Monday, February 21, 2011

Hillary Clinton Headlines State Department Reception for NCIV 50th Anniversary

by Lynne Brandon

Washington, DC - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke last week at the 2011 National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) national conference at the U.S. Department of State reception. Secretary Clinton was the key note speaker, following brief remarks by Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Ann Stock.

The annual conference began on February 16, which was designated “Citizen Diplomacy Day” in recognition of the NCIV milestone. More than 600 people attended the opening black tie gala which was emceed by CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger. The conference concluded on February 19 with a luncheon hosted in the National Press Building, headlined by John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Other Florida

Treasures in Lakeland, Lake Wales and Winter Haven

By Doc Lawrence

Much of Florida is still off the beaten path. The museums, art galleries and architecture of Lakeland weren’t unknown to me. I knew something about Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectual wonders at Florida Southern College, this city’s crown jewel. Years ago, I adopted the aphorism that seeing is believing. When I walked into the first of Wright’s astonishing creations, the stunning college library, I thought how impossible it is to describe the grandeur in abstentia.

After checking in at the renowned Lakeland Terrace Hotel, I knew adventure was ahead. When the opulently appointed hotel opened in 1924, it was hailed as one of Florida's finest new year-round inns. Located in the heart of the downtown district, the hotel underwent a $13 million renovation in 1999 and was placed on the National Historic Register.

Every journey has a beginning and my first meaningful step was into Lakeland’s glorious Polk Museum of Art. A tour of the main galleries featuring renowned traveling exhibitions and the permanent pre-Columbian gallery and outdoor sculpture garden proved that this is one of the premier arts facilities in the Sunshine State. The nearby Polk Theatre, a beautifully restored historic vaudeville/movie palace shows films on weekends and features a live performing arts series each year.

My second day began with a visit to Lakeland Linder Airport and a tour of the Florida Air Museum and an introduction to Sun 'n Fun, best known for its April Fly-In, which attracts aviation enthusiasts from all over the country. The Museum at Sun 'n Fun is open year-round, displaying numerous aircraft including Henry Ford’s one-seat, single propeller airplane. Henry mistakenly believed his plane would follow a similar path to his popular Model T. There is also an impressive collection of aviation artifacts once belonging to Howard Hughes, including a flight suit likely worn by one of his glamorous companions. I wondered if it belonged to Katherine Hepburn?

Overlooking Lakeland’s Lake Mirror is Hollis Garden. Neoclassical in design and featuring more than 10,000 flowers and ornamental shrubs, it chronicles Florida history up to the modern era where horticulture is driven primarily by aesthetics. The nearby Explorations V Children's Museum, another fine example of why Lakeland is such a livable city. It consists of three floors of mind-stretching, kid-powered exhibits featuring art, science, literature, math, health, life skills and cultures from around the world.

Frank Lloyd Wright left an indelible mark on Florida Southern College. His legacy distinguishes the campus from all others. Construction of his " Child of the Sun" campus commenced in 1938 with the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and concluded in 1958. Wright designed eighteen structures for the campus, and built twelve, representing the world's largest one-site grouping of his work. The Visitors Center is the permanent home for photographs, furniture, and drawings depicting Wright's relationship with the College.

The famed landmark Cypress Gardens, now known as Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, propelled Winter Haven as a tourist destination. Once, Ester Williams and her contemporaries performed here. New owner, Kent Buescher, who also owns Wild Adventures Theme Park in south Georgia, has revived Cypress Gardens while retaining the legendary Ski Show, botanical gardens and Southern Belles that helped make it famous, adding family fun rides, roller coasters and a new water park.

Winter Haven’s Ridge Art Association and Theatre Winter Haven share the Chain O’ Lakes Civic Center and are emblematic of the strongly rooted arts tradition in Central Florida. Theatre Winter Haven, called “one of the finest community theaters” by the Tampa Tribune offers eight full-scale productions annually, selling more than 30,000 seats.

The renowned Bok Sanctuary is one of Florida's original tourism venues known globally for a bell tower housing one of the world's great carillons. Located on the highest point on the Florida peninsula, Bok Tower Sanctuary is a national landmark that includes 128 acres of gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., also the landscape architect for Atlanta’s Druid Hills. The elevation and lush foliage are reminiscent of central Tibet, belying closeness to Orlando and Tampa.

The living is good in Lake Wales, home to the Lake Wales Arts Center. Housed in an old Spanish mission-style church building, this is a treasure trove of visual art and music, owned and operated by very progressive Lake Wales Arts Council. Nearby, the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features permanent exhibits from Lake Wales' colorful history plus a train exhibit and a 1926 Caboose.

Another aviation-themed museum, The Fantasy of Flight near Polk City is home to the world's largest private collection of vintage aircraft, and several of the perfectly restored planes have been featured in motion pictures like “Flyboys.” Among the impressive collection is a Curtiss Jenny, a Ford Tri-Motor, a reproduction of the renowned Ryan “Spirit of St. Louis,” a German JU-52, a Japanese Zero, a Corsair F4U, a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator. Hot air balloon and biplane rides are popular offerings.


