Rafael Olmeda: Moderate Extremist

Musings over 140 characters

Holding Leo’s Hand: The worst thing about having autism

Posted by Olmeda on November 12, 2013

This is an excerpt from The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida. Click on the title and purchase the book on Amazon.com.

Naoki was, at the time this was written, a 13-year-old boy in Japan living with autism. He was not someone capable of carrying on a normal conversation, but using a specially designed keyboard, he was able to express his thoughts so eloquently that he became a voice for those who struggle to let the world know what’s going on inside their heads.

My son, Leo, was diagnosed with autism in mid-2012. I’m reproducing this question and answer to remind myself what my son is going through, and how I can help him by exercising just a little more patience.

Q. 23: What’s the worst thing about having autism?

You never notice. Really, you have no idea quite how miserable we are. The people who are looking after us may say, “Minding these kids is really hard work, you know!” but for us — who are always causing the problems and are useless at pretty much everything we try to do — you can’t begin to imagine how miserable and sad we get.

Whenever we’ve done something wrong, we get told off or laughed at, without even being able to apologize, and we end up hating ourselves and despairing about our own lives, again and again and again. It’s impossible not to wonder why we were born into this world as human beings at all.

But I ask you, those of you who are with us all day, not to stress yourselves out because of us. When you do this, it feels as if you’re denying any value at all that our lives may have — and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on. The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people. We can put up with our own hardships okay, but the thought that our lives are the source of other people’s unhappiness, that’s plain unbearable.

Leo Olmeda, age 4

Leo Olmeda, age 4


No two autistic children are alike, and I have no way of knowing whether this excerpt reflects how Leo feels sometimes. I’m going to respond as though it does.

Leo, Mommy and I love you with everything we are. We absolutely adore you. Nothing makes us happier than seeing you happy. I may not always understand you, and I may lose my patience sometimes. That’s not because there’s something wrong with you, my son. It’s because there’s something wrong with me. I need to be a better dad to you sometimes. Believe me, I’m trying.

You are NOT causing us grief. And if you feel that you are, it’s because I’ve failed. I hate it when you cry, because I want you to always be the smiling, happy, beautiful boy I know you are. So I’m going to do my best to help you, to remember your challenge and to rise up to mine as your dad.

Sometimes when we talk about being sad or unhappy, it’s temporary. It’s because you hit your brother or spilled water out of the tub. We don’t like when you do those things. But that’s not the same thing as you making us unhappy as your mom and dad. When it comes to you being in our lives, you being our son, our responsibility, our privilege, when it comes to those things, you bring us nothing but joy. Yes, even on the days when you’re a challenge. You’re our challenge, and we embrace it as much as we embrace you. Never, ever, ever think you bring us grief. You are our son, and we love you unconditionally.

I will keep trying to be the dad you deserve.

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UNITY: The members have spoken

Posted by Olmeda on December 28, 2012

I’m just writing this to update my recent post on UNITY’s name change and offer a few thoughts.

First, I want to applaud the UNITY leadership for opening up the process I described in my previous post and giving members a real choice, albeit a difficult one. And I applaud the membership for choosing the most inclusive name that reflects the reality of the current coalition.

Understand that I am well aware of how much this debate has complicated matters, and I am equally aware that UNITY has challenges that will prove difficult to resolve, particularly if we are ever going to reunite with NABJ. In the long run, I firmly believe that UNITY has done the right thing, but I would be a fool not to recognize how difficult things are in the short run.

So I offer a few encouraging thoughts as we approach the new year.

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity has a just mission. Funding it will be the goal of determined and resourceful leadership, and each board member must make it his/her responsibility to bring in new sources of revenue.

The mission of UNITY remains consistent with the mission of NABJ, but reunification will only take place if it is not at NABJ’s expense. UNITY must be self-sustaining, not dependent on any single alliance partner. Anyone who doesn’t believe that’s possible is an obstacle to UNITY’s progress. Only when we can approach NABJ with something to offer and nothing to gain will we ever hope to lure them back into the coalition in any meaningful way. We can’t “need” NABJ financially. We must need them because the mission is, frankly, incomplete without them (and always will be).

