Letting Go (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: Letting Go

MS. EMILY BERMAN

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Emily Berman, in this week for Rebecca Sheir. Today our theme is Letting Go. And over the course of the next hour, we'll meet people relinquishing all sorts of things, from a dangerous addiction…

MR. KEVIN CRANFIELD

I can't say I'll never get high again, but what I can sit here and say, I don't ever want to get high again.

BERMAN

…to ending our love affair with technology.

MR. MARK SWEENEY

It's very difficult for children to manage the demands of home life, the demands of school life and technology.

BERMAN

Plus, we'll consider what it means to let go when your alma mater closes its doors. And with the Superbowl coming up this Sunday, we'll hear from Baltimore Ravens fans as their team's most famous player prepares for his last game before retirement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

Sad to see him go, but, man, what a better way to, like, end a retirement. It's the sweetest dream ever.

BERMAN

Fir though, we begin today's show with a story of a D.C. woman named Sarah Gray. Back in 2009, Sarah was 35 years old and 8 weeks pregnant when she found out she'd be having twins.

MS. SARAH GRAY

And I just was, like, laughing and Ross was staring straight ahead, like, oh, my gosh, are you serious? I think I was more excited and he was more scared.

BERMAN

A month later, at her 12-week checkup, Sarah laid on the examining table where a technician rubbed an ultrasound wand over her belly. Her eyes were fixed on the black and white images of her babies.

GRAY

So you can see, you know, little baby head and arms and legs and that kind of thing. It's fun.

BERMAN

The tech asked her to go empty her bladder, so she did. And when she came back there was a doctor in the room.

GRAY

And he looked at a few different things and then he said, you know, one of your twins is fine, but I'm sorry to tell you one of your twins has a lethal birth defect. And I think I just sort of thought, I must have heard that wrong. And I can show you a picture of what the sonograms looked like. So he said, you can see this one baby's skull is round, just like that. And your other baby's skull is bumpy.

BERMAN

It's called anencephaly, the doctor told her. That's Greek for without a brain. The skull didn't close properly in the early stages of development. And because of that amniotic fluid was getting inside the skull and disintegrating the brain.

GRAY

I think it was mostly shock. I was just like, you've gotta be kidding me. Like, I don't smoke and I wasn't drinking. I took folic acid vitamins. So we asked, can we do a selective termination on the sick baby? And he said, no, because the twins are identical, so it's kind of just too risky.

BERMAN

Sarah and Ross, her husband, left the appointment in a haze. It was the beginning of a very stressful pregnancy.

MR. ROSS GRAY

As people saw that Sarah was pregnant, they'd be, you know, oh, great, you're pregnant. When are you due? And you don't want to almost burden them by telling them bad news.

GRAY

It's like you can't even say what it is because it's so sad.

BERMAN

As the months went by, Sarah shopped for one set of clothes, one car seat.

GRAY

One crib, one stroller, all that kind of stuff.

BERMAN

At the same time, she was researching whether or not she could donate the baby's organs, but it wasn't clear if anyone would want them. Sarah's mom found one article online, about a family in Alexandria whose baby had anencephaly. That family had donated the baby's liver cells for scientific research. So, Sarah took that article to her next doctor's appointment.

GRAY

And she looked into it and she's like, you know, we don't do this a lot, but you're right. You know, we can do this.

GRAY

We had, you know, we had maybe four days where Ross and I slept in the hospital with Thomas.

GRAY

I remember holding him at the time and, you know, he just seemed such a friendly little guy. He just wanted to be cuddled so there's not really too much else you can do.

BERMAN

They took Thomas home and within a day he started having seizures. He was wheezing and had really heavy breathing.

GRAY

And the hospice nurse came over. And she sort of looked at him and she was, like, you know, this is what they call end-of-life breathing. This is the end for him. And we said a little prayer over him. And I called the Washington Regional Transplant community and they sent a van over to come and pick him up and take him to the hospital right away to get his organs.

BERMAN

Sarah's son, Callum, the healthy twin, is now three years old. He's looking at a photo album of hospital pictures of him and his twin brother Thomas.

CALLUM GRAY

Yeah, Thomas's gone.

GRAY

Yeah, where did he go?

GRAY

He's gone.

BERMAN

In grief counseling, Sarah and Ross met people who had gone through similar experiences. Some spoke of how they'd saved lives by donating their loved ones' organs. Thomas's organs weren't big enough for transplant and had gone to scientific research.

GRAY

Over the course of two years I started feeling kind of jealous of these people who had donated their loved ones' organs because a lot of them got to meet the recipient. What if they got them and they were like, oh, I don't really need these, I'm throwing this in the garbage?

BERMAN

Sarah asked the transplant organization for more information. And they told her what they knew. Thomas's cord blood went to Duke University.

GRAY

And his liver cells went to a company called Cytonet in Durham, N.C.

