CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy

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Conversations featuring authors and influential leaders in the arts, media and business.

IMERMAN ANGELS - One-on-One with Benjamin Bornstein

As he faced his own cancer treatment in 2003, Jonny Imerman decided that no one should fight cancer alone. Three years later, Imerman Angels was born. Whether you are on or have completed a cancer journey, or have a loved one fighting the disease, our conversation with Imerman CEO & Executive Director Benjamin Bornstein, a three-time cancer survivor, just might be a game changer.

Imerman Angels' Founder and Chief Mission Officer, Jonny Imerman recounts why he started the organization that provides free one-on-one support to cancer fighters, survivors and caretakers in all 50 states and in 60 countries worldwide.

Imerman Angels is a Chicago-based non-profit that brings people dealing with cancer together with a "Mentor Angel",  that is, someone who is of the approximate age and who has fought the same type of cancer. According to Ben Bornstein, since 2006, Imerman Angels has expanded operations to 50 states, 60 countries and made over 34,000 connections with the support of 8,000 mentor angels matching up a staggering 137 cancer types. 

Full disclosure: In July 2008, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C colon cancer and faced colorectal surgery followed by a 6-month, 12 session chemotherapy treatment that ended in February 2009. So, it is safe to say that the wide-ranging conversation on August 8th was both personal and relevant, all about recent advancements in medical treatment, the importance of early detection, innovations in patient aftercare and what’s ahead for an extraordinary organization that is changing the outlook for cancer patients one survivor at a time.
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Imerman Angels Wings of Hope Gala Four Seasons Chicago - September 9, 2017  

Imerman Angels Wings of Hope Gala
Four Seasons Chicago - September 9, 2017
 

Benjamin Bornstein on Imerman Angels - A missing link in the cancer fight ..."The medical advances have been tremendous in the past thirty years. In contrast, the psychosocial support services available to cancer fighters has not evolved quite as quickly. One of the things we look at here at Imerman Angels is providing that missing link of a mentoring experience – a like for like experience – to provide a cancer fighter who is also going through great emotional stress and trauma with that mentor angel who has been through it before … to help guide you through your tough experience, and help emerge on the back end as positively as you can."

Imerman Angels Core Values

These are the operating philosophies and principles that guide our internal conduct as well as our relationship with the outside world.

Mission first, people first - We focus on profoundly impacting those touched by cancer through delivery of our mission.

Create awareness and inspiration -The more people that know about our mission and service, the more people we can help and inspire.
Fundraising as mission focused - While personalized one-on-one cancer support always remains the primary focus, fundraising is essential to ensure we maintain ample resources to carry out our mission.
Create community - We strive to be inclusive, to build long-term relationships and to treat everyone with empathy and compassion.
Build alliances with everyone - We are happy to share and help any good cause. We don't compete - we just hug back!
Stay relaxed, laid back and have funnnnnnnnnn! - While the work we do is serious, there's a joy and fulfillment in making an impact in people's lives.
Stay innovative and always improve - We believe in excellence and must never settle for being "good enough." We set and exceed our own high standards in order to best help those touched by cancer.
Be humble - Cancer is an equalizer. There's no room for ego in the cancer fight.

 

On the importance of early detection and understanding family health legacy … "There is no doubt that there is a genetic component to cancer …lot’s of concern in my own family, so for me, I am particularly sensitive to any unusual symptoms of fatigue ... blood in stool, lumps, sores that do not heal as quickly. … One thing we emphasize at Imerman Angels is to be sure to be in touch with your body. Don’t be afraid of going to the doctor. Many young adults are the most reluctant group, men in particular … It can make the difference between surviving and not making it through your cancer journey to find tings early. Early detection fro cancer, like most medical conditions, is the name of the game for survival."

Founder Jonny Imerman’s inspirational message"Everybody needs something more than just the medical care and the positive relationship and support from family and friends. What (Jonny Imerman) brings to the table is that element of ‘Never give up!’, positive energy and always thinking towards making it to the other end of your cancer journey and doing a great job of transmitting his own energy into the organization we now call Imerman Angels and this army of 8,000 Mentor Angels who are survivors of cancer ... who mentor and give back to those going through a similar journey themselves. ... Culturally, that has been a big part of the footprint of Imerman Angels – Cancer is an equalizer. Cancer humbles you. We can stay positive, still try to have some fun and be a little bit  laid back as a culture here, as we are helping people deal with something very serious – that their life is on the line through a cancer diagnosis."