I do not doubt that there are those who thought my voice, my advocacy, amounted to an interference that has hindered UNITY’s long-term prospects. To those, I say that my position was self-evident and resoundingly supported by the public vote of the membership of each existing alliance partner. True leadership is a balance between doing what the people want and taking the people someplace they would not otherwise go. Knowing when to choose which course is the mark of a leader’s wisdom. Whether the correct course has been taken here, as I believe it has, is for the future to judge. That future is ours to shape.

I am but one member of one coalition partner. I spoke for myself. My apologies to anyone who feels I spoke out of turn. We’re journalists. We tend to do that.

UNITY was forged on the ability of disparate groups to find common ground. If we are to speak of honoring that history, it is incumbent on us to live up to it, now, with the coalition we have, and with an eye toward eventual, not immediate, reunification with those who left the coalition but not the cause.

Happy New Year, alliance partners present and past.

Make them hear you.

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Posted by Olmeda on November 28, 2012


I’m not the first to embrace moderate extremism. And look! I’m not the last, either!

Originally posted on The Michigan Moderate:

While I promise I didn’t yank the term from his website, I stumbled across Rafael Olmeda’s post about moderate extremism, “What is a Moderate Extremist?”  In it he rather poetically shows the back and forth views of Americans and implies their views stay firmly planted in the middle.

While I don’t refute what Mr. Olmeda says, I would like to add that my view of Moderate Extremism is a little different, and is why I started this blog.  Moderate Extremism is more about the enthusiasm for being a centrist.  Many Americans think a moderate/centrist just picks the middle way every time, which removes from those people the legitimacy of their own, independent ideas.

I am a moderate extremist not because I will always triangulate to the middle, but because, at the present time, the views I firmly hold fall somewhere in the middle of America’s political spectrum.

So where…

View original 569 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

UNITY’s name change: You’re doing it wrong

Posted by Olmeda on November 26, 2012

UNITY Journalists is changing its name again.

Stung by criticism after dropping “of Color” from its name earlier this year, the coalition is intent on changing its name again, and this time it’s giving members a say in what the final name will be.

And UNITY is blowing it.

ImageI say this with all due respect. The people at the forefront of the organization and the name change effort are all people I admire. They are people who have committed themselves to UNITY’s mission and who have followed through on their commitment. If this were about rewarding people for their dedication, then I would applaud the three names that have been put up for consideration. Respectfully, however, I find myself disappointed with those names and with the missed opportunity that they represent.

For those unaware of the background, UNITY was born as a joint convention of the Native American Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. It grew to become its own organization, magnifying the voices of each association in the coalition. It became UNITY: Journalists of Color, reflecting the primary common denominator that brought the coalition members together in the first place.

In the past year, citing governance and financial issues, NABJ pulled out of the coalition. UNITY responded by inviting the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to join. NLGJA accepted and promptly asked UNITY to reconsider its name, which no longer reflected each coalition partner. Decent, principled people were divided on how to proceed. UNITY: Journalists of Color became UNITY Journalists, to the dismay of those who felt the coalition had lost its way.

I argued at the time that changing UNITY’s name was a foregone conclusion the moment NLGJA was incorporated into the alliance. The primary common denominator changed. The key question became what the new name should be. UNITY Journalists decided to revisit the name change, and now we are faced with three “new” choices:

  • UNITY: Journalists of Color
  • UNITY: Journalists of Color & Diversity
  • UNITY: Journalists of Color & For Diversity.

As a former president of UNITY and a supporter of the inclusion of NLGJA into the coalition, I am less than thrilled with the options before us. The first one ignores NLGJA’s presence entirely. The other two strike me as clumsy attempts to acknowledge NLGJA’s presence as an afterthought. UNITY had a chance to re-brand itself in a way that looked forward and announced a new, expanded but still focused mission. Instead, these choices look backward and announce a befuddled mission that, in my view, treats our new alliance partners as second class citizens.

