June 24, 2018

This Week’s Popcorn – ‘Country Strong’

Lady Drinks the Booze in “Country Strong”

2 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Shana Feste’s “Country Strong,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the latest entertainer to suffer the clichéd immiscibility of love and fame, asks the question: Is there anyone left in Hollywood who has not yet played a country western singer? While Miss Paltrow’s go at it lends a genre challenging uniqueness, it’s still the same ole achy breaky heartbreak.

Hampered by stereotypes and a connect-the-dots screenplay, Paltrow’s nonetheless astute portrayal suggests that a total revamp would be in order. At least it would make for a more honest, if not more entertaining, film. Engaging only in a soap opera sort of way, there’s always the feeling that surely something better exists just around the next corner.

But it doesn’t, and “Country Strong” is fated to plod along in hobble mode. A few new shiny faces and a handful of fairly pleasing songs are poor substitutes for a good screenplay. As it stands, this tired tale makes banal comparisons of the old and the new, the decadent and the hopeful. Someone ought to write a country western song about it.

Which is what Garrett Hedlund’s Beau Hutton ostensibly aspires to do as the young, unspoiled iconoclast who says he doesn’t care about success. It’s about the music, dude. This is why the heartthrob has recently won the attentions and affections of Paltrow’s very troubled superstar, Kelly Canter. Of course they meet in a rehabilitation center.

Kelly was the patient. Beau was supporting his nighttime musical career as an orderly. But when beleaguered hubby and manager James Canter, played by Tim McGraw, comes to take his alcoholic wife back on the road and into the glaring spotlight, she introduces the handsome soul mate as her sponsor. Weary-eyed, James issues an mm-hmm look.

But we figure the stoical spouse isn’t exactly pure of heart, either. Witness the adoring looks he heaps on Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), the former beauty queen and female equivalent of up-and-coming Beau. It could be she just reminds him of happier times, before celebrity and booze tarnished the star he has so lovingly nurtured.

Believe that and I can also sell you a bridge that crosses the Tallahatchie. In any case, while not delivered in an especially sensual way, the morality is curious. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but it’s all a tad tawdry, the indiscretions feebly cloaked in farfetched rationalizations about love, art and whatever else might make for a good second stanza.

Borrowing from the sociology Robert Altman so expertly etched in “Nashville” (1975), writer-director Feste adds nothing to the milieu. There are the one-night stands, the camaraderie that comes of traveling by bus, an allegiance to the down home point of view and a non-stop self-consciousness that feels the need for autobiographical analysis.

But if you give Paltrow’s prima donna a second look, you realize she interestingly deviates from the songstress generally at the center of said template. We suspect that while the bright lights may have complicated matters, her neuroses were tormenting her since way back in Okefenokee, long before Kelly Canter rose to country music fame.

So what of it? Sure, my clinical diagnosis might be more intriguing than the rags-to-ruins rehash we get. But the producers doubtlessly would be loath to revisit a psychological drama of the sort that hasn’t held favor with audiences since the mid 1950s. You know: hushed tones, antiseptic rooms, somber looks and the ever-lurking threat of lobotomy.

Fact is, this hackneyed tale is merely a platform for numerous tunes and the neophytic actors that sing them. Some of it is OK. And anyway, aside from some eerie screeching to note hyperbole and the improvisational, staccato jazz that attacks the nerve synapses, the aforementioned mental shtick hardly lends itself to musical accompaniment.

Both Miss Meester and Mr. Hedlund have pleasant enough voices, and their duet rendition of “Give in to Me” exudes a fittingly hokey chemistry. But the pièce de résistance is reserved for Gwyneth’s Kelly who, mustering the greatest stage courage since Judy Garland first embodied la chanteuse terrible, sings “Coming Home.”

