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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM October 4, 2000

Aired October 4, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Shelley Walcott. Politics, leadership and heroism are the topics of the day. Let's get started.

Filling today's agenda, the U.S. presidential debates are under way. We'll hear the candidates speak out on education, the economy and international policy.

Then, in "Chronicle," we move from questions of leadership to the faces of a hero.

The U.S. presidential candidates duke it out in the first round of debates in election 2000. Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush were in Boston last night. They took center stage at the University of Massachusetts for the first of three presidential debates leading up to the election. Nothing less than the presidency is riding on their performances. From taxes to health care, each put his best foot forward. And both had a lot to say about many topics, including education.

Here are some excerpts:


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, here's the role of the federal government. One is to change Headstart into a reading program. Two is to say that if you want access reading money, you can do so because the goal is for every single child to learn to read. There must be K-2 diagnostic tools, there's teacher training money available. Three, we've got to consolidate federal programs to free districts, to free the schools, to encourage innovators like Michael, to let schools reach out beyond the confines of the current structure, to recruit teach-for-the-children type teachers.

Four, we're going to say if you receive federal money, measure third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. And if so, there'll be a bonus plan. But if not, instead of continuing to subsidize failure, the money will go to the parent so that the parent can choose a different public school. The federal money attributed to the child will go to the parent for the public school or a charter school or tutorial or Catholic school.

What I care about is children, and so does Michael Feinburg (ph). And you know what? It can happen in America with the right kind of leadership.

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I strongly support new accountability. So does Gov. Bush. I strongly support local controls. So does Gov. Bush. I'm in favor of testing as a way of measuring performance, every school, every school district, have every state test the children. I've also proposed a voluntary national test from the fourth grade and eighth grade, and a form of testing that the governor has not endorsed. I think that all new teachers ought to be tested, including in the subjects that they teach. We've got to recruit 100,000 new teachers and I have budgeted for that. We've got to reduce the class size so that the student who walks in has more one-on-one time with the teacher. We ought to have universal preschool, and we ought to make college tuition tax deductible up to $10,000 a year.

BUSH: You can't have voluntary testing. You must have mandatory testing. You must say that if you receive money, you must show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. That's the difference. You may claim you've got mandatory testing, but you don't, Mr. Vice President, and there's a huge difference.

GORE: Ninety percent of our kids go to public schools. We have to make it the No. 1 priority, modernize our schools, reduce the class size, recruit new teachers, give every child a chance to learn with one-on-one time in a quality -- high quality, safe school. If it's a failing school, shut it down.


WALCOTT: You've listened to the candidates talk about education, just one issue that will help voters choose the next leader of the United States. Both Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush say a focus on education is more than a political platform, it's a vote for the future.

Outside the political arena, others are quietly bringing the future into focus for young people. Oral Lee Brown is one such leader, and a hero in the hearts of many, as our Andy Jordan explains.


ANDY JORDAN, CO-HOST (voice-over): It may sound like a mother's rebuke.

ORAL LEE BROWN: Did you get my page?


BROWN: I paged you twice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My pager -- I swear, my pager's been broke for the past two months. I haven't...

BROWN: You call this evening. I'm not playing, Tracy (ph).

JORDAN: Oral Lee Brown calls them her babies, but the bond is not one of parent and child.

JEFF TONEY, AGE 18: She's the best woman on this planet next to my mom.

LATOSHA HUNTER, AGE 19: I can go to Ms. Brown for anything. And then, like, sometimes I forget to call her at school because I go away. I play volleyball for my school and I go away, and she call and check up on me. When I forget to call, she's like, why you haven't called? Are you OK? Are you sick? Do you need money?

JORDAN: Latosha is one of 23 students Oral Lee Brown adopted in 1987. It happened after she encountered a little girl on a street corner in this tough East Oakland, California community of Brookfield. The girl was asking for money so she could buy bread for her family. The sight so moved her, she made a promise to the first graders at Brookfield Elementary: If they stayed on the straight and narrow, she would guide their path all the way to college, which she would pay for.

