Library of Congress: Main reading room open house on Presidents Day

Twice each year, the Library of Congress opens its magnificent Main Reading Room for a special open house to share information about how the public can access the Library’s resources year-round. The first open house of 2015 will take place on the Presidents Day holiday, Monday, February 16, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Main Reading Room is located on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C.

Reference librarians will be on hand to demonstrate services, instruct on how to obtain a reader registration card and answer questions. No other reference services will be available and all other Library of Congress reading rooms and buildings will be closed. Visitors can join the conversation that day on Twitter using the tag #LCSpring15. Photography is allowed; however visitors may not use mono-, bi- or tripods.

The Jefferson Building will be open to the public between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and will feature the incomparable Great Hall and the Library of Congress exhibitions.

When the reading room doors open at 10 a.m., poet Patricia Smith, recipient of the Library’s 2014 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, will read portions of her collection “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah” from the Main Reading Room center desk. The prize’s namesake and her husband, O.P. Bobbitt, met when they both worked as catalogers at the Library in the 1930s. Smith, the author of six poetry collections and winner of multiple literary awards, will officially receive the prize February 17, 2015.

The Library’s Young Readers Center will celebrate past and future presidents from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Children are invited to bring their own historic props— top hats, mustaches, spectacles and read a famous speech (or their own) at the presidential podium. Visitors can learn about the presidents as children, have fun with presidential trivia, engage in craft exercises and much more. Young people, who must be accompanied by an adult at all times, are encouraged to explore the center’s library of current and classic books, which can be read onsite.

Guided tours of the Thomas Jefferson Building begin on the Ground Floor at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. These unreserved guided tours are designed to accommodate individuals and families in groups of 10 or fewer on a first-come, first-served basis. Larger groups may not join the unreserved tours, but may obtain brochures and information about visiting the Jefferson Building on their own.

More information about the Library, the exhibitions and tours is available at the orientation desks, at or by calling 202-707-8000. Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at 202-707-6362 or email:

Whitney Houston’s daughter ‘fighting for her life’

— Two days after she was found facedown and unresponsive in a bathtub full of water at her Roswell, Georgia, home, Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown is on a ventilator and in intensive care, a source close to the family said.

Brown, 21, was placed in a medically induced coma and the status of her brain function won’t be known until the sedatives are reduced, the source told CNN.

“Bobbi Kristina is fighting for her life and is surrounded by immediate family. As her father already stated, we are asking you to honor our request for privacy during this difficult time,” the Houston family said, thanking her supporters.

The source close to the family told CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin that Brown’s eyes opened and closed a few times Monday, but that doctors told family members not to read too much into that movement.

Doctors were trying to reduce the sedatives to check Brown’s brain function, but decided not to and to keep her in the coma for now, the source said.

The source added that Brown had some seizures on Monday.

She “was not breathing” when a man identified as her husband found her Saturday morning inside her townhouse in the Atlanta suburb.

He called 911 and performed CPR until emergency crews arrived and took over, said police spokeswoman Lisa Holland.

The spokeswoman said when Brown was found, she was “unresponsive, meaning not breathing, no heartbeat.”

In scanner traffic, emergency services could be heard describing an “ECHO-level response” — urgent and life threatening — with “possible cardiac arrest.”

“Twenty-one-year-old female in the bathtub, facedown. PD’s (police department’s) en route.”

Brown was taken to a local hospital, where “she is still alive and breathing. Other than that, I don’t know her condition,” Holland said over the weekend.

A source close to the family told CNN contributor Nischelle Turner on Monday that Brown is in “really bad shape.”

Everyone is “hoping for the best, preparing for the worst,” and “praying for a miracle,” the source said.

Nobody knows what caused Brown’s unresponsiveness, Holland said, but police consider it a medical incident at this time. She said investigators had found nothing to indicate it was drug- or alcohol-related. The incident report referenced a drowning.

Police had been to Bobbi Kristina Brown’s residence recently. Somebody reported a fight there January 23, but nobody answered the door and officers found no evidence of an altercation, Holland said.

