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Chess in the Schools (Image from video)

Metro Minute

A philanthropy grandmaster

The philanthropist who brought chess to New York City’s public schools dies

A New York moment: 

Chess is ubiquitous in New York City schools nowadays (Success Academy, a large charter school network in the city, requires students to take chess classes from kindergarten through second grade). That ubiquity is partly due to New York philanthropist Lewis Cullman, who recently died at age 100. In 1986, before the teaching of chess to youngsters as a life skill was popular, Lewis Cullman founded and funded a group called Chess in the Schools. The chess program teaches children at Title 1 schools, or schools serving primarily low-income populations. 

“I believe that, given the opportunity, every child has the power to both ... succeed in life and help others,” Cullman had said. “But I also believe that many children are not given that opportunity.”

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An Rong Xu/The New York Times/Redux

(An Rong Xu/The New York Times/Redux)

Metro Minute

Metro moments

The value of productivity-free conversations in a busy city

A New York moment: 

In Manhattan, seating at coffee shops is often hard to find, and I’ve grown accustomed to asking people at a table with a free seat if I can join them. On Monday I (and my new sidekick for the summer, World Journalism Institute graduate Esther Eaton) sat with an elderly man from the Bronx named George, who was sipping his coffee by himself. 

Eaton and I were planning to go over notes for the day, but somehow we got into a conversation with George. He had stories to tell about growing up in the city, back in the days when his family would get morning and evening newspapers. He told us about the screenplay he has written, which is waiting for a producer (we swore not to divulge the premise of the movie). We talked for probably half an hour. 

In a city that puts a premium on busyness and extreme productivity, having a conversation with this elderly gentleman, for no reason, somehow felt like the most purposeful part of my day. Now we know that we are both regulars at this coffee shop, so we can keep tabs on each other and our writings. Last year this was how I met my neighbor across the street, and we’ve exchanged theology books over the ensuing months—productive, wasted time.

Worth your time:  

If you’ve seen recent documentaries like They Shall Not Grow Old, you’ve experienced the technological transformation of old, sped-up footage from the early days of film returning to the right, natural speed. 

New York’s Museum of Modern Art now has a great 11-minute video showcasing “the IMAX of the 1890s,” film that is startlingly crisp and clear at the right speed (see at about eight minutes in, for one example). The technology came from the Biograph Co., which developed its large-format film in order to avoid violating Thomas Edison’s film patents. 

This week I learned: 

I was wondering who the woman was in the control room in a brief shot in the fantastic documentary Apollo 11. Of course the internet has the answer. JoAnn Morgan, a 28-year-old instrumentation controller, had a fascinating job at NASA blocking Russian interference in launches. Morgan was the only woman in the control room that day, and had some Hidden Figures–type stories of her own. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A Manhattan judge sentenced a former Oklahoma State basketball coach to three months in prison for taking bribes from players. Several other coaches from different schools pleaded guilty in related cases that revealed corruption in college basketball. 

Culture I am consuming: 

I’m rereading the Harry Potter series in preparation for seeing the Broadway play with a young friend in July. I read the books as a kid when they first came out, but don’t remember much because I would swallow them whole in about 24 hours, skipping sleep if necessary.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

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Ray Rivera and Tim Keller (Handout)

Metro Minute

A Bronx chat

Two longtime NYC pastors, Tim Keller and Ray Rivera, meet to discuss the future of the urban church

A New York moment: 

On a warm, rainy night last week, I took the train up to the South Bronx to join a room of mostly black and Hispanic church leaders listening to pastors Ray Rivera and Tim Keller talk about the future of the urban church globally. 

Rivera and Keller both planted organizations in New York City about 30 years ago, though serving different populations. Rivera, a Reformed Pentecostal pastor, founded the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the South Bronx to help churches develop holistic ministries. Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and now works full-time with Redeemer City to City, a global church planting organization.

Four years ago Rivera and Keller had a conversation about the future of the urban church on Keller’s home turf at Redeemer. Last week Keller went to Rivera’s turf in the Bronx for them to continue the conversation. The evening’s talk produced the rough material of a book that many would find useful, I thought.

While Manhattan churches like Redeemer tend to get attention and resources, Rivera noted that “things have been happening in the South Bronx for a hundred years.” 

“Revival is not going to be one church, it’s going to be many churches of many colors,” said Michael Carrion from City to City, who moderated the conversation. City to City recently started an incubator in Queens for Latino church planters, and it said the demand has been high. “The Latino community at one time ran from Reformed theology,” Carrion said. 

As a pastor in a low-income community, Rivera had several words of wisdom for the white church. He said the white church needs to be careful not to communicate the subliminal message that being poor means someone is less than. He also urged affirming the world of color, because Africa, Asia, and Latin America are growing, and he urged church leaders to listen to more non-American voices. Because the Church’s global growth is concentrated in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, he also encouraged an openness to “the world of the Holy Spirit.” 

Keller echoed some of these themes. Both Keller and Rivera talked about how it is particularly difficult to reach young people now. Keller said youth ministry “is going to have to be more relational than it’s ever been,” requiring more youth workers per church.

Keller described seven ways cities are changing, which I could see as chapters in my imaginary book that these two are writing together. One thing he mentioned was “atomization”: As neighbors are increasingly distant from each other as a result of trends like gentrification, “churches are going to have to become the neighborhoods that the neighborhoods are not.” Young black and Hispanic leaders swarmed the two pastors afterward for more conversation.

Worth your time:  

I covered the measles outbreak here in New York a few weeks ago and received a good bit of reader mail with concerns about vaccines. Many cited the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program as evidence of vaccines’ harm. As an additional resource, I would recommend this Atlantic article detailing the injury program’s history. It seems like a level-headed assessment of the program to me. Some very interesting data is in there: For example, the article concludes that, based on the program’s payments, the rate of vaccine injury is about 1 in 4.5 million doses. 

A friend of mine is a nurse here in the city, and in the current measles outbreak she has treated children with measles in her hospital’s intensive care unit. She is straightforward that vaccines do cause bad reactions in rare cases—as the piece above details—but emphasizes that people have forgotten what vaccines protect children from, and how serious measles can be. 

This week I learned: 

Now 28 percent of American households are people living alone, up from 23 percent in 1980. The number is expected to climb as more millennials and elderly live alone.

Culture I am consuming: 

Ninety-one-year-old Clara shows how to make a “poorman’s meal,” which her family ate during the Depression. Done right, YouTube is a treasure trove. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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