I have not asked NLGJA’s leaders how they feel about the new options. I am speaking for myself: I cannot imagine names that make them feel less welcome as part of the coalition.

For the record, yes, I submitted a name for consideration, and no, it is not one of the finalists. Of course I’m disappointed, but I would be less disappointed if any of the finalists reflected the inclusion of NLGJA as full partners in a mission that unites us all. In my unsolicited opinion, the options we have been given do not reflect leadership; they reflect a hasty retreat from some bold and inclusive action that was taken earlier this year.

As a member of NAHJ, I have to ask myself a question. Do I want NLGJA in the UNITY coalition? If the answer is no, then I know which new name will get my vote. If the answer is yes, then none of the names offered can get my vote. Not in good conscience.

The truth is, NLGJA has something important to offer to the UNITY coalition — the inclusion of a diversity that we should recognize as a vital one in the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America. And the rest of the coalition has something important to offer NLGJA — the recognition that their struggle is our struggle in more ways than it is not.

There are many issues at stake in this decision, including whether NABJ can be lured back to the coalition. Changing the name, or changing it back to what it used to be, will not lure NABJ back. UNITY’s ultimate goal, as far as that is concerned, has to be building a UNITY that is so strong that NABJ will find it in its best interest to return.

The offered names are not a step in that direction.

Clarification: I have no problem with UNITY: Journalists of Color being one of the names offered for consideration. That’s fair. As it stands, UNITY: Journalists of Color is all of the names being offered for consideration, and to that, I object.

In an earlier version of this post, I described myself as an advocate of the inclusion of NLGJA into UNITY. That is misleading, as it implies I argued for it before it happened. I support the decision after the fact. I had no input in the decision beforehand, and the issue did not come up while I was on the NAHJ or UNITY boards.

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Restoring NAHJ will take more than words

Posted by Olmeda on August 15, 2012

I made a donation today to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

I did it because NAHJ needs the help of every member to meet its immediate and  long-term goals. Members want an effective website, a responsible and responsive staff (of more than just one overworked person), increased training and networking opportunities and a voice that will be heard and respected within and beyond our profession. It costs money to provide what NAHJ members deserve.

Renewing our membership and paying our dues is the least we can do to meet NAHJ’s financial need. Those of us who can do more, must.

I am a lifetime member of NAHJ. I never have to “worry” about paying dues again. But NAHJ still needs to operate and to build on the foundation laid by previous presidents and boards. This has never been true more than it is today. The last few years have been rough on non-profits, and NAHJ met the challenge with a series of difficult and painful but necessary decisions that kept the doors open and poised us for growth. But, as NAHJ President Hugo Balta said during his campaign, the decisions that saved NAHJ were not decisions that could be repeated. Simply put, there’s nothing left to cut.

Balta and the board of directors are already hard at work turning a campaign agenda into a concrete strategy for growth. By making my donation, I am sending him and the rest of the NAHJ board a message: I am inspired by you. I expect you to deliver on your promises. And I want to be a part of it.

Help me amplify that message today by making your own contribution to NAHJ. For those who, like me, are lifetime members, I ask that you make whatever donation you can. Balta has asked for $20 as part of NAHJ’s “1,000 Voces” campaign. If you can make that donation, it would be a huge help. But I would go further by asking lifetime members to give at least $75, the same amount we are asking first-time members to give when they join NAHJ. It’s the least we can do.

I am excited and proud to be a member of NAHJ, and I hope you can join me in giving this board the support it needs to follow through on its promises. It’s your move, members. GIVE HERE.


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A suggestion for the #UNITYJournalists alliance partners

Posted by Olmeda on August 6, 2012


Congratulations on another UNITY convention receiving high marks from those who attended. I’m sorry I missed it, and I vow to be with you at your next convention.

About that…

What’s say we do this again in 2014? Hear me out. I know this idea has been floated and rejected before, but that was a different time. A lot has changed in the three years since that decision was made, within UNITY and within our profession. We’ve lost one ally and gained another.

