DescriptionOne Small Step partners, Emily Rushing (70) and Fred Bennett (76) discuss the changing landscape of news, media literacy, social issues, and being Christians who value diversity and racial reconciliation.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Emily Rushing
- Fred Bennett
- Affordable housing
- Challenges of Christianity
- Civil Rights
- digital media
- Interracial marriage
- Media Literacy
- Moral Majority
- Moral Values
- political beliefs and practices
- print media
- racial reconciliation
- social beliefs and practices
- Social justice
- the internet
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00:01 Hi. Today is a Thursday, February 5th, February. Today is Thursday, September 30th, 2021. My name is Emily rushing. I'm 70 years old, and my conversation partner. Today is Fred Bennett. Our relationship is through one small step.
00:24 I'm delighted to read Fred's biography.
00:31 Fred's been married for 34 years with two adult children. He was also buried previously and has two adult children. He's white and both, he and his ex-wife or African American.
00:47 Fred grew up in Kansas, but has lived in Washington, California, Florida, and Alabama for the past 52 years. He was in college at Stanford in the sixties joined Vista, and move South to work with and help migrant Farm Workers and get better housing. He's worked ever since in the affordable housing industry.
01:20 Fred Bennett.
01:26 And is it my turn to talk? I guess it is. It's Thursday. September 30th 2021. Yes. My name is Fred Bennett. I am 76 years old and I my partner today is Emily rushing and we're meeting through the one. Small step program was storycorps. Emily was raised in the south on a traditional family with with one younger brother. She study Classics in college and then grab interested in half past shapes the present.
02:03 She has been messages or Church of Christ non-denominational church. And now is an Episcopalian. She's worked as a journalist, and she's now retired. Married a divorced, man faced struggles with infertility. Now, enjoy his grandchildren, thanks to steps on. She loves to read sing and the natural world. She's concerned with how to serve others after listening first.
02:32 So, if you like I'm interested in really in.
02:42 Your journalism because my father was a journalist. He was the editor of a small, Kansas Daily newspaper and then moved on to manage of a larger newspaper in Everett Washington and move the family out there in 1961. So he would come home every day from work and up he would relax and say well another issue of the daily disappointment has been completed.
03:15 I registered in your face.
03:20 Was he disappointed that he couldn't get the job done or that the world was so pitiful and he had to tell people about it. What what did that me? I think what I think what he meant by that is that there's always something wrong with. There's always the people can pick a part Every Day's newspaper. There's something about it. You know, this is a disappointing to somebody you know that you got the story wrong. You got you misspelled something. I think that's what he meant. I can relate to that. So this is probably backwards in my shirt that in and nobody can see this and we're talkin but but I have a message on my t-shirt today that says you leave things better than you found them. And I think that is a a sort of a guiding principle in so many things in life. That certainly that he could be encouraged by the fact that he is.
04:20 He was trying to just do the best you can to get the news out there and
04:29 I'm glad you asked about that aspect of my background because in an interesting way, I'm still involved in it. As a retired person. I never wanted to do anything but work on a newspaper and
04:51 So my studies and Classics in Greek and Latin were just an Indulgence, I guess that the 70s, when I got out of college for a time of when the humanities were big and everybody was sort of questioning. And so that was a good grounding for me. But but I will have worked weekly daily worked in Communications after I left what we would call now the Legacy news business and then in 2013, locally, Birmingham felt what is been felt all over the country in terms of the loss of so many skilled journalist and and production and publication days to three days a week. And since that time I have worked with a former manager managing a
05:50 Picture of the Birmingham news as a board, president of, of a nonprofit news organization that publishes under Birmingham the name Birmingham, watch in. So we're now in our in our seventh year and in. So, I worked the night, my post strictly journalism career was in at a nonprofit Foundation, where I was the communications director. And so it's like those two things came together and, and gave me some skills some connections to, to help with building this organization. So I think your dad probably would
06:40 Be happy that the small segment of of Journalism remain strong and deed is growing all over the country and and keeping on keeping on to
06:56 Bring communities the news, the information they need to make good decisions.
