July 26th marks the death anniversary of General Sam Houston, and each year on this date, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum opens the Steamboat House to the public.
As an SHSU student, I want to learn more about Sam Houston, and this desire was reinforced even more by the fact that I am the recipient of a generous scholarship provided by SHMM. So, I attended the Museum’s opening of the Steamboat House as part of their reenactment of Sam Houston’s death and the Victorian customs associated with mourning.
Dr. Rufus Bailey had commissioned this home as a wedding gift for his son and daughter-in-law. Its original name was “Buena Vista,” and while it might have offered a “good view,” Bailey’s son and daughter-in-law, according to oral history, weren’t keen on living in it, and they opted, instead, to look for other views. The home, then, was vacant, enabling General Sam Houston make it his home when he returned to Huntsville, following his removal as Governor of Texas.
As the group of visitors approached the home, we were given black ribbons to commemorate the anniversary of Houston’s death. We entered Sam Houston’s room, a mix of a study and a bedroom. Most of the items were period pieces, but we did see Houston’s bed and boots. Seeing these original artifacts, as well as the fact that the clock on the mantel was stopped to the time of his death: 6:15.
We were then gestured into the next room where “Margaret Lea Houston” would tell us about the three phases of mourning she went through after General Sam Houston’s death. During the first phase: Deep Mourning, women would dress in black, from head to toe, including gloves and veils (and, of course, no adornments such as jewelry). During this time, widows were given space, allowed to mourn alone. Once they were ready to talk, they entered the second phase of mourning: Full Mourning. The transition to this phase was marked by moving from the wearing of all black to wearing black with a white collar, along with cuffs and jewelry. During this period, the widow might receive visitors, discuss her sadness with others, and correspond by mail with others.
In the third phase, Half Mourning, women wore lively colors such as lilac, lavender, and light gray, and more elaborate patterns. This is the briefest stage, and it indicated that the widow was ready to rejoin societal interaction.
Men, on the other hand, were not expected to mourn for as long or as elaborately. The black ribbon I received is similar to what men wore during their mourning period.
We were then guided into the next room, the kitchen, where we could see one way that the kitchen could have been designed and what they would have eaten. Soon after, we walked up the stairs into the parlor where the funeral of General Sam Houston was held, and we heard from his “mother-in-law,” Nancy M. Lea, who discussed her feelings about Texas’s greatest hero and her son-in-law. While she initially opposed the marriage, Ms. Lea overcame her doubts, and she came to embrace her son-in-law.
Now, if you are wondering why one of Texas’ heroes had a small funeral, that would be because (1) mail was slow and (2) General Houston was very unpopular at the time, a function of him refusing to pledge an oath of loyalty to the Confederate States of America.
For these reasons, only a select few attended his funeral on July 27th at 4:00 pm. The funeral was indeed held less than 24 hours from his death because back then, their only way to store bodies was to ice them, and in Texas heat, it made it challenging to keep the body in a presentable condition.
Despite him not being as popular and not many people attending his funeral, on August 5, 1863, the Dallas Herald printed an obituary mentioning the great man General Sam Houston was, and encouraging people to put aside their objections to his “failure” to support the confederacy: “Let us not shed tears to his memory due to one who has filled so much of our affections. Let the whole people bury with him whatever of unkindness they had for him.”
With those positive vibes, I allowed myself a very unVictorian-like smile and reflected what a good choice I made attending SHSU.
Postscript: The Steamboat House was originally located a block or so from the Oakwood Cemetery–where Sam Houston is buried! Following Sam Houston’s death, the home deteriorated, and it wasn’t until 1937 that the Museum was moved to its present location and refurbished. If you have not had the opportunity to visit the Steamboat Home on the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Grounds, make plans to do so on July 26th, 2023!
With the conference going full blast, we awoke early to get in a full day of learning, networking, and marketing Sam Houston State University!
NextGen Under 30 Breakfast
If your city suffers from a high percentage of brain drain and you are looking for a way to “honor, and retain talent,” then the NextGen Under 30 breakfast was the place to be. Across the nation, a lot of cities have experienced or currently have a brain drain problem. This is mostly seen in smaller cities that lose young individuals to larger cities with (1) universities and (2) a more competitive workforce. To combat this, Kansas joined the NextGen Under 30 Foundation which recognizes and honors young leaders and helps them become more engaged in their home state.
