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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Photo: Ann Hermes/CSM.
Najari Smith, who founded the bike shop co-op and nonprofit Rich City Rides, stands in front of a mural depicting him on April 9, 2021, in Richmond, California, a town across the bay from San Francisco.

There’s something liberating about riding a bike, as my youngest grandchild learned after taking an REI class in Cranston. She used to be afraid of falling. Now she’s a biking dervish. Today’s post is about another biking enthusiast, who’s been liberating a poor city and making it rich.

Erika Page writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Najari Smith was down in the dumps the night he first heard the bicycles below his window. He was new to California, lonely, and felt he lacked purpose. On the street below, a costumed parade of cyclists rolled by blasting music. By the time Mr. Smith rushed downstairs to join the party, they were gone.

“Mr. Smith’s journey, though, was just beginning. After that night in 2010, he began riding his bike everywhere and joined every community biking event around. Slowly, his spirits lifted.

‘Shoot, bicycles kind of saved my life,’ he says. He became part of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee of Richmond, California, which improves bicycle infrastructure in the city. During a routine committee meeting, he got his big idea.

“ ‘I thought to myself, “We’re building this infrastructure, but, you know, who are we building it for? Who’s going to use it?” ‘ he recalls. How would he get his community – the Black community – excited about using the bike lanes he was advocating for? And how would he break down the stereotype that Black people don’t bike? He started small – fixing up bikes at the park with local mechanics and giving them out to anyone who wanted one.

“Today, Mr. Smith runs Rich City Rides: a worker-owned cooperative bike shop as well as a bicycle advocacy nonprofit. These two spokes of the organization are distinct, but both serve Mr. Smith’s vision of using bicycles to ‘bring people together for healthy civic change’ in Richmond. Just like the bikes he fixes at the shop, Mr. Smith believes that no one, no matter what they’ve been through, is ever broken beyond repair.

“ ‘He’s the type of leader that seeks out the strength that an individual may have, rather than identifying their weaknesses. … He’ll sit down with folks and try to figure out how to get them involved, no matter what,’ says Robin D. López, who volunteers as a photographer for Rich City Rides and thinks of Richmond as ‘a community of untapped potential.’

“Roshni McGee, the program manager at Rich City Rides and co-founder of the bike shop, agrees. ‘He always tries to, you know, put a little bit of extra pressure on people and make them really be that diamond in the rough,’ he says.

“Rich City Rides is situated on a busy corner of Macdonald Avenue in a neighborhood that locals call the Iron Triangle, notorious for high crime rates and gun violence. Even though they live just across the bay from tony gentrified neighborhoods of San Francisco, many residents struggle to make ends meet. …

“ ‘He leads with love. … He shows that this is what we can do as Black people. We can revitalize our downtown, and we don’t have to be afraid of each other,’ says Jovanka Beckles, a mental health specialist who served on Richmond’s City Council from 2010 to 2018. She says Rich City Rides’ success has inspired other small businesses to open too, helping put the neighborhood on a long-awaited upswing. …

“[The nonprofit arm] plans social and wellness rides, youth programs, and community outreach. Since the nonprofit began in 2012, it has given away more than 1,000 bikes, led hundreds of social bike rides with thousands of participants, and conducted countless youth bicycle workshops. And during the pandemic, Rich City Rides has been distributing grab-and-go meals to families in need – an idea suggested by one of the high schoolers who works at the shop.

“In fact, Mr. Smith says other members of the team, and especially young people, make most of the important decisions. ‘I’m just a connector,’ he says.

“Cameren Howard-Simons is one of those young people who has found purpose through the organization. When he first met the crew at Rich City Rides, he was in middle school, and his mother didn’t want him hanging out in the area because of its reputation.

“Now Cam, a junior in high school, spends most of his free time working at the shop. ‘It’s hard to keep me away from people like this,’ he says with a wide smile, as he tries to get a derailleur to behave on the pink bike that’s hanging from his repair stand. Rich City Rides has kept him out of trouble, he says, adding that it’s one of the few places where kids can be completely themselves, without judgment.