07:03 Yes. Yeah, he course. I'm oh I'm a very dutiful reader of the daily local paper here in Auburn Opelika where I am. And unfortunately, they had to make the decision to stop printing the newspaper here and they printed in Montgomery, the average Press Printing, it and Logistics seems to be a problem. So I get my daily paper and doses sometimes two at a time or not at all. So I regret that this is happening. I'm migrating a little better to digital.
07:52 Subscriptions, I'm not reading the news on on the screen yet. But I read the New York Times on it. Now. I don't I don't read the whole New York Times, but I I get their digital version and, and that's helpful. But, you know, a news source is a really tough now. And I'm, as I said, I devote a devotee of NPR. I know it is, it does have a, a bit of a liberal bent but it's, it's very accessible. It's, it's very diverse. The programming is wonderfully, diverse. And so, and I'm my wife and I both stopped watching the television.
08:52 Talking Heads because we realize they're just trying to make money. They're not really, there's not really a assisting in providing good objective information anymore. When we were listening. We were listening to Rachel Maddow and not Hannity, you know, we were on that side rather than Hannity but I do, I'm still working. So I have a busy day and I don't have as much time to look for in the jest of information and I'm assuming that maybe you do, I'm hoping to hear the truth, you're able to do that. But because I am constantly in a debate with my adult children.
09:52 All of whom are.
09:54 Far more liberal than I am about. You know, what's a fact? And what is in the fact, it's very difficult to know because the misinformation is become. So cleverly disguised until what's your experience? Was that it's good that people are thinking about where to find the truth. It's sad in a way that we are.
10:28 As with many issues we are thrown on her own devices to curate, if you, if I can use that term, what we listen to what we read, what we are exposed to, even our own, Google searches are are curated, whether we like it or not, based on what we have been to visually search for in the past. And I think that's been my message. I personally have tried to help people understand so that if they come forth with information then I will say, well could could you tell me where you heard that?
11:11 And and we've we've actually done a session through Birmingham, watch back before covid where we had a journalism professor and former staffer at the news, present the the grid that perhaps you've seen, that shows the leanings and the veracity level on a quadrant of various information sources. And
11:44 For myself, I have chosen to read regularly, both in York Times And The Wall Street Journal, because, as you mentioned,
11:59 With the with MPR, you know of
12:04 Even the most.
12:09 High quality non-partisan.
12:13 Journalistic site is going to have some Focus that they bring to whether it's based on where there are in the country. Whether it's based on the interest of the audience in business or versus Fine Arts or something like that. They're going to have some kind of perspective on on the reporting even though the individual reporters are not assigned to
12:39 You know, proper propaganda is so. So I think, by seeking out sources that may not always agree with me personally, but have a good reputation.
12:57 I can do whatever job I have to do to.
13:02 See what to really believe. But, but man, it does take work. Yeah. Used to be the, you knew the people in your town and they that were gathering the news about your town, even. Even, that's a little less easy than it used to be. And so yeah, I do believe it's a big responsibility. It is. And not just for me, is a former journalist or current nonprofit journalist. It is our responsibility as individuals. I believe to
13:38 Have exposure to two people that, don't think exactly. Like we do sort of us to check ourselves and I don't think the same.
13:54 As I used to about different issues and it is because I have learned so much from people saying, oh, well, such and such an issue. This is how it affects me and my real life and my towel that doesn't affect me at all because of my real life is a 70 year old person.
14:21 Got retirement and Social Security while I got a really different situation and somebody who's still going out to work yet or is in a gun is 30. Good has has been a Frontline person at the grocery store. Checking people out or, you know, my friend to talk covid back in December, was working in food, service, at a, local hospital. So, not always just doctors and nurses. So
14:55 So man, finding the truth is so important and it is so challenging.
15:02 Emily. I would be interested in seeing the grid. You mentioned that the professor presented. I don't think I've seen that and then you probably can Google that. But yes.
