Friday, August 06, 2004

Elisabeth Silverman and the Memphis CIV

She's been much in the news this week, as the local host putting together the visit by the Iraqi delegation to Memphis that resulted in disaster. But who are Elisabeth Silverman and the Memphis Council for International Visitors? So far, they haven't rated a separate story or backgrounder from the local media. Allow Half-Bakered to do some small redress to this situation.

First, you can see a picture of here here. Attractive, vivacious, healthy-looking woman, yes? We learn that she is the International Teaching Assistant Coordinator at the Center for Academic Excellence at the University of Memphis. Here's what her page has to say:
Elisabeth Silverman, comes from a multicultural and bilingual environment, her mother being from Germany and father from France. Before coming to Memphis, Elisabeth Silverman worked for an airline, where she had her first teaching experience by training flight attendants. After coming to Memphis, she decided to go to college and earn a B.A in psychology. Elisabeth Silverman received a Montessori International Teacher certification, and worked several years in the Montessori environment. In that setting, she was fascinated by the process of first-and second-language acquisition, and decided to pursue that course of study. Her Ph.D work will combine the sciences of language, communication, and education.
She's also a part-time instructor in French at Rhodes College. So, she seems to have a perfect international background for working with foreign visitors to Memphis. Nothing I could find in the Google search indicated any other employment or marital status.

Her organisation, the Memphis Council for International Visitors, doesn't have a local web presence, but contact information is here; scroll down to Tennessee. The webpage for the National Council for International Visitors gives some history, background and mission statements on the MCIV parent organisation. They are, in essence, "citizen diplomats," reaching across borders and oceans to connect people. There are about 95 volunteer-based programs across the country, of which the MCIV is one.

Read a bit about them:
NCIV has since grown to include 95 private, nonprofit organizations around the country, representing communities in 43 states, as well as 15 program agencies, 17 associate members, and numerous individual and corporate members. The NCIV network of citizen diplomats is strengthened by its reliance on dedicated community volunteers committed to increasing international understanding by opening their homes, schools, businesses, local government, and nonprofit agencies to leaders from abroad. Each year more than 80,000 volunteers working with the NCIV's program agency and community members provide short-term professional and cultural programs for visitors from around the world — prominent leaders in business, academia, the arts, science, agriculture, politics, and the media. In 2001, Senator Arlen Specter nominated these volunteer citizen diplomats for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The NCIV work in partnership with the US State Department International Visitor Program.

I haven't found much beyond this. The Commercial Appeal appears to have never written about Silverman or the MVIC, as a web site search turned up only the latest stories about the embarrassing fiasco of this week.

I did find a speech from the National CIV annual meeting of February of this year that mentions Silverman in a laudatory way. Here's the relevant part:
Time with another MCIV – this time in Memphis with dedicated Elisabeth Silverman again highlighted stepped up communication with various segments of the community. At a major event to honor founder and former NCIV Board member Betty Goff Cartwright, guests included the local imam as well as a Baptist minister who was on the platform with Martin Luther King, Jr. the day he was shot. Both often meet International Visitors.

On Saturday after meeting with the MCIV Board, Elisabeth took me to Graceland. I will confess to you that I didn’t expect to be captivated – but I was – completely. The whole experience reminded me of that delightful play by Steve Martin entitled “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” In essence, main characters Picasso and Einstein who in 1904 hang out at the Lapin Agile in Paris are debating who will have the biggest place in the history of the 20th Century. The debate takes on a new dimension when an unexpected time traveling visitor, Elvis, reminds them that there are various ways to have an impact on history. Please remember that as you interact with International Visitors. You are having an impact on history in ways you cannot even imagine.
Man, talk about words coming back to haunt you!

That's one thing I did notice in some other references I found with Silverman and the MCIV, including the recent news stories: the fondness of the MCIV for taking visitors to the National Civil Rights Museum and to Graceland. Jeez, don't we have anything else that might be culturally or historically important to show off? Dull, dull, dull.... What about the Promenade? Shelby Farms? Rev. Al Green's church, which would expose visitors to the "real" Memphis? Cooper-Young, a perfect example of non-government funded neighborhood reclamation and renewal? Stax? The list of great stuff that's not downtown or dead-people related is huge and something to be proud of.

I did find that the Grant Center, a Mid-South non-profit agency, awarded MCIV $7000 back in 1998. And this University of Memphis press release mentions the MCIV in association with a Benjamin Hooks speech there in 2002.

And that's about it, short of calling or emailing her myself. If nothing shows up in the papers by next week, maybe I will.

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