President Lincoln, who had never met the father before, greeted him as “my old friend.” Lincoln listened to the father, and then wrote out on a piece of paper: “Job Smith is not to be shot until further orders from me – ABRAHAM LINCOLN.” The father started to cry, but he asked Lincoln why he had phrased it this way. Lincoln said: “If your son never looks on death till further orders come from me to shoot him, he will live to be a great deal older than Methuselah.”

Lincoln refused to release a slave trader from prison, however, despite a personal appeal from an influential Congressman. “If this man were guilty of the foulest murder that the arm of man could perpetrate, I might forgive him on such an appeal; but the man who could go to Africa, and rob her of her children, and sell them into interminable bondage, with no other motive that that which is furnished by dollars and cents, is so much worse than the most depraved murderer, that he can never receive a pardon at my hands. No!”

Yet time after time, President Lincoln pardoned soldiers who had been sentenced to death for sleeping during sentry duty, desertion, and even treason. Lincoln called the desertion convictions his “leg cases”: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

And why did Lincoln show this mercy? Because over 600,000 people died during the Civil War, more than one out of every 50 Americans. And Lincoln thought that that was more than enough death. As journalist David Locke said: “No man on earth hated blood as Lincoln did.”
(The above text was gathered from Internet)

THE TALK OF THE TOWN - Baby Boom – World's 7 billionth BABY is born in Manila, Philippines

Meet the 7 billionth Baby:

On October 31 of last year I received an email from the executive director of UNA-USA, Patrick Madden, informing the coming of the 7 billionth child.  A week before I had also read in TIMES magazine about the anticipation of the 7 billionth baby.  I decided to post it on my blog, as soon as the baby was identified, but then I put it on back burners and forgot all about it.  Until today when I was cleaning my inbox and came uponemail.  Here is the email and the news from the arrival of the baby.

Dear UNA-USA Members:
Our world is growing exponentially. Today, the world welcomes the birth of the 7 billionth child. With this in mind, it is more important than ever that we answer critical questions regarding population, health and sustainability. How these issues are addressed could determine whether that child lives in a safe, healthy and sustainable world — or one of insecurity, disease and instability.

Nations are facing population growth and shifts we haven’t seen before. Across the globe countries are seeking to address the health and environmental sustainability impacts of human development. Investments in international family planning contribute to a host of positive health and development outcomes, including the promotion of healthy, productive families and communities, environmental sustainability, and resource and food security.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — She came into the world at two minutes before midnight, a tiny, wrinkled girl born into a struggling Manila family. On Monday, she became a symbol of the world'spopulation reaching 7 billion people and all the worries that entails for the planet's future.

Weighing 2.5kg (5.5lb), Danica May Camacho was chosen by the United Nations to be one of several children around the world who will symbolically represent the global population milestone.
She was delivered just before midnight on Sunday amid an explosion of press camera flashes at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.
"She looks so lovely," her mother, Camille Dalura, whispered softly as she cradled her tiny newborn.
"I can't believe she is the world's seven billionth."
Danica's name means morning star. She is a second child for Camille Dalura and Florante Camacho.
The parents and the baby were met by officials from the UN, which named 31 October Seven Billion Day, aiming to draw attention to the challenges of the world's growing population.
The accuracy of the projection has been questioned, with some groups arguing that the figure is more likely to be reached next year.
UN officials nevertheless presented the baby and her parents with a small cake as she lay on her mother's chest wearing a knitted red hat.
The family also received a scholarship grant for Danica's education from wellwishers and some money to help them open a shop.
Previous children picked out at birth by the UN to mark world population milestones have complained that the international body forgot about them later in life.
Both 12-year-old Adnan Nevic of Bosnia Herzogovina, the sixth billionth baby, and Matej Gaspar from Croatia, who was number five billion, have complained that the UN chose them at birth then largely ignored them.
"We saw Kofi Annan as almost like a godfather to him," Adnan's father, Jasminko, told the Guardian.
Adnan said: "He held me up when I was two days old but since then we have heard nothing from them."
The UN Population Fund hopes to raise awareness about reproductive health, women's rights and inequality through the campaign.
Countries around the world have held celebrations to mark the occasion, including a song contest in Zambia and a concert in Vietnam.
The Philippines has 94.9 million people, according to a UN report, and 10% of girls aged 15 to 19 have been pregnant.
Enrique Ona, the country's health secretary, said the birth offered his country an opportunity to address population-related problems.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Anti-government Uprising in Syria may Harm the Armenians Situation in Aleppo and other cities in Syria

There is a big Armenian community in Syria.
Exit Plan: Armenians of Syria may need escape if Assad regime collapses

By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow reporter
The anti-government uprising in Syria that has taken more than 6,000 lives has become an issue of serious concerns for the 80,000-Armenian community residing in various parts of the country.