15:20 If I can Google it myself and find it but I think it's logical. If if you're a person, as you seem to be who's well-read, then then you're going to know, will this institution of Journalism has been around since they may be based in the in a liberal place or they may be focused on you. No business as I say, but they they still there. Don't have an axe to grind. Perhaps. I think the Wall Street Journal is a is a good example of something. That's a good source of information. That's just to the now just to the right and
16:02 If I could afford to subscriptions and had the time, you know, it would be mine in my next choice. Excuse me.
16:12 Well, I'm there.
16:14 That you mentioned already that you were actively working, and I'm very interested in. Certainly the, the area that you you have devoted your life to those are important issues that for me or mostly on the news and not in reality in. So because I live in an urban part of Alabama, so I thought I'd be interested to see how you took your path forward from Kansas to.
16:52 To do in this kind of work.
16:55 Well, it was a very organic early on. I graduated from college in 63, which was the height of the Vietnam War and I was Carson. California. And had I often use it. Had, I graduated from the University of Washington where I was living. I probably would have gone into the military but instead I was at Stanford. My girlfriend was at Berkeley. So I was exposed to a lot of folks that were very opposed to the war. And in fact my my science mate in the in the general science class, we had to do a desk with David Harris and David was
17:48 He credited with kind of starting the resistance to the war. He married, Joan Baez, and they had a short marriage, but both were very much involved in that. So those were the kind of people that I was around. So when I graduated and got married, I wanted to avoid the War. I was interested in civil rights. I wanted to do. I wanted to come South and save you all from yourselves.
18:24 Yes, and the in my case. The irony is I came South and I ended up getting saved because I was, I was lost and I was, you know, completely unaffiliated with any church activity that point. And, you know, although I had a
18:50 I was I was, I was a casual cultural Christian as well. I was. And, and then once I got down here and ran into some of the trials of life, I submitted and and, and become accepted Jesus as my savior, but the housing are we joined Vista, which was a deferment. We avoided the war that way and it brought us. We want to come South. They assigned us to mygrant wasn't really a migrant Village. It was an old plantation that had a quarters that were probably for 500 families in the general area, all of them very impoverished and out of the war on poverty. There was a new program called self-help housing.
19:50 The concept was the old barn building approach in the world.
19:59 Parts of the country where people would gather together and build a barn and then they build somebody else's barn. And that's the way the self-help program worked, and they wanted me to use my Spanish to recruit Puerto Rican and Cuban folks. And I joke that I should have said. I took Spanish rather than that. I spoke Spanish.
20:23 But fortunately we found a wonderful bilingual couple in. And we started there working with that program recruiting families, helping them qualify for financing and working on the homes and
20:39 And one of the things that that's what was very transformative for me, there were in some cases of Migrant families who didn't live in these Shacks. They just came in with the seasons and they would be out sleeping under the 18-wheeler trailers, in the, in the fields, with their kids. They had, they had absolutely no where to live. And that's when I began to realize. This was an area that I could I could really lean into. And so one thing led to another, we got some publicity in that program that and some folks up here and Auburn contacted me and said, why don't you come up? See if you could stop the program here. I came here in 69 and started a program here and then one thing led to another. So that now we're
21:37 We have five projects underway right. Now. That one is in Pell City. One is indicator. One is in Opelika. One is down in Marion, and one is in.
21:53 Valley and these are all affordable housing deals. Some of them are rehab for rehabbing older buildings, summer, new construction. We use the federal housing credit. That's, that's the way we're able to make the rents affordable.
22:12 So maybe that's enough for me on that. I just want to close my saying. So delighted to learn this exists in Alabama because you know locally, I've I've watched ikke and other organizations respond to covid in sort of come out of adelante's, another one, kind of come out of their normal comfort zone to just strictly feed people. And that's real thing. And so it just it's amazing to me how, how people know how to do, what needs to be done. So yay.
