I have been a reporter at WMNF 88.5 FM since October 2008. Below are a few samples of the radio works I produced.
Once a year the fishing village of Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County becomes an important religious and cultural center. Tarpon Springs hosts what some consider the largest Greek Orthodox celebration outside of Greece, organizers say. This year, hundreds of Greeks and spectators celebrated the Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus with folk dances, music, prayer, and a procession to Spring Bayou ending with a plunge to retrieve a cross on January 6.
The Epiphany has been more than a celebration of the Greek Orthodox faith for the past 105 years. It is a commemoration of cultural heritage for 16-year-old Nicholas Tabus from Tarpon Springs High School.
“Today Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River representing the Trinity. It has been going on for 105 years; this will be the 105th year. There is a plethora of meaning involved in the entire Tarpon Springs Epiphany celebration,” Tabus said.
Greek immigrants in Tarpon Springs built a large industry harvesting sponges by boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Tabus participated in the Blessing of the Fleet at the Sponge Docks on January 5th when father Vasileios Tsourlis of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church blessed the fishermen, the boats and the local businesses. Tabus is also one of the 78 young men who dove for a white cross in the murky water the next day.
“This is my first year diving and since I was a little kid, I have been watching the Epiphany divers and this is what I have always wanted to do,” he said.
Another diver, Henry Coburn, says the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs is one of the largest Greek Orthodox celebrations in the world. “We are one of the larger groups that celebrate this much on a larger scale. It is the largest epiphany from anywhere besides Greece,” he said.
For Coburn’s mother, Mary Klimis Coburn, the event is the American Dream come true. Her grandfather was one of the early spongers who immigrated with his brothers from Greece in 1910. Since then sponge diving became a family tradition.
“My father, Harry Klimis, who is thank God alive with us, he used to sponge with my grandfather here in Tarpon in the waters of the river. He now has a sponge business here on the docks. He now stays with his sponges. He was a pharmacist but he retired and came back and did that. So my family is really a pioneer family because they were one of the first ones to come over when the sponge industry was born here in Tarpon,” she said.
Mary Klimis Coburn says that the fishing village of Tarpon Springs is her “little Greece” because her whole family is involved in the local community. Her husband converted to Greek Orthodoxy, her children learned the Greek language, her daughter, Emilia was last year’s dove bearer and this year her son, Henry dove for the cross.
“They have an opportunity in this town because of the concentration of Greek people to maintain a lot of their culture and it is almost like the community is fostering it because they enjoy their heritage and they continue to perpetuate it over the years. It has become something the town is known for and people come to see. So it’s still alive here,” she said.
This year, choir member Stavroula Zoi Karavokiros released a white dove which symbolizes the Holy Spirit. This day is a bitter sweet day for her because she misses her father who works in Greece where he runs a rock quarry business. But she also celebrates her new life after having two heart transplants.
“I feel blessed because I've been through a lot. It's an honor for me. I hope to be a successful Christian, Greek Orthodox Christian and I just, I hope for everybody too, are blessed like I am today."
Stavroula credits her current strength and well being to Father Vasileios Tsourlis and the community in Tarpon Springs.
"Happy New Year to all of you with health and love for everybody. And unity to all the nations."
See more of Andrea's photos from Epiphany 2011
On the Help Portrait Day, photographers give back to the community worldwide by donating portraits for underprivileged families. On December 4, local photographers set up lights and backdrops and converted a room at the Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in St. Petersburg into a photography studio offering free, professional photographs for those in need. This event is for some families the only Christmas present this year, organizers say.
Jaqueline Baptiste came with her four children: Bill, Timothy, Marie and Jake.
“I am a waitress, I work at the Applebee’s but I love my children, I want them to remember this and pass it on,” she said.
Photographers Chuck Vosburgh and Pat McGlinchey organized the Help Portait event in St. Petersburg to give back to the local community.
“It occurred to me that some of the things we take for granted, like portraits… We thought it is a great idea to have a way to help out some families this holiday season,” Vosburgh said.
Thanks to 50 photographers and students from TASCO, the city's Teen Arts, Sports & Cultural Opportunities program, 174 families went home with free portraits from this Help-Portrait event. Chuck Vosburgh says that the Help Portrait is a global movement.
“Help portrait is a worldwide event and on the 4ht of December each year people get together and shoot portraits of people who are less fortunate and the people walk out with a nice portrait of their family.”