Last week in Aleppo, where the Armenian community is mainly centered, 25-year old soldier Vigen Hayrapetian was among the 28 victims of explosions. More than ten days ago an Armenian youth from a wealthy family was kidnapped and was released last Friday in exchange for ransom money. (The Armenian community, however, does not view that kidnapping incident as an ethnic issue directed against Armenians). These incidents have raised concerns among Armenians of Syria, although in the cities with large Armenian communities, namely in AleppoDamascus, Latakia, Kesab and Kamishli, the situation is reported to be stable and manageable; nonetheless, the overall instability in the country, naturally affects the Armenian community as well. During the Wednesday parliament session in Armenia, Premier Tigran Sargsyan said answering Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun party leader Vahan Hovhannisyan’s question on what measures the government has taken for worst-case-scenario developments: “We will take all necessary steps to show full support to our compatriots”.

The Armenian community of Syria is one of the biggest in the Middle East, and has lead a well-off and safe life during the three decades of the Assads’ reign (father and son), and in case of power turnover dangerous changes cannot be ruled out. Experts believe that a change of power may have unpredictable consequences for Armenians, considering two facts: first of all that the majority of opposition are Islamists with al-Qaeda representatives among them and anti-Christian sentiments, and second, that their transition/national council was formed in Turkey. Ruben Safrastyan, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at RA National Academy of Sciences (NAA), does not rule out a possibility of “violence against Christians, and especially against Armenians”, should chaos rule in the country. Armenia’s strategic partner Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov denied the accusations of supporting Assad: “We are neither friends, nor allies with President Assad.” However, Russia and China again vetoed on Monday the UN Security Council’s resolution criticizing the Syrian authorities and calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation; on Tuesday Lavrov met Al-Assad urging to start negotiations with the opposition and refused the international appeal to try to convince Assad to resign. Many in Armenia hope that Russia would be able to resist international pressure and not go againstSyria; some Armenia-based politicians, nonetheless, have called upon Armenians of Syria to take a neutral stance.

That, however, is not easy for Armenians.“It is natural that the majority of Armenians would support Bashar al-Assad, since they led safe and prosperous lives under his leadership, ethnic rights were fully protected, they have schools, churches, and it is under that regime Armenians see the chance for ethnic survival,” says Arax Pashamyan, senior specialist of Arab studies at NAA. As representatives of the Syrian-Armenian community say, there isn’t specific ethno-motivated encroachment upon Armenians or any other ethnic minorities, however, the overall instability in the country has triggered a tangible rise in crime. “Of course it’s rather quiet in the cities where Armenians reside, however, there are social issues, energy crisis, for some 6 hours a day electricity is cut off; it’s not dangerous, but gives ground for worries,” Nairi Mkrtchyan, 43, told ArmeniaNow. Mkrtchyan moved to Armenia a decade ago from Kamishli but his family, his parents are still there. Armeniastates its readiness to accept Syrian Armenians, but head of RA Migration Agency Gagik Yeganyan does not anticipate a big flow of emigrants from Syria. “Judging from the inflow of emigrants from Iraq to Armenia, I don’t believe there will be mass inflow from Syria either, because our state cannot offer substantial help and support. That’s why they’ll try to move to more developed countries,” says Yeganyan.

Syrian Armenian Petros Gasparian, who recently bought an apartment in Yerevan, doesn’t share this opinion. “Maybe they are not informed and don’t know how difficult it is for citizens of Syria to be issued a visa to other countries. To us Armenia remains the only salvation. At present many of our friends who managed to sell their apartments in time, are buying a house in Yerevan,” Gasparyan told ArmeniaNow, adding that many people are now deprived of that opportunity as well, because it has become impossible to sell real estate since the clashes started.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Student Jumped to His Death at La Crescenta Valley High School

Drew Ferraro a 15 year old jumped to his death last Friday, off of a third-story  roof of Crescenta Valley High School, in front of horrified classmates during lunchtime.  His devastated parents say bulling was to blame. 