Overall impact … "The impact can go in a lot of different directions. This is a human connection, a human relationship between two people. We train our Mentor Angels, but we then are not recording or monitoring the interactions. It takes on the personalities, if you will, of the two people involved. So, sometimes that means that encouragement to get a second opinion or to check out a clinical trial for a tough-to-beat cancer … and in those cases, this can really be a life saver."

On the importance of matching age and cancer type … "We call it a ‘Connection Perfection’ mentality … we have a database … we score the way we feel (the fighters) are most important and then we add a human overlay on top of it through our call center so that a fighter can tell us what is most important for them. We try to make it as ‘like for like’ as possible."

IMERMAN ANGELS
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  • If you or someone you know is interested in the Imerman Angels or you would like to learn more, visit the website at: imermanangels.org. You will also find information there about the Wings of Hope Gala on September 9th at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.

2017 Wings of Hope Gala
WEBSITE
PODCAST


 

DE USURIS - Arnie Bernstein on Fritz Kuhn 80 Years Later

Charlottesville, August 12, 2017. Three deaths. Nineteen other serious injuries reported. Many more if you consider the psychological trauma inflicted on the scores of individuals there that day. Historian Arnie Bernstein sees comparisons and contrasts to another troubling time in our history.

Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

As we process these events, individual and corporate stands were swift, condemning racism, hate and bigotry, and awakening, even as the story continues to unfold, a new cycle of activist movement against the forces of evil exemplified in the KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacists. With history as a barometer, words and boycotts are not enough to stem the tide of domestic terrorism in our Nation and around the world.

In the decade leading up to American involvement in World War II, the rise of the German American Bund Movement, a neo-Nazi organization led by Fritz Kuhn, is a harbinger of the kind of polarization we have witnessed that led to violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend.

Arnie Bernstein, author of Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund, joined me for a program last year during our live series at Skokie Theatre, a conversation about the life and times of a man whose rise and fall in 1930s America provides a glimpse into another troubling period in our nation's history.

This week, we asked Arnie Bernstein to expand on our conversation in the context of the events in Charlottesville.  ET 8/15/2017

ET: Talk about the social climate in the mid-1930s, the political divide that fostered Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund movement and how it compares or contrasts to the polarization in our society today?

AB: The German-American Bund movement was largely what the name said: German Americans, mostly naturalized immigrants escaping from the terrible economic conditions of post-WWI Germany.  But post-war America was rough for them, given the anti-German fervor in the United States during the war years and afterwards.  They banded together during the 1920s under various groups, culminating in the founding of the German-American Bund in 1936.  Instead of embracing American ideals, the members of these groups looked to Hitler and the rise of National Socialism back in the Fatherland. But the vast majority of German-Americans (both immigrant and those who had been here for a few generations) had no interest in the Bund and despised what it stood for.  The Bundists were a loud group of maybe 15,000 nationwide.  They never revealed official numbers, and estimates vary depending on what resource you look at, such as the FBI or the American Legion.

ET: The rise of the Bund had immediate detractors. Who were some of the more prominent individuals and organizations involved and how did they express themselves?

The Bund’s opponents were a disparate association of legal authorities like the FBI, elected officials including New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his district attorney Thomas Dewey (later governor and presidential candidate), citizen groups and veterans, Jewish organizations, and journalists, most famously Walter Winchell, who delighted in attacking the Bund’s leader Fritz Kuhn.  Others who went after the Bund included major players in the Jewish criminal underworld, like Mayer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Mickey Cohen.  They were approached on the sly by important figures in the Jewish community.  The boys in the mob responded, and refused to take payment for their services.  They busted up Bund meetings and busted up Bundists’ bones in the process.

ET: What impact did they have?

AB: As varied as the groups.  LaGuardia and Dewey were effective taking down the Bund by cutting off the dragon at the head: they found that Fritz Kuhn was embezzling the group’s money and eventually got him sent to prison on those charges, sort of like how Al Capone got tripped up not by his crimes but through tax evasion.  As I said, the mobsters broke up meetings with fists and Winchell attacked them in his column and on his radio show.  The FBI worked their wiles on the Bund, with something like 3,000 pages of files accumulated on their activities.  In one case, the community of Southbury, CT banded together so the Bundists could not open a private retreat on the outskirts of town.  The efforts around the country were considerable on so many fronts.

