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America's Best in Society and Culture

Aired September 9, 2001 - 22:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, HOST: Entertainers.


EVE ENSLER, FEMINIST: It never sounds like the word you want to say.


HARRIS: Athletes. Preachers.


T.D. JAKES, PREACHER: God is getting ready to give you a miracle, but you've to be crazy enough!


HARRIS: And teachers.


MARY CATHERINE SWANSON, TEACHER: Hard work makes people smart.


HARRIS: Who's influencing our lives? Tonight CNN and "TIME" magazine bring you: "America's Best in Society and Culture."

Good evening and welcome to special edition of CNN PRESENTS; I'm Leon Harris.

Tonight: They've reached the summit, the top of their game, and their influence is undeniable. They are "America's Best." And each month CNN and "TIME" magazine celebrate our nation's highest achievers. In this, the third installment of our five-part series, we honor "America's Best" in society and culture; 16 exhilarating stars from sports, entertainment style, education and religion.

We begin with the man they call Coach K. Now if someone tells you that they're a graduate of Duke University, it is essentially the same as saying that they are a fan of Duke basketball, which means that they are a fan of coach Mike Krzyzewski. But you don't have to be a Blue Devil alum or even a fan of college basketball to be impressed with Coach K.

That story now with CNNSI's Tom Rinaldi.


TOM RINALDI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mike Krzyzewski doesn't use a whistle. He hates them. Instead, he wants his players to react to the sound of his voice, even in the chaos of competition. And the voice has been echoing in victory for 30 years.

BOBBY HURLEY, DUKE GUARD 1990-'93: You see the kind of emotion that he has for the game and the kind of passion he has.

JOHNNY DAWKINS, DUKE ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH: The wins come as a result of the things he believes about the kids he coaches, not because he wants to win every game or win every championship.

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, DUKE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL COACH: If my purpose on this planet was to win basketball games, it would be a bad life.

RINALDI: Don't misunderstand. Krzyzewski wins games, lots of them. In the last two decades he has turned the Duke University men's basketball program in Durham, North Carolina into the envy of the collegiate war.

The Blue Devils have won three national titles since he arrived. The most recent coming last April. A number of his players have gone on to the NBA. Nearly all have graduated.

Why so many wins? Because winning is not the obsession. It's all part of what Krzyzewski considers a culture, not a team. Making shots count, yes, but not as much as the people who make them.

GRANT HILL, DUKE GUARD, 1991-'94: It's a fraternity. It's a group of guys that have each other's support, have each other's back.

KRZYZEWSKI: It's a culture where people want to be a part of it. Where they feel safe to try to do whatever they can do.

RINALDI: Krzyzewski's childhood culture was working class Chicago. The son of immigrants, his parents would not allow Polish to be spoken in the house. But the message from his mother Emily, who scrubbed floors at the Chicago Athletic Club was clear: never fear losing.

KRZYZEWSKI: Well, my mom is the greatest person I've ever known. She only wanted what was good for me, and she loved me no matter what happened. She's the basis of why I'm not afraid to lose.

RINALDI: Leading the Chicago Catholic League in scoring while serving as class president at Weber high, Krzyzewski was recruited to play college ball. His new culture would be West Point. Drill sergeants, dress uniforms, life by the code.

KRZYZEWSKI: I wanted to quit hundreds of time at West Point because that -- a dream of mine was not to become an Army officer. My dream was to be a basketball coach, a teacher; and all of a sudden I'm in the military. And I did it primarily because my mom and dad wanted me to.

My coach was Bob Knight. And what I learned from him was the incredible passion that it took to be successful, the amount of preparation and an understanding of the game to a level that I had not experienced before.

RINALDI: Krzyzewski's old coach would win championships as well, but Knight's behavior toward his players and others often eclipsed entire seasons.

Krzyzewski yells too, make no mistake. But he also uses a completely different approach at times.

(on camera): You called a timeout recently. You looked at each player in this timeout and said, you're good. They're playing at Duke; don't they know they're good?

KRZYZEWSKI: No. I think are times where everybody, me too, needs to have somebody who loves them and who they believe in them tells them, I believe in you.