In the wake of the tragedy that hit our neighboring community of La Crescenta, so hard, last week,  I've posted news gathered from different sources:
La Canada, Valley Sun - February 15
The Crescenta Valley community turned out en force Wednesday to celebrate the life of a boy that family members described as a doting brother, an outdoor enthusiast and a champion of the marginalized.

“He always wanted to take care of the underdogs, the ones that were kind of left behind,” Cindi Rivas said of her nephew, Drew Ferraro, who authorities say committed suicide last week by jumping off a three-story building during lunch period at Crescenta Valley High School. “He would go over there and make himself one of them just because he didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.”
The standing-room only crowd at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Tujunga included hundreds of students and staff from Crescenta Valley High, where the 15-year-old was a sophomore, as well as dozens of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department North Hollywood Division, where his father, John Ferraro, works.

Drew was born without fear, his parents and two sisters said in a eulogy that was read by Montrose Church Pastor Gabby Leon, and by the age of 5 had had more staples and stitches than most adults.

He was sneaky, and loved to scare people, just like his dad, they said. He was also sarcastic and always ribbing those closest to him. They recounted a more recent stunt in which Drew striped naked, wrapped himself in bubble wrap and ran down the street.

“For those not fortunate enough to know his laugh, it is a tragedy,” his family said. “He had one of those laughs that made a person laugh even louder. It was infectious and wonderful. Drew’s giggle was the most fantastic ever, it could 
bring a smile to anyone.”

LA Times, February 14,
Students at Crescenta Valley High School returned to class Tuesday for the first time since a 15-year-old student jumped to his death in what authorities have ruled a suicide.
Many students and staff wore black in memory of sophomore Drew Ferraro, who leaped from a three-story building into a crowded courtyard during lunch on Friday. The incident was witnessed by numerous students.
"I am not the person to wear black," said Corey Timpson, 17, as she headed to her first class. "I try to avoid it, actually, but today I wore it in respect for the loss."
Many students told the Glendale News-Press they were still in shock.
"[School officials] said there is going to be grief counselors available, so that is good," said Leo Rostamian, 18. "A lot of people are going to need that because a lot of people saw the fall."
Others said that they were trying unsuccessfully to avoid talking about the incident, which horrified witnesses and shocked the greater Crescenta Valley community.
"It feels weird, it is just awkward," said Garrett Manalo, 17, of being back on campus. "It is still depressing [with] everything that happened."
Members of the school community were encouraged to don black and heavy metal-themed T-shirts in memory of Ferraro, whom friends described as a music lover and a member of the junior varsity football team.

I found the following very well thought out reflections from John Leonard published at Glendale Newspress (Feb 16) 
Last Friday, a somber status update came across the social network: a tragedy occurred at Crescenta Valley High. A boy jumped to his death from the roof as students were filtering out for lunch.

This shook me because I personally know two students and their families, and I’m familiar with many of their acquaintances. Searching the Internet for information, it came slowly. A 15-year-old sophomore, one report said, but no name. I prayed it wasn’t either of the boys I knew, or any of their friends. Beyond that, I prayed it wasn’t true at all, that the reports were inaccurate. But they weren’t. 

More than just a school is distraught, an entire community is in shock. Information is limited, and answers are few while the questions are many. Why would a teenager do such a horrific thing? What caused him to take his own life at all, let alone in such a dramatic and public way?

How could no one see him climbing a roof? How could no one see he was troubled?

Teenage tragedy is not uncommon. Unfortunately, tragic things can happen to anybody and everybody. Many of us have dealt with similar situations in our lifetime. I am not immune. I know what it’s like to have a friend die tragically at such an early age, and how it sends shock waves and unanswered questions through a school, a district, a community.
There are conflicting reports about what took place on Friday. Bullying may or may not have been a factor.

 ThroughFacebook, Tumblr, and other outlets, speculation is flying about his parents and friends and how they could have prevented this from happening if they had been more aware. 

But by all accounts, he comes from good parents, a loving family; his friends were all close-knit, and they all hung out together doing normal 21st century kid stuff. The saddest thing about something like this is that everyone seeks answers and signs and solutions that don’t always exist.

