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the flog

No Greater Love: Treating the wounds of war

Armed with nothing but a camera, Army chaplain Justin Roberts deployed to the Kunar Province in Afghanistan with the 327th Infantry Regiment 2nd Battalion, called "No Slack" Company-part of the famed 101st Airborne-in 2010. Even though making a film wasn't exactly his initial intention, Roberts would go on to document No Slack's time in Afghanistan as they fought for control within the Kunar Province. The culmination of Roberts' video documentation, No Greater Love-as the first documentary to be filmed by an active duty soldier-depicts the harrowing actions of No Slack as they struggle to not only survive the war, but to reintegrate themselves back into civilian life when they return home.

As servicemembers are back on friendly soil, often they have to deal with a host of physical injuries as well as mental ones, often buried, unseen by those around them. These mental distressors come in many forms; PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) are the two most common. These afflictions can lead to depression and mood swings-described as deep, dark places by the film's featured veterans-and affect the soldier, as well as their friends, family and even colleagues.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 20 and 22 servicemembers-active duty and retired-commit suicide every day. Roberts' intriguing documentary acts not only as a memorial to those who have died in the line of duty and by their own hand-many of whom he personally knew and served with-but also as a platform to educate all of us about the often-forgotten plight and silent suffering of military veterans.

No Greater Love opens in Jacksonville at Regency AMC Theater (first show is 11:35 a.m.) on Friday, Nov. 10, on the eve of Veterans Day. There are screenings daily through Thursday, Nov. 16.

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Learn more about the film and watch a trailer here.

    More

the flog

IKEA's Island

It began innocuously enough, with an emailed invitation for a media-only event. But I knew that this was no ordinary press conference. This was Ikea.

Years of headlines ran through my mind: Oct. 2015: "Ikea announces plan to open Jacksonville store in 2017" -WJCT; May 2016: "Ikea buys land for $13 million to build mega store in Jacksonville" -Jacksonville Business Journal; March 2017: "You can see Ikea now, and it's big" -Financial News & Daily Record. All leading up to this subject line: "Invitation: New Ikea Jacksonville Press Preview, November 2."

I quickly assembled the courage to skip a meeting and clicked 'reply' to RSVP to a once-in-a-lifetime retail experience that I'd surely be bragging about many days hence. The reply came quickly. YES! I was in.

All that was left to do was wait for The Big Day.

Finally, it came. Visions of meatballs and ambient lighting dancing in my head, I entered a pleasing café where scads of eager media had already gathered, hungrily eyeing cakes and potato pancakes with fancy names that none dared try pronounce. Enormous signs tantalized of the adventure to come, foretelling speeches about tree hugging and solar panels and--the mind reels--composting. Yes, composting, at this, the 46th U.S. location of a treasured international company.

It soon became clear that this was not to be an in-and-out quote and photo grab for a noon turnaround. Nay, this was to be the most epic three-hour tour in the history of Jacksonville.

Excited chatter rang through the air as one after another peeked into the enormous 290,000 square foot space, eager to enter. One mentioned that it was eerie to see the store so empty; that from this day forward, it could only be experienced teeming with throngs of the faithful. This added reverence that increased as we breakfasted on delicacies worthy of the makers of the world famous ready-to-assemble furniture for the chic, modern urban dwellers and those who aspire to such.

Next …   More

the flog

BLACKFACE Costume Sparks Protests

St. George Street, in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, was ready for Halloween.

Spider webs and pumpkins decorated the windows along the street. Store employees in costumes walked the streets. But there was something different this year. A chant rang out:

"No blackface, no KKK, no racist USA."

From late morning until around 4 p.m., Flagler College students crowded outside The Bunnery Bakery & Café, holding signs and protesting the business.

The controversy was set in motion early Tuesday morning when a Flagler College student walked into The Bunnery on St. George Street and was shocked by what she saw behind the counter: a white woman dressed as Aunt Jemima, wearing an apron and a bandana wrapped around her head. But that's not what shocked the student. She was stunned to see that the white woman was in blackface, her face smeared with brown paint, as she baked in front of a window that faced the street.