I suggest (it’s just a suggestion coming from a lowly member) that each alliance board weighs the pros and cons of coming together under the UNITY banner in 2014 and votes on it this fall. The votes will give the UNITY board direction to begin planning when its new leadership takes office in January.

Realistically, if you do this, NABJ will not be in the mix. You would have to plan the conference with the assumption that our former (and future?) ally will not participate. I submit to you that this won’t pose much of a problem because we’re starting with their presumed absence (unlike the Las Vegas convention).

As another blogger suggested, UNITY would probably need to hire an event planner rather than (or in addition to) an executive director to make it happen on such an abbreviated timetable.

Yes, it would take a lot of work to pull this off, but it’s the same amount of work you would be expending on planning individual or combined conventions in 2014.

Think about it. I think you have a chance to do something great here. I’d love to be a part of it. And I suspect I’m not alone.

Posted in AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, UNITY: Journalists of Color | Leave a Comment »

My comments on the #NAHJ board meeting Twitter controversy

Posted by Olmeda on August 2, 2012

One of the challenges one faces when granting an interview with a reporter is recognizing that not everything he or she says will be used in the article. The trick is to measure everything you say so that no matter which quote is pulled, it can stand on its own without confusing anyone. It is an art I have not mastered.

Today I was quoted accurately in an article in UNITY News about NAHJ blocking student reporters from tweeting and recording during a board meeting. I stand by that quote, but I wanted to add a little bit more context than the reporter had room to provide.

For those who don’t know the back story, click here to read the article. I’ll wait.

Now that you have the story, here’s the context to my statement.

Has Been

I was president of NAHJ at a time when Facebook was still emerging as a force and Twitter was in its infancy. I did not have to contend with the kind of instant reporting that the current NAHJ board faces. As such, my board and previous boards did not have a policy barring social networking during meetings. We did not block reporters from covering meetings in the traditional manner, and (speaking solely for myself) I would have been personally and professionally offended had someone tried to implement such a policy. Yes, NAHJ is a private, non-profit organization (rather than a government). But we are also an association of journalists, and as such, we have a responsibility to recognize the message we send when we implement policies.

Current NAHJ President Michele Salcedo (whom I endorsed and voted for) is dealing with a different set of realities than I faced, and if NAHJ legally implemented a policy blocking tweeting and live reporting from board meetings with her support, then I have no choice but to defer to her leadership and judgment. That doesn’t mean I agree with the policy. I don’t. I think it’s wrong, and I call on the next president and board to repeal it as its first official action this weekend.

I am familiar with the type of board training that Salcedo mentioned in the UNITY News article, having sat through it multiple times and played a key leadership role in it at least twice. I am familiar with the advice that only the president and the executive director should speak for the organization. For the most part, I agree with that. But the advice ignores a significant reality when it comes to NAHJ: The representatives on the NAHJ Board are elected by the members, and as such, they are accountable to the members. As far as I was concerned, any member of the NAHJ board could grant an interview to any reporter, with the understanding that the board member was speaking for himself or herself, not necessarily for the association. I understand that this may conflict with the principle of the board speaking with one voice, but blocking such communication conflicts with a greater principle in my eyes. Board members are elected by the association’s membership and are entitled to communicate with members any way they see fit, including by blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or talking to reporters. True, they may not speak for the association, but no one has the right to stop them from speaking for themselves in their capacity as elected officers.

NAHJ must adjust its policies around its principles, not the other way around.

I am a member of NAHJ, and I am speaking for myself.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in NAHJ, UNITY: Journalists of Color | 1 Comment »

Hugo Balta for NAHJ President

Posted by Olmeda on July 18, 2012

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is going through some tough times. I do not envy the current board for the difficult decisions they have had to make over the last two years, and I will not second-guess them. I applaud President Michele Salcedo and Vice President/Financial Officer Russell Contreras for taking their roles seriously and making tough calls without worrying that their decisions might not be popular.