NextGen targets individuals who are 30 or younger and aids them with knowledge about their cities while providing them with a vast networking opportunity through various events. To be considered for this opportunity, you must not only be under 30 years of age, but you must also be nominated and complete the application process. All applicants are then considered, and the winners are selected by a group of judges who are business and civic leaders. The winners get the opportunity to meet the governor and lieutenant governor of the state, tour the capitol, and participate in an awards dinner and ceremony. The honorees have the opportunity to apply to become ambassadors for the following year and assist the upcoming winners.
Kansas State Senator Tom Hawk then welcomed comments and questions from the legislators.
However, the narrative was quickly turned over to us (the younger crowd) when one of the legislators asked to hear from us and what would compel us to stay in the area. The number one response to the question was “respect.”
My personal answer was upward mobility, in addition to respect.
Young people want to be able to grow and advance in the field that they go into and not remain stagnant through the course of the years. The lack thereof adds to the brain drainage in certain cities because there is either (1) no competitive work opportunities or (2) no mobility, even after a few years of working there. This dual lack of employment opportunities and career advancement makes it a simple decision when larger cities or even the private sector offer competitive employment opportunities.
The breakfast was not only a good opportunity to be heard and to network but also a nice start to our busy day! (Professor’s note: At lunch, a state representative came up to me and told me that the comments from Morgan helped him feel much better about the younger generation.)
Opening Session: Warm Welcome to Kansas
The LEAP Ambassadors received a warm Kansas welcome from Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, Kansas State Senate President Ty Masterson, and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman! All of these legislators shared interesting facts about Kansas. The most important fact that we learned is that Kansans do not speak of the Arkansas River in Kansas as the “Arkansaw” River. Calling it so, is a great indicator to the locals that you are not from the area because it is referred to as the “big river” and “little river”–or, maybe the “ArKansas River.” Along with its geography, Kansas is known as the air capital of the world! Kansas is the home of the Spirit Aerospace Headquarters and the National Institute of Aviation Research, a facility that Morgan and Jessica got to tour! Following this interesting detail, Mayor Whipple mentioned that Wichita is rated the #1 city to be single in and the worst city to date in (a prospect that excited Yvette greatly).
Dante Chinni, our keynote speaker and the Director and Founder of American Communities Project, specifically reviewed Kansas demographics and discussed how the statistical data are interpreted and utilized to highlight issues such as the benefits of Kansas’s manufacturing and the brain drain Kansas is experiencing.
More specifically, Chinni highlighted demographic characteristics such as exurbs, working-class counties, military posts, and college towns, etc. These data show that the Midwest consists of a highly complex terrain that defines easy understanding. Even within individual states, single policies can be difficult fits.
Along with demographic research, we were also shown economic differences and challenges. Coming out of COVID, new problems arose, such as population growth vs. decline, internal personal wealth, and internal community wealth. With these topics, Chinni emphasized the greater use of specific data such as the asset income per capita.
Hearing the data from Kansas allowed us to compare how our city Huntsville, TX, experiences brain drain. Our university facilitates brain gain with incoming students, but after graduation, a high percentage will leave to pursue their careers elsewhere in a more populated city that has much more job opportunities. This phenomenon leaves the City of Huntsville with a much bigger brain drain problem.
Aside from the obstacles Kansas must overcome, we can see the beauty Kansas has to offer and what it can produce to have a better Kansas and uplift our nation. I was fascinated to learn more about the state. I consider Kansas a great state to visit with its excellent hospitality.
Postsecondary Access and Affordability: Policy Options for States
Yvette and I made our way to the post-secondary access and affordability breakout session which was moderated by Senator Dietrich…
… and featured by Dr. Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As a national expert on secondary education affordability, Dr. Baum was able to provide plenty of statistics to support her claims. Her point was very clear. Not only are we wanting to make colleges more affordable to students, but we want to keep them at a decent quality to have constant graduation rates. There have been frequent conversations about the possibility of college being free and whether that possibility could potentially lower the quality of the schools, which is something Dr. Baum is afraid of.