Too bad Ms. Feste didn’t have an inclination to hum the scenery. One panoramic view through the open doors of a freight car whilst Kelly and Beau take a brief hiatus from stardom’s obligatory rigors hints at lost potential. Though travelogue shots of the South couldn’t make up for the trite dialogue, at least we’d have some pretty pictures to look at.

This is all too sad and fatalistic considering the few grim platitudes we receive in return for our indulgence. While perhaps viable as a palate cleanser between headier offerings at the Cineplex, “Country Strong” is otherwise too weak for you to consider budging the old pickup from that great parking space outside the honky-tonk.

“Country Strong,” rated PG-13, is a Screen Gems release directed by Shana Feste and stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. Running time: 112 minutes.

CVU Sports Schedule

Alpine skiing

Friday: Slalom at Bolton Valley

Monday: Giant Slalom at Bolton Valley

Wednesday: Slalom at Cochran’s Ski Area (Richmond)

Boys basketball

Friday: SPAULDING HIGH, 7 p.m.

Tuesday: at St. Johnsbury Academy, 6:30 p.m.

Girls basketball

Monday: at Essex High, 7:30 p.m.


Friday: at Middlebury Union (middle school), 7 p.m.

Wednesday: RANDOLPH UNION HIGH, 7 p.m.

Boys hockey

Saturday: at Essex High, 1 p.m.

Wednesday: BURLINGTON HIGH, 7:20 p.m.

Girls hockey

Saturday: SPAULDING HIGH, 12:20 p.m.

Wednesday: MISSISQUOI VALLEY UNION, 6:50 p.m.

Nordic skiing

Friday: at Mount Mansfield Union, 4 p.m.

Saturday: at Bolton Valley, 10 a.m.

Monday: at U-32 (East Montpelier), 5 p.m.


Friday and Saturday: at Essex Classic Tournament, 2 p.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Wednesday: COLCHESTER HIGH and HARWOOD UNION, 5:30 p.m.


Sports Notes

Jan. 20, 2011

Girls hoops team follows exam week with test at Essex

A 10-day break during a six-game win string is not exactly what coach Jeff Evans and his rock and rolling Champlain Valley Union High girls basketball team needs right now, but that is what they got.

Following exam week, the 8-3 Redhawks return to their hoop duties Monday night when they travel to Essex High for the season’s first clash with the Hornets. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

The final game before the testing time-out was last Friday at always tough Burlington High. CVU snapped the 5-3 Seahorses’ five-game victory streak in a come-from-behind, 63-55 thumbs-upper.

Shae Hulbert led the CVU scorers from her forward position with 17 points while guard Amanda Kinneston logged 11 tallies.

Burlington got 19 points each from Jessie Hines and Brittany Robertson.

Two CVU winners in indoor track meet

The 1,600-meter run and the shot put were the winning events for Champlain Valley Union High athletes in Saturday’s 20-plus team indoor track and field competition at the University of Vermont.

CVU’s Claire Trotter won the 1,600 meters for girls with a time of 5 minutes, 39.9 seconds. She finished less then four seconds ahead of teammate Adrienne DeVita, who captured second place.

On the boys side, CVU’s Dale Conger won his second shot put competition in two weeks with a throw of 43 feet, 11.5 inches.

Sam Chevalier captured third place in the pole vault.

Oddly, the boys and girls teams each finished eighth in their divisions with 18 points.

Redhawks gymnastics team enters busy season

Having had just one meet since the end of December — last week’s home victory over Milton High — the Champlain Valley Union High gymnastics team gets into the busy section of its schedule late this week.

On Friday, the Redhawks will travel for a meet against Middlebury Union High in a 7 p.m. session at Middlebury Middle School.

Then it will be home at Green Mountain Gymnastics in Williston for a 7 p.m. meet against visiting U-32.

In their last competition on Jan. 12, the Redhawks scored a 129.5-102.91 triumph over Milton.

CVU freshman Megan Nick took all-around honors after victories on the bars, the beam and floor exercise plus runner-up on the vault.

