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Now in our eighth calendar year!
PCR #370  (Vol. 8, No. 17) This edition is for the week of April 23--29, 2007.

"The Shark Is Still Working"  by Mike Smith
"Gamebox 1.0"  by Mike Smith
Who Are Our Gracious Hosts Each Month At the Tampa Film Review?  by Paul Guzzo
Get Back to Where You Once Belonged....In The Hall (Well, Not The Hall)....Get Well Soon....Revenge of the Chicken....Passing On....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 17: Kevin Dunny  by Mike Smith
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Filmlook by Paul Guzzo

Who Are Our Gracious Hosts Each Month At the Tampa Film Review?

It’s easy to see why the ignorant and poor spellers could think the owners of the International Bazaar in Ybor City arrogantly named the establishment after themselves.

After all, both Kenny and Jacqueline Conley are international. They have travelled the world together, educating themselves on every country they have visited and every culture that exists within each country, concentrating specifically on the cultures’ food, dance and music – what they describe as three fascinating aspects of life that every human has in common and that say so much about a culture’s history and philosophy.

And, by the capitalistic philosophy most United States business owners have embraced, the Conleys are definitely bizarre.

Bizarre fact number 1: They don’t pay for art. They OVER PAY for art.

“In nations where education is not affordable to all, these nations resort to making handmade crafts,” explained Jacqueline. “A country like Haiti, for example, has thousands of artisans. A lot of organizations go to a country like Haiti and haggle their art from them until they get it for the lowest possible penny then sell it in the U.S. for $50 or $60. The U.S. gets richer and these poor artisans remain poor. That has been the tradition of U.S. importing for years, and it is a tradition we hope to break.

“We send our people to nations like Haiti and have them buy from these artisans for a fair value, usually, above the U.S. minimum wage. It’s not billions of dollars, but by putting the money right in the artisans’ pockets, hopefully it begins the process of them climbing out of poverty and will have an affect on the artisan’s entire village.”

These are not your everyday arts and crafts. These are hand carved tables, chairs, bed frames and chess sets, jewelry made of hand polished rocks and shells, and lavish clothes woven by hand.

The Conleys then sell the arts and crafts in their store at an affordable price, because to the Conleys it’s not so much about making a huge profit, but rather about sharing these arts and crafts with the local community in order to help expand the global thinking of Tampa residents. In all, the Conleys said the International Bazaar has arts and crafts from 142 countries.

Bizarre fact number 2: They want to open their own bank, but not to make money off rich customers. Rather, they want to open a bank so they can GIVE money to less fortunate customers.

“It’s called a Grameen Bank,” said Kenny. “We can give and give to people around the world to help fight poverty, but there isn’t any balance if you don’t help your own community. The bank will loan money to the people here in our own community who don’t have good credit or any way to become self sustainable.”

“The bank will not be about giving money to someone and saying go knock yourself out and spend it,” said Jacqueline. “It’s about a journey with individuals to help them get out of poverty.”

In order for the bank to be successful, the Conleys said they are looking for 1,000 people or businesses to INVEST – “Because helping your community is an investment, not a donation,” said Kenny. – $500 in the bank. Plus, the investors would offer their networking to the bank’s customers. Through all the different types of businesses that will invest – website designers, print shops, engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. – the bank customers will have something just as important as money to help them climb out of poverty, they will have business connections to call on when they need assistance.

Bizarre fact number 3: Though they earn money off their business, they aren’t a “for-profit.” And, though they run their business specifically to raise funds to help fight poverty around the world, they aren’t a “non-profit.”

“We’re considered social business entrepreneurs,” explained Jacqueline. “That means we fall somewhere in between for-profits and non-profits.”

The Conleys earn enough money to live their lives comfortably – “If you can’t sustain yourself how can you help sustain others?” – but use a lot of the money they earn to fund the trips to these impoverished nations to purchase the arts and crafts as well as to fund free celebrations that bring the local community together, such as their Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration that saw 700 people converge on the International Bazaar. They fed everyone who came and paid for the entertainers and advertisement of the event.

“Our society hasn’t incubated the idea yet that you can marry the two – make a living while helping others,” said Kenny. “We think only the millionaires can give a lot of money to good causes or you need to be a saint living in poverty to work with third world countries. But you can live comfortably and do a lot of good. It is possible to be in business to help the world and still make a living.”