I’m sure his parents and friends thought they knew him well (and they most likely did), but that did not prevent this horrible thing from happening. Still, a boy has killed himself. People knew him well, but didn’t know what he kept secret from them.

I personally hid a lot of pain clandestinely behind a smile, behind the sharp wit of an irreverent sense of humor. Sometimes I lashed out in anger, or acted obnoxiously, but no one (especially my parents) knew the hurt I was hiding.

The reality is there is no fail-safe way of knowing how to prevent something as devastating as what that student did from happening. Sometimes the cries for help are deafening, other times they can seem inaudible. Parents have it rough because they are guardians and disciplinarians first and friends last, but there needs to be a healthy balance.

Parents have to create a safe and open environment for their children to be secure in coming to them in any situation, but even if their kids come to them nine times out of 10, that 10% could be where they hide their deepest pain.

The reality is, there may never be answers to the questions so many seek. Perhaps the best we can hope for when tragedies like this occur is for a heightened sense of community, of awareness: not only of the cares and concerns of others, but our own and how we deal with them both internally and externally.

We all need to be better communicators, but we need to be even better listeners. This polarizing event needs to serve as a reminder that we need to be there for one another beyond the very words we often say, that we need to act on what we say.

So friends and family, be thankful for those who are in your lives because they can be gone before tomorrow. Be a comfort to one another, be a harbor in the storm, be a beacon in the abyss. Be honest because life is precious, life is a gift and life is beautiful.

Friday, 17 February 2012

In Honor of History Month - A BUS RIDE FROM WATTS.

Sandy Banks 
February, besides being the month for Lovers, is also Black History and Cat Appreciation Month. I've already posted several entries about love stories on my blog. I've also posted a story by guest blogger, Jaque Heebner, who tells us about her love for Cats.

In honor of Black History month, here's a post from LA Times by Sandy Banks, my favorite columnist, and published last Saturday, February 11. Banks in her recent column, tells about a slice of history that many people either have little idea or have forgotten, including myself. Her column was about desegregation and the student busing practice in the United States.

I remember our summer vacation in 1978. We were visiting Los Angeles from Iran, and there was a lot of talk and discussion on TV about the busing program and Proposition 1 (later in 1979 it was ratified by voters). However around that time 
when we were transplanted to Glendale, California because of the Islamic Revolution, I don't remember hearing much about the busing program. It was not practiced in Glendale, only in LA. Somehow the program faded from my memory until a week ago when I read the Banks' column.

I like Sandy Banks' insightful columns that usually revolve around her life or in general about black community.  I've been reading her columns.  Years ago, when her kids were young and her husband had passed away, she wrote a lot about the challenges she had as a single mom and how she survived by having a nanny from a European country. 

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to her at LA Times' Book Fair at UCLA.  She told us how she became a reporter and all about her life. It was delightful.  I regret now that I didn't have a picture taken with her to share with my readers!

In this column, Banks writes about how the busing practice started 40 years ago in Los Angeles, and how "inner city" black students were transported to the "white" suburbs of Los Angeles.  Enjoy!

Pioneers of LAUSD desegregation

A bus ride from Watts 40 years ago took African American students to a Van Nuys high school, and into the future of an integrated L.A. Unified.

February 11, 2012|Sandy Banks

They aren't the kind of heroes usually honored during Black History Month. They didn't challenge Jim Crow laws or invent more ways to use peanuts.
But they were pioneers 40 years ago in this city's first school integration campaign.
Rudy Pittman, now a teacher, was 14 when he took that first bus ride from Watts, one of seven kids, escorted by police, headed over the hill to Van Nuys' Birmingham High.