The statistics showed that more than half of the full-time students at public four-year institutions have their tuition and fees covered by grant aid. The obvious trend we see is that low-income households are not saving their money to put towards their child’s college career. This explains why most students at public colleges are depending on grant aids and loans. Many young people are not willing to go thousands of dollars into debt just to get a four-year education.
Our focus needs to be on helping low-income students become more aware of different financial aid options that will pay for their college. On their behalf, colleges need to, in some way, be accessible to everyone who is willing to put in the effort and work into programs, related to financial aid, that can help tremendously.
Luncheon with Legislators
Once the clock struck noon, we followed the hungry crowd toward the Redbud Ballroom for the featured presentation over lunch. Ashlyn and I sat at a table with State Senator Reynold Nesiba from South Dakota and Kansan State Senators Beverly Gossage and Kristen O’Shea (Senator O’Shea is the youngest female Senator in Kansan history!). Similarly, Yvette and Jessica sat at another table with a senator from Illinois.
Having asked plenty of questions of our own, the legislators were curious to know where we were from and soon enough, we found ourselves answering questions about LEAP and Sam Houston State! Before the presentation commenced, we were able to learn more about what each senator was passionate about, why they chose to become public servants, and asked for advice on running for office.
Soon after, Senator Carolyn McGinn made her way toward the stage and began introducing the guests of honor. The first guest of honor was Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. Governor Kelly expressed her gratitude for all the legislators in attendance and gave a shoutout to our neighbors in the north from Canada!
Unfortunately for us, she was unable to stay for the lunch, but as the past CSG National President, Governor Kelly knows the importance of attending conferences to learn as much as possible from others.
The next speaker put on quite the show! CSG national Chair, Washington State Senator Sam Hunt gave a brief CSG report. He reminded everyone to not forget that the national conference, hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii, is just a few months away. To emulate the spirit of the next host state, Senator Hunt stripped off his dress shirt and jacket–amid nervous twitters from the audience–and showed off his best Hawaiian gear, gear that was underneath his sports jacket!
Senator McGinn then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. H. W. Brands, the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at UTA. Dr. Brands is a renowned author of 30 books covering American politics and history and two of his books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Brands told us the stories of two completely different historical figures, with a common objective in mind: John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.
Both Brown and Lincoln shared abolitionist views but acted in very different ways. Dr. Brands explained that John Brown acted with violence and aggression, while Abraham Lincoln believed that the law and policy were the best avenues for change.
Dr. Brands did a great job of outlining why the men thought the way they did, and what implications their different perspectives had on the nation. It was a captivating lecture, and I’m sure the whole room cannot wait to read The Zealot and The Emancipator!
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
On the Second Family evening, Ashlyn, Yvette, Jessica, and I all experienced a new touristy trip with LEAP: a trip to the zoo! The Sedgwick County Zoo is the seventh largest in the United States and is home to 3,000 individual animals and 400 species.
Typically, a zoo groups species of animals based on the region they are from or the type of habitat they belong to. With cameras in tow, and knowing that we had the zoo for the evening, we scurried over towards the different habitats hoping to capture some great shots!
We were thrilled to see African giraffes graze on leaves…
…the running rhinos playing in their pen…
…and the zebras strolling lazily.
The meerkats were already posed to perfection and proved to be some great models!
As we wandered through the different continents, we eventually found the buffet meant for us! We had a great meal over which we shared our thoughts on the day’s sessions. While jokes were made, (ambassador note: mostly at our expense), we shared a few laughs and enjoyed gazing at the animals.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to touch and feed the stingrays, we enjoyed seeing the available exhibits in the Reptile and Amphibian room through the glass, except for the tortoise! The room was full of a wide array of different creatures from the rarest turtle in the world to recently fed snakes.
While in the room, we found it amusing that a turtle and a frog were playing a game of copycat, as humongous bullfrogs sat idle and lurking in the murky water.