Groups in 57 countries and 49 states participated in the Help Portrait events worldwide.
Since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion on April 20th, hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil continue to gush into the Gulf. This Saturday, the public anger against BP rose above the level: thousands of people in 900 cities worldwide and about 6,000 protested against the oil spill in Tampa Bay.
Hundreds of people formed a line and joined hands at noon in a 15-minute-long metaphoric protest in St. Pete Beach calling for alternative energy and protesting against off-shore drilling. Pamela Hewett from Tampa joined the Hands on the Sands effort at the Tradewinds Island Resort, a green lodge dressed as an oil-soaked pelican. She said she has lived on the Gulf or her life: she grew up in North Carolina and moved later to Florida. The clean blue water and the fresh seafood have been a lifeline for her family. “My father was a shrimper, crabber, clammer, and oysterman. I grew up on the water and we lived off from the water,” she said.“ It’s sad, very sad… It is so tragic that we have allowed all of this to happen due to deregulation and a lack of oversight. Now we have destroyed one of the most pristine areas that may never come back.”
Among the protesters was William (Bill) Edward McCormick Jr, a Pass-A-Grille resident since 1925, behind him were four generations of his family. “It’s a wonderful place and we have the most wonderful beaches,” he said during a press conference.
And that’s what most people forget, said David Downing, deputy director of the county's tourism agency, Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater. Tourism is down in Tampa Bay because of the bad economy and the oil spill. “There is no damage on our beaches. The damage we have now is the perception and it is causing an economic damage. That’s why we are trying to get the word out that we are open for business and we hope to stay that way,” he said.
He says tourism traffic has dwindled after the oil spill. “In the last couple of months before this (the oil spill hit), we started to see the needle going into the right direction. There was an increase in tourism over last year. Right now our greatest concern is a perception problem and the end of summer. We are looking at some places with projects for the end of summer to be down by 25 percent,” he said.
While communities worldwide showed their support on Saturday, miles away tarballs continue to wash ashore on Pensacola Beach. BP’s latest attempt to stop the oil spill should be finished by Mid- August.
Civil rights leader and journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. spoke about racial, gender, religious and sexual orientation injustices that groups of people faced in history and continue to face.
“I want to ask you to think with me on times, on times when we suffered defeat, times when we forgot our way, some times when our values escaped us. There is, I think if we are honest, a dark side to our national character that has periodically taken hold in our history and threatened at times to undermine everything our Bill of Rights is about. Our freedoms is about, everything our commitment to justice under law is about. That dark side of our national character is difficult to understand, difficult to define. Difficult to explain and, too often, difficult to admit."
John Seigenthaler Sr. said that in his speech to the graduates at the Stetson University College of Law’s commencement ceremony at Pasadena Community Church on December 18.
“But it is there. How else can we explain the century of the enslavement of the African Americans before Lincoln put his hands to the Emancipation Proclamation? And how can you explain another full century of outrageous denial of human rights, citizen rights, social justice? A century of lynch law justice before Lyndon Johnson put his hand to the Civil Rights enactment of the mid 1960's.”
Stetson University president Wendy Libby presented the honorary doctor of laws degree to Seigenthaler for his achievements.
“As the chief negotiator with the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides, and as a member of Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department, you have championed the cause of civil rights throughout your career. As an award winning journalist you have served as founding editorial director of USA Today, long time editor of the Tennessean and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. In light of your many accomplishments and under the authority vested in me by the board of trustees of Stetson University, I proudly present you with the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree,”
Seigenthaler says he acknowledges the progress but he says more work needs to be done in the civil rights area.
“A month ago the Justice Department released statistics that make my point. 60 percent of those crimes, we call them now 'hate crimes', motivated by racial bias were directed at African Americans. More than 60 percent of those crimes motivated by religious hostility were visited on Jews. 20 percent of the hate crimes were directed toward Muslims. The numbers of attacks that were motivated by hostility for sexual orientation are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us that in our midst there are now 800 groups who live under the banner of hate."
In his speech, Seigenthaler also talked about the era of McCarthyism when the free speech and other constitutional rights were undermined.
"And then, one day, in that committee room we watched this lawyer, Joseph Welch, confront this Senator, Joe McCarthy, as the senator sought to brand a young member of Welch's law firm as a traitor to his country and suddenly the explosion from Welch came, suddenly the emperor had no clothes. 'Senator,'cried Welch, 'have you know decency, sir? At long last, have you no decency?' If there is any memorable line you will hear as you leave this place today, think on, look into, go online and see and hear that plaintive cry for justice, for decency."