BERMAN

And his eyes went Harvard Medical School.

GRAY

It didn't even occur to me that I could actually go there until I went to Boston. I had a business trip. I had a conference there. So when I got there I thought, this is my last chance while I'm here to do this.

BERMAN

She called the front desk of Harvard's eye institute and asked if she could have a tour of the building. They said yes and the next morning she arrived early to take pictures of the outside of the building. She put a few brochures in her purse and waited for her tour guide, Carolyn.

GRAY

Carolyn took me for a walk through the labs and there was, you know, Petri dishes and refrigerators and posters of eyes. And she introduced me to a guy named Dr. Zieske. And I remember he was just sort of eating his lunch at his desk and she brought be over and he looked up and she said, you know, this is Sarah Gray and her son was a donor here. And he just sort of looked at me, like, oh, my gosh.

BERMAN

The lab, Carolyn said, had never had a donor come to visit before.

GRAY

I felt really emotional, like I was about to cry just meeting him. I got the feeling like he was emotional too. Like, you care enough about what I'm doing to come here.

BERMAN

Dr. Zieske thanked her for her donation and asked her if there was anything she wanted to know.

GRAY

I said, how many eyes do you order in a year?

BERMAN

He said his group orders 10 and that infant eyes are the most rare and valuable for research.

GRAY

He asked me when my son died. I told him it was a couple years ago and he said, you know, your son's eyes could still be here right now. It was just a really meaningful, really good feeling to know that I met his recipient, really. It almost felt like visiting our son at college or something.

GRAY

It felt like he was, like, introducing us to his friends and his colleagues and his coworkers. That, you know, my son is okay. Just the grief was gone.

BERMAN

On her way out of town, Sarah bought a toddler size Harvard T-shirt for Callum and felt, for a first time in quite a while, an immense sense of peace.

BERMAN

We're going to head out to Ocean City, Md. now, for On the Coast…

BERMAN

…in which Bryan Russo brings us the latest from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Coastal Delaware. Last week, Bryan reported on an uptick in heroine abuse around Ocean City and what police and addiction counselors are doing about it. This week he brings us a more personal tale, that of a man named Kevin Cranfield. Kevin is a well-known member of the skate and surf communities in Ocean City, but he's also struggled with heroin addiction. He's been clean for nearly five years and now mentors others trying to kick their drug addictions. He met up with Bryan Russo at a coffee shop earlier this week to share his story.

CRANFIELD

Heroin was definitely not my first drugs of choice, so heroin came a little bit later down the road, but when the one drug that you're into just isn't around, and all of a sudden somebody's like, well, hey, I got this. Well, let's try this. And honestly and truly the first time I tried it I didn't like it. You know, the whole like, once we did it--and we didn't shoot it, we snorted it and got sick.

CRANFIELD

I didn't really understand the high because I'm actually really an uppers guy, you know. My addiction's basically based on, like, crack cocaine. And when I lived in California it was crystal meth. I will say that with all the drugs, opiates are the hardest ones to get off of. For myself, it was the hardest one for me to get off of.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

How old were you when you took the turn towards the so-called recreational drugs, pot, drinking, into maybe what's considered the harder drugs, crack cocaine and heroin?

CRANFIELD

Well, my first time ever doing drugs I was probably 14, you know. And then it was stuff called quicksilver, it was the stuff you huffed. You got it from the public library. You know, just like any of the huffing stuff. Then I stopped for a couple years and the drugs for me really started probably when I was like 17, 18. And it went from just, you know, smoking weed to drinking, to all of a sudden, before I knew it, my life was already out of control. I mean it didn't take long for me. It went from weed to acid, you know, acid shrooms, all the psychedelics and then it went--I mean, I'm not even talking a year, you know. I started dabbling with the harder drugs, crack cocaine and stuff like that.

RUSSO

Is there any moment while you were using those drugs and getting high, that you thought, I'm losing control a little bit? And if you did feel that, what was it about the high that overrode those feelings and fear or cautiousness?

CRANFIELD

I started realizing that I didn't use like my friends did. And when I say use and getting high, it's alcohol, it's all of it. It's all mixed in together for me. And I approached some friends and, you know, tried to start changing my life then. It didn't work for the simple fact was the drugs made me feel like somebody, you know. I mean when I was high or when I was loaded I was like even more outgoing. I could talk to the females better. You know, all those little like insecurities that I had that people don't really recognize.

CRANFIELD

I mean, when I had drugs, I had no insecurities, you know. I thought I was the man. You know what I mean? And that was the first like grab. That was the first thing that I loved about it. You know I felt powerful.

RUSSO

Tell me about when you made the decision almost five years ago to get clean and the process that it's been in staying clean for these five years.