Teammate Sarah Kinsley won the vault, tied for second on the bars and finished second on the beam and in floor exercise.

The Redhawks’ Emma Sienkiewycz also tied for second on the bars, while Mary Collins was third in floor exercise.

CVU wrestlers competing in Essex Classic

Champlain Valley Union High’s Gabe Bosen (top) wrestles an opponent during a meet at Middlebury Union High last week. (Courtesy photo by Jennifer Olson)

Coach Rahn Fleming and his Champlain Valley Union High wrestling team will come out of the academic exams with a sizable test of their own, the regionally important Classic Tournament on Friday and Saturday at Essex High.

In their last meet a week ago Thursday, the Redhawks got edged 33-27 by Middlebury Union High. CVU got victories from Chris Roy in the 119-pound class and Ryan Stearns in the 130-pound grouping.

Good news came for the future of the CVU program, as the junior varsity team scored a solid victory last weekend in the annual Middlebury jayvee tournament, scoring 143 points to 56 for runner-up Essex High in the 15-team event.

Fahle leads CVU Nordic team to victory

Hans Fredrik Fahle’s solid victory in the boys division led the Champlain Valley Union High Nordic teams to wins Saturday at U-32 in East Montpelier.

Fahle’s triumph in 17 minutes, 42.05 seconds was better than a minute over the runner-up, teammate Kilian Muller. Sam Epstein took third to give CVU a sweep of the top three slots.

The Redhawks easily captured the team standings with 14 points to 39 for second place U-32 in the seven-school competition.

It was closer in the girls division, where CVU won with 25 points to 31 for runner-up Mount Anthony Union.

Sienna Searles paced the Redhawks with a second place finish just over 1 second behind victor Aleksandra Zakrezewska of South Burlington High (22:23.36).

Sierra Frisbie captured fifth place.

Offense stagnant for Redhawks hoops team

CVU boys host Spaulding on Friday

Jan. 20, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

The Tide — Crimson, that is, from Spaulding High of Barre — will roll into Champlain Valley Union High’s Bremner Gymnasium on Friday to give the 3-4 CVU boys basketball team its first contest in more than a week.

The schedule then gets thicker as coach Scott Bliss and his Redhawks visit the Northeast Kingdom and St. Johnsbury Academy on Tuesday night.

In the meantime, the Redhawks have had since last midweek to inject some heat into their thus far chilly shooting hands.

The offensive coolness was well below zero in the Hawks’ 44-30 loss to Burlington High (3-4) on Thursday. CVU shot just 24 percent from the floor and 5-for-12 from the charity stripe, a veritable deep freeze.

The Seahorses never trailed following a nine-point run in the late first and early second period that turned a 4-4 tie (after the first seven minutes) into a 13-4 advantage with six minutes to intermission.

The rugged BHS quintet led 21-11 by halftime and kicked it up to 29-14 midway through the third quarter before the Redhawks, led by senior Jake Donnelly, made their lone run.

With Donnelly hitting two free throws, a layup and a trey, Eoin Karnes (from Ryan Boland) popping a layup and Robert Russ notching a threebie, the Redhawks made up big ground; CVU got to within 32-28 on Ryan Pierson’s layup after a Boland feed.

But that was the last hoop of the game for CVU. Burlington tightened its double dude defense on Donnelly and Russ and knocked off 10 straight points to ease back in command.

Donnelly had 14 points and 15 rebounds plus a pair of assists in the face of the BHS defense. Russ added seven points and three rebounds.

Solid center Bodel Zabili paced BHS with 10 points and 10 rebounds while guard Connor O’Shea nailed nine points including a pair of treys. The Seahorses held a 28-24 edge on the boards.

Burlington got off just 34 shots against a gritty CVU defense but hit 15 while the Redhawks were a chilly 11-for-45.

