The journey continues: journalism, writing, and the cultural landscape

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth

Posted by Holly Edgell on April 22, 2015

All hail the Tree of Wisdom! Placencia, Belize. 

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RIP Anne Tkach: I hardly knew you, but now I know you were amazing

Posted by Holly Edgell on April 19, 2015

Here’s how I knew Anne Tkach: As Adam Hesed’s girlfriend, who came with him to family gatherings throughout the year: Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas. She was warm and kind, but we never really had a deep conversation; now I wish we had.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 8.40.46 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 8.45.13 AM

It’s a little complicated: Adam Hesed is a member of my sister-in-law Emily Edgell’s (nee Shavers) family: a clan that includes blood ties as well as family by choice. Because Emily and my brother Randy have the biggest house and yard, we tend to do the major occasions there.

I knew that Anne and Adam were involved with music–I did not know that Anne was a big deal on the St. Louis music scene, playing in bands and supporting her fellow musicians in all kinds of ways.

On April 9, Anne died in a house fire. She was 48 years old. You can read about what happened here.

My mother told me the news; she had just seen Anne at Easter Sunday festivities, which I missed–driving back to Kansas City, where I live.

Checking Anne’s Facebook profile, I learned just how much she impacted the community in life–and about the shockwaves and despair her death left in its wake.

READ: This tribute in The Riverfront Times

On April 18, I attended Anne’s funeral in Webster Groves; Emmanuel Episcopal Church was packed–standing room only, This is where I learned a great deal more about Anne; that she was deeply loved by a lot of people–because she was generous, humble, and loved to knit. That she also loved to wear overalls I already knew. Also, that she loved Adam Hesed.

The sadness I felt was mostly for the living: Adam, Anne’s father Peter, Emily, the Hesed family. But, I also wished I had known Anne better.

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I found my roots in Strawberry Hill, a Kansas City (Kansas) neighborhood

Posted by Holly Edgell on March 22, 2015

Alvin George Edgell (my father) was born in Kansas City, Kansas on Feb. 3, 1924. His mother and father, childless in their thirties, may have been surprised by his arrival!

Neither of my grandparents were from the area. Emma Edgell (nee Blahnik) was a fairly intrepid young woman, moving from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Denver to find work. She met Kinsey Edgell there. Kinsey, a West Virginia native (in West Virginia the name Edgell is about as common as Smith or Jones, by the way), must have been fairly intrepid himself, heading to Colorado to seek a better future.

In the 1920s, Emma and Kinsey ran a boarding house on Orville Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, in a neighborhood called Strawberry Hill. Then, it was a magnet for immigrants, mostly South Slavic. Today, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center (established in 1988) boasts permanent exhibits for the countries of Croatia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Polish, Slovakia, Slovenia and Russia.

My father's block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas.

My father’s block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas. (Google Maps)

My father remembers being one of the few non-immigrant kids in his school. Holy Family Catholic Church served as a spiritual and cultural hub for the community. You can read about its history on the church website.

My grandparents, as far as I can tell, had no strong religious feelings then. (Later in life, my grandmother became an active of member of a Methodist congregation in Michigan). My father, intrigued by guitar-strumming Mormons who lodged at the Orville Avenue boarding house, decided to become a Latter Day Saint at age eight. That’s a story for another blog post!

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When I first visited my father’s street 2007, I found signs of a new immigrant community: Latinos, mainly with roots in Mexico. Many people not from this area may not know that Kansas City’s Hispanic ties date back many generations, especially on the Kansas side. Significantly, by the 1920s, most laborers on the local Santa Fe Railroad tracks were Mexican.

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As a person who is constantly moving, I am very fascinated by places–in particular, the places on the map where my forebears lived. So, to find myself living in Kansas City (Missouri), within an easy drive of the place where my father spent his formative years is profound.

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Places in my heart: Central America & the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (da U.P.)

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 21, 2015

Growing up in a family that moved every two or three years, I could count on two places that changed very little and offered warm welcomes. These two places are on their own both “off the beaten path” and taken together present a rather unlikely pairing:

Menominee, Michigan (USA)–where my father grew up on the corner of 13th Avenue & 21st Street. On vacation trips and for longer periods in between my father’s overseas assignments, we lived here. I briefly attended elementary school and later high school in Menominee and made friends. (Shoutout! My dear high school BFFs: Kelly W., Kelley M., and Debbie S.)

Belize City, Belize–where my mother grew up on New Road. Similar to Menominee, I attended bits and pieces of school in Belize and spent vacations there. Later, I began my journalism career there. Along the way, I made friends.

