Forum explores ‘Black America since MLK’ Jr.’s days

Small groups were invited to discuss diversity at the forum at Lehigh University on the civil right’s leader’s holiday.

A few dozen people marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday at Lehigh University by focusing on how America has changed since King’s death.

photo.jpegJennifer Swann, a Lehigh University biology professor, participates on Jan. 16, 2017, in a discussion about race and Martin Luther King Jr. (Pamela Sroka-Holzmann | For lehighvalleylive) 

The group attended a luncheon titled “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise,” held at Lehigh University’s Packer Hall in Bethlehem. It was offered by the university and the Bethlehem National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Prior to the afternoon event, the Bethlehem NAACP also held an MLK Holiday Community breakfast at Cathedral Church of the Nativity.

Those who participated at the Lehigh discussion included students, professors, faculty members, representatives of the Bethlehem NAACP and law enforcement. They did so after watching clips of the PBS series “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise.”

Questions pondered ran the gamut from, “What experiences have you had with desegregation?; Was your school integrated or predominantly one race?”; and “Today, how integrated is the school you attended?”

Jay Glucksman, a Lehigh junior studying civil engineering, said growing up in Rye Brook, N.Y., did not offer much diversity. He specifically chose Lehigh to further his education based on its multicultural facets, he said.

“It was like one direction, one mentality, one thought,” Glucksman said about his elementary and high school years. “I came to Lehigh because it made my life more diversified. I didn’t have a chance to learn about other cultures.”

Rich Freed of the Nazareth area, who works at the Lehigh University Career Center, recalled growing up in upper Bucks County and said there was little diversity. He said “classism” also was an issue.

Today, Freed said, his children in the Nazareth Area School District also learn with very few people of color in contrast to the school systems in Easton and Bethlehem.

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Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett noted that in South Bethlehem, churches on virtually every block provide services in various languages. He described the section of the city as a “melting pot.”

Another set of questions focused on specific neighborhoods folks grew up in, asking, “Did you experience other cultures moving in?;” “What type are you in now?;” “How are you discussing this with your children and others?”; and “What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in integrated areas?”

Sterrett said he moved six times and attended nine school districts as a kid due to his father’s corporate work schedule. He said different places in terms of equality were “eye-opening” to him.

In Atlanta, he found just one Roman Catholic church, noting, “There was a religious segregation that was pretty prominent.” Then, when he moved to the Philadelphia area and joined the basketball team, the team was “very integrated.”

“It’s interesting the reverse experiences there,” he said. “It reinforces the notion that we all have parts of our life where some measure of expression exists — it could be the clothes we choose or it could be class.”

Others reiterated there’s more hope for the future in terms of greater equality.

Ginny McSwain, a faculty member, said social media reflects diversity and urged others to “follow” or “friend” different races and groups.

“Make sure you’re following them,” she said. “Make sure you’re listening to more diverse issues.”

Esther Lee, president of the Bethlehem NAAP, said growing up in the South, no one had the discussions like those presented at the luncheon. It shows progress after King’s death, she said.

“They couldn’t be as open as we are now,” she recalled. “It was not talked about.”

Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at pholzmann@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow her on Twitter @pamholzmann. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

The B Street Band withdraws from inaugural ball, cites ‘gratitude’ for Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s music will not soundtrack Donald Trump’s inaugural celebrations after all.

BELMAR — Bruce Springsteen’s music will not soundtrack Donald Trump’s inaugural celebrations after all.

The B Street Band, a long-running Boss tribute act based in Belmar, announced Monday it will not play the Garden State Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, after a weekend of intense criticism and thousands of emails from around the world.

“It’s like we were in a hurricane,” Forte told NJ.com Monday. “And we realized what was most important to us was being grateful and respectful to Bruce. The last thing we want is for it to seem like we are being disingenuous to him and E Street.”

The band now deals with the legal consequences of breaking a contract with the bipartisan event, held by the New Jersey State Society, but Forte added: “that still wasn’t as big as my worry that we were being disrespectful to Bruce.”

In a statement provided to the Springsteen fan blog Backstreets.com, keyboardist Will Forte cited the band’s reverence for Springsteen as the group’s reason for withdrawing.

“Our decision is based SOLELY on the respect and gratitude we have for Bruce and the E Street Band,” Forte told the website. “Bruce’s music has been the foundation of our livelihood. The B Street Band would not exist without the talents of Bruce and our E Street brothers.”

The band was met with a media deluge last Thursday, when news broke that they would be playing the event, ostensibly connecting them to Trump. The ball is held quadrennially, regardless of who takes office.

But Forte initially defended the gig, saying the band had signed a contract to play in 2013 and planned to honor it.

But the backlash proved to be too much from Springsteen’s fans, who in comments sections across New York Times, Rolling Stone and NJ.com stories online labeled the group (in much harsher terms) an unfitting extension of Springsteen’s music and values.

Springsteen has publicly called Trump a “moron” to Rolling Stone and earlier this month admitted to Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast that he is fearful for America under Trump’s rule.

The B Street Band performed in Easton in November the night before the Lafayette-Lehigh football game.

The band’s decision about the inaugural comes on the heels of a similar about-face from Broadway noble Jennifer Holliday, who also withdrew from an inauguration performance, citing loyalty to her fans after a firestorm on social media.

As for Trump’s inauguration Friday, what we know so far is that teen opera singer and “America’s Got Talent” star Jackie Evancho will sing the national anthem. Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, and Garth Brooks have all turned down the gig.

Bobby Olivier may be reached at bolivier@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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This is the calm before the storm for N.J. gas prices, experts say

Drivers got some welcome relief last week as gas prices stabilized, but experts predict they’ll resume their upward march.

If drivers in New Jersey have noticed a little relief this past week from climbing gas prices, it was not just a pleasant dream.

But they may have a little less than a month to enjoy that break before prices start marching up again.

“We’ve seen gas prices back-off a little bit after the rise,” said Tom Kloza, Oil Price Information Service global petroleum expert.

Last week saw prices stabilize at an average price of $2.44 for regular, GasBuddy.com reported, and that price was $2.43 on Monday.

He expects that to last roughly from Martin Luther King Day to Lincoln’s Birthday. That corresponds to the same time period last year, was when prices bottomed out around Feb. 12, he said.

7-11 gas 1 13 17 W. Pond rd.jpgThis price at a 7-11 station on West Pond Road in Woodbridge was below the state average for regular on Friday. Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

What’s helped stabilize gas prices this past week is that this is a low demand, high production time of the year.

“The demand numbers are like no one was driving,” Kloza said, attributing that to seasonable winter weather. “The days are short and people aren’t going out and using those gift cards.”

U.S. refineries also produced more crude oil last week, which helped stabilize prices, Kloza said. But that will be short-lived as refineries slow production to do spring maintenance and prepare for the change to reformulated gas.

That is the launching pad for a 22 to 25 cent per gallon price increase to come in some time in mid to late February, he said.

“For the moment, we are making more gas than we need,” he said. “That will shift later in the first quarter (of 2017). Traders will anticipate that shift and prices will go up.”

The federal Energy Information Administration has predicted very conservative crude oil price increases this year and for 2018 in its short-term energy outlook.

Crude oil finished the trading week at $52.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as reported by NASDAQ.

“It’s been a goofy week. We’ve had big down days and some up days, it’s been choppy in general,” he said. “Crude was down to $50, it went as high as $55, now it is in the middle.”

In May, OPEC will meet to determine if it’s production cut agreement is having the desired effect and being adhered to.

Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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