“ ‘You’re wheelieing next to somebody, and they’re clapping, they’re recording you [on their phones], and they’re showing you love – showing you that they actually care about what you do,’ he says. …

“The notion that Richmond is not poor – but rich – guides Rich City Rides. ‘We’re a community that’s really rich in creativity and capacity and ingenuity,’ says Mr. Smith.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Kudra Maliro
Regina works at the Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, where she was once a patient. She often tells other patients, “I had this horrible thing, too, and look at me now. You can’t give up.”

When people recover from a natural disaster or a disease that loved ones did not survive, rather than feeling elated to be alive, they may feel only darkness about their losses. Some have learned to try healing their spirits a bit by helping others in similar situations.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When Regina Kavira Mbangamuke’s toddler son fell sick late last year, she did what any mother would. She pressed his feverish body to hers. She wiped away his tears and his sweat. She whispered tiny comforts in his ear. Don’t be afraid, my baby.

“And when he died, she fell into a sadness so deep and physical it took a week for her to realize there might be something else wrong.

“Ebola can be like that, Ms. Mbangamuke knows now. First it tries to take the people you love most in the world. And then it tries to kill you too.

“But as she tells her story to her patients at the Ebola treatment center in this city in eastern Congo, where she now works as a nursing assistant, it has a more hopeful postscript.

‘I say, my brother, my sister, I had this horrible thing too, and look at me now,’ she says. ‘You cannot give up.’

“Like nearly every one of the 1,000 people who have survived Ebola in eastern Congo in the past 15 months, Ms. Mbangamuke’s survival is interlaced with profound loss.

“But Ebola also affords les guéris – the cured – with an unusual opportunity. They are considered likely immune to the disease, and so also to the cruel distance it demands. They don’t need to wear the spacesuit-like protective gear that other Ebola responders don to avoid touching the sick. They can hold hands and rock babies. They can hug and clean and console. And in a place where trust in outsiders is in short supply, the hundreds of survivors who now work in the Ebola response provide something else: familiarity.

“ ‘This work helps the response, but it also helps the people doing it,’ says Solange Kahambu Kamuha, a psychologist with UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, in Beni. …

“[A] young man in bed shakes his head weakly. No, he says, he won’t go. He heard that everyone who goes into an Ebola treatment center dies. From the outside, rumors like this can sound fanciful. The disease was invented by the rich to make money. The disease was brought in to kill the political opposition. Hospitals inject their patients with Ebola to keep the outbreak going.

“But each outlandish-seeming rumor contains a kernel of truth. … Even the idea that patients are being infected in hospitals is rooted in the truth that many have gotten sick after visiting one. …

“There is simply little reason to believe that outsiders ever have their best interests at heart, says [Dr. Maurice Kakule Mutsunga, the chair of the local Ebola survivors organization]. ‘All around, people see tanks and U.N. soldiers, and still our war doesn’t end,’ he points out, referring to the decades of civil war that have roiled this part of Congo. Why should Ebola, and its new army of outsiders, be any different?

“Ms. Mbangamuke sees the skepticism, and to her too, it makes sense. Ebola has broken all of society’s rules.

“ ‘Here in the Congo, to take care of people is the normal thing, but in times of Ebola people cannot do the normal thing’ for their own families, she says.

“For her, it is still nearly impossible to make sense of a world that would take her child and spare her. The camaraderie she feels with her colleagues, their unspoken understanding, the easy laughter that passes between them as they mix sugary cups of tea in the break area, none of it gives meaning to her son’s death. But it is a way for her to try to restore some measure of balance.

“ ‘Every old woman I see [in the treatment center], she becomes like my own mother. Every baby, it’s like my own baby.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Katherine Taylor for the Boston Globe
Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness.

How does one write a headline for a story like this? It’s not exactly about music giving homeless people hope. It’s more that focusing on music — music performed for you and music you make — activates a positive side of who you are. It’s that positive things can lead to other positive things.

During the 2018 Christmas season, there was quite a bit of comfort and joy being spread by music in the Greater Boston homeless community. Zoë Madonna wrote about it at the Boston Globe.