CRANFIELD

My clean day is December 20, '08. It was probably a few days prior to that I had been actively back to smoking crack again, you know. And then it wasn't so much as opiates, but it was xanax's. And I was going into a lot of benzo blackouts, not knowing what I was doing. And it got to the point of my using was at a height of where, like, nobody knew I was doing it--or so I thought--hiding in my house, the coach is in front of the door, paranoia and the last day that I used the benzos and the crack cocaine was basically trying to kill myself.

CRANFIELD

I wanted to smoke and take as many pills as I possibly could because I was just done. I was like I'm never, ever, ever, ever going to get this, you know. And I had this like--we'll call it a moment of clarity. I was like, all right. I'm going to give this thing one more shot. From that day on, like I said, December 20 of '08, the effort I put into getting high, I've put into staying clean and into my recovery.

RUSSO

Do kids ever come to you or their parents ever come to you and say, you know, Kevin, we know you've been through this. How do I help my kid from not going through something like this?

CRANFIELD

Oh, definitely. It's been weird, you know. I've had it on both sides, with the kids coming to me and then the parents coming to me. And there's a crew of kids that, like, I really love them, you know. I took them under my wing and, you know, some of them are doing the right thing and some of them are doing what most of us did at that age. It's scary. But I've also heard some really good things, where a couple kids are trying to get help. I hope maybe it's because of what they saw me go through. I try to be that person that they can go to, you know, when they're scared to go to maybe Mom or Dad. I can't say I'll never get high again, but what I can sit here and say, I don’t ever want to get high again.

BERMAN

That was Ocean City resident Kevin Cranfield speaking with our Coastal reporter Bryan Russo. You can find a longer version of this interview at our website, metroconnection.org. Time for a break, but when we get back, saying goodbye when your school shuts down.

FEMALE

I'm comfortable at Spingarn. So now they are pushing us out. You've got no choice.

BERMAN

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

BERMAN

I'm Emily Berman in this week for Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today our theme is Letting Go. So far, we've heard from a D.C. woman who was forced to say goodbye to her infant son and from a former drug user in Ocean City who's helping others kick addiction to the curb. And we turn now to a story of people who are letting go of the place they once went to school.

BERMAN

Last month, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced which schools will be closing at the end of this academic year.

MS. KAYA HENDERSON

One of the significant challenges, of course, was that there are too many schools and too many small schools.

BERMAN

The closings will allow the District to save an estimated $8 million. And the biggest chunk of that savings comes from closing Spingarn High School. It's the first high school in D.C. to be closed in years. And as Jacob Fenston reports, no matter when you went to school it can be hard to let go of your alma matter.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

On a cold, gray morning students are making their way up from Benning Road Northeast, just west of the Anacostia River. Deja Willis and Asia Chasteen (sp?) are carrying gym bags and wearing Spingarn Track and Field hoodies. They say it's been a good school.

FEMALE

I improved more here than I did at Maryland schools. So, I mean, I'm one of the top 10 in my class so far.

FEMALE

High fives. I did not know that.

FENSTON

Chequay Ojarika (sp?) is also wearing a Spingarn sweatshirt.

MS. CHEQUAY OJARIKA

I'm comfortable at Spingarn. So they are pushing us out. You've got no choice, so it sucks.

FEMALE

It's like you don't have a choice but to leave. It's like you can't stay, you have to go, like, find somewhere else to settle down.

FENSTON

Closing Spingarn in July will save the school system more than $3 million according to the Chancellor.

OJARIKA

Because she was like just for like 300 kids.

FEMALE

So she say--yeah, so she said we aren't worth it.

OJARIKA

Yeah, so we are not worth it. Yeah, that's when I felt offended.

FENSTON

The student body at Spingarn has been shrinking for years. It's now one of the District's smallest public high schools. In terms of test scores, only Anacostia High School has lower student achievement. At Spingarn, only one in seven students meets reading and math standards. But it wasn't always thus.

MR. FRANCIS SMITH

You know what page you're on, Barbara?

MS. BARBARA SMITH

Huh?

SMITH

What page are you on?

FENSTON

Francis and Barbara Smith are showing me their yearbook from senior year 1954.

SMITH

Yeah, that's us, man. You see, I had a necktie on.

FENSTON

The Smith's were in the first graduating class at Spingarn.

SMITH

We were the first bodies to enter that school. We were just so enthralled.

FENSTON

It was in that building the two first met. Francis was a basketball star always surrounded by adoring young ladies.

SMITH

And oh, they just irritated me, you know. And he's just smiling and whatever. And it just really bugged me. They would just, oh, but somehow he wooed me. He wooed me for almost 55 years.

FENSTON

Spingarn opened its doors in 1952, the newest and most modern of the city's so-called negro schools. It was just two years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation. Spingarn was seen as one of the top black schools in the District led by Dr. Purvis Williams.

SMITH

Dr. Williams had picked the best teachers in the city. They were strict, but they taught us. And he believed in that and that was the end of it. I mean, you had to be right in there. You walked in there with a shirt on, you had to have a tie on. They held your feet to the fire. They did not play.