The student, Courtney Olson, asked the woman to remove her makeup. She says that she was told that the costume wasn't racist, and she would not take the makeup off.

After the confrontation, Olson alerted another student, Hasani Malone, vice president of the Flagler College Black Student Association. Together, they went into the business and demanded the woman remove her makeup.

"She had blackface, which is a stereotype. It was used to mimic and mock black people," Malone said. "They said, 'No, [she wasn't] going to take it off.' They said, 'It's not racist, it's Halloween.'"

When the two refused to leave until the woman removed her makeup, they say the owner of the restaurant called the police, who escorted the young women out.

After being removed from the premises, Malone and Olson took to social media. Soon protestors began to arrive. Over the course of five hours, the group of protestors swelled until eventually St. Augustine police officers arrived to keep an eye on the protests.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got …   More

the flog

Straight Up ORGANIC

What do you think of when you see an "organic" label? For many, the comforting lettering, usually green, means you can trust that the item was grown utilizing all-natural, sustainable farming methods and techniques that are not too dissimilar to the ways crops have been grown for thousands of years. Most assume that the organic label means the item is healthier. More nourishing. Environmentally friendly.

What if that label doesn't mean what you think it means?

Today, roughly 50 farmers and advocates took to the streets of Downtown Jacksonville outside the Omni Hotel where the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting this week. The demonstrators, many wearing "Protect Organic" T-shirts, gathered to advocate for what they see as truth in organic labeling. A New Orleans-style jazz band played a spirited tune while the group marched to The Landing for a series of short speeches by folks who came from as far away as the West Coast and New England to urge the NOSB to ban crops grown via hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic techniques from being labeled as organic.

Tom Barrett, who manages certified organic Allen Farms, came to Jacksonville from Westport, Massachusetts to lobby the board. "There's no other country in the world that lets hydroponic growers to be labeled organic," he said. Barrett is concerned that allowing such crops be labeled organic will open the door to imports that don't comply with their own country's organic standards to be shipped to the U.S. and suddenly become "organic."

"It's disrespectful as a farmer and as an organic consumer," he said.

Barrett stressed that he isn't opposed to other growing techniques, a view that many echoed, but he is concerned that it would be misleading and "diluting the organic label" to certify crops that aren't grown in the ground. He and others also said it could be cost-prohibitive for organic farmers, who already face high costs to produce their crops, to let more cheaply grown hydroponic …   More

the flog

Sculpting a COMMUNITY

As of Saturday, Oct. 28, Henry J. Klutho Park in Springfield is home for 10 new stationary residents.

As part of the Sculpture Walk project started by University of North Florida sculpture professor Dr. Jenny Hager and UNF sculpture instructor Lance Vickery, 10 sculptors-Robert Cordisco, Michael Cottrell, Jim Galluci, Donald Gialanella, Craig Gray, Jennifer Rubin, Hanna Jubran, Michele Moushey Dale, Matthjas Neumann and Jenn Peek-were commissioned to bring their ideas to the park and install their original works of art.

In partnership with SPAR (Springfield Preservation and Revitalization), Dr. Hager and Vickery were able to secure $25,000 in state funding, which was then matched by the city of Jacksonville through Councilman Reginald Gaffney. According to Dr. Hager, the installation "is about placemaking."

"The main goal of Sculpture Walk is to bring cultural vibrancy to our city. We want to make city parks inviting, educational and more experiential through the arts. But these projects also help bring commerce to our city and support artists at the same time," said Hager.

The process for selecting the featured artists and their statues was "democratic," Hager said. A committee of eight was selected for the decision, made up of artists, Springfield residents, a member of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and the Board of Sculpture Walk. After reviewing submissions from artists all across the country, the final 10 were chosen in a way to ensure that several varieties of styles and themes were going to be featured in the final installation.

Jacksonville's own self-proclaimed "nomadic" artist/sculptor and UNF student, Jenn Peek, has work featured in the installation. The goal and central purpose of her art and sculptures, said Peek, is to capture life in its "constant state of change."