The Cessna Penguin Cove exhibit was right around the corner and Jessica was eager to check it out. We quickly learned why: penguins are Jessica’s favorite birds! The zoo supplied many interesting facts and displays, but most insightful for us was the chart showing the different heights of the penguins. After some convincing (editor’s note: and some dragging) we learned how LEAP Ambassadors fit into the size up!
Stepping back into our childhoods for a lovely outdoor trip to the zoo was so much fun! Thank you to the Midwestern staff.
Our local CASA organization has an important mission, which is to have a safe, permanent, nurturing home for every child. Accordingly, every summer, CASA hosts Christmas in July, a fundraiser that we had the opportunity to attend and, in a small way, help positively impact children’s lives. Thanks to sponsorships by Wes and Karen Altom of Postcards Magazine and Professor Mike Yawn, we were able to attend–dressed in our Christmas and luau attire, we got ready to play (and hopefully win) bingo!
At my table, I had the honor to sit with TX Representative Kyle Kacal and his wife Marci Kacal, who were joined by Richard and Dorothy Yawn and Mac and Leanne Woodward.
Rob Hipp with KSAM was the bingo caller for the night, and he did a wonderful job of keeping the crowd involved and entertained. By the last round of bingo, with some practice and prompting, we were pros whenever Mr. Hipp shouted “lets play…” we all answered: “BINGO!”
We all enjoyed the food provided by the City Hall Café, and we were able to participate in the raffles, silent auctions, and biddings. Unfortunately, although I put all my tickets in the drawing for a free spa, I was not very lucky.
On the other hand, Mrs. Michelle Spencer was the luckiest of us all! Just before the final round of bingo, Mrs. Spencer won a game! The prize for the win was, a free Airbnb travel package and gas card. (Photographer’s note: for those of us at her table, it was a very suspenseful few calls until the winning combo was called. We were able to snap a few candids of the Spensers before and after they won!)
As the night went on, more games were played and more winners were announced. The room was buzzing with anticipation whenever someone stood up, signifying there were only one number away from a win. “BINGOs” were heard around the room and prizes were awarded by amazing sponsors.
What we all agreed to find more enjoyable, along with the bingo of course, was the live bidding. I have personally never seen one before. This bidding was very special since the auction items were paintings created by the children who are part of the CASA program. Each painting delivered a strong message. The one I fell in love with was the painting of a silhouette of a person speaking, and the words drawn outside of the shape were “I’m fine.” Within the profile were words of how the child actually felt not having a home and being mistreated.
As the bidding went higher, some even up to $5,000, our jaws dropped, and our hearts were filled gratitude for how kind and generous the citizens of Huntsville are.
As we wrapped up the last game of bingo, we were told by the end of the night how much money was raised from this event, and once they said over $106,000, the room was filled with joy, knowing that we all were able to give back to children in need.
Many thanks to our table mates, the wonderful community of Huntsville, and, of course, many congratulations to CASA for such a successful night.
With four cities to see in one day, we had to hustle after seeing the OKC Memorial & Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Ashlyn and I ran by the Oklahoma City (OKC) Museum of Art to see a single piece: a beautiful (and large) work by glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Following that stop, we drove by the Oklahoma State Capitol building. We picked up our cohorts and food, and had lunch in the car. The lunch from Kitchen 324 was very good.
Philbrook Museum of Art
by Morgan Robertson
After a grab & go lunch, we ventured out of OKC, heading northeast toward Tulsa and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Before becoming a museum, the Philbrook Italian Renaissance Villa was once a once a home to a wealthy oilman and his family. In 1938, it was gifted by the owners to the City of Tulsa to be an art center. And what an amazing space it is!
Despite the heat, some of the more persistent flowers were still in bloom across the 25 acres of gardens at the home. Water features and angled sidewalks cast a viewer’s eye directly towards the gazebo at the base of the hill.
We descended through the gardens while capturing photos. (And I made sure to snap a few of my favorite, sunflowers!)
Almost hidden in the greenery, was an Allan Houser statue of a Native American with outstretched arms, gazing towards the sky.
We had intended to find this and were pleased that we did!
We had to make our visit at the Philbrook brief, but we still made time to see some important pieces. Displayed with glass vases and other small sculptures, Yvette found her favorite: an early James Surls that was a wooden axe!