23:12 Coming up with their name right now, but they have an intriguing idea. They are training young, black man in that neighborhood in the carpentry trade. And after a year or two, they they build a rehab, a duplex or a house. And then I have a house in the back and the end, and the young people who participate in this, get to move into the house and they have a rental property right there to start with. And I thought, wow, that's just a totally outside the box and wonderful thing. You might be familiar. I can't call, but I'm either, but I have heard of that in Ensley is where I got my t-shirt from the Ensley alive. People it just it. That's what gives me. A lot of Hope is that these are young folks who are? You know, man, I graduated from college and 73 + 263, but but you know, there was still plenty of of
24:12 Unrest in and discussion. And how are we going to make the world better? And I was at my alma mater the other day and and talking to a scene here and saying so have. We messed up so badly? That that's your really mad at us baby boomers for for, you know, failing our call to fix the world and she said, oh no, there is hope. And some that was very kind of her to say that to me, but also refreshing to see that the next generation is stepping up.
24:59 Do I have to say, I made a note because I knew I would forget, but I do want to ask you. Because I, as you read in my multi-denominational, Christian walk, I do, I have found after a fairly secular College time and early adulthood that, that my faith community has been really important to me as a place to talk about hard things. And so I wanted to ask you
25:44 And I don't know, I'm willing to say this about myself too, but I will just start out by saying that I have found challenges in trying to identify as a Christian and not have assumptions, made about what that means.
26:05 And that in my view, the preps politicization of the Christian, right? Or what we saw, develop as the Moral Majority. All of that has been hard for me to figure out how to be a Christian sometimes or to state that about myself without feeling that others.
26:38 Would begin to place me in a particular category or some other things about me that might or might not be true.
26:48 So, I wonder if you have had a similar or different experience.
26:56 We have struggled quite a bit.
27:03 We are members of a wonderful.
27:07 Baptist Church here. It's one of the larger churches. It is a basically a white Evangelical group with a smattering of
27:22 Asians and anal two or three African-Americans, but
27:32 Really, all of this. It's occurred, you know, people
27:37 Where were they, wherever they start the Milestone? Where there is a Moral Majority, a rose, or as recently as George Floyd's murder have
27:54 Accentuated way those of us who identify as Christian, then seem to self separate over racial issues, especially and but there's climate issues as well on that. Why do when you're talking to young people? That's one of the main things that we have to you, and I have to save, have, we messed it up too bad because they're quite upset and, and thankfully, they're all very motivated to try to correct that. But we are struggling to find a more diverse.
28:35 A group of people who are Christian to worship with. I really feel like that's kind of the 800-pound gorilla in the evangelicos living room is that, you know, we talked about Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the of the week. And that still is the, that still is the case. And we are. Well, I'm speaking for myself. I'm actually in four different groups. Now, seeking like-minded.
29:17 Believers who want to want to be involved in racial reconciliation, really want to move into living into a world where we're all comfortable with one another. And we're in Daily, real genuine relationship with one another. And I'm having to go outside the church itself to do that. I'm in one small group, with Church of the Highlands. That's reading a Tony Evans book called embracing diversity. I'm I've got to men's groups that are diverse in both in terms of ethnicity and age and marital status. All of them are focused on.
30:05 Trying to live as biblical brothers in Christ, and I'm finding that to be where I'm
30:16 Really engaged and and, and really feel good. On the other hand. I feel a commitment to the church that is in my view, you know, slow slow to get on board that, you know, I don't want to leave my congregation in over troubled where lobbying to have a diversity class there. And, you know, do you know, we've got 9 pastors, maybe we can work toward having one of them, be one of color, you know, so that we can attract more people. So that's my struggle.
30:54 That, that makes sense because I was retired during covid-19 and a lot of benefit from some Zoom classes Stevenson School of Theology was doing in the wonderful organization down in Selma, whose name I can't call that that deals with face and race issues. Did a great training and our Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama, does a a program and I would say that.