The piece Peek installed in the Klutho Sculpture Walk-Light Box-is one of the artist's "light boxes." It is a solid example of her idea.

"Whenever …   More

the flog

REBUILDING a Piece of San Marco

Scavengers perusing San Marco's northern end these days walk away with bundles of half-destroyed treasures, picked from the piles of hurricane trash still out on the curb. But passersby leave hungry if they had been headed to the popular European Street Cafe. The restaurant took a major hit from Hurricane Irma.

The building was left standing in two feet of water. Due to legal guidelines, the café had to clear up to two feet above where the water ended. The vast majority of the café's walls, counters, appliances, parts of the ceiling, and décor has been demolished. Flood insurance is covering the majority of the damage, which could cost up to a half-million dollars. However, income lost will not be covered for the five months European Street Cafe is to be closed.

Andy Zarka, co-owner and son of European Street Cafe's founders, runs the restaurants across Jacksonville. Just about every day, Zarka opens the doors to what is left of his restaurant as workers arrive. And every day, people stop on the street to grab the remainders from that day's demolition. Zarka said they seldom have to have the dumpster emptied because of scavengers seeking keepsakes.

 Zarka said just about everything has to be replaced. "We are almost treating it like a brand new restaurant. It is going to have the same general layout, same menu, but we are going to update the look," Zarka said.

The European Street Cafe began as a restaurant called Mr. Dunderbak's in the Regency Square mall in 1980. Not only has the restaurant changed its name, but it added several new items to its German-inspired menu and wide assortment of beers. It's now known as a local speakeasy, frequently holding small concerts and community events. And of course it's popular because of its enormous beer selection.

Before the hurricane, the San Marco location employed approximately 25 people. Some of the employees have chosen to take shifts at one of the other locations. Others have …   More

the flog

The Stuff of DREAMS

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Juliet Fixel has been cutting her teeth in the world of theater since the age of two, and she doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. With the premier of Freefall Frostbite on Oct. 19-a collaborative effort with her father, the playwright-Fixel has not only found herself in the director's chair, but also taking on the role of producer, choreographer and lead actress-eat your heart out, Daniel-Day Lewis.

Freefall Frostbite is an exploration of our childhood ambitions as they come to fruition as we mature. Set outside a nightclub in New York on New Year's Eve, Steven and his girlfriend Sharon-played by Fixel-are denied access to said club and are set upon by homeless people looking for things to burn for warmth. As their world comes crashing in around them, they begin to realize what they have always wanted may not be as they imagined.

A daughter of Jacksonville and now the adopted child of NYC, just like the timeless Johnny Cash put it, "[She's] been everywhere, man." Fixel runs her own choreography studio, has taught theater at Nease High School and manages the NYC Karaoke League-all while being a self-proclaimed Scrabble master.

The story of her adventure from Northeast Florida to the Big Apple and now to the director's chair, is almost as theatrical as her work. Fixel was kind enough to sit down for a phone interview and talk about her upcoming production. Here are some highlights.

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How did you get your start in theater?

I was definitely enrolled in dance classes from the time that I was two and my family is just very theatrical, but the choice to do theater was actually my own. My sister did a little theater, but I remember she told me when I was going into high school, "You can't do theater, you won't be popular." [Laughing] I didn't listen. My mom actually became a theater teacher after I started doing theater in high school. So, I kind of got my whole family into theater. My dad was …   More

MORE than the SUM of our PARTS

This Saturday, TEDx Jacksonville returns to the city, and the theme of the event is We, The People.

TEDx Jacksonville has always highlighted the importance of listening and action-especially within the Jacksonville community, and this year's speakers again highlight the importance of personal responsibility within a community framework.

This year's all-day lineup includes speakers and performers from diverse disciplines-musicians, doctors, writers and an Olympian.

Jacksonville native lawyer Chris Hand, who recently co-authored America, the Owner's Manual: You Can Fight City Hall-and Win (with Senator Bob Graham), speaks to the perception that Americans feel as if they cannot influence government.