Contreras is now running for president. If elected, I think he would do a good job and I would offer my support, counsel and assistance without hesitation.

But at this point, I think Hugo Balta would do a better job. He has my endorsement.

Hugo Balta for President of NAHJ

As I’ve looked at this campaign, I’ve seen Contreras point to his record in putting NAHJ back on a sound financial footing. We can bicker over how NAHJ achieved this worthy goal, but Contreras and the board did not have the luxury of just bickering. Their job was to do something about it, and they did.

The key question is, now what? And that’s where I believe that Balta represents the better choice.

I share his concern that we have not chosen a site for the 2013 convention and don’t have a clear idea what will happen.

I share his belief that we need to shift quickly from crisis-management mode to visionary-rebuilding mode.

I share his belief that we need to formally address the changes that have affected our membership. Our bylaws (with its then-appropriate restrictions) were written at a time when the journalism profession was growing and thriving. The contraction of the last decade and the societal changes that have redefined “journalism” compels us to rethink the way we categorize and limit the participation of members, especially those who made a “lifetime” commitment to its mission.

And I share his belief in transparency and responsiveness to members’ concerns and ideas.

Michele Salcedo and Russell Contreras saved NAHJ. But it’s going to take leaders like Hugo Balta to restore it.

Two years ago, when I endorsed Hugo’s opponent (Michele), I privately made it clear to Hugo that I would still do anything he asked of me if he won. I publicly extend the same offer to Russell Contreras. This is not about personalities. It’s about an organization of people we are committed to serve.

In addition to Hugo Balta, I support the return of Rebecca Aguilar to the board as VP/Online and the election of Mekahlo Medina, a relentlessly positive and enthusiastic supporter of our mission, for VP Broadcast.

With respect, I’m keeping my choices in other races to myself. I also do not want any of these endorsements to be construed as criticisms of the opposing candidates. You earned my respect the moment you put your name up for consideration.


Posted in NAHJ | 5 Comments »

UNITY name change was a foregone conclusion, but…

Posted by Olmeda on April 19, 2012

They went ahead and did it. UNITY: Journalists of Color is no more. Long live UNITY Journalists.

Truth is, the name change was a foregone conclusion from the moment the UNITY board opted to allow the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to become a part of the coalition. In embracing that bold change, the alliance expanded its mission in a way that requires reflection and analysis from members of each partner in the group. The president of NABJ (no longer a coalition partner) believes the name change indicates the group has lost focus. I don’t fully agree, but no one can dismiss his critique lightly. Supporters of the name change (I count myself among you in principle) can argue that expanding the mission does not equal a lack of focus.

I liken it to a camera: One lens may work perfectly in a given setting, but the same camera in a different setting requires a different lens. The setting has changed. So UNITY changed the lens.

It’s called adaptation, and every coalition partner must realize by now that if we don’t adapt, we won’t survive. It’s true of our careers. It’s true of our employers. It’s true of our associations. And it’s true of the coalition.

NABJ is in a difficult position now: it must decide whether to rejoin a coalition that responded to its departure by making drastic changes that call attention to the very points of contention that led to the split. If NABJ comes back, it will be to a very different coalition. If NABJ stays away, it does permanent damage to a powerful message it helped craft [that when we join forces, we do not dilute our voices; we magnify them].

NABJ’s return is pivotal to the future of UNITY. Reunification is an imperative for the strength of the message that all coalition members are sending to the profession we love. But for NABJ to come back, its issues must be addressed and resolved.

I believe the name of UNITY had to change. But I also think it should have happened after NABJ’s return as a full partner.

We who preach diversity to the profession are being watched. What message do we send when we say that we cannot resolve our differences?

I wish the best to all who continue working on this situation. I look forward to its resolution.

Posted in NABJ, UNITY: Journalists of Color | 6 Comments »

Funny how? (Is America ready for a white First Lady?)