Most bizarre, though, is bizarre fact number 4: Despite the fact that International Bazaar is located in a 16,500-square-foot Ybor City storefront located at 1600 E. Eighth Avenue in the Centro Ybor complex and is filled with clothes, arts and crafts and other items for sale to the general public, the Conley’s adamantly claim they are not a store. Despite the fact that they offer classes in a number of international arts – belly dancing, Tango, Flamenco, Chakra meditation, African drum playing, martial arts, cigar rolling and more – they are not a performing arts center or an arts or dance school.

“We are a socio-economic development project set up to help fight global poverty. That is what our true mission is, but if we put that on a sign on a front door, I don’t think many people would walk inside,” said Jacqueline. “Now that the community has become comfortable with us as a business and the strange, unique and interesting things we sell globally, we can move away from being a store and move towards what we truly are.”

So who exactly are these free spirited Conleys?

They’re bridge builders. They hope that by selling the international items, by teaching international arts, and by celebrating every religious and cultural holiday at the Bazaar, people in Tampa will have a better understanding of what the world is like outside of their own tiny community, be more inclined to help people all over the world, and will continue to purchase the arts and crafts at the Bazaar, which in turn helps these impoverished artisans.

That was step number one in their socio-economic development project and they said they are beginning to see the payoff locally, as more and more people visit the International Bazaar, purchase their items and partake in their celebrations.

Their next step is to personally help these impoverished countries in which they currently have representatives visit to purchase art.

“We want to help these countries to begin building a proper infrastructure,” said Kenny. “This is our next step in helping to fight global poverty. We can’t just continue to pay these artisans good money, we need to make sure they are using this money to help build their own community. If their community needs better education or a health care system, we want some of the money we pay them to go to these causes. In every village there are those who think of how to help the village as a whole. We need to make contact with these people and work with them.”

How can Kenny be so sure that people like this exist? Because if he ever has doubts, all he has to do is visit his in-laws, Jacqueline’s parents.

Jacqueline was born on the Island of Trinidad to parents who were true humanitarians. Her father was an engineer for an oil company for many years, and then one day when he was 35 years old and had six kids he came home and said he realized that oil was evil and never wanted anything to do with it again.

“And he never did,” said Jacqueline. “He rode a bike for the rest of his life, quit his job, bought 370 acres of land and taught himself how to farm. A lot of people said he was crazy, but when the oil industry plummeted in the 1970s everyone in that industry became unemployed. In the meantime, my father became extremely wealthy off farming.”

“He had to,” Kenny chokingly chimed in. “He had to feed the entire village.”

“He’s right,” smiled Jacqueline.

Jacqueline said she could never remember a time in which her family didn’t have at least an extra five or six people living with them on the farm. Her parents would take children in and let them stay there for as long as they needed. Some would stay for three or four months, while others would stay for years.

Her mother did more than just help look after those who came to the farm for assistance, though, she tried to help every child on the island.

In Trinidad education is free to everyone. The only rule is the children must be able to provide their own uniform. While Jacqueline said her mother thought it was a fair trade – free education for a uniform – it sickened her that many children never received an education because their families couldn’t afford a uniform. Jacqueline’s mother loaned a friend money to learn to become a seamstress. In exchange for the loan, when the friend became a successful seamstress, Jacqueline’s mother drove her around the island every year, and every child they found not in school, they made a uniform for and sent them to school.

Also, women in Trinidad were expected to simply have children and raise a family. Jacqueline’s mother made sure any woman who wanted an education could pursue one. When the girls became old enough to leave Trinidad, Jacqueline’s mother loaned them the money to go to England (Because Trinidad is a former British colony, it has an open citizen policy with England.) to study.

When Jacqueline was 15, she left the island to pursue an education in Canada. By 16 years old she had graduated high school and enrolled in McMaster University in Ontario where she studied business and commerce. She quickly proved she was a natural in the business world, putting herself through college by starting her own tee-shirt company.

The company came about when the pastor of a church she attended asked the artistically talented Jacqueline to design tee-shirts to sell at a picnic so that the children could flaunt their faith. The pastor said she could sell them and keep all the profits. Jacqueline designed shirts with logos such as “God Is Love” and “Jesus Saves Us” and sold every tee-shirt in just two hours. Realizing how much money she could make off the tee-shirt business, she recruited other children to help design the shirts, received permission from the Pentecostal Assembly to sell the tee-shirts to all their churches, and traveled throughout Ontario striking deals with a number of churches – she sends them the shirts, they set up a table outside the church to sell them, and the church keeps 10 – 15 percent of the profits. Within eight months she had 60 churches selling her shirts.

After graduating from college, Jacqueline went into the smoothie businesses, opening franchises throughout Canada. About four or five years later, she decided to relocate to Florida, realizing if she was successful selling cold drinks in Canada, she would find even more success in the Sunshine State. Twelve years ago, while running a smoothie franchise in the Florida Mall in Orlando, Kenny bought a smoothie from her and, for her, the rest is history.