“The CASPAR homeless shelter, a low-slung brick building, crouches on Albany Street in Cambridge. When percussionist Jennie Dorris wheels her marimba through the front door, half of a large central room has been cleared, and a line of grizzled men sits at a long row of tables, watching. An enthusiastic older man in a Boston Strong T-shirt marches up, introducing himself as Danny. ‘Finally, the marimba’s here!’ he exclaims, grinning. ‘I wait all year for this.’…

” ‘What compels me is to take music where it’s needed and treat everyone with respect,’ says founder Julie Leven, a violinist. This year, its eighth, Shelter Music Boston has mounted scores of concerts in shelters throughout the Greater Boston area, including a full schedule in the days leading up to Christmas.

“It’s not the only music group focusing on the homeless around Boston. Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness. …

“Eureka’s most ambitious project, according to cofounder and conductor Kristo Kondakci, was a commissioned composition, Stephanie Ann Boyd’s ‘Sheltering Voices.’ Auditions for choral fellowships for women were held at Pine Street Inn and Women’s Lunch Place, says Kondakci, a recent graduate of New England Conservatory who has worked with the homeless since his student days at Boston College High School. Around 15 took part.

“Carrie Jaynes and Rottisha Mewborn are friends who met at Pine Street Inn. When they saw the audition sign-up sheet, they were initially skeptical, they say — they’re used to well-meaning outsiders putting in a few hours and then disappearing. But they went to the audition in March, in a room where the heater was going haywire. To cool it down, Kondakci threw open the door of a nearby freezer.

“And that, Mewborn says, put them at ease. … As Eureka Fellows, Jaynes and Mewborn rehearsed weekly with Kondakci, learning ‘Sheltering Voices.’ They were never treated as anything less than important and independent, they say.

“ ‘We became so desensitized at Pine Street that we forgot how we can be treated like a normal person,’ says Jaynes. At the rehearsals, she says, ‘we knew that we were in this together. We knew that we were all right . . . we could be human again. We could show emotion and not be judged if we cried, or laughed, or showed a softer side of us.’ …

“Shelter staff say that after Shelter Music Boston concerts, the atmosphere is more peaceful, and nights are more restful, notes Leven, who also plays with Handel and Haydn Society and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. …

“As for the Eureka fellowships, Jaynes and Mewborn say their experiences were powerful. ‘Having Kristo say “We’ll get you there no matter what” built up our trust and our safety,’ Mewborn says. Because Pine Street Inn has a daily lottery, she explains, she never knows if she’ll have a bed to sleep in each night. There’s little in her life she can truly count on. ‘So just having this little safety — even if things are going crazy out here, we can get there — it’s amazing.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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Waiting

I went to the five-hanky Amahl and the Night Visitors again this year — so moving for so many reasons. I’m moved by the Italian composer’s last-minute inspiration to use the three kings of his childhood as the basis for the opera commissioned for a live television broadcast, the love between the mother and child, their extreme poverty, young Amahl’s optimism, the miracle, and numerous lines — “the keys to his kingdom belong to the poor,” “for such a king, I have waited all my life.”

Waited. Waiting.

The Catholic church in Concord sets up a crêche outside the parish hall every year. They don’t complete it and place the baby in the manger until Christmas Eve.

I like to think of the kneeling figures as waiting, although once the tableau is complete, they are seen as worshiping.

I see them as waiting and believing that a reason to be hopeful is coming. And I think their belief plays a role in making it come true.

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Laura Bliss at the Atlantic‘s City Lab has a story on young people you may have seen performing in a New York subway car. She reports that in the film We Live This, the teens’ hopes seem hemmed in by poverty.

“ ‘Showtime’ dancing is a hallmark of the New York City transit scene,” writes Bliss. “Hoping for donations, crews of young black and Latino men perform exuberant choreographies for subway passengers, twisting and leaping from pole to pole with artful ‘lite-feet‘ dancing in between—and never before shouting, ‘It’s showtime!’

“Who are these dancers scraping by on their earnings? A new, short cinéma vérité documentary, We Live This, shines a light on the world of one crew, whose four young members perform on the J train. They are talented, hardworking, committed, and full of dreams, the film shows. But for some, the obstacles are high, and the alternatives slim. …

“Forty, is homeless.

‘As I’m dancing on the train, I’m thinking about where am I sleeping at night,’ he says. ‘Who should I call? Who is going to pick up? What if they don’t answer?’