Posted by Olmeda on March 22, 2012

Did it amuse you? I’m talking about Robert De Niro’s joke while introducing First Lady Michelle Obama at a recent Obama fundraiser in New York. You missed it? Here’s what he said: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney… Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

Newt Gingrich demanded an apology from President Obama (who didn’t make the statement and wasn’t there when it was said, but whatever). And some people seriously agreed with him and seriously called for apologies from De Niro and the White House. And got them!

Have we all gone mad?

A friend of mine posted on Facebook, favorably, an article calling out De Niro for his insensitive joke (which I contend is inoffensive and, if anything, says something FAVORABLE about America). What follows is the dialogue between my friend and me, with his name and irrelevant comments removed. Enjoy.

Oh, we've already HAD white First Ladies? Who knew? Click on the image to visit the National First Ladies' Library


  • Me: De Niro’s comment was ironic and funny. The right is constantly lecturing the left to get a sense of humor, yet they pick on THIS joke to get indignant? Puh-leeeze.
  • Friend: If it was ironic and funny as you say, then why would the flack for Michele Obama, who De Niro was complimenting, call the comment ‘inappropriate?’ If she didn’t have a problem with it, then I’m sure she would have defended De Niro. Regardless of the context of the joke, why bring in race? I mean, I love De Niro, but he has to go there to be humorous? Really? Not to mention that the comment was absolutely stupid from a PR standpoint, considering the timing.In fact, I’d argue that if a right-leaning A-list celeb (Adam Sandler, Clint Eastwood, etc.) flips this around a…nd says something to the effect of, ‘Michelle Obama. Do you really think our country is ready for another four years of a black first lady?’ in the same gist that De Niro said his joke, they’d be crucified and painted as flaming racists. But it’s OK for De Niro to say it because he’s poking fun at possible first ladies who are white? Nope. There’s no place for it dude, by either side. Sorry.
  • Me: The difference is we’ve had 230 years of white first ladies, so De Niro’s comment is obviously absurd. The converse is not true, and without the inherent absurdity, there’s nothing funny about it. To equate De Niro’s comment with its converse (or is it inverse?) would be disingenuous. De Niro’s comment is funny precisely because it’s ridiculous. Lighten up!
  • Friend: Rafi, I get what you’re saying. I got the joke when I first read what he said. But to propose the converse (I think you’re right, it’s not inverse) isn’t really disingenuous when you consider recent history dude. I mean, it’s a hypothetical that, in a way, I hope would actually occur just to prove my point that such a double standard really does exist.
  • Me: A statement that America is not ready for another 4 years of a black first lady threatens to resurrect and/or inflame racism as applied to the first family. It is not funny. To joke that America is not ready for a white first lady is patently absurd with the added benefit of bolstering and complimenting America on its acceptance of the current first family. It is funny. The two jokes are thus nothing alike. Therefore, disingenuous is exactly the right word. America does not have a history of anti-white racism that would compel anyone in his right mind to take De Niro’s comment seriously. The history of anti-black racism, if we can call it history as opposed to current events, doesn’t have the same claim to innocuousness (if that’s a word). [emphasis added for this blog]
  • Friend: How many people do you think understood his joke?
  • Me: For the record, I think everyone got De Niro’s joke except for those looking for evidence of a double standard. Not saying a double standard doesn’t exist. Am saying, emphatically, that this is not an example of it.
  • Friend: Michele Obama’s flack calling the comment ‘inappropriate’ leads me to question that statement, unless you think she said that to quell the uproar from the right. (But I do understand how De Niro meant it.)
  • Me: Bingo.
  • Friend: Then that doesn’t say much for Michele Obama. If she knows De Niro meant no disrespect by it, why not stand up for him? Hell, if that’s the case, she may have missed an opportunity to argue the exact point you just did and turn this against the right.That said, I still think someone on the right who makes a similar joke gets lambasted. And I’m not necessarily saying that because I’m Republican or dislike Obama. I thought – and still think – Rush Limbaugh is an idiot.

  • Me: Someone on the right makes a similar joke would be blasted because it wouldn’t be funny.
  • Friend: What’s the difference between the two sides?
  • Me: Asked and answered.

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