HILL: It's like a parent. You know, there's six inches between patting on the back and patting on the butt; and as a parent he did both.

RINALDI (voice-over): After graduating from West Point, Krzyzewski began the long journey of an aspiring coach, working his way from Army bases to Indiana, back to West Point, he landed at Duke in 1980. A headline from the school paper greeted an unknown coach with a name impossible to spell.

The first few seasons were difficult. The bottom seemed to come following a season-ending 43-point loss to Virginia in 1983.

KRZYZEWSKI: I remember that night we went to a small restaurant, one of the fast-food places. Somebody said, well, here's to forgetting about tonight. And I said no, no, here's to never forgetting about tonight. You now, because this is a reference point. In order to appreciate where we're going to be, we have to know how this felt. How losing felt.

RINALDI: Winning would follow soon after. By 1991 the Blue Devils reached the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament for the fourth year in a row, yet they'd never won the title. That bothered everyone except Krzyzewski.

KRZYZEWSKI: So we went three years in a row and we didn't win. And now all of a sudden what was a dream somebody was trying to tell me, man, was a nightmare. And I said, you know what, you got something wrong with you. Because -- and I really believe it's why we won the fourth time, the fourth consecutive year we went, because I never looked at that as pressure.

RINALDI (on camera): By the 1994-'95 season, center court at Duke was the center of the college basketball universe. Mike Krzyzewski had won back-to-back national titles, he'd gone to the Final Four seven times in nine years; and yet he was falling apart mentally and physically.

(voice-over): He says the stress of his job overwhelmed him. Krzyzewski had surgery to relieve excruciating back pain, but returned in only 10 days and worked to a point of complete exhaustion.

In the middle of that season his wife gave him an ultimatum.

MICKIE KRZYZEWSKI, WIFE: Seeing him on a personal level just physically declining and emotionally and mentally not being the person that he was, not even being able to handle his decline.

KRZYZEWSKI: I was out of it, to be quite frank with you. I'd come back too soon. And my wife Mickie just said, you're either going to the doctor today, or that's it. And that's it, was that's it you- and-me. So that was an easy decision for me to make.

RINALDI: Krzyzewski left the team in the middle of the season. The Blue Devils fell apart, winning often four of their last 19 games in his absence.

KRZYZEWSKI: The most difficult part was the fact that I felt I was responsible for it. You know, I mean, that's my team. I learned that at West Point, that you're the leader no matter what. And I wasn't there for them.

RINALDI: While the separation from his team tore at him, Krzyzewski needed the time more than he realized. He rediscovered his family, recovered his health and recharged his passion. Just four years later, his team was back, playing in the national championship game.

Yet winning doesn't seem a great enough reason why so many of his players come back to him. Just last month several dozen players returned to Duke for a charity game. There was Grant Hill, perennial NBA all-star; Christian Laettner, former NBA lottery pick; and Elton Brand, former NBA rookie of the year. All returning to their coach. Returning to the voice they were trained to follow, one preaching a value beyond victory.

HILL: He's still coaching and he's still giving me advice, and I'm just like a sponge trying to soak it all up.

ELTON BRAND, DUKE FORWARD, 1998-'99: Coach K's drive makes him the best. You don't want to fight the guy; he's not going to give up ever.

KRZYZEWSKI: If my purpose was not just to be a basketball coach, but to use whatever success we have to do some other really good things, it adds depth, it adds meaning. That's where we are at right now, where we can have a positive influence on people. And that's winning.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: Coming up on "America's Best": A ground breaking playwright gets very, very personal.


HARRIS: There is a comic irony to the fact that Eve Ensler has become synonymous with a word so taboo in America that many can't even say it. But you can't mention the name Eve Ensler without mentioning "The Vagina Monologues," her sly, witty and incisive play that has become a crusade.

Sharon Collins profiles America's best feminist.


ENSLER: Let's just start with the word "vagina." Vagina; it sounds like an infection at best. Maybe a medical instrument -- hurry, nurse, bring me the vagina.


SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is playwright Eve Ensler's world, the world of repressed, abused and invisible women.

ENSLER: It doesn't matter how many times you say the word, it never sound like a word you want to say.