Because my mother’s family is large and close-knit, the Belize connection emerged over the years as the stronger of the two. My American grandmother died in the late 1980s (my grandfather died shortly after I was born) and my father has no siblings. So, after we cleared out and sold the Menominee house, there was little reason to return. Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the town is not exactly on the way to or from many places.

Enter Facebook! A yearbook photo posted on Friday by former classmate John Militello (who, like many Menominee folks, no longer lives there) was a fond reminder: It feels good to know that Menominee people, like Belize people, remember me. For all my traveling and career-ing, I am moved and comforted to know that there are memories that connect me to places in the heart.


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Black History Month: 7 things to celebrate, circa 2015

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 1, 2015

There is still far too much to despair about when it comes to matters of race in the United States of America. Turns out, the scars of slavery are still at the scab stage–healing but liable to bleed and get infected when irritated.

Still, there is cause for hope. Popular culture, which reflects much of what we are thinking and doing, is full of examples that I interpret as progress.

As a start, here are 7:

1 — Black beauty. As a teen poring over fashion magazines, I would never have imagined we would see a woman of color as “the face” of a makeup brand. Today, it’s no big deal: Queen Latifah and Halle Berry, for example. Dark-skinned women, gracing award show red carpets, are also gracing magazine fashion spreads: Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o.

2 — Network TV. Two of the most successful current prime time shows star black women: Scandal, featuring Kerry Washington. How to Get Away With Murder, featuring Viola Davis. Both shows are on ABC, which has turned over its entire Thursday night lineup to a producer who happens to be a black woman, Shonda Rhimes. ABC also airs Black-ish, a very funny family sitcom, starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson.

Tracee Ellis Ross is awesome on Instagram--especially as alter ego, #TMurda.

Tracee Ellis Ross is awesome on Instagram–especially as alter ego, #TMurda.

3 — Comedy. If you have not yet discovered the hilarity of Key & Peele, do so. Today. Now. Their sketches poke fun at racial and cultural themes in a way that reminds us that laughter is often the best medicine (see healing metaphor above). Both men have black fathers and white mothers, which I think gives them the credibility that makes their show (Comedy Central) so awesome.

4 — We have a black president, folks. Okay, this is not exactly a pop culture reference. But, Barack Obama’s impact on our society is manifest.

5 – We have a black Kid President, folks. Robby Novak, 11, is an Interest star. The SoulPancake channel on YouTube, where Robby’s videos live, has nearly 1.5 million subscribers. His video “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You” (2013), has garnered about 35,000,000 views.

6. Natural hair styles. Increasingly, black women and men are wearing their hair however they want. Many employers no longer look askance at people who sport Afros, braids, twists, and locs. And, there are more products available for black hair period–whether natural or chemically treated.

Look, ma! No relaxer. Me, with my hair in twists. (Dec. 2012)

Look, ma! No relaxer. Me, with my hair in twists. (Dec. 2012)

7. Oprah. Love her or not, she uses her powers for good–in a way that crosses racial and ethnic lines.


What signs of progress do you see when it comes to race and class in the United States?

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When did that happen? 9 things I do differently in 2015

Posted by Holly Edgell on January 25, 2015

A few months ago I unplugged my television and called the cable company to request Internet-only service. I am not one of those “I don’t watch TV,” people! I work in television news, and I have a number of favorite must-see shows. What I realized, however, is that I could watch most of them online, either via live stream (for example, the news) or using my trusty Netflix account and Amazon Prime memberships.

RELATED: Find live streaming news for free 


Now, the only time I watch actual TV is at work (CNN or 9 On Your Side News) or when I am visiting my mother in St. Louis: Ample opportunity to catch up with the latest from Flo, the Progressive Insurance lady. (I do miss the delight that comes with finding a Law & Order episode on any number of channels at pretty much any time of day).

RELATED Flawed but Fabulous: 8 TV Women Who Rock

Upon reflection, I realize that slowly but surely I am becoming one of those (other) people. Are you?

  1. Holiday and birthday greetings via Facebook rather than actual cards, as of 2010
  2. No landline phone, as of 2011
  3. Binge-watching shows online, as of 2013
  4. Cable quitter, as of 2014
  5. iTunes, as of 2006
  6. Spotify, as of 2013 (I am not a Pandora person)
  7. Most news consumption online, as of 2007
  8. Arranging travel (flights, hotels, car rentals, destination information), increasingly as of 2008
  9. Bill-paying, increasingly as of 2006

I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD or DVD. And, I’m considering getting rid of the ones (still) collecting dust in my apartment.