(on camera): How did you choose this school after you encountered the girl asking for a quarter? How did you choose Brookfield?

BROWN: This is the school she would have gone to. This would have been the school. If she was in school, this would have been the school that she would have gone to.

JORDAN (voice-over): Brown has never been able to find the girl after parting ways that one day. Instead, she decided to devote a third of her $45,000-a-year salary as a realtor to the first graders, a decision she admits made her lose sleep the night she made it.

BROWN: There was no way that I was going to do this. What was wrong with me? And I must have sat up two or three hours, you know, saying, fool, you are crazy.

Good morning.

JORDAN: The next morning, the second-guessing ended and a hero's journey began. Her motivation: a realization that if a child is hungry, he or she cannot learn, and a childhood spent in a racially divided 1950s Mississippi. After seeing her brother beaten, she spoke out to her parents.

BROWN: And I can just remember saying, well then if you don't stand up, then all of you need to be dead. And That's when they said, you know, we need to get this gal away from here.

JORDAN: Her parents moved her to a safer part of the united states, an odyssey that led her to Oakland. Her roots gave her a keen understanding of how the fundamental need for survival can hamper the fundamental need to learn.

BROWN: The most important thing for human beings are survival, and you're going to put that as your No. 1 priority. Education is very important. I think it's the key to the success of any child. But if I'm the one having to work at McDonald's for $5.75 and another part-time job for $5.75, I have no time, honestly, to really be concerned about a PTA meeting.

We owe every one of those kids an education.

JORDAN: So Oral Lee Brown went to those PTA meetings and acted as a surrogate mother and instilled a sense of purpose.

TONEY: I had plans on just turning my whole life the other way to try to help my mom, like quit school, get a job or whatever I had to do to make sure that my mom was OK and that we had a house to live in. And she just broke the whole story down to me. She told me how your mom already lived her life. What's going to happen is going to happen. It's OK to be there for her, but I'm pretty sure your mom wants you to go to college and go to school.

JORDAN: Which is what he is doing, along with 18 of those original 23 students. When they graduated last summer, their path was a given.

HUNTER: She brought up college at such a young age so that we can look forward to something.

BROWN: I should get the dictionary and look up the definition of hero, and I'm sure Oral Brown would not be there. I just consider myself as that, basically, someone that love my kids. Just that simple.

HUNTER: Ms. Brown defines a hero, because will never admit it. She'll say, I'm not a hero, the students are heroes.

BROWN: I'm just a little old woman, five 5'6" normal. And when they looked at me if they said, Oral Brown can do it, then I can do it. I didn't take the tests, I didn't study for the exam, I'm not in college now. I may have taken them to the water, but they did the drinking. So it's them. They are truly the heroes.


WALCOTT; Who are the heroes in your life? And what are the traits of a hero or a leader? Keep those in mind. We'll ask you about them later. We'll also hear from the candidates and make our way to "Chronicle," where we'll encounter more heroes such as Oral Lee Brown. Stay tuned.

In "Business Desk," how November's big U.S. election could affect Wall Street's big board. Many stocks ended yesterday in a slump, but analysts say that has more to do with concerns interest could rise again in the future than interest in presidential debates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a mere 19 points to close at 10719. The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed down 113 points. And the S&P 500 lost almost 10 points to close at 14026.

During last night's debates, the candidates brought their vision of the U.S. economy into focus.


GORE: For every dollar that I propose in spending for things like education and health care, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts. And for every dollar that I spend in those two categories, I'll put two dollars toward paying down the national debt. I think it's very important to keep the debt going down and completely eliminate it.

And I also think it's very important to go to the next stage of welfare reform. Our country has cut the welfare rolls in half. I fought hard, from my days in the Senate and as vice president to cut the welfare rolls. And we've moved millions of people in America into good jobs, but it's now time for the next stage of welfare reform, and include fathers and not only mothers.