Almost three years ago, Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel near Los Angeles, hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party. A coroner ruled her February 11, 2012, death an accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors.

Brown is her only child.

“She encourages me and inspires me,” Houston once said of her daughter. “When I look at her eyes and I see myself, I go, ‘OK. I can do this. I can do this.'”

Daughter of acclaimed singer, R&B standout

Brown was born in 1993 during Houston’s marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown, which ended in divorce in 2007.

The daughter of music royalty became a public figure during the mid-2000s reality show “Being Bobby Brown,” in which she frequently appeared alongside her parents and often had a front-row seat to their marital fireworks.

Bobby Brown requested privacy in a statement issued Sunday by his lawyer, who said that Brown was at the hospital with his daughter.

“Please allow for my family to deal with this matter and give my daughter the love and support she needs at this time,” Bobby Brown said.

Mother and daughter performed together on national TV in 2009, when the two sang “My Love Is Your Love” in Central Park on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Given the pair’s close relationship, it’s no surprise that Houston’s death was a major blow.

Days after her mother’s body was found, a grieving Bobbi Kristina — then 18 — was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center because she was “overwhelmed,” family friend Kim Burrell said.

“She loves hard,” Burrell said then of Bobbi Kristina. “She’s going to be OK, and we’re going to see to it.”

After Houston’s death, Bobbi Kristina talked of pursuing a career in acting and music, just like her mother.

In 2012, she reportedly lobbied for a role in a planned biopic of her mother’s life. Lifetime’s “Whitney,” which was directed by actress Angela Bassett, debuted in January 2015, but the Houston family was not involved.

Brown did make her acting debut in 2012 on Tyler Perry’s TBS show “For Better or Worse.” Her performance in the small role won praise from Perry.

“She did a fantastic job,” he said at the time. “And that kid has a such a future. She’s such an actor. “

Even before her famous mother’s death, videos of Brown singing surfaced on You Tube and were quickly criticized by fans who felt her talent did not live up to Houston’s.

Concerns that she may have substance abuse issues, as her mother did, intensified in July 2014 after a picture was posted on her Instagram account showing a young woman who looked like Brown appearing to be smoking from a bong.

The caption read: “This picture may be inappropriate but I want to make a connection with you all. Don’t worry this picture isn’t recent just hear me out. Do you know what I feel? I feel strange I can’t feel any pain anymore. I don’t take any drugs as of recently. Things just happened. But then there is some situation that force me to do things and the impact I’ll feel pain. I did and I do. I was hurt.”

Brown later denied that she posted the photo and tweeted that it was done by someone attempting to tarnish her image.

Married a man who was taken in by Houston

Brown appeared on episodes of Lifetime’s brief reality show “The Houstons: On Our Own,” which followed her life after Houston’s death.

One of the show’s storylines revolved around Brown’s relationship with Nick Gordon, who had lived with Houston and her daughter since he was 12 years old.

Brown reportedly got engaged to Gordon, and in January 2014, she tweeted out a picture of wedding rings, presumably belonging to her and Gordon, along with the words, #HappilyMarried• SO#Inlove.”

“(Houston) made me promise several times to look after Krissy … and, Mom, I will never ever, ever break that promise,” Gordon told the entertainment show “Extra” afterward, saying Houston “just treated me like she gave birth to me.”

It was unclear whether Gordon came home Saturday morning to find Brown in the bathtub or if he had been in another part of the house overnight, Holland said.

Police have obtained a search warrant to look through the house, but that’s standard procedure, she said.

Concern for Brown surged again after news broke.

Music director Michael Bearden sent along “healing energy to the daughter of a late great friend.” Songwriter Diane Warren tweeted, “I hope Bobbi Kristina gets the help she needs.”

“Poor thing,” Warren wrote. “Almost 3 yrs to the day her mom passed and the same thing almost happened to her.”

CNN’s Lisa Respers France and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

Angela Brown redefines opera

Soprano Angela M. Brown who has graced prestigious opera and symphonic stages around the world, performed before approximately 300 supporters of the arts at the Bowie Center for Performing Arts in Maryland on Sunday, January 25, 2015. Brown presented her signature creation titled, “Opera From a Sistah’s Point of View.”