FENSTON

In 1952, D.C. schools were squeezed by different pressures than today, namely record enrollment, as baby boomers hit the schools. Spingarn in 2013 has about one-quarter the students it did back then.

MS. MARGARET WALLACE POPE

The school was crowded. We had lots and lots of students, not like today's class.

FENSTON

Margaret Wallace Pope…

POPE

I was a Wallace. There I am.

FENSTON

…class of 1959. Even though segregation officially ended in 1954, Spingarn was still 100 percent African American by the end of the decade.

POPE

I have come across at least one person, one white student that said he was the white student at the time. Now, I forget what year he was there. But, I know it has not always been 100 percent black. But I would say 99.9 percent.

MR. IVAN BROWN

Late '50s, early '60s you had the white flight.

FENSTON

Ivan Brown, class of 1963. Brown says he grew up near an all white elementary school he wasn't allowed to attend.

BROWN

And right across from that school was an apartment complex that was all white. Now, that school became integrated, but it wasn't long before all the whites had moved out of those apartments, you know. And they were gone. They just didn't want to go to school with us.

FENSTON

Spingarn student body today is 100 percent black, same as when it opened 61 years ago. But the neighborhoods around the school changed and changed again and are still changing.

BROWN

The white flight and there was a black flight. Black flight was the black middleclass.

FENSTON

Brown is now president of the Spingarn Alumni Association, a group that was started back in the '90s by Francis Smith. The alumni have spent a lot of time volunteering with Spingarn students and they've raised thousands of dollars for scholarships. Smith says when the school closes they will be a group without a purpose.

SMITH

I think it's like a piece of our history is gone and I don't think it will ever come back.

FENSTON

I’m Jacob Fenston.

BERMAN

If you have thoughts on D.C.'s plan to close some under-enrolled schools, we want to hear them. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

BERMAN

We turn now from schools to the environment. Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are knee deep in a debate over a practice called fracking. Fracking is when you drill thousands of feet in the ground and inject a mixture of chemicals and grit into shale below. The mixture fractures the rock, releases the trapped natural gas and allows it to seep back out through the drill hole. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley recently proposed funding a series of studies to look at fracking in his state. And the U.S. Forest Service is considering whether to allow fracking in Virginia's George Washington Forest.

BERMAN

As environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, supporters and critics of fracking are very far apart, even when it comes to the facts.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

If there's one thing fueling the uproar over fracking it's fear. I'm standing right now by the Potomac, which is a source of fresh drinking water for most of the D.C. region.

MS. AMY MALL

The U.S. Forest Service is looking at whether or not to allow fracking in the George Washington National Forest, which is only about a hundred miles from Washington, D.C.

BEN-ACHOUR

That's Amy Mall, she's a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

MALL

And the forest is the watershed for the Potomac River, which supplies drinking water to about four million people.

BEN-ACHOUR

She says fracking near the headwaters of Washington's drinking waters supply is just not a good idea.

MALL

Problems could occur at 100 feet below the surface, even if the well is thousands of feet deep. And problems have occurred. For example, the well is a steel pipe that's cemented into place. And it's supposed to protect the aquifers that are underground sources of drinking water. But there are failures.

MR. DREW COBBS

Statistically it's just not proven. I mean, you can make these statements and it's anecdotal evidence or you throw these threats up and scare people, but let's just deal with the facts.

BEN-ACHOUR

Drew Cobbs directs the Maryland Petroleum Council.

COBBS

Most of the evidence has been brought forth as anecdotal in nature statistically and studies really have not born that out. Really, the opposite's been shown, that it can be done safely. In Arkansas, the United States Geological Survey conducted a study of 127 private or domestic wells in an area that has been highly developed. Over 4,000 production wells have been put into service in this area over the last 6 to 8 years and basically they concluded there was no damage or harm done to the water in those areas.

BEN-ACHOUR

In the rest of Virginia, outside of the George Washington Forest, fracking has been going on since the 1950s. And according to the state's department of Mines Minerals and Energy, there have been no documented instances of groundwater or surface water contamination in the state. But in Maryland, the geology is radically different. Fracking would require more than 20 times the volume of fracking liquid--that's the stuff that gets injected into the ground and one of the potential contaminants that people are worried about. Mike Tidwell is with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He's among those who are concerned.

MR. MIKE TIDWELL

There's been everything from earthquakes triggered by the wastewater from these natural gas drilling rigs to deforestation, just incredible truck traffic through small towns, potentially greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane that's released during the fracking-drilling process. And so there have been a lot of questions that haven't been answered.

BEN-ACHOUR

William Valentine, a county commissioner in Allegany County, Md., challenges almost all of those claims. His county is one of only three in Maryland where fracking could potentially take place because it's right above what's known as the Marcellus Shale.