Kenny is a native of Florida. Born in Orlando, he lived throughout the east coast of the state – Daytona, Flagler Beach and Tallahassee. His parents were divorced when he was young and his mother worked in sales and management, doing whatever it took to raise her two children. His father was in the Navy and traveled the world in a nuclear-powered submarine. Kenny said it was through his father that his international intrigue was born, as Kenny’s father would send him postcards from every stop he made – Hawaii, Philippines, Guam, the Antarctic – each with a fascinating picture of the foreign land, piquing Kenny’s interest.

His interest grew after high school when he relocated to Washington, D.C. His plan was to set up residency, work for one year, and then attend college in the District of Columbia. But, during his first year in D.C. he met three men from Australia who were on a six month holiday in the U.S. with the intention of exploring the entire country. Kenny said he was immediately taken by their carefree mentality and agreed to join them in their adventure as their tour guide. When the trip was complete, he planned to visit them to Australia.

“It didn’t work out,” he said. “But I did go 12 years later.”

In the meantime, he returned to Florida and enrolled in college where he studied interdisciplinary sciences.

“I didn’t want to go to college to study for a career,” Kenny explained. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about everything.”

In fact, during his first semester at college he took an aptitude test that was supposed to tell him what sort of career he was best suited for him. As part of the test he had to write an essay on what he’d love to do. He wrote all he wanted to do was travel the world and meet as many people from as many cultures as he could, learn about them, understand them, and try and have a positive impact on their lives.

“I guess I finally found my vehicle for that,” he said in reference to the International Bazaar.

Twelve years ago he was running a restaurant in the Florida Mall when he met Jacqueline at the smoothie franchise. At the time, Kenny was planning his trip to Australia. His plan was to scout out the country, find a place he’d like to live, and then purchase a plot of land he could cultivate and become self-sustainable while providing the surrounding community with his crops. Jacqueline told Kenny of her father and they clicked. They didn’t date right away, but became quick friends. Two years later the romance blossomed and they’ve been together ever since, getting married two years ago on the International Day of Peace – March 19, 2005, which is also ironically the anniversary of the Iraq War.

“Who starts a war on the Day of Peace?” asked Jacqueline. “Actually, who starts a war, period?”

With similar interests and motivation, it didn’t take the couple long to give birth to the idea of the International Bazaar. Kenny dreamt of a self-sustainable lifestyle that the community and the world could feed off of, and Jacqueline was raised in such an environment. Rather than purchasing land to do so, they realized they could do more through a business like the one they currently run.

The difficult part of the equation was finding the right location. Enter Centro Ybor. Kenny and Jacqueline Conley relocated to the Tampa Bay area five years ago, negotiated a deal with Centro Ybor’s management, and their dream of building bridges to the international community through Tampa has flourished ever since.

“Ybor City is the perfect home for us,” said Jacqueline. “In my eyes this is the cultural capital of Florida – a community where a multitude of cultures – the Italians, Latinos, Germans and Jews – came together as one to build a beautiful place to live. How can you not love the vibe of Ybor City?”

“We saw a tremendous opportunity in Centro Ybor,” said Kenny. “Centro Ybor was to be the oasis of Ybor City. It didn’t work out that way. The original owners didn’t sustain it but we are thankful they gave us this opportunity. The new owners of Centro Ybor have been great to us and have bought in to what our dreams are.”

Their new dream locally is to purchase a cigar factory and make it into a Cultural Arts Center that would house all the celebrations and classes they currently hold at their Centro Ybor location.

“We’re getting a bit cramped,” said Jacqueline. “I know it’s hard to believe with all the space we have here, but we have the arts and crafts for sale, our celebrations, our classes and we provide free space to nine nonprofits that use our office and meeting room whenever they need it. If we are going to continue to help build bridges between Tampa and the world, we’ll need more space. This is a big world.”

“We’re just one store and we’re just one concept, so we don’t have any grandiose ideas about single handedly saving the world,” admitted Kenny. “We know there are a finite number of people in this world we can represent and make a difference in their lives. Ideally, we hope this concept will be attractive to other socially minded entrepreneurs and more people will work not for money but to have a positive affect on global poverty.”

Yes, many capitalistic businessmen in America will read that last line and think the Conley’s are bizarre. Perhaps that is what is most sad about our society today, though. The Conley’s are considered bizarre because they want to help the world.

"Filmlook" is ©2007 by Paul Guzzo.   All graphics unless otherwise noted are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.