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Longview Book Club to host virtual meeting with McConaughey about book, 'Greenlights'

John Nustad made a social media post in early March asking if anyone in his book club has a connection with various authors, and one name quickly raised eyebrows — Matthew McConaughey.

Nustad said he started working on trying different avenues to contact the Longview High School graduate and Academy-Award winning actor to speak about his book, “Greenlights,” and “one of those avenues actually panned out.”

McConaughey is set to speak via videoconferencing platform Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to the club and anyone else who gets in under the registration limit.

Nustad, who started the Longview Book Club, said he usually goes to bed early, but it was late one night when he got an email with word that McConaughey was on board for a digital conference with the club about his book.

“It was pure excitement,” he said. “And it was like, how do I pull this off?”

The answer came with help from Robert Brown at Lennis Designs in Longview and John Grubbs, speaker and author. They will use Grubbs’ Longview studio to connect to McConaughey and then make the video available live to those who have registered to the talk.

He doesn’t know where McConaughey will be during the call.

“I guess in his Airstream somewhere,” he said.

Nustad said Friday that space is still available before reaching the limit of 1,000 people to register, and he hopes it fills up.

“We want to definitely show out for Matthew on this,” he said.

If registration space does reach the maximum, people can go to Books & Barrels, 206 N. Center St., in downtown Longview for a watch party that night, Nustad said.

“Greenlights” was published in October and includes stories and insights from McConaughey’s life. The book topped the New York Times bestsellers list as well as the USA Today bestselling list.

Speaking in December to the News-Journal, McConaughey said the name “Greenlights” is about dealing with the yellow (caution) and red (stop) lights that come up in life while waiting for everything to turn green.

“This is a book about learning, about constantly updating and recalibrating ourselves, so we can have maximum satisfaction in this life,” he said.

The actor’s Longview connection has been unmistakable in recent years. He returned to his alma mater in 2019 to speak to the graduating class of Longview High School. The visit came after he recorded a video on the streets of London to encourage the Longview Lobos football team ahead of their 2018 state championship game against Beaumont Westbrook. The Lobos won, 35-34, capping off a perfect season.

McConaughey was on hand at the Capitol in Austin in March 2019 when the team was honored by the state Legislature.

Also in 2019, Longview ISD trustees approved McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin’ after-school program for the high school.

Nustad, a mortgage loan originator at First Guaranty Mortgage, said he hopes the virtual book discussion will lead to more similar events.

“This is a community club,” he said. “If we want more of these things, we have to get involved.”

Nustad started the book club through networking group Young Professionals of Longview. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the group stopped meeting.

As the pandemic eased, he said there was a demand for people to connect again. So, in March, he started the current Longview Book Club, which meets 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month at Books & Barrels.

He said he started the club with the idea of using a format like he previously had in which members were asked to read the book on their own before an in-person group discussion.

Then, he talked with local author Kimberly Fish, who recommended members have her speak about her work in an author spotlight. The book club used that as a kickoff with Fish talking about her book and with signed copies available for purchase.

Nustad said he found the format yielded better attendance and increased book sales.

The experience inspired Nustad to start reaching out to other local writers, and he said he realized the area has a lot of really talented authors.

And he hopes the Longview Book Club continues to grow by adding subgroups for specific genres but also into other avenues of the community.

“My hope is we get a sense of pride of the many talented people that we have in Longview and also in our downtown and the local businesses that we have supporting that — and then to be a bridge to other people making new friendships or even maybe life-changing impact,” he said. “We all know a certain book at the right time can completely change somebody’s life.”

Hallsville High School graduation wraps up commencement season in area

Under the lights at Bobcat Stadium, the high school graduation season in the Longview area came to an end Friday evening as Hallsville seniors collected their diplomas.

Guests at Friday’s commencement might have thought they were seeing double — and they were. Jiasen Zhang is valedictorian of the Class of 2021, while his twin brother, Jiamiao Zhang, is the salutatorian. And their sister and triplet, Jiarui Zhang, is in the top 10% of the class.

Gladewater High School also held its graduation Friday night at Jack V. Murphy Stadium.

See more photos with this story at news-journal.com .

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Longview pools to open with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions
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Longview’s outdoor pools reopen today for the summer, with Splash Day marking another step toward normalcy from the COVID-19 restrictions of a year ago.

“Everything is pretty much what you would have seen pre-COVID,” said Scott Caron, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The city is still encouraging social distancing for people using the pools, and additional cleaning is being conducted. A year ago, COVID-19 restrictions saw the pools open at reduced capacities and in two-hour increments, with facilities closing between swim sessions for cleaning.

“Our staff will be sanitizing high-touch points more frequently than what we had done pre-COVID,” Caron said.

The pools’ hours also have changed. Ingram Pool, at 1400 N. 10th St., and Longview Swim Center, at 1111 W. Fairmont St., will follow the same schedule this year: 12:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Pools will be closed Mondays.