To the physical and behavioral repercussions of this feeling of helplessness (we're making the ideological leap between these two speakers), Dr. Brenda T. Bradley brings years of research-and her own personal struggles with health and weight-to the fore of her practice, which is grounded in a plant-based diet. Because remember, self-care is a part of the revolution!

Other presenters will discuss the opioid crisis, the power of music to address issues of inequity and human trafficking, the immigration policy and gerrymandering. Certainly these issues have all received heightened scrutiny since November 2016 when the 45th presidential race was decided in favor of a person who is, at his core, a lonely carrion crab. If the current presidential administration is physically incapable of listening to Americas (heck, even Rush Limbaugh impugned Trump's "you're fired" take on kneeling football players), clearly onus is upon the nation's citizenry to fight back. These speakers offer inspiration even as they offer instruction.

Plus, after all that planning and strategizing, there's a kick-ass afterparty ... because even social justice warriors need to wobble wobble, back it up and work it out.

Speakers include Jeff …   More

ALTERNATE American Branding

On Thursday, Oct. 5, Jacksonville University hosted an opening reception for and exhibit of works by visual artists Katie Hargrave and Alan Skees.

Hargrave has two series on exhibition at JU, History Repeats Itself and Confluence Theme: War and Peace. Through both series, Hargrave examines ideas surrounding patriotism and the structure that comprises American politics and policies, both past and present.

In Confluence Theme, Hargrave considers the 1777 Flag Resolution, which was used to design the first official U.S. flag. The resolution reads, "the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Exploring the ambiguity of this statement, Hargrave's series includes a number of alternative constellations that could have been used when designing the flag. She also made use of the raw canvas that would have remained after the white stars were cut out to be attached to the flag. This notion of remnants is also seen in a zine created by Hargrave that illustrates the holes that remained after raw materials were removed from the Earth to construct and forge memorials that still serve as symbols of patriotic pride.

For History Repeats Itself, Hargrave analyzes speeches given by members of the GOP who participated in the party's debates. She transcribed the words of each candidate and then wrote code to create a program that redacted any repeating words. She examined what remained to draw correlations between candidates. It's worth noting that then-candidate Trump was the only person to use the word "bigly."

Skees' series, American Glitch: Neo Regionalism, developed out of his love for technology and the fact that he married into an extended family that takes annual summer road trips. Skees developed the series as a countermovement to American Regionalism, which arose in popularity partially in response to the Great Depression and …   More

the flog

GRACE & Perseverance

The Episcopal Church of Our Savior has stood on the banks of the St. Johns River in Mandarin since 1880. In that year, missionary Charles Sturgess organized the church in the spot where writer Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband Calvin had been holding bible readings for approximately 12 years.

Since that time, it has weathered 52 hurricanes and tropical storms but has never suffered significant flooding. The church might have endured the high winds of Hurricane Dora in 1964, but a hickory tree fell on its historic chapel, shattering the stained-glass window dedicated by Stowe to her late husband and damaging the structure beyond repair. A replica of the original church with a larger sanctuary was built and dedicated in 1966.

Last year, the church survived Hurricane Matthew's storm surge when the rush of waves and rising water caused severe damage to its riverbank but left the structures unharmed.

But the church's luck changed on September 10-11, when Hurricane Irma brought nearly 15 inches of rain to the city. The runoff from the surrounding neighborhood rose past the church's red brick stoop and seeped into its hallowed floors.

As Jacksonville turned its attention toward the historic rise of the St. Johns River, the church worried about flooding from the other direction. As floodwaters ran off from surrounding neighborhoods, the lower areas on the property acted like catch basins and the water pooled.

Reverend Joe Gibbes, the rector at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, said the main part of the church and the chapel was spared of any flood damage.

The same could not be said for the adjacent buildings. The office, meeting rooms, nursery, choir room and Sunday school rooms were all soaked with several inches of water that damaged the carpet, walls, and electronics.

After the waters receded, the property was a mess.

"We had some large limbs down around the property and just a ton of debris," Gibbes said. "A ton of really nasty …   More