From an email I’ll be sending … oh, probably today.
Educating Young Minds, Inc.
3325 Wilshire Boulevard Suite 400
Los Angeles, CA 90010
I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with the Educating Young Minds 12th Annual Scholarship Awards Gala, celebrating the journey of Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, held Saturday night at the Airport Mariott here in Los Angeles.
My six-year-old daughter was one of ten children asked to come perform two dance routines as part of the celebration as a favor to the congresswoman. Complimentary parking and dinner for the families involved was to be our only compensation. The oldest of these children was eight years old and the youngest was six. Per our instructions, the children were delivered to the venue at 4:30 PM, leaving another rehearsal early to be able to attend this event honoring the congresswoman. When we walked out at 7:50 PM, the kids had not performed at our agreed-upon time of 6:45 nor had any of our children been fed. Chasing down payment for our parking took until literally the last minute.
In the intervening time, Mario Van Peebles told stories and gown-wearing board members improvised discussions about the importance of giving, surrounded by fabric and PVC. Parents stood up for applause, graduating students stood up for applause, and people who went to school for television and film production were told that the extreme “complications” of changing words on a teleprompter outweighed the best interests of ten children under the age of ten.
When I first sat down to write this, I started to narrate the details of the fiasco — the brusque nature of show producer Oscar Hernandez which turned into supplicating apologetics when it started to look like I was ready to hurl a stepladder into the crowd, the two and a half hours our children sat backstage to be told by production staff “we didn’t know” that they hadn’t eaten or had been waiting that long (despite seeing them walk by — might work better on people without photographic memory) and what have you. I stopped, because the details of unprofessional behavior don’t matter — not to Educating Young Minds, apparently, but not to me as a parent and a constituent of the 33rd congressional district either.
What matters is that a woman representing your organization essentially told me that she — and by extension, your organization — feel that Mario Van Peebles pithy comments were more important than my daughter’s health. Her behavior said to me that Betty Turney’s need to speak to your donors was more important than my daughter getting fed. Oscar Hernandez’ incompetence gave me the impression that your organization is more pomp and circumstance than actually taking care of the needs of real children until it’s convenient and can orchestrate more donor dollars flowing through your coffers. Maybe our kids were too young to matter to your organization, I don’t know.
Which is not to say I can’t appreciate your perspective. When I was at USC, I worked in the development department, so I understand the strategic importance of regularly fellating donors with pompous events and meaningless platitudes from celebrities and business notables. I, however, don’t care.
What matters most to me — what’s most disturbing to me — is watching tears falling from the eyes of kids I see every week, the cold edge to my daughter’s voice as we drove home and she talked about her disappointment, wasting most of a precious weekend day she could have spent with me (as she doesn’t see me as much during the week while I’m at work) or going to the events she blew off, a friend’s birthday party and the Leimert Park Book Fair (she reads at a third grade level, did I mention that? She’s six). Damage done to kids is important to me, and I’m sorry that people representing your organization didn’t find it as important.
I worked in event production for six years. If ten kids were playing and sitting backstage at my show, and I didn’t know whether or not they’d eaten or have at least an understanding of how late their parents were comfortable keeping them up, I wouldn’t argue if someone called me criminally callous at best and critically incapable at worst. Given the ear-spliting sound problems at start (I was there from 4:30 on, and I know which mics were sound checked and which weren’t — again, a failure in leadership and planning), the ill-considered programming and the fact that ten families (comprised of, fun fact, people eligible to vote) who live in Congresswoman Watson’s district were treated extraordinarily poorly.
Moreover, if I was an “experienced producer and director” (taken from Hernandez’ description in the souvenir book) who’s allegedly run awards shows and beauty pageants, and I didn’t know how to work around what was programmed into a teleprompter, something I learned how to rearrange and manage when I was in high school, I’d realize I was an ineffective dinosaur in a badly fitting dress and a Rick James-esque hairdo, and then realize it was time to get out of the damned business.
At my current age of thirty-seven, I frown on the kinds of ideas this would have given me when I was younger. Ten years ago, this would have gotten me coming through my address book, pulling up every journalist’s email address I knew, from Black Enterprise on down to the Los Angeles Sentinel, urging outright snubbing if not open mockery of every name associated with this fiasco. Five years ago, getting this angry would have had me interviewing each kid, capturing their anger and frustration on video and uploading it to YouTube under an inflammatory title like “Proof Angeles Nichols and Diane Watson don’t care about kids!” That’d be before I went to every political and educational message board, Usenet group and email list I could find to share the link. Heck, three years ago, I’d have pressured my sister who works in Washington and my best friend who works for the Department of Justice to encourage everything from IRS audits to credentials investigations of your organization. I was a vengeful bastard, I’ll admit it, and I had a ton of free time.
These days, however, I have better things to do — spend my time with my beautiful wife and two remarkable daughters, for example. One of the challenging things that leaves in my wheelhouse is admittedly unpleasant, counseling my daughter through her exhaustion the next day and helping her through being mad about this slight, but I suppose that’s part of the dad package — picking kids up and helping them heal when some callous jackass punches them in the face.
I don’t purport to state any opinion but my own, but judging from the conversations had before we left the Airport Marriott and the next day, I’d theorize that perspectives don’t vary too wildly. That’s not to say that a weird pocket of anti-Diane Watson voters could pop up in her district, anxious for revenge at her successor, or even a random collection of people who work in and around nonprofits who suddenly would have disparaging things to say about Educating Young Minds … but as we saw Saturday night, anything can happen.
Step your game up.
cc: Oscar Hernandez, Congresswoman Diane Watson
Playing (Music): “New York Is Killing Me” by Gil Scott-Heron feat. Mos Defcongresswoman diane watson, criminal endangerment, educating young minds, incompetence, insult to injury, oscar hernandez