There are a few things I still do the old school way: I read books and magazines in actual paper form. I also do crossword puzzles on paper–binge style, via compilations of Sunday New York Times puzzles. When it comes to shopping, I am about 50-50: For clothes and shoes, I usually go to an actual store; when buying gifts, it’s online. Also, I still like to carry some cash, and I write a check for rent.

What about you? Please take my poll!

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5 things I ate in Cuba

Posted by Holly Edgell on January 17, 2015

This post was inspired by an NPR story titled, Mojito diplomacy: Chefs plan culinary tours to Cuba.

Despite rationing–or because of?–the friends I spent time with found ways to get their hands on a variety of foods. Bottomline: if one had money, one could buy just about anything. Los clandestinos thrived when I was traveling to Cuba in 2002-04, and I imagine the black market economy is still more relevant to daily life than the state. Many families receive foreign remittances, so not everyone must rely on their ration books.

1. The first thing I ate in Cuba was lobster. Arriving in Havana late at night, we found our hotel restaurant was closed, so my mother and I followed a man from the neighborhood to a Centro Habana paladar, a private home licensed by the government to cook and serve meals. We sat at the family’s dining table as love songs played on a boom box.

2. For breakfast, I often ate tortillas. The Cuban version is actually a frittata, in all it’s delicious glory. Served with bread and Cuban coffee at the casa particular (private home licensed to host tourists) where I stayed on subsequent trips.

3. Paella. Cooked in a tiny kitchen on the roof of the home of friends in the beach town of Varadero. Exquisite, especially because we ate at a table on the roof, under the sky, shaded by a tree.

4. Garbanzo soup with white rice. Rich and filling. Cooked with pride by the man of the house at my casa particular .

5. A giant sheet cake ordered by the casa particular chatelaine for a party on Dec. 17, dedicated to St. Lazarus. San Lazaro is a big deal for Cubans, who pray to him for health.

I went with my friends to pick up the cake, which was created behind nondescript doors at a clandestine bakery, where employees were busy mixing, baking and decorating a variety of treats in a series of rooms that opened onto a courtyard.

A lookout gave the all-clear when we were ready to leave with the cake. No police or snoops in sight, we carefully placed the cake into the trunk of the ancient Lada.

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“Too nice?” 3 reasons nice guys and gals often survive and thrive at work

Posted by Holly Edgell on January 11, 2015

“It’s easy to think of the workplace as something like a battleground—a place where only the tough survive. But what if the tables were turned? What if, instead of rewarding harsh and ruthless behavior, the most successful people among us were actually, gulp, kind?” — OPEN Forum (American Express)

From Dictionary.com

From Dictionary.com

I am a nice person. How do I know this? People having been saying it for years, in a variety of ways:

“Nobody doesn’t like Holly.” (Not true, by the way. One colleague of mine told another: “Talking to Holly gives me a headache”).

“Holly? She never says anything mean.”

“You’re so positive all the time!”

“You’re so nice!”

The first comment I take as an observation of fact. It was relayed to me by someone I trust and respect, and I believe he considers my like-ability an asset.

Otherwise, the implication about being nice is that nice guys and gals finish last; that being nice will get in your way, especially in journalism–where many professionals still pride themselves on being crusty, crude and cynical. And yet, here I am.

“Acting aloof, or above your employees, does not make a leader. Leaders have to be able to talk and listen to their employees on all levels of the company. At the same time, they must have the respect of their employees, the kind of respect that’s earned by being honest, having integrity, and being tough but fair.” Fast Company

Three ways in which–in my opinion–being nice is a winner.

  1. Nice does not equate to weak. A person can be polite and friendly without being a pushover. In fact, being amiable can work wonders in an environment that requires collaboration and teamwork.
  2. Nice does not equate to fake. Believe it or not, there are many journalists who genuinely like people! We can be very effective in working with sources and stakeholders, and we have a built-in toolkit for conversations and decisions that require a degree of delicacy.
  3. Nice + knowledge = power. People who are genuinely pleasant, kind and generous and who are also great at their jobs are often those who go the distance in their careers.

To what degree can “nice” be learned?

I am not sure. But, for people are genuinely nice and have been advised to dial back the amiability, it could be time to re-evaluate. You can be both nice and successful at work.

TIP: Nice people are often humble and modest about their achievements. Show your “wins” by sharing examples of your work and ways in which you successfully collaborated with others to complete a project; improve a process; or solved a problem. Email, much-maligned, is good way to let your boss and colleagues know what you’ve been up to and puts these victories on the record. Compile your wins throughout the year, so you have them handy at annual evaluation time!

