Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “jr”

Remembering Charlie Russell R.I.P

I was deeply saddened by the passing of Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. last month. I knew Charlie from the California Writer’s Club that we have both attended for many years. Charlie was a quiet, steady presence who was always interested and engaged in what was happening around him. He was generous in his encouragement and compliments, while always very humble about his own writing successes, as he was about his accomplishments and his brother.

What most impressed me was that he would never be drawn into compromising his work or cutting corners. He once said that it will take as long as it will take and if he didn’t finish it, then that was how it was meant to be. I guess his words were prophetic.

I hope he is up there in the great writer’s group in the sky, sitting with the greatest and working on his book. Those heavenly writers will enjoy his company as much as we did in the basement of the Oakland Public Library.

Below is his obituary.

 Charlie Louis Russell, Jr.

March 10, 1932-June 28, 2013

Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. was born March 10, 1932 in West Monroe, LA.  His parents, Charlie Russell, Sr. and Katie Russell, were hardworking, industrious, and ran a tight ship.  They had a wood-burning stove and no indoor plumbing.  He and his younger brother, William “Bill” Russell, spent days shooting BB guns, hunting birds, and going to the movies.  The “Spy Masher” serial was a favorite.  Charlie loved his mom’s cooking, especially her stuffed bell peppers and banana pudding. 

Katie emphasized education.  After discovering that Charlie had not learned to read in grade school, she insisted that he be held back.  Katie spent the summer reviewing lessons with him, making sure he could read before the new school year. 

In the 1940s, in search of a better life, the family moved to Oakland.  Charlie attended Cole Elementary and Hoover Jr. High.  Before she died, Katie used someone else’s address so he could go to Oakland Tech High, which she believed would better prepare him for college.    

Charlie attended Santa Rosa JC.  He was briefly married to Donna Diston.  Their son Michael was born in 1950 (d. 2000).  In the Army (1953-1955) Charlie was stationed in Korea.  He returned and went to U.S.F., majored in English and was on the 1957 basketball team that reached the NCAA final four. 

The Russell family’s westward migration was highlighted in Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns.

After college, Charlie moved to New York, married Tanya Johnson and they had a daughter, Katheryn (1961).  He joined the Harlem Writers’ Guild and published several well-received pieces.  His play, “Five on the Black Hand Side,” appeared off-Broadway and was made into a movie (1973).  Charlie won an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for writing the screenplay.

He earned an MSW degree from N.Y.U. in 1966 and was a counselor at City College.

Charlie loved jazz.  Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington were his favorites. 

He returned to the Bay Area in 1978 and taught drama at Contra Costa College.  In the mid-1980s he moved to San Diego where he was a social worker.  He moved back to the East Bay to manage the care of his father and worked for Ala. County Child Protective Services.

His final writing project was a novel based on Toussaint L’Ouverture’s life.

He leaves to cherish his memory daughter, Katheryn Russell-Brown (Kevin Brown), son, Joshua Russell, grandchildren, Louis Brown and Sasha Brown, special friend Sandra Johnson, ex-wife Tanya Russell, and many, many other family members and friends.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

High Speed Rail Funding Arrives. Has the Need Arrived?

Here in California, Governor Brown recently signed the first phase of High Speed Rail into reality. He likes HSR, but he was also in sort of a jam as California voters had previously (and only partially-informedly) approved a bond measure to raise billions of dollars specifically for this project. This money can’t legally be spent on anything else.

As fantasies go, HSR is pretty cool. France and Japan have enviable HSR systems that are really sexy. They look great, they zoom around majestically at impressive speeds, they lend an air of sophistication to their countries and governments, and they transport large numbers of people efficiently.

In addition, HSR would be more fuel efficient than air travel and it would break the strangle hold that the airlines currently have on us all. But is HSR a timely solution to our transportation problems?

Some people want to avoid this…

and this.

While pseudo-intellectuals like George Will rail against rail (especially but not exclusively the high-speed variety) for contrived and ridiculous reasons, there are better reasons – real reasons – that HSR is a solution whose time has not come. This first phase will run 130 miles, from Bakersfield to Madera (the proposed location of the states HSR maintenance facility) at a cost of $8billion.  

What we really need to spend money on is improving and expanding existing public transportation systems. The real jewels of Asian and European rail systems are their frequency, extensiveness, and efficiency – not just from a fuel standpoint, but from a transportation standpoint as well.

In and around Tokyo, for example, there is an extensive train system in addition to subways and buses. The trains take millions (yes millions) of people into the city from outlying communities each day. There are multiple tracks almost everywhere and, unlike the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART system, you can travel in several different directions from almost anywhere.

Tokyo’s passenger train system is almost all electric and very quiet. The trains resemble nice subways more than they do Amtrak trains. One of the best things about having multiple tracks is that it allows for express trains. These trains are the same as the other trains, they are not built for higher speeds. But they are much faster because they have limited stops and just sail right past many stations.

Because of this, these express trains get their passengers to their destinations much sooner. A passenger may have to transfer to another, local train to make it to a final destination, but it’s still much quicker than stopping at every station along the way.

Here’s another issue. Right now, Amtrak (America’s only real large-scale rail system) has large, conspicuous gaps in it’s travel coverage. For example, to travel on Amtrak from Fresno, California’s agriculture center, to Los Angeles requires that passengers get off of the train at Bakersfield and board a bus for the rest of the trip.

In addition, local light rail and bus systems are riddled with inadequacies, many of which are caused by limited funding and some of which are caused by less-than-optimal management. Part of the new funding is to make unspecified improvements in California’s existing rail systems, but the attention and the priority seem to be on HSR.

All of these systems could be improved tremendously for a lower cost than constructing one thin route for high speed rail between various locations. Also, these solutions apply to real problems today. What people need is help with their everyday commutes and business and errand trips. How many people really need to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 ½ hours? Many, many more people would benefit from the ability to get to work in under one hour.

High speed rail is a later phase in a mature public transportation system. Our system is far from mature and HSR is not the solution we need now.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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