BUSH: People need to know that, over the next 10 years, there's going to be $25 trillion of revenue that comes into our Treasury, and we anticipate spending $21 trillion.

And my plan says, why don't we pass $1.3 trillion of that back to the people who pay the bills? Surely we can afford 5 percent of the $25 trillion that are coming into the Treasury to the hard-working people who pay the bills.

There's a difference of opinion. My opponent thinks the government -- the surplus is the government's money. That's not what I think. I think it's the hard-working people in America's money, and I want to share some of that money with you so you've got more money to build and save and dream for your families. It's a difference of opinion. It's a difference of opinion. It's the difference between government making decisions for you and you getting more of your money to make decisions for yourself.


WALCOTT: You know, the person who holds the job of U.S. president is often referred to as "the leader of the free world." Well, semantics aside, one of the primary goals of the candidates in these debates is to appear presidential. Last night, Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush were asked to weigh in on one hot international topic: recent elections in Yugoslavia and President Slobodan Milosevic's refusal to accept defeat and leave office. Each candidate gave his opinion on how the United States should handle the situation.


GORE: I think we should support the people of Serbia and the -- Yugoslavia, as they call Serbia plus Montenegro, and put pressure in every way possible to recognize the lawful outcome of the election. The people of Serbia have acted very bravely in kicking this guy out of office. Now he is trying to not release the votes, and then go straight to a so-called runoff election without even announcing the results of the first vote.

Now, we've made it clear, along with our allies, that when Milosevic leaves, then Serbia will be able to have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world. That is a very strong incentive that we have given them to do the right thing.

Bear in mind, also, Milosevic has been indicted as a war criminal and he should be held accountable for his actions.

BUSH: Well, I'm pleased with the results of the election, as the vice president is. It's time for the man to go. And it means that the United States must have a strong diplomatic hand with our friends in NATO. That's why it's important to make sure our alliances are as strong as they possibly can be to keep the pressure on Mr. Milosevic.

But this will be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well. Be a wonderful time for the president of Russia to step into the Balkans and convince Mr. Milosevic it's in his best interest and his country's best interest to leave office. The Russians have got a lot of sway in that part of the world and we'd like to see them use that sway to encourage democracy to take hold.

And so it's an encouraging election. It's time for the man to leave.


WALCOTT: You probably have your own definition of a hero. And certainly you have heroes of your own. Heroes come from all walks of life. To size them up, here again is Andy Jordan.


JORDAN (voice-over): Their faces are familiar, their missions not always the same. How, then, you may ask, can they hold court with the likes of Wile E. Coyote?

ZACHARY TODD: There's no need to, like, you know, beep-beep behind him and scare him, and then off the cliff. There's no reason for that. And nonetheless, he makes a little poof at the bottom of the canyon and then he gets back up and then devises something else.

JORDAN: Courage, creativity and resilience -- qualities that qualify anyone, real or not, for the ranks of hero, at least in the mind of 19-year-old Zachary Todd, who calls himself fairly typical for a teenager. His hero list includes Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa and the guy who created that funky ball with lightening inside. His CD collection provides clues to his eclectic choice of heroes.

TODD: A while ago, people might say it's automatically is my father and my mother, you know. But now I think a lot of people, especially my age, realize that their parents aren't infallible.

JORDAN: Besides family and friends, heroes tend to come from one of three arenas: popular culture, literature and folklore, the latter being the area of specialty for University of California at Berkeley Professor Alan Dundes, who's written a book called "In Quest of A Hero." He believes there is an inherent hero pattern.

ALAN DUNDES, FOLKLORIST: You can see it in modern American life, you can see it in "Star Wars."