COLLINS: But for the last seven years, Ensler has been saying it at the top of her lungs in her play "The Vagina Monologues." And she's been encouraging others to do the same.

ENSLER: I was in a restaurant and this older woman came up to me; she was very, very straight-faced, very prim, very proper and she said, "Before today, I could never say the word `vagina.' Watch me: Vagina. Vagina."

And things like that happen all the time now.

COLLINS: "The Vagina Monologues" is based on interviews with 200 women. Ensler got the idea after talking to a friend who was going through menopause.

Some of the monologues are funny...

ENSLER: I didn't particularly like Bob...


ENSLER: I would have missed him altogether if he hadn't picked up my change that I dropped on the deli floor. When his hand accidentally touched mine, something happened. I went to bed with him.


COLLINS: Others, like this monologue in which a Bosnian woman talks about being raped, are heartbreaking.

ENSLER: My vagina singing all girl songs, all goat bell-ringing songs, all wild autumn-field songs. Vagina songs, vagina hung songs, not since the soldiers put a long, thick rifle inside me.

COLLINS: Ensler's passion stems from her personal experience. She grew up in an affluent New York suburb where she says she was physical and sexually abused by her father.

ENSLER: I don't know if I had not been a person who had survived enormous abuse, if I'd be committed the way I am committed to this, or understand it maybe. I think understanding does determine your commitment.

COLLINS: As a teenager and in her 20s she turned to drinking and drugs to blot out her pain. But says it was writing that saved her.

ENSLER: By writing I created an alternative persona that I could pretend I love, and she could hold all this information and feelings and thoughts and hope for the future that I couldn't hold in me.

I had to write. And I still feel that way. I have to write. It's the way I keep my sanity.

GLENN CLOSE, ACTRESS: Eve is giving us our souls back.

COLLINS: Glenn close has worked with Ensler since the early days of "The Vagina Monologues."

CLOSE: We all feel like we're kind of marching down the street and slowly people are coming out of different buildings until there will be a swell of a big crowd of people who say, this is what we think is important.

COLLINS: It was not so long ago that Ensler was fighting to get "The Vagina Monologues" on the stage. Even her friends and supporters were skeptical.

ENSLER: People were like, change the title; are you are out of your mind? You can't talk about vaginas.

COLLINS: But she did; at first performing the monologues herself.

ENSLER: I bet you're worried. I was worried.

COLLINS: Then she recruited a group of Hollywood stars to spread the word.

ROSIE PEREZ, ACTRESS: The monologue that she had given me was I had to do eight different accents in the matter of, I think it was five minutes. And I said, can't do this, I'm the girl with the voice, the act. And she goes right; what's the problem?

I go, nothing. And she said good, we're going to have a great time. COLLINS: Glenn Close had her own qualms about the monologue she was asked to perform, the most risque in the play.

CLOSE: I called her and said I don't know if I can do this. I really don't know if I can do this. This isn't a word that one says usually in public in front of a lot of people. I said, I've got to think about this.

After about three days I called her back and said, I'll do it. And I did it and I had people standing up and cheering and you know, screaming out.

COLLINS: That was in 1998. As word spread, "The Vagina Monologues" became the hot ticket on New York's off-Broadway theater scene.

PEREZ: A lot of women feel ashamed to be weak. And she just says, you don't have to be strong all the time. You don't have to be together all the time; it's all right, because I'm in pain too. And I', going to roll out a list of all the other women that are in pain as well, and they're all wonderful and beautiful. And so you just -- it's just that feeling of -- that's what Eve brings through her work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three; hold. That's good. Better.

COLLINS: These days Ensler is certainly in demand, from photo shoots to interviews.

ENSLER: I like bragging about myself. I love my pictures!

COLLINS: People even stop her in the street.

ENSLER: As a matter of fact, they scream things like, "there's the vagina lady" in shoe stores -- across the shoe store. And you know what, at first it freaked me out a little, just to be identified as the vagina lady everywhere.

COLLINS: More than 85 actresses have now performed "The Vagina Monologues." It's playing in three cities in the U.S. It's on a national tour. And it's gone global with performances in more than 31 cities.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

COLLINS: From London, to Berlin, to Mexico City.