The change gives residents more time to use the pools, compared with the previous operating hours of 2-6 p.m., Caron said. It also helps accommodate a daily scheduling conflict for many families — afternoon nap time for younger children.

“We wanted to be consistent between both pools,” he said, and being closed Mondays allows for staff training and deep cleaning to take place while the pools are closed. Mondays typically have been the slowest days at the pools, he said.

Today’s Splash Day pool admission is $1. Regular admission is $2 for youth and $3 for adults.

Caron also noted that after cancelling swim lessons a year ago because of COVID-19, the city is once again offering Learn to Swim classes.

“I encourage everybody to take lessons or at least to get comfortable with the water,” he said. East Texas has so many bodies of waters, he added. “It’s one of those lifelong skills everyone needs to know.”

For information, visit www.longviewtexas.gov/2270/Learn-to-Swim or call (903) 237-1270.

Texas bill to ban teaching of critical race theory spiked at last minute on technicality
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Texas GOP senators revived a contentious bill Friday night that would limit how Texas teachers can talk about current events and America’s history of racism in the classroom, hours after House Democrats seemed to have successfully killed the legislation. The bill now appears back on track to reach Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for approval.

House Bill 3979 originated in the House, but the Senate substantially changed it earlier this month. Those changes included stripping out more than two dozen requirements that students study the writings or stories of multiple women and people of color.

When the bill went back before the House on Friday, state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, raised a procedural violation, arguing that some changes from the Senate were not relevant to the bill. His point of order was sustained, appearing to block the bill in the final days of the Legislature.

But hours later, senators removed the amended language and reverted back to the House version of the bill, over the objections of Democratic senators. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, called his own point of order in the upper chamber to try to block the Senate’s move, noting that the Senate rules say that a four-fifths vote is required to pass out a bill this late in the legislative session. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, overruled that objection. Patrick told senators, some of whom seemed confused, that the vote was not on passing the bill — but simply on removing their previous amendments to it. The Senate then agreed to strip their previous amendments.

The bill says teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events, and must explore various view points without giving deference to either side. And the Senate’s move Friday also revived the requirement that various historical women and people of color and their writings be studied.

Many educators and education advocacy groups had opposed the bill, which still states that teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events and if they do, they must “give deference to both sides.” Opponents say it limits honest conversations about race and racism in American society.

After Senate Republicans tried to revive the House version, Senate Democrats still raised issues that the bill does not reflect the necessary hard conversations that teachers and schools must have with today’s youth.

“We keep talking about a United States, but we keep on doing things like this that frankly divide us,” West said.

Educators and advocacy groups also protested that it prohibits students from getting credit or extra credit for participating in civic activities that include political activism or lobbying elected officials on a particular issue.

The version now apparently heading to the governor also bans the teaching of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a reporting endeavor that examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil, marking that as the country’s foundational date.

The vote to strip the previous Senate amendments came in a 18-13 vote. In a statement after the Senate’s move, Talarico, who’d imperiled the bill in the House earlier, echoed his fellow Democrats.

“It’s ironic that Lt. Governor Patrick ignored the Texas Constitution to revive a bill about civics” said Talarico. “I’m proud that my point of order forced the Senate to pass the House version of HB 3979, which includes important Democratic amendments requiring Texas educators to teach the history of white supremacy.

Talarico and Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, sparred on the House floor over amendments the Senate stripped from the bill that would require students to learn about and read historical writings of women and people of color throughout history. Talarico was especially angry his amendment that required schools to teach that white supremacy is morally wrong was also removed.

“Is it fair to say that any bill that strikes language condemning racism is a racist bill?” Talarico asked Toth.

Supporters of HB 3979, which mirrors legislation making its way through state legislatures across the country, argue they are trying to combat personal biases bleeding into public education, pointing to a few individual instances in school districts across the state where parents have raised concerns.

But many teachers and advocates say those issues are few and far between and should be addressed on the local level rather than by state lawmakers.

“The actions taken in the Senate tonight reveal just how politically motivated this piece of legislation actually is, and just how far removed it is from the real lives of teachers and students in Texas,” said Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition in a statement.

They also criticized GOP lawmakers for interfering in the classroom to gain political points.

“We know full well at this time in our history that this bill is politically motivated,” said Round Rock High School teacher Sheila Mehta, who views the bill as a pushback against efforts among history teachers like herself to include more perspectives and historical accounts in history lessons. “If I look at the words of the bill, I feel like it’s almost like I don’t have to change anything. I just can’t be compelled to do this. Whereas the spirit of the bill, I know that there’s a lot of legislators who want me to stop doing what I’m doing.”

Teachers said they don’t feel trusted as professionals to have these nuanced conversations with students, which they often have and are able to keep their personal opinions to themselves.

Throughout legislative debates over the bill, GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that teachers are unfairly blaming white people for historical wrongs and distorting the founding fathers’ accomplishments. In recent years, there have been calls for more transparency about historical figures’ racist beliefs or connections to slavery.

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/28/texas-critical-race-theory-greg-abbott/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.