The Colgate Scene
September 2003

People on the go

Russell Reich '85
[Photo by Gail Goodman]
Less is more

The road Russell Reich '85 took to writing and publishing his first book, Notes on Directing, began when he was handed 12 pages of notes one day back in 1987.

The notes belonged to his co-author, Frank Hauser, a noted theater director whom Reich helped bring to Colgate as an adjunct professor in the early 1990s. Hauser's notes were a succinct representation -- refined over 30 years -- of a directing philosophy based on a half century of experience. Reich, who was Hauser's assistant director at the Chichester Theatre Festival in England, read the notes and decided he wanted to expand them into a book.

"I told him I thought I could do it, and he said, `You little pischer, I have been doing this for nearly 50 years. What do you think you can do with it?" said Reich. "But he gave me a chance and in the end he was pleased with what I did. It's very gratifying because he's done so much for me that I liked returning the favor."

Reich met Hauser, whom he calls "the great teacher" of his life, when he moved to England shortly after graduating from Colgate to gain additional experience as a director. Reich majored in English at Colgate and later earned a graduate degree in theater directing at Columbia University. Reich had fond memories of England because he had participated in a London study group led by the late Colgate professor Atlee Sproul while he was an undergraduate.

"After I graduated I was looking around to discover what I should be doing and I was not finding the success I looking for," said Reich, who lives in Manhattan. "I worked on Wall Street and that wasn't for me. I worked in computers, which was closer but not quite right, and I did not want to turn 50 without seeing how good I was as a director. So back to England I went."

The book's lean and economical tone has drawn comparisons to The Elements of Style and The Art of War. This is especially gratifying to Reich because Notes on Directing is heavily influenced by William J. Strunk and E. B. White's ubiquitous guide on writing, as well as Sun Tzu's ancient Chinese treatise also renowned for its brevity.

"I wanted to create something that looked like it had been around forever and that maybe will be around forever," said Reich. "The directing books already out there mostly fit into one or two categories, either semi-mystical or quasi-religious, and theater should be neither. On the other hand, many directing tomes are drier Fifties- and Sixties-era textbooks. It was time for something new about such an important but elusive craft."

Also gratifying to Reich is the positive reaction to the book from reviewers, directors, performers and playwrights such as Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard and Jerry Zaks since its release in April. This is due, in part, to Hauser, who worked with many of the most accomplished thespians of the past half-century, including Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Kevin Spacey. (Dench and McKellen are among those who have endorsed the book. Dench describes it as "witty and full of insight.")

"People have asked me, `Do you really think they read the book?' I think they did, because I don't think they would put their name on it without knowing what's in it," Reich said. "The actor Rupert Graves told me that whenever he walks onto a set or a stage, he is carrying the lessons that Frank gave him. Frank gave so much to so many people and was responsible for so many great careers that these people are very willing and happy to give something back to him."

Over the course of two years, Reich worked on expanding Hauser's notes while simultaneously building his own career as a creative director and writer, which includes stints as visiting artist-in-residence at Harvard University, artistic associate at the Circle Repertory Company in New York City and member of the Circle Rep Director's Lab.

The reviews of Notes on Directing have been very positive, compli-menting the book for being "indispensable," "essential," and "thought provoking."

"People are responding to Notes on Directing as I hoped they would," said Reich. "People are seeing, for the most part, what it is and what I wanted it to be. I'm grateful and I hope that continues." -- GEF


Janine Denegall Fondon '82
[Photo by Ben Garver]
Diversity gold

While working at a variety of communications positions at major corporations, Janine Denegall Fondon '82 saw firsthand what she considers a communications gap between corporate America and people of color.

"The gap between people of color and mainstream society can either grow or narrow. I think many businesses have the tendency to judge new sources of information based on tradition," said Fondon, president and chief executive officer of UnityFirst.com/African American Newswire. "So, if you are not the traditional, mainstream-type publication, people might think twice about your added value or using you as a resource based on the markets they serve -- as opposed to recognizing the potential of the emerging diverse market, including Africans, African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Asians and others. With today's fast-changing U.S. demographics and many more diverse communities across the country than ever before, we are now seeing the need for more and different options to effectively reach those multicultural markets. I think businesses are finally getting to the point of realizing that maybe there is room for more sources than just the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or the traditional mainstream paper."

Bridging that gap is why Fondon and her husband, Tom, decided to found UnityFirst.com/African American Newswire, a web communications and marketing firm specializing in sharing information, resources, events and news related to diversity issues. The firm was recently noted in Entrepreneur magazine as a key resource for businesses.

"Our mission is to create a better connection between people who want to reach a more diverse audience and the diverse audience itself," said Fondon, who earned a masters degree in communications from New York University. "Our top priority is connecting people of all backgrounds to diversity related news, issues and opportunities."

Thus far, Fondon and her colleagues at UnityFirst.com have been successful in making those sought-after connections, reaching more than a million people through their website and direct e-mail and more than 3,000 members of the diverse press. She has also garnered several national and regional awards from a variety of business and civil rights organizations.