ENSLER: I wake up in the morning and I get little e-mails from Antarctica and places like Rumania and Zaire and places where the play is opening; and it's a dream.

COLLINS: Along the way "The Vagina Monologues" turned into a movement, V-Day, which has raised $4 million to stop violence against women. ENSLER: After every show so many women lined up afterwards to tell me how they've been beaten or raped, and they felt such a desperate need to tell their stories that I started to feel insane. And I said either I was going to stop doing "The Vagina Monologues" or we would use "The Vagina Monologues" to do something about violence against woman.

COLLINS: Every year Ensler, together with a small team of staff, organizes V-Day benefit performances around the world. This year Ensler took over New York's Madison Square Garden.

CATHLEEN BLACK, PRESIDENT, HEARST MAGAZINES: It was just literally a life-changing experience.

COLLINS: In the audience was Kathleen Black, president of Hearst Magazines; a V-Day sponsor and the largest publisher of women's magazines in the world.

BLACK: She's kind of taken it all out of the closet and kind of put it right out in front of people so that you can say the word "vagina," and that she can deal with violence and she can talk about and tell these stories -- the profound stories of what women are really suffering around the world.

COLLINS: But Ensler's big dream is that one day in the not-too- distant future she will no longer have to tell those stories.

ENSLER: I hope there is time when V-Day goes out of business. That's what I cheer for every day, that one day we won't have to be here anymore; there will be a day when women literally can put on the shortest skirt and the tightest top and feel good, and that everyone will look at them with great appreciation and great enjoyment and no one will hassle them.


HARRIS: Eve Ensler's play "Necessary Targets" opens this fall in New York. It's a story of two America woman who head to Bosnia to help women there cope with the memories of war.

Coming up: a multimedia master and the power of pulpit.

But first, speed and persistence mark three more of America's Best.


(voice-over): The tattoos, the cornrows, the talent. Allen Iverson is unmistakable on the basketball court. His speed and scrappiness took the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals and garnered Iverson the league's most valuable player award.

JOEL STEIN, "TIME": He took a team that really wasn't that great and that he didn't really meld well with, and this year, I think, became a great team player. And, as shown, he surprised everyone by going to the finals. HARRIS: Real fast, real young. Alan Webb is the first America high school athlete to break the four-minute mile in more than three decades.

ANDREW GOLDSTEIN, "TIME": Right now he is the best America high school runner in America history. But the question is, will he continue that as an Olympic runner, as a world championship runner later on; and nobody knows.

HARRIS: Breaking through barriers into the elite of American education, Ruth Simmons takes the helm of Brown University, the first African-American to head an Ivy League institution.

GOLDSTEIN: Her becoming the president of Brown has now finally broken through the last educational frontier for African-Americans.



HARRIS: T.D. Jakes definitely goes where other preachers fear to tread. At times his frankness about sex and sexual abuse is controversial, even by secular standards. But there is no denying that Jakes has touched a chord with thousands, especially women. His mastery of everything from television and the Internet to books and plays makes T.D. Jakes a unique and powerful force both in and out of the pulpit.


JAKES: If you quit the first time, you will never get what you want from God. This is my moment and I'm not going to miss it. I'm going to pick myself up, brush myself off and go back in there and fight the good fight of faith...

HARRIS (voice-over): You might call it old-time religion with a twist. Sunday mornings at T.D. Jakes' church in Dallas, Pentecostal preaching meets self-help.

JAKES: So if you're a person who doesn't want to rock the boat, you'll never change your situation.

There is a common thread in my message that says, you can make it, you can survive, you can overcome whatever it is that you face.

HARRIS: Jakes' ministry numbers 28,000 strong, and just may be the fastest growing in America.

JAKES: You have to be prepared to be radical enough to cry out even in the midst of controversy because you expect something to happen in your life.

HARRIS: His popularity fueled by the family problems he preaches about: sexual abuse, domestic violence; issues that have a particular resonance with women. DR. RITA TWIGGS, DIRECTOR OF DISCIPLESHIP, POTTER'S HOUSE: A lot of the women did not ever get a release until someone finally said it's OK to cry, it's OK to talk about what has happened to you. He gave that kind of release to thousands of women.