The museum exhibits and pieces varied widely: an exhibition on Mexican art, several regionalist pieces, and even a Picasso – one of Jessica’s favorites.
In addition, we saw works by Thomas Moran, our newly discovered Kehinde Wiley, and Alexandre Hogue.
Sometimes, our own Ambassadors think they are a work of art…
…really, though, they are just a piece of work.
Sometimes, though, they created some art of their own, as in this cool photograph by Yvette.
Bartlesville, Oklahoma (Jessica Cuevas)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower and the Price Tower Arts Center
Frank Lloyd Wright (“FLW”) was a unique and famous architect, mostly known for his revolutionary approach to American architecture, which incorporated timeless aspects of geometry into his work as well as site-specific structures that blended with the environment.
So, after our short stop at the Philbrook in Tulsa, we made our way to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to see and tour the only skyscraper designed by Wright. Yes, you read that right—in Bartlesville, Oklahoma!
Wright’s definition of a skyscraper was a building that met several requirements. It had to have residential spaces; retail spaces; and commercial spaces, as well as reach a certain number of stories…all of which the Price Tower had when it opened, and it still has to this date!
Designed in 1952, with construction starting in 1953, the Price Tower didn’t open its doors until 1956. We toured three of the 19 floors of the Price Tower, getting a good look at the first…
…17th, and 18th floors, with lots of detailed information on the architectural elements by our tour guide, Mr. Price Conner.
As is usual with Wright’s designs and commissions, Price Tower went considerably over budget. Wright was nothing if not true to his design, so once he had an idea or design, there was no deviation. This can even be seen in the (tiny) elevators.
We rode a small honeycomb-shaped elevator up (in groups of three, so it took two rides), to see two spaces – an apartment and a corporate office. Wright liked to hide or minimize things that distracted from his intent of a space, even if it made them less functional, so the apartment’s kitchen and powder room, staircases, and other things were made as small as possible. The office, meanwhile, had its own impeccable designs, including wall art that complemented the motifs of the building.
With the Price Tower, Wright heavily used and reinforced use of the triangle, both inside and outside, along with other motifs.
The Price Tower was designed to emulate a tree on the plains. No side of the skyscraper is the same, but somehow the whole remains cohesive. Compared to the surrounding area, the Price Tower stands like an ancient tree, weathered by time.
We then strolled (through Unity Square) to the Bartlesville Community Center. The public outdoor space contains a small sculpture garden featuring Robert Indiana’s 66, along with xeriscaping, and a modern statu3 that may have caused some consternation when it was installed.
Although not a Frank Lloyd Wright design, the Community Center has similar architectural elements, probably because it was designed by one of Wright’s protégés, William Wesley Peters (who also became FLW’s son-in-law). Peters, who was chief Architect at Taliesin West, designed the Community Center, infusing the interior design with round, circular shapes throughout, bringing in the exterior shape to the interior, including the door handles, windows, and staircases.
The Center’s director, Liz Callaghan, provided a lovely tour with many little stories of the not-little space – it soars with wonderful details.
(We were only able to peek into the main stage, as rehearsals were going on, but we were all amazed at the space. The Bartlesville Community Center can seat 1,692 people, five times our own Old Town Theatre seats!)
We enjoyed making many other comparisons and connections between the Community Center and the Price Tower and other FLW spaces we’ve seen, taking in the detail and uniqueness of the Center. (Wright demanded nothing less than his own ideas for his students, so it’s no wonder that a student and scholar of Wright’s would pay attention to such detail!) As one small example, the mural in the lobby of the Community Center, designed by Heloise Swaback, was designed to complement the color scheme of the Price Tower, while reinforcing the colors of the Bartlesville Community Center space and its own curvilinear shapes. It is the “world’s largest cloisonne art work, a mural that is 25-feet long which depicts a stylized northeastern Oklahoma landscape“.
The Community Center has certainly been doing its job: providing space and events and activities to bring the town together!