MR. WILLIAM VALENTINE

I sit on the governor's commission to study the fracking process and all. And really nobody has been able to come up with a single positive problem with the fracking. And all we're told is there are potential problems. Well, you could potentially get hit by a car whenever you leave your building tonight, but you're still gonna go outside.

BEN-ACHOUR

He says his region already has heavy infrastructure from the coal industry and points to the experience of neighboring states.

VALENTINE

The state of Pennsylvania is making millions and millions of dollars off their Marcellus gas. The state of West Virginia is making oodles of money off of Marcellus gas.

BEN-ACHOUR

Kevin Sunday is with Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

MR. KEVIN SUNDAY

We've never seen groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracking itself. What we have seen is where there's a lot of gas in the ground in these shale formations, there's also going to be a lot of gas in the shallow formations as they drill vertically down. If those vertical wells aren't cased and cemented right, there can be a path for those shallow pockets of gas to migrate into an aquifer. There've been a handful of those cases.

BEN-ACHOUR

Those cases, he says, were due to faulty cement. They could have happened at any well, whether it was a fracking well or not. Sunday says if there's a lesson for other states, it's in the regulatory leg work…

SUNDAY

That greatly increased the fracturing fluid disclosure law. It also increased the fine that we could assess. It increased protections of private water supplies. There's new casing and cementing regulations in place. There's a restriction on oil and gas drillers taking their wastewater to treatment plants at discharge. And as a result, we've seen dramatic increases in the amount of flow back water getting recycled.

BEN-ACHOUR

Kathy Cosco works for West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection. Her advice?

MS. KATHY COSCO

Making sure that environmental regulations are prepared for the industry. And you need to balance the benefits against, you know, what the risks are.

BEN-ACHOUR

In Maryland a commission is studying those benefits and those risks and will release several reports. The first is expected in August of this year. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

BERMAN

And now our weekly trip around the region. On today's Door To Door we visit NOMA in northeast D.C. and Arlandria in Alexandria, Va.

MR. KEVIN BEEKMAN

My name's Kevin Beekman. I'm 46 years old. I live in the sunny side part of Arlandria in Alexandria, Va. Arlandria is roughly between West Glebe and South Glebe road, the northern border of Alexandria, southern border of Arlington, between Four Mile Run and Route 1. The neighborhood was mostly built up during the second World War, like most of Northern Virginia. Most of the buildings in the area date from the 1930s, 1940s. About roughly half the neighborhood is Latino. And I think in the 1980s, when the Salvadoran War was going on a lot of the folks came from there and continue here.

MR. KEVIN BEEKMAN

One of the neighborhoods within Arlandria is called Chirilagua after the city that a lot of the folks came from. My favorite thing in the neighborhood is obviously the diversity that we have here. There are folks from all sorts of walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds. And then the proximity to other parts of the metropolitan area, downtown D.C. isn't that far. Crystal City, Shirlington are close by.

MR. TONY GOODMAN

My name is Tony Goodman. I'm 33 and I live in the NOMA near Northeast neighborhood. When we moved here we were so excited about all of the beautiful older houses that were here, which we live in one of them. And excited about the new potential for development on the vacant lots and parking lots which were only a block from our house. One of things that most exciting for us over the past few years is that new streets, new sidewalks, new businesses have opened up on a continual basis.

MR. TONY GOODMAN

It used to be that we only had a few safe routes to walk because other routes were blocked by construction fences or there were no sidewalks. And it's like an entire neighborhood has been sort of opening up for us. For now, the center of NOMA is the corner of First and M Northeast. We have a Harris Teeter there, our supermarket, of course, many new restaurants. And that center has shifted. It used to be that a few years ago before the Harris Teeter it was the metro station. And I expect that in the future if, or hopefully when we get a park, that park will wind up being our central feature.

MR. TONY GOODMAN

Of course with thousands of people here now, potentially over ten thousand on the way, that center will be a very large space.

BERMAN

We heard from Tony Goodman in NOMA and Kevin Beekman in Arlandria. Your neighborhood can be part of Door To Door, too. Just send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far visit our website metroconnection.org.

BERMAN

Up next, Howard University students work to let go of old stereotypes.

MR. DARIUS THOMAS

At the end of the day, we're not really trying to change people's opinion, or maybe we are, but it's more so just for people to understand that you should be able to treat everyone the same.

BERMAN

That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

BERMAN

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week our theme is Letting Go. And for our next story, I need to start with a confession. My name is Emily Berman and I am generally not more than three feet away from my phone at any given time, in the shower, while I'm sleeping, while I'm running. I am almost always email, Twitter and internet accessible. And even at 10 years old, Erik Cekan understands my tech obsession.

MR. ERIK CEKAN

It was kind of in my routine. I'd wake up, I went on Wizard 101, I had breakfast and then I went to school and I came back. I was on the computer. I did my homework. I was on the computer.