JAKES: Some of the issues, the divorce, the abuse, the traumas, the various types of pain that women are facing today are not new. They've been facing them for years. But it has been previously so taboo to discuss these subjects.

HARRIS: Jakes' candor on personal trauma and healing has roots in his own family experience. Born 44 years ago near Charleston, West Virginia in a church-going family, Thomas Dexter Jakes embraced faith at an early age.

JAKES: I carried the Bible in school and they called me the Bible Boy and the Boy Preacher. My father had gotten sick when I was 10 and died when I was 16. And so truth became imperative to me, and healing became imperative to me, to respond to a childhood that I didn't have and a life that I didn't get to live growing up in hospitals and emergency rooms and a kidney machine in the basement. And then burying my father left me with some serious questions.

HARRIS: The questions hovered into adulthood. He briefly studied psychology, then became a traveling minister. His day job was at the Union Carbide plant in Charleston. He married Serita Jamison. They had twin boys, the first of five children.

Then, another dose of adversity: The plant shut down.

JAKES: We were laid off and found ourselves going from what I though was an adequate income to no income at all.

SERITA JAKES, WIFE: Unemployment ran out and he was digging ditches with his brother to make gas lines, and preaching revivals to subsidize our income.

JAKES: That was, perhaps, one of the richest moments of my life, though it was one of the poorest moments of my life. It helped to balance me.

She says she's got 50 grandchildren.

HARRIS: Jakes says his own experience of pain has helped him reach out to others who are hurting. And what he has heard, especially from women, has helped invigorate his ministry.

BONNIE MOON, CHURCHGOER: Within a 30-day period, my whole life flew apart. My husband of 20 years walked out, and the son who was perfect in every way and becoming what his mother wanted him to be, called from California, and he was addicted to crack. I got a call from the doctor's office that said I had breast cancer. One of the first things that happened is I turned on the TV and heard a message from Bishop Jakes and began to hear the voice of God.

HARRIS: In 1996, Jakes moved to Dallas and bought this church, Potter's House, figuratively named, a place to mend broken pots. Two thousand people turned out for his first service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the Potter's House.


HARRIS: These days, Sunday services are beamed around the world, thanks to a state-of-the-art $40 million television studio.

Jakes also runs ministries for the homeless. They get regular haircuts, meals and showers, and special programs for people with AIDS, drug addicts and prisoners. For all he does in Texas, T.D. Jakes' biggest outreach may be through his books.

He has written 28 in all.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have just been laid off!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that don't matter. God is still good.


HARRIS: He has also written plays. "Behind Closed Doors," about coping with breast cancer, is touring again this month.

Along the way, Jakes has earned a very nice living, leaving some to wonder if he is exploiting his ministry for personal gain.

JAKES: I'm grateful that God has allowed me to discover some talent, some resources. But aside from ministry and aside from preaching, I have been able to explore creativity, open up businesses, build companies, and still be true to my calling.

JAKES: God is getting ready to give you a miracle, but you have to be crazy enough!

HARRIS: At a T.D. Jakes service, there is a mix of the traditional and the post-modern. The fusion of the Bible, pop psychology and civil rights. He has been compared to Martin Luther King and to the Reverend Billy Graham. But he sees his life's work through a different prism.

JAKES: I don't think that God is in the business of duplicating people. I think he makes one designer's original, and then he breaks every mold. My goal is not to be Dr. Graham or Dr. King or anyone else. My goal is to be the best T.D. Jakes I can possibly be, and means to that end that I work every day.

And we shall rejoice and be glad.


HARRIS: From Christianity to the classroom. Coming up: "America's Best Teacher."


HARRIS: Welcome back to "America's Best." There was a time when certain students more often than not fell through the cracks. Now, these same students are headed to college by the thousands, thanks in no small part to Mary Catherine Swanson. With "America's Best Teacher," here is CNN's Anne McDermott.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have got 30 seconds, let's go! Get in here!