At Ms. Callagher’s suggestion, we wended through the park to return to our car. We had fun with the landscape, enjoying it’s beauty, and the unique way the park, the Price Tower, and the Bartlesville Community Center beautified–and strengthened–a welcoming community.
The LEAP Center tries to plan trips around specific learning experiences–in this the Midwest Council of State Governments’ Conference–and then builds multi-disciplinary learning opportunities around that central event. So, on this day, we learned about art, terrorism, architecture, community assets, and, in our last stop of the day, the natural environment. Thus it was that we found ourselves at the beautiful Great Plains Nature Center, nestled in Wichita, KS.
The Park is almost 300 acres, and it has 2.5 miles of paved trails–and we covered a good portion of them! The setting was beautiful…
…and it brought us across bridges, into wooded areas, across water features, and into restored prairies.
It also brought us into view of wildlife. We saw a snake, a turtle, an Great Horned Owl, many ducks, and a heron.
We also saw several deer, at least one of which seemed to not care that we were walking within a few steps of its space.
Yvette had managed a beautiful shot of a Red-Tailed Hawk earlier in the day…
…. and the cumulative experience of the day had provided us with a fairly comprehensive education–a theme, we hope, that will continue throughout the trip.
Late afternoon on Friday, we loaded the car and embarked on our journey to the Midwest! Our destination for the first half of our week is Wichita, Kansas, for the 76th Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. Leaving late afternoon, though, we only made a few hours on the road before our first stop.
On the museum grounds, we were introduced to a new (to us) artist, Richard Serra, known for his massive bronze sculptures. His abstract works develop a “patina” over time, meaning that the metal changes color. Since its creation in 2002, we could clearly see how the coloring of Vortex has changed over time.
We snapped a few shots and made our way to another nearby outside piece, Hina, by another new (to most of us) artist, Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield also works in bronze, but her horses look like they’re made of wood!
Chatting about the different techniques, we made our way inside to meander through the modern pieces, on the lookout for more new and inspiring artists and works.
The minimal and modern building blended perfectly with the landscape and the works inside. The interior layout is designed to display prominent exhibits, with soaring ceilings and a lot of glass, and it is an appropriate motif for minimalist works such as those by Donald Judd.
The east and north sides overlook a reflecting pool, across which stands a gleaming Roxy Paine with interweaving branches entitled Conjoined.
Yvette quickly identified the distinct squares and colors of Josef Albers and Jessica spotted her favorite part of the museum, a collection of Andy Warhol flowers, and we were pleased to see that we would be rewarded with other Warhol works as well.
True to the nature of modern art, the pieces were not limited to paint and canvas. Steel and fiberglass adorned the center of one gallery, while interesting messages displayed on LED signs followed a vertical and uniform pattern in another. Of particular interest were Nancy Graves’ Inside-Outside and Jenny Holzer’s Kind of Blue, which we spent a lot of time on, pondering and (trying to) photograph.
Ashlyn best liked a rather unique photograph that featured a simple middle-class home balanced upon a pair of legs, Laurie Simmons’ Walking House. She was drawn to the piece for how it “stood out” and could be interpreted on multiple levels.
We made our way (rather quickly because of the temperature) through the sculpture garden which, in addition to the Paine, featured a KAWS…
Professor Yawn’s favorite piece was one by Martin Puryear, titled “Ladder for Booker Washington.” While we didn’t understand the reference, Yawn discussed it and offered several interpretations for this intriguing piece.
The more dynamic pieces allowed us to practice creating interesting and unusual photographic compositions and ultimately resulting in some nice shots.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a good start to what soon will be a week worth of art, history and politics!
La Cena at Salsa Limón
With Oklahoma City in our sights, we chose somewhere quick (that turned out to be just right!) for dinner—Salsa Limón. We made our selections, while attempting to create a variety of options (which in my opinion, is becoming increasingly more difficult since our tastes sometimes converge). Jessica and Morgan chose similarly (boring burritos!) with pastor and chorizo, respectively, Ashlyn had a chicken molco bowl (“Just what I was expecting!”), and Yvette, Professor Yawn and Stephanie had an assortment of tacos, from barbacoa, to mushroom & cheese, to pastor, to black bean & avocado.