BERMAN

So it sounds like it would fill up almost every minute of free time you had.

CEKAN

Yeah, pretty much.

BERMAN

But it doesn't anymore.

MS. JINDRA CEKAN

So we are going up the stairs. This is where I've hidden the technology.

BERMAN

Jindra Cekan is a single mother to Erik and his brother, Kaja. And we're in her row house on Capitol Hill.

CEKAN

So my children don't know about this place, so…

BERMAN

She crouches down and reaches into the back corner of her closet.

CEKAN

Oh, yeah, iPad, I have another iPad. I took out the Wii, here's the iPod.

BERMAN

Kaja, who's 12, tells me he knows exactly where the gadgets are, back of the closet is like the most obvious mom hiding spot in the world, but he and Erik, they're not going in there. This time, they said, their mother was dead serious.

CEKAN

This began when I walked in and I said, please bring in two bags of food for your lunch.

BERMAN

She had just made an evening run to Safeway to get sandwich ingredients.

CEKAN

Kaja said, I'm going to do that, sitting on his iPad. And my son Erik said, yeah, yeah, Mom, you know, in a few minutes. I can't right now. I'm playing. I said, oh, no.

BERMAN

This wasn't the first time a screen had taken priority over helping their mom.

CEKAN

I said you are bringing the groceries in. And as soon as they brought them in, I said, and you've lost all your technology until I tell you it's back. They had no idea what was going to hit them.

BERMAN

No iPads, no computer, no television, no Wii. These were the pillars of their young adulthood. The first week, Jindra says, they were slamming doors and storming around the house.

CEKAN

It was really like an addiction, you know. You could watch the addiction releasing its hold a bit.

BERMAN

To help her sons along in their recovery, Jindra devised a star chart to gauge when they're being helpful and kind.

CEKAN

I went around the house on Saturday and I cleaned the bathrooms and my brother vacuumed.

BERMAN

That got them two stars a piece, but it doesn't take much to get a star taken away.

CEKAN

They've gotten to look at how unhelpful they are because when they lose stars, like, why am I losing a star? I'm like, you just hit your brother for the sixth time.

BERMAN

They need 50 stars to get their technology back for one hour a day. Two months into their star counting, Erik has 33 and Kaja has 44.

SWEENEY

I proposed this intervention to a lot of different families and most of the time families avoid using this as an intervention until it's their last resort.

BERMAN

Mark Sweeney is their family therapist.

SWEENEY

The Xbox can be a great babysitter. The Internet can engage a kid and kind of make their job as a parent a little bit easier.

BERMAN

Less technology means less free time for parents. And kids, he says, will exploit that.

SWEENEY

The kids for many, many days will be in doubt whether you as a parent will be able to hold on. They will test. For those families that hold on for weeks and then months, wow, you can start to see other parts of the family improve, communication, problem solving. It's remarkable.

BERMAN

In the past couple of months, Kaja has been taking apart old computers in his bedroom.

KAJA CEKAN

I’m just trying to take it apart.

BERMAN

Erik sits on the floor surrounded by Legos.

CEKAN

I'm trying to build a bank.

BERMAN

And when he's not there you can also find him running around outside.

CEKAN

Now I've kind of realized that there's a lot of other fun things to do. Going to the park kind of now feels nicer than staying inside and sitting in front of the computer for an hour.

CEKAN

We'll play cards, we'll play Clue.

BERMAN

Jindra is an active Buddhist and says letting go of technology is a way to practice mindfulness in their home.

CEKAN

They are more respectful more often. They are kinder more often. They are more helpful more often. Parents just shouldn't be afraid to do this. Children will be mad at you, but ultimately it's teaching them so much about being here.

BERMAN

Kaja, on the other hand, finds this new lifestyle…

CEKAN

A little bit more boring.

BERMAN

And with just a few more stars to earn, he's counting down the minutes until he and his iPad are reunited for one blissful hour a day.

BERMAN

We're going to head over to Howard University now, for a story about letting go of stereotypes. For the past few years a student named Darius Thomas, has been organizing an annual event there called Birthday Suit. It's a project that's all about bringing students and professors together, to strip away taboos and talk about the deep-rooted issues of identity in black America. As Lauren Landau reports, this time around they're taking on the touchy topic of homosexuality.

MS. LAUREN LANDAU

It's a Wednesday night at Howard University and students are filing in to an auditorium. At the door they're told to sit on the left or right side, depending on whether their skin tone is lighter or darker than a brown paper bag.

FEMALE

Basically, we have to do a brown paper bag. So if they're darker than the brown paper bag they have to sit on the left and if they're lighter they sit on the right.

LANDAU

That was a year ago at an event called Birthday Suit Part II, which questioned age-old stigmas about skin tone and promoted the concept that all shades are beautiful.

LANDAU

Darius Thomas is a junior at Howard, where he's been organizing Birthday Suit since his freshman year.