ANNE MCDERMOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And get in here they do. They are eager for class. But not so long ago, many of these kids had trouble making B's or C's, even D's. And now? Well, most, maybe all, will go onto four-year universities. So, how did that happen?

MARTY CATHERINE SWANSON, TEACHER: It's really very simple. Hard work makes people smart.

MCDERMOTT: Mary Catherine Swanson ought to know. She has made lots of kids smart over the past 20 years, and has become something of a cult figure to teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're so cool. I just want to say thank you.

MCDERMOTT: Her students thank her too.

SWANSON: I have students who have now developed interceptor ballistic missile systems, students who have launched space shuffles with NASA, students who are CFOs of major corporations, who are doctors, who are teachers.

MCDERMOTT: And she has plenty of other kids well on their way.

LUIS LOPEZ, AVID GRADUATE: In 10 year's time, I see myself with an MBA, probably owning my own company.

MCDERMOTT: Big dreams. Thanks to Swanson.

It's the late '70s, and the student body at Swanson's San Diego high school is changing from mostly white to heavily minority, and she worries that a lot of these kids would be stereotyped as not college material. But Swanson thinks they can succeed, as can lots of students with so-so grades, and that's when she came up with AVID.

The nonprofit AVID program -- that's advancement via individual determination -- is not for the A student, it's not for the F student. There are plenty programs for them. But nothing much for those in the middle.

SWANSON: We are looking for students that I would describe as those who sit in the backs of classrooms, do the minimum to get through school, and when they are gone, nobody even remembers they were there.

MCDERMOTT: But they have to want to do more. That means taking a daily AVID class, where they learn to take notes and study so they can take advanced courses. And to help them with these courses are AVID tutors, many of them AVID grads themselves, but mostly it's up to the student to study, and study, then study some more.

What Swanson's program is really teaching them, she says, is how to do school.

SWANSON: Those of us who are born into educated families have dinner table conversations about how to get along in school. So, let's say we have gotten a low grade on an exam. How does an educated parent tell the child to handle that? They say, go to the teacher and say, "I got a really low grade on this test, but you know what, I would like to do better."

The student that comes from a family that doesn't understand school very well says, "that teacher doesn't like me. The test wasn't fair, it's not my fault I got that low grade," and there is no way to get out of that kind of a situation.

MCDERMOTT: Maximo Escobedo learned how to do school with of AVID, and eventually became a graphic designer who loves to delight his daughters with his drawings. It all began when Escobedo's parents decided to immigrate from Mexico so their eight boys could get a better education. But instead of challenging classes, the Spanish- speaking youngsters were loaded up with such subjects as shop, and gym, and ESL, until they were recruited for AVID.

MAXIMO ESCOBEDO, AVID GRADUATE: I did end up with advanced -- advanced English, honors English, when I was a senior, and I probably got a B or a C, but I was more satisfied with a lower grade in a really tough class than I would have been with a really high grade in an easy class.

MCDERMOTT: Escobedo's experience is not all that unusual, according to a professor of sociology.

PROF. HUGH MEHAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SAN DIEGO: All too often in public education for at least 100 years, we have been directing students based on color of their skin into less rigorous classes than into more challenging classes.

MCDERMOTT: Swanson says our nation can't afford to lose such students. They are the hope, they are the future.

Like Horeta Liseraga (ph), an AVID student, an A student and a future pediatrician.

HORETA LISERAGA, AVID STUDENT: The whole point about AVID is getting me somewhere.

MCDERMOTT: But getting there isn't all that easy. AVID isn't for slackers. Still, the dropout rate has been estimated at a remarkably low 5 percent. And what began back in 1980 with just 32 students in a single school now is taught in more than 1,000 schools in 16 states.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You get a chance to like think about, OK, what is it that you value in education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have teachers that actually want us to go to college and help us.

MCDERMOTT: A teacher like Mary Catherine Swanson who knew too many kids that weren't getting help. And she wouldn't, she couldn't forget them.


HARRIS: Just ahead on "America's Best," a true designing woman.