Burlington High (44)

Rodgers 1 5-8 7, Hirsi 2 2-2 6, Zabili 4 2-2 10, O’Shea 3 1-2 9, Vachereau 2 0-0 5, Gurmey 2 0-0 5, Grady 0 0-0 0, Nguyen 1 0-0 2, Hale 0 0-0 0, Walsh 0 0-0 0, Herjok 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 10-14 44.

CVU (30)

Donnelly 4 5-8 14, Bissonnette 1 0-0 3, Karnes 1 0-2 2, Boland 0 0-0 0, Russ 3 0-0 7, Spencer 0 0-0 0, Gale 1 0-2 2, Burns 0 0-0 0, Keen 0 0-0 0, Lambert 0 0-0 0, Kohlasch 0 0-0 0, Whitbeck 0 0-0 0, Pierson 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 5-12 30.

BHS 9            12            11            12   –   44

CVU 4            7            10            9      –   30

Junior Varsity: BHS 54, CVU 49

Redhawk girls look to avenge earlier loss

Hockey team faces Spaulding on Saturday

Jan. 20, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

After a pair of one-goal victories last Wednesday and Saturday, the Champlain Valley Union High girls hockey team had a week to prepare for its second meeting of the season with undefeated Spaulding High (6-0-3).

The 8-2 Redhawks will host the Crimson Tide at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday at Cairns Arena in South Burlington. Head coach Tom Ryan and his team are very aware of the 6-1 beating the Tide administered to CVU on Jan. 3 in Barre.

On Saturday, the Redhawks capped a three-win week with a 2-1 nipping of Essex High at the Hornets’ ice facility.

Defense stalwart Alyx “The Express” Rivard keyed the win with assists on goals by point poppers Mollie Howard (13 for the season) and Sophia Steinhoff (9). Nicole Sisk turned in a steady 16-save day in the Redhawks’ cage.

There were seven minutes and 23 seconds remaining when Howard, set up at the blue line by Rivard and Amanda Armell, skated around and through the Essex defense with some shifty moves before depositing the puck past Essex goalie Lindsay Paquette to snap a 1-1 tie.

CVU had scored the game’s initial goal with eight minutes left in the second period when Rivard unleashed one of her patented end-to-end rushes. Paquette stopped Rivard’s shot, but an alert Steinhoff was camped in front of the net and buried the rebound.

Howard, Steinhoff, Armell and defender Lizzy Betz all had serious scoring chances either rebuffed by Paquette (31 stops) or that just missed corners of the net.

Essex’s (1-6-1) lone goal was a strange affair that came with 2:17 to go in the second period to knot the score at 1-1.

The puck came into CVU territory and somehow bounced from an unpopulated back line and stopped to the right and in front of the CVU net, where Kim Dvorak was positioned to knock it into the net past an unsuspecting Sisk.

Last Wednesday, the Redhawks grabbed a 5-0 win over South Burlington High early in the third period and then had to weather a Rebel comeback before emerging with a 5-4 victory over the 3-3-2 Blue and White.

A series of penalties contributed to the Rebel revolt, which included three power play scores.

Steinhoff (two goals, assist), Howard (two goals) and Rivard (goal) were the CVU lamp lighters. Sisk had 14 saves for CVU while the Redhawks unleashed 28 shots on the South Burlington net.

Dobrowski racks up goals in win over Rutland

9-0 CVU boys hockey team faces Essex next

Jan. 20, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

Champlain Valley Union High’s Robbie Dobrowski nets one of his five goals in Monday night’s 6-3 win over Rutland High. (Courtesy photo by David Yandell)

Shortly after his undefeated Champlain Valley Union High boys hockey team dispatched 6-3 Rutland High Monday afternoon at Cairns Arena, head coach Mike Murray was looking ahead to Saturday.

That’s when the Redhawks, off until then for exams, roll into the Essex ice arena for their first meeting of the season with a 7-1-1 Essex High Hornets.

“This game, coming at mid-season, will tell us where we are,” Murray said.