ET: Compare the rhetoric of the time to what is occurring now.

AB: Similar and different, to be sure.  The fascist Nazi standards of anti-Semitism, racial hatred, anti-Communist (which they associated with Jews and African-Americans), and the “purity” of the Aryan race sound exactly the same.  They are separated by decades but not rhetoric.  On the other hand, the groups today are much more violent in what they say and much more open about it.  You didn’t see Bundists walking around with tattooed swastikas on their arms, marching through streets of towns like Charlottesville wielding semi-automatic weapons.  The Bundists were scary, to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the things we’re seeing today.  Sure, they attacked people, but it was with fists and baseball bats, not wielding menacing heavy-duty firepower and driving cars into groups of protestors.

More at DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN or listen to the podcast on iTunes Libsyn or Stitcher

More at DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN or listen to the podcast on iTunes Libsyn or Stitcher

ET: In your book, Swastika Nation, you attribute the collapse of the Bund movement to a series of factors. Talk about these and by example how they may or may not apply to what is happening today.

AB: The factors really are different.  The Bund was an organization with a strict constitution and bylaws that were enforced.  Fritz Kuhn brought them down himself in late 1939 by embezzling the group’s money to fund his romances.  He was a dynamic presence who made the Bund what it was, and when he was gone, they struggled.  With the rise of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, members jumped ship—it just wasn’t safe to be associated with a pro-Hitler movement in the United States.  Then came Pearl Harbor, America’s entry into WWII, and that was the end of the Bund.

ET: Historians often tend to examine social injustice, racism, gender issues and bigotry as having been the product of another time long past. And yet, today, we are grappling with extreme anger, hatred and a new strain of lawlessness fueled in growing numbers by fear, oppression and domestic terrorism.

Learn from the past … or doomed to repeat it?

AB: I think a bit of both.  The Bund was an overt group, while for a long time the people like what we’re seeing in Charlottesville were more underground and outcasts.  During the 1930s social conditions certainly fostered many alienated German immigrants and their sympathizers in the United States.  What they did not have were like-minded individuals in high positions engendering that anger and hatred, such as we’re seeing today.  There’s no question in my mind that what happened in Charlottesville was a culmination of many factors: a right-wing propaganda machine fostering hatred and playing to the lowest common denominator and using well-understood code words and social dog whistles.  “Liberals control the media” sounds just like what the 1930s counterparts said, only it was “Jews control the media.”  

Ultimately, though, there are many more good people in the world than there are of these types.  We’re always going to have to face the reality that they exist and they want to do damage in order to protect a mythical ideal of something that never was. But the world is changing. People who didn’t have a voice before are speaking out and standing up to these groups.  That happened in the 1930s and it’s happening now, as we’ve seen since the deadly events in Charlottesville.  We’re standing up to those who want to pervert American ideals.

ARNIE BERNSTEIN WEBSITE
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CIRQUE DU SOLEIL - Backstage at LUZIA

Deep inside Cirque du Soleil’s white and gold big top tent city at United Center, there is an area bustling with excitement. Coaches work with strap artists on new routines, tumblers tumble as human hummingbirds flutter by. There is a wide array of exercise equipment, lest you think that 10 shows a week is not exercise enough. It may not be the most conducive place to have a conversation -- in and alongside weight lifters, an enormous stallion puppet and yes, the contortionist, who was nailing his stretching exercises as the cactus handlers strolled through.

If only life was a circus!

For the hundreds of company members, performers, and others who have brought the masterful show LUZIA: A Waking Dream of Mexico to Chicago, life is always a circus. And, there is not a lot of time outside of the performance schedule with a daily routine that is constantly evolving.

On this day, we speak with Artistic Director Gracie Valdez and Aerial Strap Artist Benjamin Courtenay, a Canadian native whose career began with training at the National Circus School in Montreal, about the inner workings of LUZIA that now playing in Chicago through September 3rd.

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CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
LUZIA: A WAKING DREAM OF MEXICO

Now playing through September 3, 2017
Under the Big Top at United Center, Chicago
Entrance and Uber pickup at 1853 West Adams
2 1/2 hrs. with intermission

TICKETS WEBSITE PODCAST

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