His final words have resonated with the graduates of Stetson University. Some of these graduates will continue to work in the human rights law.
“I ask you to be alert to that dark side of our national nature. I ask you to remember that those of you who pursue the practice of law are, as Joseph Welch was, the sentinels at the gate, in many ways our first guardians of liberty. Half a century ago John Kennedy, speaking to students at Vanderbilt University said these words; "Liberty without learning is in peril, learning without liberty is in vain." As I congratulate you it is with the hope and prayer that you let not your learning be in vain. Congratulations."
Marque Debnam from Youngsville, North Carolina was wearing a black gown and cap that day. He was one of the ninety-one students who graduated with a law degree from Stetson College of Law. He says he plans to continue teaching and to use his law degree to promote racial and gender justice in the society.
“The law degree is more flexible. That way I can do more things. I have a couple of friends back home, we are thinking to starting our own school one day, so the law degree will come in handy in pursuing that goal,” he said.
Marque Debnam is a Stetson Ambassador and a former president of the Black Law Students Association. He is also one of the students wearing a blue cord who has earned the William F. Blews Pro Bono service award for his extracurricular activities. He says he will continue to do community work.
“If you look around, there are a lot of disparities in education, health, housing, in so many different areas. A lot of it is still affected by race and other things also,” he said.
Another student whose volunteerism in human rights was recognized at the ceremony is Abigail Pressler, the president of the Amnesty International at Stetson University.
“Amnesty really gave us an opportunity to use our legal training to actually go out and tell people 'hey this is what the law says, why aren’t you living up to the promise? So we would go out, we would write letters to our senators, letting them know that 'hey, you're citizens are concerned', we did candle light vigils, writing letters overseas, anything we could do to really make change. And as law students we kind of had that extra little edge,” Pressler said.
Yvonne Smith from Port Charlotte has been living at Ronald McDonald house in Tampa to be at the bedside of her ailing daughter, Laurie.
“I didn’t think that I would ever need it, and it has become a home for me,” she said. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay houses about 2,000 families per year whose children are being treated in Tampa Bay area hospitals.
Smith, a mother of three - 19-year-old Larnell, 16-year old Laurie and 15-year- old Liah - has been living in this house since Jan. 27. Laurie Smith, an A student, came home from Andrews University in Michigan for Christmas break last year. She complained about headaches. When the pain persisted and it was followed by nausea, the doctors did a CT scan on her. On Jan. 27, the Smiths were rushed to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Waiting to hear about the condition of her daughter were the longest hours ever for Smith. Laurie was diagnosed with brain tumor.
Smith is a registered nurse who works in intensive care. Now she takes her daughter every day to the hospital for treatment. She understands how Laurie is doing from the look on her face and her gestures. This organization became a lifeline for her. The lodging costs her $10 a day. “If we were to stay at a hotel, I could not afford the expenses. The Ronald McDonald House has been a blessing,” she said.
After Laurie finishes the radiation and chemo therapy, she will recover, her mother said. Until then Yvonne Smith hopes and prays. She hopes that every major hospital will have a facility built for the parents who can’t leave their child’s bedside.
Alison Barrick, the Public Relations and Development Coordinator at the Tampa Bay Ronald McDonald House Charities, said that even with the two existing houses near All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, the demand for rooms is rising.
“Even with the two houses we had to turn away 300 families last year,” she said.
The new Ronald McDonald facility in All Children’s Hospital Medical Annex will open in 2010 if the Ronald McDonald raises the necessary funds.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay was nominated as a finalist for Nonprofit of the Year with the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The organization has housed about 35,000 families over 29 years whose children are being treated in the area hospitals. The addition of a third facility in St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital will make this organization one of the largest Ronald McDonald Houses in the country serving one hospital.
The organization also provides 46 college scholarships yearly for children with disadvantaged backgrounds. The McDonald Care Mobile Van provides free medical and dental service for the students in Title One Schools in Pasco and Hillsborough counties who come from low-income families. The organization’s biggest fundraiser, the Storybook Ball - Lasso the Moon will be held May 16th at the A La Carte Event Pavilion in Tampa.
For more information, visit RMHCTampabay.com.