It was 1972 and the Los Angeles Unified School District had been found guilty of intentionally segregating city schools. White families, fearful of having their children bused, had begun fleeing the district and transferring to private schools.
* * * * * 
The new busing program, called Permits With Transportation, or PWT, was partly seen as a way to fill empty classroom seats. It was a prelude to the much larger mandatory desegregation program the district would begin in 1978. It helped integrate Valley campuses and extend the bounty of predominantly white suburban schools to a small group of black children from poor neighborhoods.
Pittman's parents had grown up in Watts. His mother graduated from Fremont, his father from Jordan High. Most of what his family knew about white people, they had learned from radio and TV. "We expected the white boys to be all 'Alice Cooper,' doing acid, tripping out," Pittman said.
His parents worried that the suburban teens might be a bad influence on their athletic, straight-arrow son. "They told me 'Don't start messing with those white kids,'" he recalled.
The white parents, no doubt, issued similar warnings.
"I remember one girl couldn't have us at her house because her dad objected," said Cynthia Carraway, Birmingham class of '76. "She said 'You can't come over, but I'll meet you on the corner.' And we hung out anyway."
Their numbers grew, from seven black kids that first September to five full busloads three years later. By the time Kenneth Williams graduated in 1979, black and white kids paired up at the prom, ditched class together to go to the beach, and got drunk en masse at the senior picnic.
"Those guys smoothed it out for us," Williams said. "The racial tension was gone."
* * * * * *
They were known on campus as "the PWT kids" and the moniker has hung on. They grew up to be bankers, business owners, computer techs, teachers, artists, probation officers. Several are still friends with white classmates.

"We felt like we had a responsibility to represent the inner city," said Peggy Harris, class of '76, who now works in finance.
An admonition played in their heads, a group of them told me over breakfast at a Westchester coffee shop last month: Don't go out there and act a fool. Don't mess it up for everyone else.
But they were teenagers, after all. And there were stumbles.
Like the morning after the television airing of the searing docudrama "Roots," The PWT kids got off the bus and discovered a crude mural of Africa had been painted on a courtyard wall — with a boat and the bitter rejoinder: GO BACK TO AFRICA.

Pittman and his buddies "started walking through the classrooms, knocking white boys out," he said.
When the dust settled and the vandals were fingered, kids on both sides were disciplined. But worse for Pittman than the punishment was the revelation that some of the culprits were his buddies from the football team.
"That, for me, was heartbreaking. One was the quarterback of the team. I'd slept at his house!" recalled Pittman, who now lives in the Valley.
The students were ordered to talk about it. The white boys seemed genuinely perplexed that Pittman had taken the racial slur so personally.
"'We didn't mean you,' they said. 'We meant those other ones,'" Pittman told me.
"They didn't know that all of us felt like 'others' on that campus then."
During our breakfast, I was struck by how one-sided the burden of desegregation was for these early pioneers.
* * * * * *
But they didn't consider themselves activists or martyrs. They got used to rising before dawn, riding buses for hours and getting home after the street lights had come on.
I asked if they had regrets about what they'd missed, traveling so far from home.
Steve White, class of '76, thought for a moment and then laughed. "I missed getting beat up on the way home from school. Getting my lunch money taken by gangsters," he said. At Birmingham, "you didn't have to worry about what color you were wearing.... The white folks might not like me, but at least they weren't gonna beat me up."
Birmingham offered freedom from fear and danger and violence.
What they learned on the campus didn't always come from books.
They learned that prejudice is not immutable, and that resistance can give way to relief.
* * * * * *
Sharon Figures, class of '77, remembers the accounting teacher who told her class, with its two black students, that she didn't think it was a good idea, this integration thing.
Yet three years later, that same teacher helped Figures get a full scholarship to Cal State Long Beach, which led her to a career in finance. "There were kids smarter than me, for sure. But she knew if she didn't go to bat for me, nobody else would."

There were complaints from the schools they left behind that the permit program siphoned off Watts' brightest minds. But the participants can now admit, without feeling like traitors, that they appreciated the more cerebral vibe at Birmingham High.

"You could win a battle with your mind, rather than fighting it out. People respected you for being smart and analytical and inquisitive," Figures said. "That was considered 'nosy' where we come from."

When Monise Kelly, class of '77, began researching schools for her two children, she remembered how, during the time she was bused, there had been "one black family" that lived in Encino and sent their kids to Birmingham High.

Their home became the bused-in students' refuge. "They kind of adopted us," she recalled. "It was the place you felt safe....I wanted to be that family."
So Kelly bought a home in Woodland Hills and sent her children to Taft High. She joined the booster club, ran the snack bar and became a fixture on the suburban campus — where buses still roll up every day carrying hundreds of inner-city transfers.

Sandy Banks
Rudy Pittman was part of the first group of black students bused to the Valley's… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)