Breakfast at the world-renowned Chalet Suzanne, opened in 1931, is a step back in time. Located in Lake Wales, 30 rooms nestled on 70 acres caters to guests of all ages. The Texas Cattle Company in Lakeland features prime beef aged four to six weeks and has an impressive wine list with some real bargains like steak-friendly Malbec from Argentina.

Dining in Lakeland is a joy. The Terrace Grille in the Terrace Hotel has received national recognition featuring a gourmet menu equivalent to the finest restaurants in culinary centers like New Orleans with a wine cellar featuring an array of fine wines. The Grille and is rated as one of Central Florida's finest eateries.

These are just a few highlights from a region of Florida that is becoming more and more popular as a travel destination, which deserves a place in your vacation plans.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dr. Julianne Malveaux: Black Economic History

Leveling the playing field for African-Americans

By Lynne Brandon

As part of Black History Month, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the 15th president of Bennett College for Women, spoke about her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, at the Greensboro Central Library and the role African-Americans have played in our economic history.

Dr. Malveaux’s columns appear regularly in USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, and The Progressive. Her syndicated weekly column appears in more than twenty newspapers, including the Carolina Peacemaker. She is also a frequent commentator on CNN, BET, PBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC and C-SPAN.

Dr. Malveaux is also credited for being an architect for change at America’s oldest historically black women’s college since taking the helm of the educational institution in 2008.

Surviving and Thriving was a 20 year labor of love said Dr. Malveaux who explained that the book was also a “love note to African-Americans.” Surviving she added, “is the least we can do, but thriving is what we are called to do.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jeannette Walls-Surviving the Dumpster

Her Guilford College Lecture

By Lynne Brandon

Greensboro, NC - When the statuesque woman with a Julia Roberts-like figure strode across the stage it would be hard to believe that this glamorous, successful author ate out of trashcans as a child. Tall, dressed in black and wearing pearls, Jeanette Walls, lives an existence that is light years away from a childhood full of hard scrapple living, heartache and dumpster diving. A picture of success today, Walls delivered a message about following your dream. For her, the journey was propelled by perseverance and tenacity.

“I’m just a woman with a weird past,” said Walls, an optimist who downplays the tough times that she lived through. Appearing as part of Guilford College’s Bryan Series which has included recent experiences by Bill Clinton, Walls admitted to the packed-house audience the irony of talking about a past that once caused her shame. She came out of the closet, as she describes facing her past, when her husband, John Taylor, urged her to come clean about her life story, which by all accounts then was full of holes.

An unexpected event also prompted a look at the life she had carefully packed away. One night, dressed in designer duds in a taxi on her way to a celebrity function, the successful print and broadcast journalist, knew was living the “good life.” She noticed a homeless woman rooting around in a dumpster and as the taxi stopped at a light she noticed with horror that the woman was her own mother. Walls was so upset that she went back to her home on Park Avenue. She looked in the mirror knowing she couldn’t run anymore. “I thought I could divorce myself from the past, but you can’t” said Walls.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Outer Banks: Untouched by Time

By Lynne Brandon

The Outer Banks is considered by many to be the state’s crown jewel. In Currituck County you can find refuge from big city hustle and bustle: the only noise at night is the rolling thunder of waves against sand or, sometimes if you are lucky, the galloping sounds of wild horses. Unleashed, untouched, and untamed, it’s still predominately all nature at its best

My recent visit was a rediscovery of the beauty and history of the Outer Banks. No trip to the Outer Banks is complete without visiting the landmark that stands proudly in Corolla. The Currituck Beach Light Station ( in the town of Corolla (pronounced by natives as kuh-raw-luh) first made its presence known in the Outer Banks in 1875.

The Victorian style brick dwelling was left unpainted which distinguishes it from other Outer Bank lighthouses. It is the last lighthouse built in the state, and one of only a very few remaining lighthouses in North Carolina that permits visitors to walk to the top.

At first glance, the 214 steps to the top look daunting but with effort and determination, it is worth the climb, rewarded by a view from above, beholding the serene and priceless beauty of Corolla.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bill Clinton Glows at Guilford College

By Lynne Brandon

Greensboro, NC. – He is the only Democrat in the last six decades to serve two terms and today, Bill Clinton is more popular than ever. The former president is busier because of his global initiatives, appearances and speaking engagements that take him to the world’s four corners. Recently he took the time to stop by Greensboro, North Carolina to speak to a sold-out crowd of 4,000 as a part of the Guilford College Bryan Series. It was a perfect venue for the man who prizes education.