The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. opening faceoff.

If Essex had scouts at Monday’s contest, they departed to puzzle this week about how to cool down CVU’s DGL Lamplighter Line of Robbie Dobrowski, Derek Goodwin and Kyle Logan.

Dobrowski potted five goals and Goodwin one as the senior trio added 15 points to its charts. Goodwin and Logan each notched four assists and Dobrowski one. The line has accounted for 36 goals in nine games, which, by any standards, is production of a high order.

Griffin Brady, Mayson Kropf and Wilson Yandell also contributed assists in the Redhawks’ onslaught.

CVU established its scoring prowess in the game’s first moments. Dobrowski found the range after a pass from Kropf just 59 seconds after the first drop of the puck.

Dobrowski scored again a mere 35 seconds later, with Goodwin and Brady getting the helpers.

Goodwin rang up a goal later in the period on a short pass from Dobrowski in front of the Rutland net. Dobrowski, with some nice stick handling after getting the puck from Goodwin, made it 4-0 with 11:45 left in the second period.

The hardworking Rutland crew then added a pair of goals, including one while shorthanded, to cut the CVU margin to 4-2 entering the third period.

The Redhawks got their zoom back when Dobrowski scored the next two goals, on the rebound of a Goodwin shot at 9:44 and with a slick crossing move in front of the net with 7:16 to go.

The final tally came at 4:17, when the Red Raiders’ Matt Mazzariello scored on a power play.

CVU net minder Jason O’Brien had 19 saves while Rutland’s Casey Greene kicked out 16 CVU shots.

The Hawks’ Yandell and Erick MacLean had good defensive moments while sideboard diggers of the day included Jamie Thayer and Goodwin.

Late in the second period, O’Brien had to make a quick decision: the player or the puck. He stopped the puck while the Raiders’ Ian Booth, who had an earlier goal, went flying over him and into the net. For Rutland, it was an instance of filling the net, but without a score.

Murray was pleased with the win but thought the Redhawks had played better overall games, perhaps giving up too much defensively while in an offensive mindset.

Teachers urge board to resolve contract dispute

Jan. 20, 2011

Teachers from Champlain Valley Union High School gathered at Monday night’s School Board meeting to express frustration with the unresolved teacher contract negotiations.

Approximately 25 teachers stood quietly as French teacher Polly Vanderputten read a prepared statement. The CVU teachers are members of the Chittenden South Education Association, which also includes educators in the Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston school districts. Teachers have read similar statements this month during other school board meetings in Chittenden South Supervisory Union districts.

“The teachers of the Champlain Valley Union High School are here this evening to express our disappointment in the failure of the School Board in Chittenden South Supervisory Union to reach an agreement with the teachers,” Vanderputten said while reading from the statement.

Williston resident Adam Weiss, a science teacher at Essex High School, also spoke in support of the CVU teachers.

“As a parent, I’m very concerned about the morale of the teachers who’ve worked for so long without a contract,” Weiss told the board.

Negotiations between the education association and supervisory union have stretched over 15 months, with the teachers’ contract expiring in July 2010.

The CSSU negotiating team and the teacher negotiators were scheduled to meet again on Jan. 20.

— Tim Simard, Observer staff

Everyday Gourmet

Buffing the basics

Jan. 20, 2011

By Kim Dannies

There’s lots of football and cold weather cuddling ahead and that means snacking in front of the tube or fireplace. Why not add a twist to basic ingredients, like chicken legs, that easily morph to the exotic.

Tandoori-style chicken is an ancient cooking method loved the world over. Meat and spices are cooked over intense heat as the yogurt coating keeps the charred chicken moist. Paired with a simple Dal and some purchased Naan bread, you have an easy snack or a light meal full of flavor.

For nachos, try topping blue corn chips with packaged pulled pork that’s been mixed with some barbecue sauce. Top with shredded cheddar cheese, zap in the microwave for 90 seconds, then top with sour cream and chopped scallion.