31:31 We have found a way to partner with a black Episcopal Church. That has been really about my physical church is more than 130 years old and its location in the city of Birmingham. And so the history with that black church goes back a long time and has gone through a lot of different relationships in terms of
32:00 Helping black people get an education to now being really a, a worship partner and work together on a food, pantry that in any way, that kind of thing. So, in my journey, I think of has been more internal with my own choices. I was a week, I have been lucky to be in various study groups, really back since the 2020 Birmingham pledge was coming to life. And there were study circles. They are. So I have been individually doing that in a way that has made me end up feeling like
32:52 You know, I need to use where I am and who I am to make a difference in in the choices I make and I feel like I've gone from being often, the most conservative person in the room, too.
33:08 Sometimes the only person who voted for Biden, I mean it. So it's, it's interesting to watch myself and and know what people might assume who might have known me 20 years ago. I don't think what one one main thing is not change, which is my desire to be in community with people. I have just learned a lot about how that works in about my own place in that and thank goodness for that and thank goodness for the chance to keep on learning. So it encourages me actually that even though the
33:53 Issues that faced.
33:56 You and me, and when Civil Rights was moving and issues of civil rights were moving forward, that that, that those issues are still things, people are concerned about even though they're not solved.
34:17 And added a new generation is insisting that we continue to make progress to the younger people who are impatient. Yes, we understand that. But 40 years ago, fifty years ago, things were much different and it's it's much better now. And in that way.
34:45 And how can we help? I mean, I think that's the next thing for me is. Okay. So I am retired. I nobody's going to fire me if I say something awkward. And so, how can I help how? And that's the idea, I guess of being an ally and all that, and I just have to listen so much and just dumb and fun ways to to speak up at somebody told me once that a great way to deal with something that was spoken that I really didn't agree with but I thought well maybe this isn't the time to bring that up is to just say I am having a really strong reaction to what you have just said, would you like to talk about this weekend, but go on and so I have I have been known to use that and I so
35:47 It's, it's hard. Mask-wearing is hard. And so, all these things that are hard. We just got to take them all on. So I want to ask you to speak about anything. You wish that I had asked you because I really, I found as a reporter often. I would just ask all around all the issues and there was something that really that I should have found out from that person.
36:21 Oh, I can't, I think I've talked a little bit more than my share. How about you? Is there something that you had a lot of interesting things in your bio that that I didn't probe, but
36:39 Well, I think families may be the last thing. I I have been particularly.
36:48 Lucky fortunate to, to have a stepson who has provided me with grandchildren. After after I was not able to have children my own and you have all these adult children. So, you know, I know that I do not give advice to young people. I say this is what happened to me. Isn't that amazing that I am where I am? Now, I would never have thought it.
37:15 Is there any advice that you give to Children, grandchildren, very much like you, I prefer to share with them mistakes? I've made so that they understand that, I know I made a mistake. I do, if I'm reading a devotional yesterday, red one, that I thought would be helpful to my son and his girlfriend. So I shot a picture of it and just said, I, I thought I found this helpful and I'm sharing it on the chance that you might find it helpful, but we don't get very far if we, at if we offer on it. Unrequested advice, I do one thing I do.
38:08 Try to support wherever I get an opportunity is.
38:12 What is the?
38:15 Is the sanctity of marriage and the and the I mean I've been through
38:22 Two divorces, you know, my, my kids. I mean thankfully, you know, the first set of kids their mother and I we parent together and we are still parenting together and we have great respect for one another. She's like a sister but it's still so complicated and it complicates the children's lives and in ways I grew up like you and I nuclear, you know, good old fashioned stick to stick together till your dead kind of marriage. And I know how grounding that was for me, and I know that my children did not have that, they missed that. That mean they love me, they love their mother, their mothers, and their, we're all in their own that our own camps, but
39:15 I really I'm a I'm a big fan of the of the nuclear family just because I've seen how difficult it is for so many people.
39:26 It's all about Connections. I really think and and communicating as clearly and being quiet.
39:34 That's probably my hardest thing. So I really enjoyed the chance to share with you. So if we can share emails, I would love to stay in touch with you.