Attendees like artist and literary activist, J. Joy Matthews Alford (Sistah Joy) brought her granddaughter, Jordan Gregory and Jordan’s cousin to the affair that was presented by Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA). The event was free for youth ages 18 and under.


Opera from a Sistah’s Point of View

Backstage highlights from Angela M. Brown’s performance in Bowie, Md. where she performed “Opera From a Sistah’s Point of View” on Jan 25, 2015.

“Primarily, I am here today as a board member of CAAPA,” said Alford. “The excitement for me is that I am introducing my nine-year-old granddaughter to the opera today. I know she is going to be thrilled.”

At the end of the program, Brown’s palatable mix of opera, humorous storytelling and a dash of history garnered a standing ovation.

Admirers like Mary Ann White, president of the Board of Directors of the Prince George’s Philharmonic, greeted Brown during a casual reception. Adults and youth appeared equally eager to meet the world-renowned opera singer who dispelled operatic stereotypes.

“I believe that opera is entertainment and that you should never let anybody put you in a box and tell you that you won’t enjoy something. If you have never had a mushroom, don’t tell me you don’t like mushrooms. Try it and then you can make an educated ‘I don’t like it.’ That’s the way I feel about opera,” Brown said. “It’s entertainment. It’s something that can open your mind up to other things. One of my missions in life is to bring it to everyone. I just love seeing a diverse audience, and lots of babies, because have to build up our audiences for classical music.”

Brown’s program offered both regional and musical diversity. Kristen Wright, a general assignment reporter for News4 served as Mistress of Ceremonies. Dr. Lester Green, CAAPA’s artistic director, accompanied Brown by piano. Violinist, Alexander Strahan and pianist, Edmond Charles performed. Dr. Steven Allen directed Duke Ellington School of Arts Chamber Singers. Nevilla E. Ottley led Ottley Music School’s students. Under the direction of Dr. Eric Conway, Morgan State University Choir exhibited their choral skills. Conway is also a member of CAAPA’s Board of Directors. After individual selections were complete, Brown performed a moving extravaganza with a combined group of singers.

Samira Plummer, an 11th-grade student and aspiring opera singer who attends Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. beamed while recalling her performance opportunity with Brown.

“She [Angela Brown] was very energetic. She was really entertaining. I sang behind other opera singers, being with Duke Ellington, but with her I was more interested because she was so alive and had so much vocal control. I want to do that. Can I do that? Her voice is just amazing,” Samira said.

CAAPA is moving into the 11th season of “Bringing Color to the Classics” through community outreach, arts education, audience development, performance opportunities and arts partnerships. Terri Allen, CAAPA’s executive director, founded the organization along with her children, Pamela Simonson and Victor Simonson.

Pamela Simonson, who serves as chairman of the board, provided highlights of the Maryland-based nonprofit’s mission.

“CAAPA is really about “Bringing Color to the Classics,” which is a way to bring African American classical musicians into the community to spotlight them, highlight their talents and also give people an opportunity to hear classical music from a different perspective,” Simonson said. “One of our main goals in CAAPA is to have our students— especially the ones that are really interested in going into the field— be inspired by someone like Angela who was like them when she was their age.”

Brown was scheduled to teach a master class to vocal performance and opera students at Morgan State University the next day, under the under the auspices of CAAPA.

“Classical music gives you a good foundation that you can then build off of,” Brown said before the Baltimore visit: “Learn it right first and then you can go specialize after that.”

It’ll never be time for term limits on Congress

It didn’t get much attention at the time, but the elections last November did more than give Republicans a majority in the U.S. Senate. Voters also added to the ranks of people on both sides of Capitol Hill who believe members of Congress should serve a limited number of terms.


Courtesy photo

Lee H. Hamilton

I know a lot of people to whom this is good news. I know them, because I hear from them every time I speak at a public event that allows for a-give-and-take with the audience. Americans are frustrated with the federal government as a whole and with Congress in particular, and are searching for a simple solution. The notion that the bums could be thrown out automatically has great appeal.