JORDAN: In folklore and literature, the hero was born to a virgin mother. There's some sort of conflict between parent and child, usually an attempt by the father to kill the hero at birth. He's reared by foster parents, he conquers a dragon or a wild beast or a king, marries a princess, reigns, and then meets a mysterious death. A variation of that theme surfaces with Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars."

DUNDES: But the story is very clear. He's got the -- brought up by foster parents, you've got the father figure, Darth Vader. The name even, "Darth," death. "Vader" is similar to father. And turns out later in the later episode it is the father. So you have a father/son combat.

JORDAN: Professor Dundes believes American heroes also spring from a uniquely Indoeuropean phenomenon called "machoism," a process where children are reared by females. While girls have no need to break away from that nurturing, boys do, he says. Society encourages them to break away.

DUNDES: Well, one of the ways of breaking away is to go into activities where women are excluded, where women are kept away, where you're only dealing with other males. And then with those other males, you have to demonstrate your supremacy.

JORDAN: He says men do this through war, school-yard fighting and sports. According to the theory, that process would explain the preponderance of male heroes, and the hero status of figures like Gen. Colin Powell, biker Lance Armstrong, and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.

There's another reason young people often draw from professional wrestlers when picking a hero.

TOM LEONARD, UNIV. OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY: They're not cultured, they're not polite. They do all the things that we're told not to do in society.

JORDAN: Professor Tom Leonard has researched the antihero and American fascination with villains, glorified through media. While movies may make icons out of pirates, what does the real world offer? He points to characters like Bill Gates, a hero to many, but a pirate in the mind of Leonard.

LEONARD: Pirate is the word you give somebody when you sort of admire them, but you really worry about the power and wealth they're accumulating.

JORDAN: Where does one draw the hero line in the sand, though?

TODD: I can respect a person for one thing, and of course I can completely disdain them for another. But I can still respect them, and I can separate the two.

LEONARD: It's hard to think of something you can do that permanently bars you from being, you know, saved in America.

JORDAN: He points to John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Lincoln, as an example of someone whom history will probably never revere. But characters who push the limits of conventional society often become antiheroes. We can also look to literature, the protagonist in "Catcher in the Rye" for whom everything was "phony."

(on camera): What made Holden Caulfield an antihero?

TODD: Well, first of all, he was the main character of the book, so automatically, you know, you have to identify -- well, you don't have to, but you identify with him and, you know, he's there for you and you're with him all the way. But at the same time, he's not doing things that are classically heroic, you know? He's not out there fighting lions and dragons.

JORDAN (voice-over): Someone who is fighting dragons has characteristics of both hero and antihero: Harry potter, a kid who is not a sportsman, is even considered a nerd by some, but still prospers in the end.

DUNDES: Does use magic, and so that does still evoke something of a hero pattern because the hero usually cannot succeed entirely on his own. He needs help, at least in the fairy tales. He has to get this magical aid. So it's only that our heroes now, in our modern American modern culture, success has accrued, I think, in large measure to the nerds.

JORDAN (on camera): Another noted American hero expert is the late Joseph Campbell, who wrote this book, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces." Like Professor Dundes, he believes in a hero pattern, but focuses more on a hero's call to adventure, an initial refusal of that call, and an inevitable journey, complete with a prodigal return.

(voice-over): With so many hero definitions and models, one might wonder, why do we need them? The answer, says Professor Dundes, lies in why Americans were disappointed when Russia didn't come to the Olympics in 1984. Who would be No. 1? How can you have a hero without a battle and a victor? These questions, he says, point to a very human need.

DUNDES: Groups need these heroes. They need these heroes for their own sense of identity. We are somebody, we are important, we are valuable, because look who is one of us. Whether he's an Armenian or a Jew or a Catholic or an African-American, whatever he is, he's one of us, he's one of us, he is my hero, or she's my heroine. So people need these because it's for their own self worth.


WALCOTT: So far, we've heard from the men wanting to be the next leader of the United States and learned about heroes. Now we want you to look at the list we asked you to make. Can you identify the heroes in your life? Maybe they look a lot like Vincent Martin. He faced one of life's toughest challenges, looked inward and found the hero inside.