“Showtime is the best way he he knows to a better life, a way into a community, he says. …

“Of course, the subway is no simple launchpad to success. While some passengers love the dancing, many others avoid eye contact, and some even yell at crews to switch cars. …

“ ‘I hope people will watch this and look at these young men as human beings,’ the film’s director, James Burns, tells CityLab. ‘And see the last vestiges of a culture that may be dying out.’ ”

More.

WE LIVE THIS – OFFICIAL TRAILER from HAYDEN 5 on Vimeo.

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Try to Praise the Mutilated World

By Adam Zagajewski
Translated By Clare Cavanagh

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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Adam Zagajewski, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” from Without End: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Adam Zagajewski.

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Alden wrote on Facebook that he was going to cut off all access to the outside world last night and just listen his Ella Fitzgerald album. It sounded like a good idea to me.

Where do you look for healing? People have their ways. Getting lost in a book, attending a Handel’s “Messiah” (“Comfort ye, My people”), playing with a child too young to understand, breathing deeply in a florist shop, creating a self-imposed news blackout.

Once you turn your face to things that are beautiful and good, once you feel able to stand upright, you may be up for action. Donating to an organization that can help, volunteering, writing to your congressmen, composing a poem or a requiem. Take your time.

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I was interested in an article in today’s NY Times about a school that gives chronically failing students another chance. It succeeds against all odds, but success is a slow process. New York’s mayor is not a fan, because many kids take six years to graduate.

Aniah McAllister, once a lost and wandering soul, has one of the happier stories. Reporter Michael Powell writes that she seems amazed to have earned 46 credits and to be headed to college.

“ ‘This school made realize,’ she says, ‘that I am much better than I thought I was.’

“That’s a pretty fair bottom line for any school,” writes Powell, “although in the up-is-down world of public education in New York, it might just be an epitaph for this small marvel of a high school. Known as a transfer high school, Bushwick Community admits only those teenagers who have failed elsewhere. Most students enter at age 17 or 18, and most have fewer than 10 credits.

“You can muck around quite a bit trying to find someone who has walked the school’s corridors, talked to its students and faculty, and come away unmoved. Most sound like Kathleen M. Cashin, a member of the State Board of Regents and a former superintendent. ‘They care for the neediest with love and rigor,’ she said. ‘They are a tribute to public education.’ ”

Read the article. I’m hoping it will have an influence on the policymakers and let an initiative that sounds so positive keep going.

Aniah McAllister, left, Justin Soto and Kassandra Barrientos attend Bushwick Community High School. Photograph: Kirsten Luce, NY Times

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When you have a doctor’s appointment in the morning and go to work late, you see a whole different crowd riding the subway. In the summer after rush hour, there are a lot of families on outings. A woman and a boy of about 11 got on and sat near me. The boy began to tell his mother that he had been reading about a made-up language called Esperanto. She said she had heard of it and thought it had been popular a long time ago but hadn’t worked out. An older kid they didn’t know chimed in to confirm the woman’s view. Esperanto was intended to be used as an international language, but nobody spoke it anymore.

That was too much for me. “Well,” I said, “hundreds of thousands of people speak it. I speak it.” If I may say so, the boy and his mother were delighted. Could I speak a few words, they asked?

“Mi parolas Esperanto,” I said. The boy repeated the “I Speak Esperanto” phrase several times. He then wanted to know “hello.” “Saluton,” I said. I told him and his mother why Ludwig Zamenhoff had felt a need for such a language more than 100 years ago in a war-torn part of Eastern Europe.

When the woman and the boy were leaving the train, they asked how to say “good-bye” and told me good-bye in Esperanto.

Now get this. Here is William Shatner, long before “Star Trek,” in a spooky black and white movie called “Incubus” — filmed in Esperanto!

That is so bizarre, I thought at first it must be a hoax. Maybe some Esperantists dubbed it for a joke on YouTube, I thought. But Wikipedia is very careful about such things, and it confirms that William Shatner performed in a movie in Esperanto that was thought to be lost. The recently rediscovered print had subtitles in French, which have now been converted to English. Read Wikipedia here. (Read my previous post on invented languages here.)

And just in case you are now inspired to learn the language, this little clip offers a pretty good lesson.

I hope the boy on the subway finds it. A terrifically curious and open-minded young man.

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