From the moment the charismatic Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas approached the stage the audience knew that the sizzle that got Clinton elected in 1992 is still there. The exuberant crowd rose to its feet in an all-out Southern welcome for the 42nd president. He remains a crowd-pleaser with few peers.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Catdaddy Cocktails

Grassroots Spirits

By Doc Lawrence

“East-bound and down, loaded up and trucking. We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done!”
From “Smokey and the Bandit,” by Jerry Reed

NORTH WILKESBORO, NC--The fascination with alcoholic beverages is a Southern phenomenon with profound Florida connections, the stuff of songs, movies, NASCAR and some of the most colorful characters to grace the folklore landscape. It’s a gallery that includes actors Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason and Robert Mitchum along with racers Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and the unbelievably colorful Junior Johnson. A proud one-time moonshine runner, NASCAR champion, Daytona racing legend and peerless raconteur, Johnson now has his own moonshine.

Except this batch is legal and doesn’t require delivery into states like Florida with a souped-up vehicle powered to run at near supersonic speed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Deep South Gourmet


By Lynne Brandon

Pecan trees stand majestically along country roads and cotton fields are blurs of white as we speed along the quiet byways of Georgia. It is steamy hot but that is fitting and proper for Indian summer in the South. Outlaw Country is playing on Sirius XM radio and the Highwaymen get their turn at airplay. I am traveling to Albany for the first time and will leave with a new appreciation for Southwest Georgia and its amenities.

The Flint River runs through Albany and defines it, along with music legends, the civil rights movement, and now, great young chefs who are cooking up more than grits and greens.

The names from the past are still here; Ray Charles and the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Deen, both who spent time in this fair city and left an enduring legacy.

Aunt Fannie’s Checkered Apron was the first stop on the “Taste of Albany” culinary tour where I imbibed my senses with eggs, sausage and biscuits, and learned the true meaning of “gravy train.” In Albany, large flaky buttermilk biscuits dressed up in flowing white sausage gravy are de rigueur for breakfast and Aunt Fannie’s doesn’t disappoint. The small establishment is a popular early morning stop for locals and visitors. Hospitality comes with the territory for owner/minister, McKinley Drake, who spreads the gospel of good eating to young, old, black and white, and all who gather to break bread together around the table.

Restaurants using local produce are thriving and farm-to-the-fork cuisine is everywhere. Young chefs like Bo Henry and Stewart Campbell, co-owners of The Catch, as well as Harvest Moon where great pizza rules, are making their mark in this Southern culinary world. At The Catch, I experienced plump juicy oysters on the half-shell, fresh and BP free. Dinner was delicious and varied with choices like grouper laced with gorgonzola and bacon, and paired with a great domestic Riesling.

In the South, ‘cue is king. Riverfront BBQ in downtown Albany serves up generous portions with great flavor. The pork is smoked on premises and comes with a choice of sauces that will please any palate, including Bourbon infusion. Fresh vegetables compliment and the homemade lemonade is superb. For an afternoon pick-me-up at an old fashioned pharmacy complete with real live soda jerks, stop by Doc Hellinbel’s. They can fix what ails you and give you a root beer float to go.

A side trip to beautiful Thomasville, Georgia proved worth the one hour drive. The town, which hints of Norman Rockwell, is home to Pebble Hill Plantation, Sweet Grass Dairy, Jonah’s Fish and Grits, a 300 year old oak tree and more. Fried catfish is the star at Blackbeard’s for dinner where oysters and seafood are piled mile-high on plates in monstrous portions. Go hungry.

A heavenly experience waits at Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking where Pearly Gates is the real proprietor. Hungry patrons wrapped a line of cars around the drive-thru, and inside, the hustle was on for a breakfast fit for king. Biscuits and gravy reigned supreme, along with exceptional fresh sausage and even chess pie. The dynamic staff with high-wattage smiles delivers service with gusto. Don’t count calories at Pearly’s, just your blessings.

For a trip to the past, a stop at the iconic Jimmie’s Hot Dogs is in order. Knowing that Civil Right legends chowed on the small, but loaded dogs while discussing life changing historical events enhances the experience ten fold. And, no where but the original Maryland Fried Chicken in Albany gives you the opportunity to gaze at posters of rock gods such as the Rolling Stones and the Gregg Allman band while eating the southern delicacy known as fried chicken.

To walk lunch off, a trip to Still Pond Vineyards was recommended. The award winning winery has sixteen gold medals to its credit, and is a consistent winner with its popular muscadine varieties. White Oak Pastures owner, Will Harris was on hand with his organic beef that paired exceptionally well with the wines.

The last stop was one of sheer elegance at Henry Campbell’s, The Steakhouse. It is the only steak house in the area that offers dry-aged steaks and prime steaks. Filets are mouth watering and fork tender. The piece de resistance was the Crème Brulee, prepared for eating with a blow torch finale.

Albany and the surrounding area showcases it’s rich food heritage, and the culinary offerings are emblematic of the cuisine of the New South. Truly, there is something for every taste.