It was a good and light meal, energizing us for the final leg of our day’s travels.
It’s not every day you get to hear from a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, but LEAP students had just that chance yesterday. Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor of Pediatrics and Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine—and, most recently, developer of a vaccine against COVID—discussed the role of expertise and politics in addressing global pandemics in another interesting event hosted by the World Affairs Council.
Hotez has been in the trenches fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while also conducting perhaps 1,000 television, radio, and podcast interviews since the spread of COVID. Remarkably, he’s also had time to work with his co-researcher, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, Associate Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, in developing CORBEVEAX, a low-cost vaccine that protects against COVID. Notably, Hotez and Bottazzi did not patent the vaccine—foregoing millions in income to assure lower pricing for the medicine.
Hotez’s discussion was wide-ranging, but he stressed three major points: the origin of COVID, the politicization of medicine, and the future of pandemics.
Hotez believes it’s important to uncover the origins of COVID, but he finds conspiracy theories to be misguided. While it is possible, he notes, that COVID escaped from a lab in China, there’s no evidence for that theory, and pursuing it with much vigor is likely to distract researchers from the most likely answer, which is that COVID either developed from—or was spread through—a wet market in China.
What most clearly distresses Hotez, however, is the politicization of COVID…
…a thread skillfully navigated by the World Affairs Council moderator, Ronan O’Malley.
While prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaxxers could be found on the left and right, more or less equally, the right-wing of the Republican Party seemed to embrace conspiracy theories not only about the origin of COVID, but also about almost any US government efforts to combat COVID.
Some believed that COVID itself was a hoax wrought by the US government, while others accepted the threat of COVID, but believed that any medicine promoted by the government was part of a deep state/big pharma conspiracy for profits, leading to the misguided use of Ivermectin and other nostrums. Hotez noted that such beliefs led to more than a quarter of a million deaths of people who could have been vaccinated, but weren’t.
Hotez called this movement an aggressive, anti-science faction, and he considers this dangerous, not only as it relates to COVID, but also how it relates to the next pandemic. “Nature”, Hotez noted, “is not coy.
It’s sending us a clear message.” That message, it seems, is humans need to get it together, which involves not only identifying the origins and spreads of viruses such as COVID-19, but also winning an informational war about science itself. Fighting pandemics is difficult, but it’s infinitely more difficult when a significant portion of the population refuses to adopt common-sense approaches to fighting the pandemic.
Following the event, Dr. Hotez briefly met with us, asked us about our majors (History, Biology, and Political Science), and he suggested that it was about time he get to Sam Houston State University to speak, a point on which all of us agreed.
Following the event, with much on our mind, we went to Meru’s Grill nearby, and we discussed much of what we learned. None of us had been to Meru’s, but it was a great find: the staff were friendly and knowledgeable, the ambience was inviting, and the food was amazing. The appetizers, which included the “Avocado Bomb” and the “Smoked Salmon,” were refreshing and innovative.
The avocado bomb, for example, had raw Hawaiian Tuna, avocado (of course), a dressing, and possibly pineapple, a combination we weren’t expecting, but couldn’t get enough of. Our appetizers included two shrimp dishes, a Thai salad, and a burger, all of which were truly excellent in both taste and presentation.
Perhaps our favorite part of the meal, however, was the carrot cake dessert, recommended to us by our excellent server, and a truly delicious delicacy in the form of a square “slice” of cake, with icing unsurpassed in texture, flavor, and volume.
Meru’s Grill isn’t part of the medical field, but it definitely eased our worries and improved our spirits, topping off a wonderful night of education, good company, and great food.
As community members in Huntsville gathered at Kate Barr Ross Park to celebrate July Fourth, smiles glistened off children’s faces, and relaxation ran through the parents’ bodies, knowing their children would have a safe and fun July fourth. There was fun for the LEAP Ambassadors as well, but our primary job was to volunteer for the City’s annual Fourth of July festivities.
We were working under the supervision of our friend, Isabel Behm, who has a City internship, and who was, in turn, working under the supervision of Kristy Wheeler and Penny Joiner. And there was a lot of supervision to give–hundreds of people came out to join the fun–fun that included a selfie station, face-painting, a rock wall, a bouncy house, candle-making, food vendors, and a dunking booth.