HARRIS: Sheila Bridges is a virtual slew of Americana, a designer who enjoys a list of celebrity clients, including Bill Clinton, who recently chose Bridges to design his new digs in Harlem. With "America's Best Interior Designer," here is CNN's Maria Hinojosa.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A grand New York City apartment with an understated design. A mix of classic furniture that is timeless and traditional.

SHEILA BRIDGES, INTERIOR DESIGNER: It's a design that is comfortable, that is livable, but is also beautiful and elegant at the same time.

HINOJOSA: That's the look of Sheila Bridges, one of the hottest designers on the market. But take a closer look, and things aren't quite as traditional as they seem. The Roman bust is of a black man. The candle holder is a black child. The paintings -- classic portraits of African-Americans.

Because this grand apartment is in the heart of Harlem, the epicenter of African-American culture.

BRIDGES: Now, there is nowhere else that I can think of in the world that has really recognized the contributions that African- Americans have made socially, artistically, and so I wanted to be in that neighborhood.

HINOJOSA: Sheila Bridges grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of a dentist and a schoolteacher. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.

BRIDGES: I really had an environment that I grew in that made me feel as though I could do anything.

They made it really look old, the patina and the paint in the middle.

HINOJOSA: After a stint at Parsons School of Design in New York...

BRIDGES: The bench is a nice idea, in additions to maybe chairs on one side...

HINOJOSA: Sheila found her mission in life.

BRIDGES: You can talk to me about what you like, what you don't like.

I guess my mission is to make your home a refuge, a very special and important and spiritual place that you have to come back to at the end of the day.

HINOJOSA: For the past eight years, Harlem has been home.

BRIDGES: As you can see, we are very much in construction.

HINOJOSA: And transforming Harlem homes...

BRIDGES: This is the kids' bathroom.

HINOJOSA: Have been just some of Sheila Bridges's high-profile projects.

BRIDGES: Obviously, we replaced all these windows. Had to have new windows made.

DEREK JOHNSON, APOLLO THEATER PRESIDENT: It was important to have someone who really understood Harlem and its history.

HINOJOSA: Derek Johnson, president of Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater is the owner of this landmark townhouse.

JOHNSON: I think there is a personal commitment on her part to see this neighborhood grow, flourish and realize all of its potential.

HINOJOSA: Sheila's commitment to Harlem and her talent as a designer caught the attention of Harlem's latest business resident, former President Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love you, Harlem, thank you, God bless you! I feel at home.

HINOJOSA: He chose her to design his new office on 125th Street.

BRIDGES: This is actually a fabric for some of the chairs in former President Clinton's private office. Very muted, very light, very neutral.

HINOJOSA: Clinton's 14th floor office is still being renovated. Karen Tramontano is former President Clinton's chief of staff.

KAREN TRAMONTANO, FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON'S CHIEF OF STAFF: What he wanted was a feeling of openness, accessibility, freshness, you know, just very light and airy. And I think from the fabrics to the style of furniture, you see that. HINOJOSA: Her work has graced the homes of many other high- profile clients, including Sean "Puffy" Combs, record executive Andrew Harold (ph) and software giant Peter Norton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is able to execute in a variety of styles that deliver an intelligent design for very different needs. And not every decorator can do that.

BRIDGES: I just want to look at it and make sure it's the actual right fabric.

HINOJOSA: She has been called the black Martha Stewart.

BRIDGES: I saw the chairs.

HINOJOSA: Sheila Bridges does not think of herself as strictly an African-American designer.

BRIDGES: There's one single window.

Being African-American is obviously a very big part of who I am, but I think my design is just about good design.

HINOJOSA: Her design has landed Sheila Bridges in top design and fashion magazines. Her small but growing empire includes a store in upstate New York and a book dealing with Middle Ground.

BRIDGES: We need bags. These are tall bags.

HINOJOSA: Her dream: To make her design style a national commodity.

(on camera): So, you not only are a designer, but you are clearly a businesswoman?

BRIDGES: But the business part is just as important as the creative part.

HINOJOSA: And as an African-American woman running a business, there has been some times when you hit up against a wall?

BRIDGES: All the time. All the time. I think people were always very surprised as to, you know, who I was, could I afford to actually buy that piece of furniture.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): Sheila works hard to break those stereotypes.