THOMAS

The purpose of this production is to symbolize or to show the way people are born. Part one was on natural hair, part two was on light skin and dark skin and part three is on homosexuality and the topic is Were You Born Like That?

LANDAU

Birthday Suit Part III is being held next Thursday, Feb. 7. Unlike the first two installments of the project, which discussed various stereotypes while celebrating the way people are born, this Birthday Suit event takes a slightly different tack.

THOMAS

This year's theme is a deeper topic. In the past, with light-skin dark-skin and natural hair it was more so like, you know, it is what it is, I'm natural, you know, take it or leave it. Or it is what it is, I can't change the complexion of my skin.

LANDAU

But this year, panelists and attendees will discuss the roots of sexual and gender identity. Darius is currently circulating a survey around campus in preparation for the event.

THOMAS

Well, I’m using a Google form to collect data of Howard University students' answers to various questions like, what is your gender, do you think Howard University is homophobic?

LANDAU

Students are also asked to provide their opinions on gay marriage legislation, the overturn of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students in schools. Darius plans to present the data at Birthday Suit.

THOMAS

I think overall at Howard, people don't think that some people were born the way that they are. And, you know, it's a very touchy subject. And this year I have to be very cautious of the way that I produce this production to the Howard University community.

LANDAU

The events discussion panel will include a human sexuality professor, a pastor and student leaders. Among them will be Theara Coleman the president of CASCADE, Howard's LGBT student organization. She says LGBT groups at other historically black colleges and universities often butt heads with the administration and struggle to gain a foot hold.

MS. THEARA COLEMAN

Our purpose is first and foremost to have a safe space for LGBT students at Howard. The climate for a lot of LGBT orgs on HBCU campuses is that they don't tend to last. Like, Howard's LGBT org is the oldest of its kind on an HBCU campus and we're only 12-years-old.

LANDAU

Theara says Howard is pretty accepting, but LGBT students still face certain issues, like the lack of an office or designated safe space for CASCADE.

COLEMAN

It's kind of hard, I guess. Sometimes they don't acknowledge that as black students we also have an extra need as LGBT students, that we need to actually have a way to congregate and a way to talk about things that might be something that our straight counterparts might not actually experience.

LANDAU

One of those issues is homelessness.

COLEMAN

Tons of my friends came to college, came out, got kicked out, stuck in D.C. forever, like can't go home.

LANDAU

She says these students often have nowhere else to go, which is why having a safe space is so important.

COLEMAN

I had an experience of an RA who would consistently come and harass me and, like, catch me in the elevator and be like, are you a gay? Do you want to come to church with me? And then she was just like, you know, that's not your only option.

LANDAU

And therein lies the crux of Birthday Suit Part III's question, were you born like that?

COLEMAN

They just see it as a lifestyle choice and it kind of goes against the black church. And the black church is all up in through every part of the black community. We can't escape it.

LANDAU

But as the nature versus nurture debate rages on, some argue that the development of sexual identity is more complicated than we might think. Carolyn Byerly is a professor of communication and mass media studies at Howard. She says one of the ways that we learn about sexuality in our society is through the media.

MS. CAROLYN BYERLY

There are people who argue that we are born one way or the other and they seem to conjure up scientific studies that show this. And then there are others who go for the perspective that our sexual identity is a socially constructed thing, which means that we're conditioned through our experiences and values and teachings. I think that both of those answers are too narrow.

LANDAU

Byerly says that she believes sexual identity is more than evolution and doesn't simply boil down to either a lifestyle choice or genetic predisposition. She says it's important for campuses to have events like Birthday Suit, where people with different identities and backgrounds can come together to converse and learn from one another. Darius says he believes one day homosexuality won't be such a controversial issue. In the meantime, he says having events like Birthday Suit can help to open people's minds, even if it doesn't change them.

THOMAS

You know, some people just don't know. And to be able to like acknowledge people and educate others I think is a great thing.

LANDAU

Even though Darius is graduating next year, he says that won't be the end of Birthday Suit. He hopes to take the program on the road and extend it to other college campuses and even to high school communities. I'm Lauren Landau.

BERMAN

For more info on next week's Birthday Suit event, head to our website metroconnection.org.

BERMAN

Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner. And while Redskins fans have little to cheer about at the moment, for our Baltimore listeners it's a different story altogether.

BERMAN

You might have a hard time understanding him, but that was Ravens Coach John Harbaugh speaking to thousands of fans who packed into Baltimore's inner harbor on Monday to say goodbye to the team. They're heading off to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. But just as Ravens fans are clinging to the possibility of a victory this weekend, it also looks like they'll have to let go of one the all-time NFL greats, linebacker Ray Lewis, who is retiring after Sunday's big game.