Black and Tans, a half stout and half ale beer mix, are superb with these nachos.

Tandoori Chicken

To serve 4 to 6 people, buy 3 to 4 pounds of chicken legs. In a work bowl, combine 1 cup plain yogurt, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon each of fennel seed and mustard seed, 2 teaspoons Garam Masala or curry. Coat the chicken in the yogurt marinade; cover, set in fridge four hours to overnight.

To serve, fire up the grill high and coat grill racks with non-stick spray. Place chicken pieces on hot grill, then reduce heat to medium-high. Cook chicken for a while before turning so that the meat does not stick to the hot racks. A steel spatula works well for turning the meat. Once a char of skin has formed, turn chicken often, cooking until browned but juicy, 12 to 15 minutes. (Broiling works well, too.)

Simple Dal

Rough chop a large onion and sauté in a bit of olive oil for 20 minutes until caramelized. Cook 1 1/2 cups of orange lentils in boiling water until soft, about 8 minutes. Drain. Stir in the onion, 1 tablespoon commercial chili garlic sauce, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three 20-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

Places I’ve Played

My Dad the preacher

Jan. 20, 2011

By Bill Skiff

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, small town churches in rural Vermont fell on hard times. Many, including places like the Northeast Kingdom, could not afford to keep a minister during the summer. That’s where my Dad came in.

Dad graduated with the University of Vermont class of 1929 and was always a literary man. He had been a farmer, librarian, teacher and coach — but most of all a student of the English language. Dad had a gift when it came to putting his ideas into meaningful sermons. He was active in the Second Congregational Church in Jeffersonville and so, when needed, filled the pulpit.

As word went out regarding the quality of his sermons, other churches’ officials asked if he would help fill their pulpits during the summer months. He traveled to places like Craftsbury, Greensboro, Eden or wherever else he received the call.

Mother was busy with her own church work and my brother and sister were too young to go with Dad, so I was elected to travel with him on his preaching missions those summer Sundays. For the most part I didn’t mind, except it meant I missed seeing my girlfriend at our youth service.

I said I didn’t mind, but that was before Dad began preaching three services on the same Sunday! That’s three different churches in three different towns, all in one morning. At the end of one morning, as we were riding home, Dad asked, “Well, Bill what did you think of my sermon?”

“Dad,” I replied, “the first time it was pretty good, the second time it was OK but by the third time I could give it myself.”

I was impressed with the congregations at these services; many times there were only seven or eight people in attendance. They were mostly elderly ladies who had been attending the church since they were little girls. The size of the congregation never made any difference to Dad; he said whoever was there was there because they believed, so he always gave his best effort.

On one of these Sundays, after Dad had given his sermon, a deacon asked what they owed him. Dad replied, “Just give me what you think it was worth.” They gave him 72 cents. I was shocked and hurt to think they thought so little of Dad’s sermon. But he smiled and told me how much that 72 cents meant to him because he knew it was half the collection plate. It was in that moment that I began to realize how much Dad’s work meant to these people — and I began to understand the value of giving from the heart.

Looking back on those Sunday mornings I realize what a special time it was for me. I learned a lot about my Dad, a lot about myself and a lot about the meaning of community service. Those lessons still guide me today.

During this period in Dad’s life, he also wrote poems, many of which expressed his strong belief in the value of Vermont’s rural churches. This is one of my favorites:

Abandoned church

By Glenn W. Skiff

Just an old country church am I,

All alone on a wind-swept hill.

For you and your friends pass me by,

And my calm deep voice is still.

No longer do I see you come,

From out the valley and the hill,

Bringing your children, one by one,

That they may know the Master’s will.

You have forgotten; I remember well.

Holding her you proudly stand,

And reverently her name you tell

As on her curls he lays his hand.

The pattern of her faith takes form;

In Sunday school she travels far.