In June, UnityFirst.com/African American Newswire announced that it will partner with Fortune magazine to distribute the publi-cation's special diversity section, "The Diversity Factor," scheduled to run in the October 13, 2003 issue. The section, Fondon explained, will look at best practices in the field including diverse hiring practices, management training, mentoring programs and incentive compensation tied to diversity achievements. Using company profiles, it will feature the strategies many U.S. businesses use to run successful diversity programs.

"This special section is a great opportunity to share information and resources about diversity, while also building important partnerships and reaching new, emerging markets to broaden the dialogue about diversity," Fondon said. "We look forward to connecting with people who may have valuable insights to share as well as those companies who participate in the section."

Before launching UnityFirst, Fondon was manager of internal communications for BankBoston. Prior to that, she held both internal and external communications positions at several companies, including Digital Equipment Corporation, ABC and CBS. Fondon has been certified as a diversity trainer by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and has conducted training for major corporations, non-profits and business organizations. With her husband, she also publishes the first statewide diversity-focused community newspaper, Unity First News, to cover issues of diversity across Massachusetts.

When asked who has influenced her most, Fondon readily credits her parents and husband for being examples of tenacity, strength, excellence and inspiration. She also credits Colgate trustee Ron Burton '69, who once worked with her mother at Reuben H. Donnelley Corporation.

"When my mother told him that I was thinking of college, he encouraged me to apply to Colgate," she said. "Throughout my years at Colgate, Ron stayed in touch with me and often lent support when I was looking for internships, summer jobs or personal recommendations. He encouraged me to do as much as I could at Colgate and to take advantage of what the school had to offer.

"We all have to give people a helping hand and reach back in ways that are helpful, and Ron did," she added. "Although years have passed, I have never forgotten his help." -- GEF


Michele Alexandre '96
[Photo by Todd van Ernst]

For Michele Alexandre '96, each new encounter is an opportunity for lessons in human interaction.

A native of Haiti, Alexandre moved to the United States at age 15, and matriculated at Colgate at 16. With only a year of English under her belt, she faced an extraordinary challenge, but the woman who was to become class valedictorian and win a Watson Fellowship credits her faculty (especially professors Harvey Sindima and Joseph Wagner) for inspiring her to push herself and her community of friends for their support when she felt displaced.

For her Watson Fellowship, Alexandre conducted field research on the socialization of second-generation Haitian immigrants in France, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. "I wanted to learn how they related to their original country, if not by birth, then by tradition," she said. Spending two months in each country, Alexandre went to schools and into communities, where she interviewed children and families.

"It was fascinating to see the ways in which the host countries' social structure, their general consensus and, sometimes, racism affected these immigrants' lives," she said.

Next, Alexandre earned her juris doctor degree at Harvard Law School.

"My decision to become a lawyer stemmed from my desire to find a purpose that extended beyond me, to community uplifting. Me being who I am is the direct consequence of people lifting me up," she explained. "When I was a T.A. for Professor Wagner in the OUS summer program, he used to constantly remind the students that they stood on the shoulders of giants. I think this concept helps keep things in perspective. People's progress in life is marked by the people they meet and how those people shaped them. I am thankful to the invisible giants, the ancestors that came before us and struggled so that we can have a better life. I am also extremely grateful that my family stressed the importance of education even though we didn't have much money. So I think any little contribution you can make, even if it is being a mentor to a child, is contributing something to the world." Alexandre also noted that she was attracted to the flexibility that a law degree would afford her in pursuing different career options.

After Harvard, Alexandre accepted a judicial clerkship and practiced as a real estate attorney. She then joined Chestnut Sanders Sanders et al. in Selma, Ala., a leading southern law firm that specializes in civil rights law, among other areas. Among the cases she worked on was the class action lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Agriculture by more than 1,000 black farmers.

"I was especially involved on the administrative side, taking periodic trips to D.C. to meet with the monitors and the other parties involved," she noted.

Of her work on discrimination cases, Alexandre said, "In the midst of the current legal environment, which is very conservative, when I am able to find a meeting ground with the other side and provide my client with something that they can live with, I find that to be personally satisfying." She also enjoys "the constant challenge of being the person that my client can connect to even if we come from different backgrounds, and the sense of fulfillment that I get when I successfully address their issues and represent their interests."

Alexandre noted that the firm encourages its lawyers to participate in community activities and do volunteer work; she worked with young adults and taught French at an elementary school and in summer programs on behalf of a nonprofit organization called the Coalition of Alabamians for Reform in Education.

Chestnut Sanders Sanders also takes on many cases pro bono. "People know Chestnut Sanders as a firm they can turn to, so they will come in and tell us about their lives and what issues they are dealing with," she said. "It has been a lesson in human interaction. Working there also gave me a great sense of fulfillment because I felt that I was helping my people as well as being a lawyer. It was a wonderful experience."

This fall, Alexandre began a new chapter, as an assistant professor of law at the University of Memphis, and in the spring of 2004 she will already be taking a sabbatical -- for good reason. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship that will take her back to her homeland.

"I'll be researching the issue of placage (the taking of concubines by men) and what legal reform could be constructed so that the women and children outside the legal structure of marriage can be protected," she said. "I will also be teaching at the Jeremie School of Law. Teaching has always been an undercurrent in my life, so I am excited to sharpen my craft." -- RAC

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