Yet as popular as the idea might be among the public at large, it has no traction on Capitol Hill. The fundamental problem is that any measures imposing limits will need the support of leaders who, almost by definition, have served a long time. They’re not going to put themselves out of a job they like. Small surprise that bills calling for term limits don’t even make it out of committee.

Now, I should say right up front that you’re not going to hear a strong argument in favor of term limits from a guy who served 34 years in Congress. I’m biased. However, I want to spell out the reasons for my bias, not because I think term limits are a burning issue in Washington— they’re not— but because I wish they were less of an issue for ordinary voters.

Congress has a lot of problems right now, and the American people have a role to play in fixing them but term limits are a distraction from the truly hard work that needs to be done.

When you boil down all the debating points for and against term limits, there are two that bear the crux of the argument. The first has to do with the nature of our democracy. Supporters of the idea believe that bringing in fresh thinking and new leaders on a regular basis will make Congress more representative. However, stripping voters of the right to re-elect a representative whom they have supported in the past does not make for a more democratic system— rather, less.

Representative government rests on the notion that voters get to choose their legislators. Telling them that this is true for all candidates but one— the incumbent— does not strengthen voters’ rights; it reduces their choices. It also weakens Congress and that’s the other key issue.

The most important point to remember in all this is that if you take power away from a senior legislator, that power does not evaporate. Instead, it flows to the bureaucracy and the president. Serving productively in Congress is a tough, exacting task. It demands a deep knowledge of the issues that confront the country; a keen eye— backed by years of experience— for the ways in which executive agencies can go off track and then seek to hide that fact; insight into the ways in which both allies and opponents on any given issue might be motivated to shift their positions; and the hard-earned wisdom to forge common ground among competing interests and ideologies.

These traits come neither quickly nor easily. Kicking members of Congress out of their seats just as they’re gaining the ability to legislate effectively and oversee the government responsibly demotes Congress to the status of a minor agency. A politician elected to a limited term immediately begins looking for another job, which reduces his or her effectiveness and attention to the job at hand.

Term limits are not the solution to the real dysfunction that besets Washington. They reduce the choices of voters and accelerate the accumulation of power in the executive branch. They move representative democracy in the wrong direction.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

The perils of poisonous politics

— By doubling down on his vile slur on President Obama’s love for his country, ex-New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani created the media frenzy that he craved. He also set up an easy test of decency for Republican presidential contenders: Who has the sense to disavow Giuliani’s poison? Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio passed the admittedly low bar; Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal failed ignominiously: Governor Rick Perry pretzeled his way through it.

If Republicans wonder why 95 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of Latinos will likely end up voting for Democrats in 2016, they should look in the mirror. Virtually every African American will see this attack on President Obama as racist, something that would not be occur were Obama white.

Silence in the face of the attack will be seen as proof that the Republican race-based politics of division remains in force. In his decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, Justice Roberts wrote, “This country has changed.” Giuliani’s insult ratifies the wisdom of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s ringing dissent, that while progress has been made, the Congress surely was right in deciding we still have far to go.

Giuliani’s rant echoes the new hysteria that Republicans are trying to stoke: that Obama is “withdrawing” from the world, and thereby weakening America. A parade of horrors— Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, negotiations over nukes with Iran, terrorist violence in Paris— is summoned up and blamed on the president.

Recently, Obama made the simple and common sense observation that we are not at war with Islam, but with terrorist extremists who want to hijack the religion for their own ends. His statement was similar to that repeated frequently by George W. Bush when he was president. Any future president from either party will make similar statements— both to reflect reality and to keep the fear-mongers from fanning hatred here at home. Yet, the president’s comments sparked hysterical comments from across the right-wing noise machine as if common sense were somehow heresy.

This clamor is feeding a mindless war fever. Do we want to have an armed confrontation with Russia over Ukraine? Not really, the macho hawks basically want to fight to the last Ukrainian. Do we want to put troops back into Iraq? Not really, although as President Obama has escalated the U.S. response to ISIS, the armchair hawks have moved to more muscular positions, now even mumbling about “boots on the ground.” We are fighting wars in Afghanistan, providing troops and arms and bombs against ISIS, running drone attacks in nearly a dozen countries, dispatching special forces to 120 countries. And somehow this is scorned as withdrawal from the world.

