Open Forum

Sparkling Friendships

It’s Monday morning, and I’m reading through a bunch of e-mails from Bates friends who are basically raving about the weekend that we — 13 alums from the Class of 2004 — just spent in Maine, hosted by Nat Weller ’04 in Boothbay. From the e-mails, one highlight is clear: Spelling “Bates” with sparklers. When the idea arose to spell words, it was just assumed that “Bates” would be the first word attempted. Someone asked me why. Well, Bates has inspired all of us in so many separate ways over the years. But on Saturday night, it was clear that Bates had collectively inspired us to come back together to celebrate friendships that were fostered and forged at a college we all feel fortunate to be a part of.

Mark Ribeiro ’04
New Bedford, Mass.

Class of 2004 alums Brett LaFlamme, Michael Lydon, Caroline Smith, Jane Finn-Foley, and Andrew Hardy spell “Bates” with sparklers during an alum-filled June weekend in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Letter writer and photographer Mark Ribeiro ’04 used a four-second exposure to capture the sparklers’ light, and two strobes, one on his Nikon and another off to the side, to illuminate and “freeze” the alums.

The article about the Bates exchange with Spelman and Morehouse colleges (“Historically Black,” Spring 2008) prompted memories of the student-initiated exchange program in the 1960s with Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine, Fla., which is now Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens. As a senior, I joined a group of mostly white students who visited the historically black FMC for a week. Professor T.P. Wright was our faculty adviser / “chaperone.” FMC students then visited Bates a few months later; a similar exchange had occurred the year before.

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I was an activist at Bates and involved with the Northern Student Movement, an organization that supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and voter registration projects in the South. But I had no clue about what it was like to live and study in a state like Florida that was still quite segregated.

Like Bates, Florida Memorial is a private coed college with historical connections to the Baptist church. During our 1965 visit we participated fully in student life, attending classes and having long talks with the friendly and thoughtful FMC students. One evening, our FMC host students took our Bates group to a local roadside stand. As we sat outside eating our Southern fried chicken, we became aware that a group of young men inside were staring at us through the large windows. By the time we had finished eating, between 15 and 20 men were standing around. As one of our cars began to drive away, one of the young men dashed forward, opened the back door, and tried to pull out Bruce Stanton ’68. Our driver, FMC student Russell Brinson, accelerated quickly and pulled away from harm. Later that evening, we visited a dean’s home. That night, the tires of his car were slashed.

This brief experience of being the object of hatred and intimidation has stayed with me all these years and certainly put fire in my belly to advocate for fairness, justice, and equal opportunity wherever I have lived.

There is now a personal connection as well: My daughter and her Ugandan husband live in Huntsville, Ala., and I dearly hope that my delightful, beautiful, brown-skinned granddaughter, Sophia, will grow up in a world that is welcoming and affirming in every way.

I’m proud that Bates still encourages students to enrich those precious four years with study at places like Spelman and Morehouse as well as colleges around the world.

Susan H. Smith Copley ’65
Peterborough, N.H.

Read two contemporary accounts, in The Bates Student, of the student exchange with Florida Memorial. Editor

Scope of Microfinance

I was very pleased to read the profile of Gil Crawford ’80 (“It’s a Microworld After All,” Spring 2008). Microfinance is certainly a booming industry, even in these hard economic times. It is wonderful to see a Bates graduate among the pioneers of this innovative field, which is lifting up the world’s poor in a self-sustaining way.

Microfinance also helps alleviate poverty much closer to home. A few years after graduating from Bates, I joined ACCION USA, a microfinance nonprofit helping lower- and middle-income individuals in the U.S. who can’t get bank loans for their businesses. If you’ve ever had coffee at the Freaky Bean in Scarborough, Maine, you’ve seen just how successful these individuals can be with a loan as small as a few thousand dollars.

ACCION USA is the domestic arm of Boston-based ACCION International, which in 1991 piloted in Brooklyn one of the first domestic microfinance programs. Since then, we and our U.S. ACCION Network licensees have lent over $215 million to microenterprises — small businesses of five or fewer employees — all over the country that otherwise would not have access to credit. Though the public may not be as familiar with domestic microlenders as with their international counterparts, domestic microlenders are a critical resource for the approximately 10 million small-business owners in the U.S. who cannot access bank financing.

Microfinance is a proven poverty reduction strategy with the potential to become self-sustaining in the long term as clients pay back their loans, which nearly all do. As ACCION USA has found, that’s as true in Boston as it is in Bogotá.

I couldn’t be more pleased to join Gil Crawford and other Bates alumni who are working to redress economic imbalances through microfinance in the U.S. and abroad.

Matthew Royles ’02
Boston, Mass.

Paint It, Red

Regarding classmate Tom Johnson’s letter in the Spring 2008 issue (“Cat O’-59-Tale”), I take umbrage when Tom calls my Bates buddies “hooligans.” The participants in the Bowdoin polar bear escapade were neither violent nor destructive. More appropriately, they should be called pranksters. I regret that I was not one of them. Also, my recollection of the escapade significantly differs from Tom’s, which is understandable since the event occurred 50 years ago, and orally transmitted folklore does evolve.

Whereas he recalls a gender-related addition to the statue using a “pliable putty-like substance,” I recall red paint being applied to the same general area. On the day of the football game, the team bus transported us to Bowdoin. As the bus passed the polar bear statue, I had a good laugh. The paint had been removed. The results: a gray, weathered stone bear with bright white groin!

The next year, Bowdoin took revenge. The Thursday night before the football game at Bates, Bowdoin students had sawed partway through both posts (there being two in those days) of one goal at grass level. During Friday’s football practice, one of the players was running toward that goal. To reverse his direction, he grabbed a post. We watched in awe as the goal fell to the ground. It was repaired for the Saturday game, which we lost. At the end of the game, Bowdoin students rushed onto the field, headed to the goalposts they thought they had sawed, and tried to pull them down. They were quite surprised when initially they didn’t budge but kept trying until they bent the posts nearly parallel to the ground.

James J. Geanakos ’59
Tucson, Ariz.