Read more:

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Any day now: Reflections on Cuba and Cubans, 2002 to present

Posted by Holly Edgell on December 20, 2014

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. are warming, and it’s about time. Actually, this rapprochement is a few decades overdue. I am not an expert in the efficacy of sanctions; however, it was likely pretty clear by around 1970 that the Cuba embargo (el bloqueo) was not working. In fact, Fidel Castro has managed to turn the enmity of the U.S. into a plus for his regime.

I was fascinated by billboards in Havana, which feature propaganda rather than commercial products or services. (Circa 2003)

I was fascinated by billboards in Havana, which feature propaganda rather than commercial products or services. (Circa 2003)

In 2002, I made my first trip to Cuba. While Cuba has long been happy to welcome American tourists through the back door (via countries like Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas), the U.S. government restricted our side of travel to certain categories of people, among them:

  • diplomats
  • educators and students
  • athletes and performers
  • representatives of religious organizers
  • journaists

I fit in as a educator and journalist and took the Dec. 2002 trip with a group of faculty from Florida A&M University, where I was working at the time. My mother, an educator at Kent State then, was my travel companion. We flew on a chartered Continental Airlines plane, directly from Miami to Havana.

The travel restrictions were managed through the U.S. Treasury Department; technically (as I understood it), it was not so much the going to Cuba that the U.S. objected to; rather, it was the spending of money there. In fact, legal travelers received detailed instructions about how much money we could spend each day and a host of other directives.

That first trip hooked me on Cuba, personally (that’s another blog altogether!) and professionally, and I returned four more times through early 2005. Aside from the first visit, when our FAMU group lodged at a hotel, I always always stayed at a casa particular–something like a B&B; some families were permitted by the Cuban government to accommodate and feed tourists. My billet was a lovely bungalow in the Plaza de la RevoluciĂłn neighborhood, “Casa Mirian.” The chatelaine’s husband proudly told me Mirian had been the paramour of someone very important in the Communist Party; the house had been a gift.

I call this one "Havana Blue." (Circa 2003)

I call this one “Havana Blue.” (Circa 2003)

I also spent a good deal of time with a family in Centro Habana. It was always bustling: Classic cars (American and Russian), bikes and scooters navigating narrow streets, cheek-by-jowl living in crumbling, once-elegant apartment buildings (many with amazing views of the Caribbean Sea), and illegal businesses known as clandestinos. I spoke Spanish almost all of the time, and the only foreigners I met were from Europe. Transportation? Friends Rey and Gretl owned an illegal taxi–a very old Lada–which I relied upon. (I even drove it once; again, that’s for another blog).

Suffice it to say, I had a relatively unfiltered time in Cuba: Except for my first trip, there no official escorts (responsables) and I had no particular itinerary. People spoke frankly and passionately about their lives; mostly, they wanted to live better.

On the list:

  • Do away with ration books; more affordable food choices
  • No more shortages of basic medicines
  • Allow anyone to have Internet access at home
  • Allow more people to run their own businesses
  • Loosen travel restrictions–both to and from Cuba

RELATED: Haz clic aquí: What will be the upshot of an Internet and society conference in Cuba?

My sense was that the freedom Cubans wanted was less about government than about the opportunity to choose how to live; self-determination writ small.


During the period when I was traveling to Cuba, George W. Bush was President. Between 2002 and 2003, he made a number of remarks that Cubans took as concrete evidence that the U.S. was about to act decisively to force Fidel Castro’s hand. My interpretation, then and now? The President’s comments were pretty much rhetoric. They cost him nothing to make and there was no real muscle behind them.

One example came in May 2002:

“If Cuba’s government takes all the necessary steps to ensure that the 2003 elections are certifiably free and fair — certifiably free and fair — and if Cuba also begins to adopt meaningful market-based reforms, then — and only then — I will work with the United States Congress to ease the ban on trade and travel between our two countries.” READ MORE

Here’s another example, from Oct. 2003:

“Our government will establish a Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba, to plan for the happy day when Castro’s regime is no more and democracy comes to the island. This commission will be co-chaired by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell; and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez. They will draw upon experts within our government to plan for Cuba’s transition from Stalinist rule to a free and open society, to identify ways to hasten the arrival of that day.” READ MORE

The Cubans I hung around with during my visits really seemed to believe that change was imminent. They talked constantly about the United States: Streets paved with gold, cash and jobs for any Cuban who arrived on our shores, celebrities everywhere. They asked me a lot of questions: How do you live? How much money do you earn? Do you cook your own food or dine out all the time? What’s Miami really like?