Missing in the hysteria and the vile attacks on patriotism is a sensible policy debate— and a sensible reckoning of how we got to where we are. The reality is that excessive belief in military force has done more than anything to cause this mess. The catastrophic invasion of Iraq is the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. The decision not simply to go after Bin Laden and al Qaeda, but to wage a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan and “rebuild” that nation has led to the longest war in our history that shows no sign of ending.

The “humanitarian intervention” in Libya has left chaos and violence in its wake. The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned the country over to Shiite rule, ironically empowering Iran. ISIS comes out of the Sunni reaction to that reality. Meanwhile we’ve only begun to pay the $3 trillion tab for Bush’s Iraq War, even as our own roads, rail, sewage and water systems grow ever more dangerous for lack of investment.

Those who mindlessly call the president weak, impugn his patriotism, and accuse him of withdrawing from the world ought to be called to account.

Well, enough with the rhetoric, the posturing and the poison. What is the policy that they want? Let us hear them explain how they will drive a confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, while fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

The only way Americans will accept this nonsense is if they are scared out of their wits. Sadly, that seems to be the intent of the fear mongers, who need to be challenged before they frighten us into yet another costly debacle.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at

Project SERVE helps with critical restoration efforts of Navy’s ship

— Currently the Coast Guard Yard, the U.S. Coast Guard’s 115-year old shipyard, is a scene of living history as the USS Constellation is undergoing a critical four-month repair.

The USS Constellation is a U.S. Navy “sloop-of-war” with provenance dating back to the original frigate Constellation built in 1797. She is usually berthed in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Pier One. Historic Ships in Baltimore/Living Classrooms Foundation serves as the vessel’s caretaker on behalf of the City of Baltimore. During the USS Constellation’s last dry-dock in 2011, a major rot problem was discovered below the waterline. Since then over $2 million has been raised to save this National Historic Landmark.

A crew of skilled men and women are working long days to restore USS Constellation’s wooden hull. Members from Project SERVE, a Living Classrooms Foundation program that provides on-the-job training for unemployed ex-offenders and disadvantaged young adults through construction and revitalization work in Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, are soaking up history as they provide an important and valuable addition to the labor force. Each day Project SERVE members make up half of the men and women working on the ship.

The historic ship was found to have extensive rot in her laminated hull that needed to be removed to prevent the deterioration from spreading into the ship’s historic timbers and to maintain her watertight integrity. Twelve Project SERVE workers are helping to replace the hull planking. Jobs include demolition, putting on new planks, general painting, cleanup, etc. The project began the first week of November and is very labor intensive. Project SERVE workers didn’t need any prior woodworking experience for the job but “learning by doing” is giving the men and women additional skills they can use to enter the labor force.

“Working on the USS Constellation has been a great experience. I’ve been able to learn a lot of history and about how the ship has been maintained. My motto is there’s no dumb question, so I ask a lot of questions and learned a lot and gained helpful experience. I’m grateful for the job opportunity, the experience, and meeting and working with all of my co-workers and bosses.

I am appreciative of the whole experience,” said Melvin Moses, Project SERVE member.

People from all over Baltimore are coming together to preserve USS Constellation. When docked at her Inner Harbor berth, the historic ship is a wonderful “living classroom”—allowing students and visitors to learn first-hand about 200 plus years of naval and maritime history.

“The return of USS Constellation, tentatively scheduled for February 20th, is an important part of Living Classrooms’ 30th anniversary year. USS Constellation embodies the very essence of a “living classroom,” bringing our heritage to life for students and visitors,” said James Piper Bond, President and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation.

“With such big job to complete in such a short time frame this has been a very challenging project, as we knew it would be from the start, but thanks to strong partnerships with both the personnel at the USCG Yard and the hard-working members of Project SERVE, as well as the generous support of the community at large, we will be successful in our mission to save the USS Constellation,” said Chris Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships in Baltimore and Vice President of Living Classrooms Foundation.