BERMAN

Lewis's send-off to New Orleans was complicated after allegations this week that he used performance-enhancing drugs, an allegation he denies. Jonathan Wilson caught up with some diehard fans who are grabbing souvenirs at tents that have popped up in the Baltimore suburbs, to find out what being a Ravens fan really means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

It's Ray…

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

Ray Lewis.

FEMALE

Ray Lewis.

MALE

…Lewis and that's the man. That's all you need to know.

FEMALE

It's about bringing in that trophy and making Ray Lewis happy.

MS. ERIN HATA

Sad to see him go, but man, what a better way to, like, go into retirement. It's the sweetest dream.

FEMALE

It's sad, but I'm happy for him.

MALE

His passion, his desire, this is great for the city.

MALE

We've all got to go sometime, but I wish he could stick around for more.

MALE

This is the last year for him, so I know we're going to win.

MALE

I have definitely had my doubts about getting into the post season.

MALE

We lost like, I believe, like three or four in a row and it's kind of like going backwards.

FEMALE

I always believed in them. I knew they'd make it. I did.

FEMALE

I always expect to be in the Super Bowl.

MALE

They made a couple of changes that, you know, made it for the better for the offensive coordinator. And they made some switches on the line. And of course, they got Ray Lewis back.

FEMALE

I had faith. I was like Joe Flacco is going to pull it off. He is going to show the NFL that he is the elite quarterback that Tom Brady is. And we beat Tom Brady.

MALE

Hey, they proved me wrong and I'm glad of it.

FEMALE

I think what I love most about the team is…

MALE

They never give up.

MALE

Even when it looks bleak, don't give up because there's still hope.

MALE

This is a boy's game, but the Ravens are men.

MALE

Everybody's in the spirit. Everywhere you look there's purple, purple, purple. Everything. We're a purple town.

FEMALE

We're ramped up, we're ready, let's go.

FEMALE

I think they've all given so much this year and they're all just doing their best and really playing their hearts out.

FEMALE

So that's what I really love about the Ravens, that hometown everybody loves the Ravens.

FEMALE

We usually have wings and dips and I guess there's probably going to be pizzas.

MALE

Chicken wings, hot wings, crab cakes.

MALE

Hot wings, pizza, all that.

FEMALE

I don't even think I'll be able to eat. I'm so nervous like as of now.

MALE

I think it's going to be a great game. And I think it could go either way.

MALE

The score's going to be tight. The Ravens 27, San Fran 49ers 24.

FEMALE

Let's say 27 Ravens, 24 49ers.

MALE

We're going to have a high score. We're going to sock them.

FEMALE

I don't care if we win by one. No prediction. I just want to win. That's it.

MALE

Go Ravens. Go Ravens.

BERMAN

Those were Ravens fans talking with "Metro Connections" Jonathan Wilson. You can see photos of these members of Ravens Nation at our website metroconnection.org.

BERMAN

Time now to turn the microphone over to you and read from your letters. Jacob Fenston's story about communities experimenting with curbside composting generated a whole slew of letters from listeners. Richard in Utica, Md. writes, "Composting and recycling became part of our lives many years ago. Bravo to all who promote and use curbside composting." Meanwhile, Paul, in Laurel, Md. says he liked Jacob's story, but adds, "I don’t understand why we need a curbside pickup system that requires trucks and fuel and labor. Composting can be free and have zero carbon footprint."

BERMAN

Listener Constantine wrote to us about Kavitha Cardoza's recent piece about women in science. He says, "My mother earned her doctorate and did quite well in the Soviet Union. She did it while having me and my brother. She said the Soviet policy of one year paid maternity leave, plus a year working halftime, but being paid fulltime, made it possible for her to take care of my brother and me. Maybe if in this country there was more leeway in terms of taking care of children, it would be an easier decision for women.

BERMAN

If you have a comment about any of our stories or if you'd like to suggest a topic for the show, we'd love to hear from you. Send a note to metro@wamu.org or find us on facebook.com/metroconnection.org.

BERMAN

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Bryan Russo, Sabri Ben-Achour and Lauren Landau. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our interns are Rachael Schuster and Robbie Feinberg. Lauren Landau, Rachel Schuster and John Hines produce Door To Door. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

BERMAN

Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our Door To Door theme, "No Girl" are from the album Title Tracks by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. You can find all our reporters on Twitter. Look them up, follow them. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

BERMAN

We hope you can join us next week when Rebecca Sheir will be back with tales of Washington makeovers. We'll meet the FBI's first female criminal profiler and find out how she's reshaping her life in retirement. We'll head out to the Eastern Shore to meet a group of people restoring a historic fishing boat. And we'll go inside the dispute over whether to tear down one of Fairfax County's increasingly rare dairy barns.

FEMALE

I want my son to know about the history of the region, which is predominately dairy farming. And I think that Tyson's area of shopping malls and high-rise office buildings doesn't really reflect that anymore. And so this one little slice of history is, I think, important to keep.

BERMAN

I'm Emily Berman and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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