Calle Concha, Diez de octubre neighborhood, Havana. (Circa 2004)

Calle Concha, Diez de octubre neighborhood, Havana. (Circa 2004)

I realized that many of my acquaintances believed Americans spent as much time thinking about Cubans as they did about us; that we were all hoping as fervently for relations between our countries to improve as they were. They thought that el mulato, Colin Powell–whom many believed was our Vice President–was working constantly on Cuba’s behalf. My protestations that the Bush Administration was occupied with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were often met with polite nods–and a quick return to the subject of Cuba, which was sure to see freedom any day now.

Cuban schoolchildren. (Circa 2003)

Cuban schoolchildren. (Circa 2003)

What we have seen is a very slow, measured movement toward thawing of a Cold War remnant. President Barack Obama has taken steps to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba; as with his predecessor, his actions–through arguably more concrete–cost him nothing beyond the wrath of the usual suspects on Capitol Hill and the streets of Little Havana in Miami (where the exile community is aging and less relevant).

An end to el bloqueo? Now that would really mean something. Congress, over to you.

Trinidad, Cuba (Circa 2004)

Trinidad, Cuba (Circa 2004)


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At the intersection of Ferguson, Shaw and Klemm

Posted by Holly Edgell on November 28, 2014

There is a one-way street in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis called Klemm. It runs between DeTonty and Tower Grove Park, just south of I-44. At the intersection of Klemm and Shaw Boulevard (about two blocks from the Missouri Botanical Gardens) sits a little grocery store.

The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)

The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)

On the morning of Oct. 9 (a Thursday), NPR’s Morning Edition headlines reported that a young man named VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18, had been shot by an off-duty police officer in “South St. Louis” the previous night. The report itself mentioned “the Shaw neighborhood.” That’s when I started looking up St. Louis reporters I follow on Twitter. A web story I found cited the “4200 block of Shaw Boulevard” as the location of the shooting. Then, finally, I read “corner of Klemm and Shaw.”

READ MORE: Fatal Shooting By Off-Duty St. Louis Police Officer Sets Off Protest In Shaw Neighborhood

My heart moved into my mouth. I live in Cincinnati, while my parents and brother (and his family) live in St. Louis. In fact, I have walked and driven around the very corner at issue more times than I can count. It lies at the midway point in the five-minute stroll from brother’s to my parents’ house. In fact, I had made the walk just a few days before the shooting, after saying goodbye to my sister-in-law, my niece and my two nephews. We had spent a very pleasant late morning at an arts and crafts fair on Flora Avenue (which I think of as the Park Place of Shaw), four blocks away.

On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of xxx, I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.

On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of VonDerrit Myers Jr., I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.

Talking to my mother by phone the next morning, I learned that she had not known about the shooting at 7:30 p.m.–no sounds of gunfire had reached her, no sirens either–until protestors started streaming along Shaw Boulevard in front of the house. I learned my brother considered going over to her house, but then thought better of trying to walk or drive through the throngs of angry, dismayed people who were filling the streets. My mother wasn’t particularly worried about her safety, but she consented to stay on the phone with my sister-in-law until late that night. (My father watched it all on television in his room at an assisted living facility in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis that is actually light years away in many respects. But that’s another blog).

Meanwhile, my nephews (ages 11 and six) and niece (age 10) slept. In the car a few weeks later, I asked if they knew about the shooting. They did. The consensus among the two older children was that the young man was probably up to no good, but he didn’t deserve to die. The subject quickly changed when the six-year-old asked how far away we were from Sonic, our destination.

Since that night, protestors have continued to materialize in the neighborhood. There is a memorial on the corner of Klemm and Shaw: A giant mound of stuffed animals, signs and other tokens has formed around a tree. On recent visits to St. Louis, I’ve seen small groups of people gathered there, some bringing items to add to the memorial. Normally, I would take a photo and post it on Facebook, but I can’t quite bring myself to do so.

On the night the Darren Wilson grand jury decision was announced, my mother was at my brother’s house for several hours. I was here in Cincinnati, glued to my Twitter feed. My overriding emotion was–and remains–a kind of queasy and icky sensation that reminds of the days and weeks after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I am reminded that all is not right in the United States of America, especially when it comes to race and class–especially in St. Louis.

Visiting St. Louis on Sept. 6, I drove the 15 minutes or so from my family’s neighborhood in the city to Ferguson and took this photo along West Florissant Avenue. Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown just a month before.

I am still worried about throngs of people showing up near my mother’s house. I jokingly tell her not to answer the door on those occasions, because the person on the other side might be a… journalist.

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