BRIDGES: I do think it's important to break that stereotype, and I feel as though, you know, I'm doing that about every single day.

HINOJOSA (on camera): When did you decide that you wanted a horse?

BRIDGES: When I was 5.

HINOJOSA: So it's a dream come true?


HINOJOSA: Do you miss him when you are in Harlem?

BRIDGES: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But no place for him to stay in Harlem. So we had to get him a house up here.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): On weekends, she rides her horse Red at her 13-acre estate, perched high on a cliff above the Hudson River. Her country is a refuge from the city, a refuge from the stress of being in high demand.

BRIDGES: I think a lot of my inspiration not only is from Harlem and what I see in the city, but also, you know, what I experience when I'm here in the country, in terms of the colors, the mountains, the water, the flowers. All those things I find inspirational and are helpful to me when I actually am doing the work in the city.

HINOJOSA: The work has consumed her life. Her thoughts always on what comes next.

BRIDGES: I would love to, you know, continue to do what I do in Harlem, but sort of on a grander scale. Designing furniture and coming up with a furniture collection that is, you know, something that everyone can buy.

HINOJOSA (on camera): Do you have an image that once you have your store front office space in Harlem that there will be a young African-American girl who will look and say, "wow, I want to be just like her?"

BRIDGES: Well, that would be wonderful. It makes we realize it is important what I'm doing. You know, even more importantly just that, you know, you can be passionate about something and make it turn into a reality.


HARRIS: Coming up: Who has got the best eats in America? But first, honoring those who makes us laugh and make us think.


HARRIS (voice-over): A hilarious commentator on the absurdities of life, David Sedaris cuts through pretense and political correctness to prove that he is a master of satire.

STEIN: David Sedaris is probably the funniest writer writing right now. He is self-deprecating, he sees through things. He gets to the bottom of things. He is not afraid to go try things out. He is just really clever.

HARRIS: In books such as "The Death of Satan," Columbia professor Andrew DelBanco argues that Americans have lost their moral compass, having become indifferent to the reality of evil that he says pervades society. But even as DelBanco laments over a soul-starved culture, he does so without giving up hope.

From stem cell research to war, theologian Stanley Hauerwas is not afraid to step out of the ivory tower.

DAVID VAN BIEMA, "TIME": For the purposes of most people out there who may not read theology journeys regularly, he addresses issues like bioethics and the justness of unjustness of war, and he's not just able, but happy to mix it up on those topics, and so he has injected himself into a number of public issues that the average theologian might not.

HARRIS: Got a problem? Tell her about it. Columnist Carolyn Hax dishes her witty, no-nonsense advice to the under-30 set for "The Washington Post" and several other major papers nationwide.




HARRIS (voice-over): It's been called the most exciting restaurant in America: the French Laundry in Northern California is renowned from coast-to-coast, just like its chef and owner Thomas Keller.

STEIN: His food's clever, it's smart, it's innovative. But the first thing you notice is the ingredients just pop.

HARRIS: She is a working woman with a secret life. She loves to keep house. Lawyer Cheryl Mendelson is the author of the bestselling how-to book "Home Comforts," a tonic for those struggling to keep up with the tempo of today's life while maintaining some sense of home- making.

Whether you know it or not, every time you walk through a museum, your experience is being guided by an invisible hand, the museum's curator. And no one is a better guide right now than Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator of photography at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts.

RICHARD LACAYO, "TIME": She is working now a show everyone is looking forward to. It's going to cover the whole history of Japanese photography, right from the beginning, and when she's done with that show we are going to know a lot more than we do now.

HARRIS: Tom White is a major capitalist and a major philanthropist. A Boston contractor, associated with the city's a massive highway project, the Big Dig, White is determined to donate his entire fortune to charity. The so-called shy millionaire plans to die broke.


HARRIS: Over the last quarter century, Tom White has quietly given away tens of millions of dollars, mostly to organizations and charities that help the poor. We hope that you've enjoyed our latest installment of "America's Best." Coming in October, CNN and "TIME" magazine bring you "America's Best in Business and Technology."

That's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Leon Harris. See you next week.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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