Once again, Andy Jordan has his story.


JORDAN (voice-over): For Vincent Martin, finding out at age 23 that you're going to go blind is not the end of the world.

VINCENT MARTIN: I think life began at 23 because, at that point, there was this cloud over life, and now everything is so much more clear. It was all about a choice.

JORDAN: His choice: to make the best of his disability. Now a computer teacher at a center for the visually impaired in Atlanta, he's also the current U.S. champion and record holder in the pentathlon.

PENNY ZUBULA, CENTER OF VISUALLY IMPAIRED, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: If you experience vision loss or any kind of loss or trauma in your life, you're going to be who you are, only more so. And he was always intelligent, determined. He certainly was athletic, and he continued that. And I think that's what it all boils down to, is not giving up what's very much a part of you. And that's, I believe, how he's lived his life.

JORDAN: Having lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track in high school, five years later, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degeneration of the retina that affects about 100,000 people in the U.S. It was a realization that initially landed him at a crossroads in his life.

MARTIN: On the side of the road in 1988, 1989, shaking, contemplating suicide. And it just finally dawned on me that, my sister's pregnant. If I don't make it, I'm going to be the uncle that they don't talk about. I'm the one that didn't make it. And so I got up.

JORDAN: Not only did he get up, he sprung. Before becoming completely blind in 1996, he completed degrees in industrial systems and textile engineering.

ZIBULA: He lost his vision, but he didn't lose who he was. He just took that vision loss and found a way to work with it and to make life work for him.

MARTIN: I woke up one day and it didn't come back that day. So I went eight, nine years slowly losing my vision, getting worse and not even contemplating what's going to happen when I go blind.

JORDAN: Now he's going where few blind people before him have gone: surfing the Web.

MARTIN: I can use a similar reading command to read what's on the screen. I'm reading one word at a time here. COMPUTER GENERATED VOICE: Skip to the content.

MARTIN: Skip to the main content.

JORDAN: He teaches visually impaired and blind students not only how to negotiate cyberspace, but compose letters and pay the bills on their own. He's learned to take what life gives him and make the most of it. That applies, he says, even to his skinny arms.

MARTIN: Because of those now long, skinny arms of mine, I'm now a discus thrower and one of the top five in the world. So I like to say, you never know what your disadvantage is and what you can do with it.

JORDAN: He spent the last few months preparing for the discus and several relay events in the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney. It's a rigorous training regimen to prepare for what he calls "the big dance."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most important thing is get through the steps.

MARTIN: If I got all my vision back tomorrow, I would be a much better sighted athlete than I used to be, because now I found out there's one thing that I didn't have before, which is I'm a whole lot more fearless than I used to be. I'm not afraid of getting hurt.

JORDAN: His goal in every pursuit, to help blind and visually impaired people function as sighted people do.

MARTIN: I have the best problem you can have as a blind person. My wife forgets that I'm blind, because she's seen me running on the track by myself. It makes it so easy for her to just get up and walk off and go, oh crap, he doesn't know where he is. I left my husband walking at the other end of the store.

JORDAN: His mission, to win, but not merely for the glory of one, but for what his successes will do for the image of blind people.

MARTIN: We're all here for other people. This world doesn't exist just for one person, it's all one big planet and we're all part of it. Why should I rest when there's still worlds to conquer, because nothing comes to sleepers but a dream.

I guess a hero is someone that is willing to sacrifice their needs for the better good of someone else.

ZIBULA: I think what makes him a hero is he shows people what is possible.


WALCOTT: That's a real story of inspiration. Well, we wish good luck to Vincent and all 4,000 athletes participating in this year's Paralympic games. They'll be held October 18 through the 29th in Sydney, Australia. And goodbye for now from all of here at NEWSROOM. We'll see you tomorrow.



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