Last Sunday Dr. David A. Anderson (African-American studies scholar and storyteller) of AKWAABA Heritage Tours waited on the corner of Fitzhugh and Main with his bullhorn for a tour group to gather. He was ready to lead an Underground Railroad tour away from the Main Game youth event along Main Street. But at Main Game there was boxing, martial arts, a rock-climbing wall, and a freestyle battle. The Underground What? That was like a hundred years ago.
"We see ourselves, as you might say, custodians," Anderson says.
Anderson and his fellow tour guides often do have audiences. AKWAABA (it means "welcome") gives 20 to 30 tours a year. People have come from as far as California to see the sites along our very own Main Street (what Anderson says was once "a beehive of activity"), where fugitive slaves were sheltered, their rights fought for; where the Anti-Slavery Reading Room stood and where the North Star was published; where abolitionist societies met and where a former slave set up a general store.
Anderson wants the tours "to expose the community to this history, with the notion that we can revive some of the spirit of selflessness," he says.
The tours --- which can be two hours or three days long --- combine narrative, storytelling, anecdotes, and reenactment. When the tour arrives at the Clarion, for example, Anderson makes a quick change into a collared shirt and an apron to become 19th-century shopkeeper Austin Stewart. Later, teenagers recruited through the Parks and Recreation Department reenact a scene from a slave's life.
With the everyday noises of the Clarion Hotel's lobby drifting up and 21st-century Main Street just outside the windows, the scene feels surreal. You have to wonder how many Rochesterians know what a hotbed this was 200 years ago.
"Our main concern," Anderson says, "is to get our local people to embrace not only the story but also the spirit."
For information on AKWAABA, visit www.akwaabatours.org or call 482-5192.
The Rochester Vineyard Community Garden is a center-city secret. There are no signs leading up to it, and it's not easy to see from the street, tucked away on a parcel of land just off Sander and Bay Streets. But this little oasis is about to become a lot more visible.
Last week, the NorthEast Neighborhood Alliance and the Greater Rochester Urban Bounty Group broke ground for the garden's Agricultural Center, a 2,400 square foot, two-story complex that will include a commercial kitchen, classrooms, conference facilities, and retail space. Visitors will enter through a 480-square-foot greenhouse.
Since 1999, this working farm has been the vision of Shirley Edwards and Bob Vickers, two neighborhood activists. More than 145 truckloads of debris were hand cleared from the 2.7-acre plot. Where once there was everything from tree stumps to old car parts, rows of tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, and collard greens flourish. There are also fruit trees, a vineyard, flowers, and herbs.
"We wanted to create a place where people, especially young families, can work with the earth and learn about growing fresh vegetables," says Edwards. "Young people will be able to come here and learn about agriculture, preparing fresh food right from the garden, and what it means to eat healthy balanced meals."
The project does a lot more than just pretty up a neglected lot. "I have five parents who came to me and asked if their kids could work on the farm. They wanted help in guiding them and keeping them out of trouble. Here they can learn how to protect the environment and have fun, too," says Edwards.
All the produce is grown pesticide free, using organic fertilizers. There's also a buying club, and members can pick up their fresh produce from June to November.
Architectural drawings of the new building call for a traditional frame structure similar to farm buildings from the turn of the century. The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2006 season. There's already a gazebo and tool shed and a flagstone terrace with benches for workers and visitors to enjoy. More information about the farm is available at www.grubrochester.com.
For years, the rap on Kodak has been that it hasn't kept up with the times and hasn't moved quickly enough. It's moving right along right now, and the pain hurts. Last year, the hometown giant announced that it was laying off 15,000 worldwide. Last week --- on the heels of happy news several other local businesses were adding a few hundred employees --- Kodak struck again, announcing another 10,000 cuts. The reason: Digital's growing nicely, but film --- which provides a bigger profit margin --- is falling faster than predicted.
(How many of those 10,000 will be in Rochester? That's not known yet. But we do make film here.)
Among the results of the latest Kodak bombshell:
• Kodak's stock price dropped sharply, then rose, and ended only 2.2 percent down the day of the announcement. ("One reason for the rebound," said the Wall Street Journal: "Wall Street loves cost cutting.")
• Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch bond-rating firms cut Kodak's credit rating, meaning that Kodak will have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money.
• Colin Barr, the irreverent columnist on TheStreet.com, had a bit of fun with the Kodak news, posting a picture of Kodak CEO Antonio Perez smiling out at a crowd of workers from a large-screen video monitor and saying: "...good news is that only some of you will be laid off."
Barr selected the Kodak news as one of his "Five Dumbest Things on Walls Street This Week."
When Geva Theatre Center snatched up the rights to produce A Chorus Line earlier this year --- the last theater to do so before a rights-freeze to prepare for the show's 2006 reemergence on Broadway --- it made a solid business move. The show, which ran through July 14 at Geva, is now the theater's highest grossing show at $524,697.
And for theatergoers who may be wondering about another set of numbers: During the last five weeks of performances the cast raised $43,760.33 in audience donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Half of that will stay at home with AIDS Rochester.