In fact, we took advantage of some of the fun. Before we got sweaty–or, before we got too sweaty–we made use of the selfie station, taking photos with props…
….and without props.
Others also took advantage of this station throughout the day.
Another big crowd pleaser was the rock-climbing wall. Reaching the top was quite an accomplishment, providing a workout, a lot of fun, and the sense that you could touch the clouds!
If citizens wanted to take out some aggression, they could also try the dunking booth. Local celebrities such as Glenn Edwards (KSAM), Aron Kulhavy (City Manager), Greg Mathis (Fire Chief)…
…and Penny Joiner (Director of Parks and Recreation) sat in the water seat, and for a dollar, people could get three tosses of a softball for an attempted dunking. Few people besides Kristy Wheeler hit the target honestly…
…but a lot of people took the opportunity to run up and use their hands to dunk the celebrity.
It’s possible that we did that to Aron Kulhavy a couple of times….
Thankfully, however, Mr. Kulhavy does not hold grudges, and he even took a selfie with us afterward–photobombed by a police officer!
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the day was seeing the kids have fun at the event. Indeed, once they were cleared by us to go, they overflowed with excitement and headed straight to the fun activities. A fan favorite was the watermelon-eating contest…
…where one young person actually won twice!
Of course, the Ambassadors couldn’t sit out this event. Morgan and I were nervous and excited for this event, and it lived up to its billing. We dove into this event, doing our best to keep our hands behind our back, while not making too much of a mess. This was only partially successful.
Of course, it took me almost no time to recover from the loss and massive intake of watermelon; within seconds I was on my phone!
Although we lost the competition, we and the entire LEAP program got to see how different departments work together to build a better Huntsville community.
Of course, the watermelon contest wasn’t the only event. There was also face-painting by Lacy Wilkinson…
Another fan favorite was the bouncy-houses, which the kids loved (it’s possible some of us slid down the slide…).
And what do you think could top that entire afternoon? Fireworks, of course! The City put on a great show for the 1,000+ people who came out, and it was quite a show, building up to a grande finale.
It was a day to remember for us: the smell of fresh burgers, the fun of rock-climbing, the joy springing from each family that entered the park, and the beautiful fireworks helped bring a community spirit that is a part of living here.
Our evening–and my first LEAP Center event–began with a trip to the Glade Gallery, which hosts not only beautiful art, but also many of the events held by the World Affairs Council.
At the Glade Gallery we viewed an array of paintings and sculptures. As we were roaming the gallery, we noticed some art pieces that also happened to be for sale- some were priced up to $31,000!
And we even saw a Marc Chagall!
Our main objective of the evening, however, was to hear from Julián Cárdenas, who was speaking on Venezuela’s political and energy situation–and how these are being affected by the Russian-Ukraine War.
Considering Mr. Cardenas served in the Venezuela State Department, is an energy expert, and a law professor at the University of Houston Law, he was a good person to hear from on this topic!
Mr. Cardenas and WAC’s able moderator Ronan O’Malley discussed the challenges faced by Venezuela since the Chavez and Maduro regimes, of which there many. With economic policies that aren’t working, the country facing sanctions imposed by other countries, and widespread corruption among government officials, Venezuela is also facing soaring inflation–in fact, inflation has climbed to thousands of percent, making the US’s inflation rate of 10 percent seem tame.
Cardenas discussed numerous topics we needed to learn about: realism v. idealism in foreign policy, the G-7, NAFTA, and programs such as “food for oil.” We also learned the term “brain drain,” of which Cardenas was a part–he left when conditions became intolerable there.
Following the main discussion, we were able to chat a bit with Mr. Cardenas, pose for a photo, thank the wonderful WAC staff, and head out for dinner.
We drove down to Casa Medina just in time to grab a couple of seats before they closed the kitchen. The service was excellent, and the food was solid! I ordered the shrimp enchiladas, and I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of shrimp and cheese on top. I am a bit of a shrimp enchilada connoisseur, and this dish is a guaranteed 10/10 on the Ashlyn Parker scale!