In places of darkness, doubt, and storm,

Her questing heart finds one bright star.

Seated there in the family pew,

In her bright blue dress new pressed,

She dreams the dreams that all girls do,

When filled with childhood’s vague unrest.

The shy, sweet years slip through her hands,

Fast flown on time’s eternal wings;

A child no longer, she now stands

In the entrance while the choir sings.

The organ breathes one last soft prayer.

She, radiant as a springtime dawn,

Now waits before the altar there

To say, “I Mary, take thee John.”

My doors you’ve closed. Why close them now?

She still may need my guiding light.

And you, yes even you, somehow

Will need it when there comes the night.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he will share his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

Little Details

Message received

Jan. 20, 2011

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

In January 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen — Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — issued “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.” The letter, published in a Montgomery area newspaper, acknowledged the plight of black people, yet dissuaded them from their peaceful protests.

The signatories commended the police for maintaining “order” while encouraging blacks to pursue “proper channels” in their quest for civil rights. This public statement from bishops, pastors, moderators and a rabbi served to discourage their Caucasian brethren from supporting black neighbors asserting fundamental human rights.

Montgomery was a nice enough place to live and raise a family in the early 1960s — if you were white. Rigid segregation in schools, stores, movie theaters and restaurants prevailed. Skin color dictated the caliber of school you attended, the neighborhood in which you lived and the social currency you held.

Non-violent protests and acts of civil disobedience persisted in the face of unyielding racism. Activists endured verbal abuse. Physical assaults were carried out by water cannons, attack dogs and police wielding clubs.

In April 1963, the religious leaders issued a second letter, “A Call for Unity.” The signatories, possessing enormous societal influence, criticized demonstrations “directed and led in part by outsiders” — a reference to Martin Luther King Jr., who descended on Montgomery to support the movement for racial equality.

King’s response arrived in his April 12, 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The eloquently written epistle addressed his fellow clergy. King’s letter offered a passionate, well-articulated explanation for his actions.

Earning a Ph.D. at Boston University, King could have easily settled in the more liberal — though still imperfect — North. He instead chose to take on the Jim Crow South with its legally codified segregation. King assumed the gauntlet, dodging death threats, FBI investigations, wire taps and the bombing of his home, pressing for incremental steps to dislodge the cement segregating lunch counters, buses, schools and theaters.

Sitting in a dank Alabaman jail, King read, prayed and reflected before resolving to pen a response to his fellow clergymen. He was not alone. He shared incarceration with several hundred protesters. King drew strength from those who, like him, recognized the inherent injustice of denying access to individuals simply because of skin color.

King’s letter challenging people to question injustices resonates today. I offer several quotes from King’s cellblock communiqué.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Living in a somewhat privileged perch that is Williston, I reflect on individuals and families who frequent Williston’s Community Food Shelf. Working neighbors, single parents and seniors among us make the pilgrimage, stopping in for a bag of groceries. Choosing between sustenance and the heating bill is a decision no one should have to make. I will never forget the Williston youth who, years ago, during a World of Difference presentation at Williston Central School, acknowledged his feeling that it was “hardest” socially for the kids in town whose parents lacked resources.

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny

Is our future economic well-being linked to whether we create pathways to financial security for the less affluent among us? I think so. An educated, productive, healthy populace seems our best defense in a world of shifting geopolitics.

Privileged groups seldom give up their privilege voluntarily

Vermont faces a deep, dark, cavernous budgetary shortfall; our federal government runs on a deficit. Just as we must consider reductions in government services, we must reevaluate our tax structure. Eliminating tax credits and loopholes for the most wealthy is not about freedom, it’s about fairness.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will

King’s statement reminds us it is not enough to talk about inequality. We must confront inequities where we find them — with our actions and our pocketbooks.

Forty-eight years later, true equality remains elusive for many on the economic periphery. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter retains its relevance. We are the addressees.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com or editor@willistonobserver.com.