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Photo: Music for Milestones
Spurred by a grant from Dragon Kim Foundation
, Los Angeles teenagers Katheryn Williams, left, and Charu Balamurugan set up a music program for children.

As I often say to my grandchildren when they come up with creative ideas, “I love people with ideas!” And nowadays I find young leaders with ideas especially inspiring. I think if teens and 20-somethings working to end gun violence and reduce global warming are successful, they will have earned the mantle of the Great Generation.

Today’s story is about a couple of teens who wanted to use music to help children smile.

Kyle Melnick writes at the Washington Post, “After asking nine children on her computer screen to retrieve a piece of paper and something to draw with, Charu Balamurugan explains the class’s next lesson.

“ ‘We’re going to listen to parts from each of these three different songs,’ Balamurugan says, ‘and you’re going to use … different types of lines [or drawings] to show how it makes you feel; the emotions you feel.’

“A few moments later, when Balamurugan plays the first song, Peter Schmalfuss’s version of ‘Clair De Lune,’ the children put their heads down and draw images that pop into their minds.

“By the time Balamurugan has streamed three classical songs during this Zoom class on a Friday evening in late August, the kids’ papers feature drawings of watermelon, roller coasters, chocolate bars, sunsets, cupcakes, pumpkin patches and Snoopy.

“Los Angeles high school students Balamurugan and Katheryn Williams created this class, Music for Milestones, to provide local children a creative outlet through music. The free Zoom classes give children a chance to socialize and clear their minds at a time when they’re usually stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘The most meaningful part about all of this is getting to see the kids smile every single class and the joy on their faces,’ Williams said. …

“Balamurugan began playing the piano at age 6. She went through hour-long practices almost every day and partook in local competitions. Balamurugan enjoyed playing waltz, but she also liked performing pop songs to energize family and friends. Playing the piano would boost her family members’ spirits after they returned from work.

“In high school, the piano became more of a creative outlet for Balamurugan as she realized how composers deliver a story or message through their performances. She taught piano to family friends who had money for lessons, but she wanted to reach those who didn’t.

“Meanwhile, music was a driver in Williams, improving her state of mind. When she was 9, she lost motivation to pursue goals in and outside of school. She felt angry at the world.

“Around that time, Williams’s grandmother, Delmy Lopez, played her ‘Esta Vida’ by Jorge Celedón — a song that preaches appreciating the small pleasures in life. That song changed her perspective, and the next day she signed up for her school’s band, learning the bass, guitar and drums. She later gained the confidence to try out for the school’s basketball team.

“In December, Balamurugan and Williams attended a meeting at their school about the Dragon Kim Foundation, which offers a fellowship program that provides $5,000 to a handful of California teenagers, helping jump-start programs they aim to form in their communities. … They wanted to team up to create a music program.

“They decided they would teach music to children around the Los Angeles area. They would create a free workbook for the class and use the grant they’d receive to purchase keyboards for the children participating. …

“Balamurugan said, ‘Katheryn is an amazing public speaker and has such an affable personality, and with me taking the reins on the organizational aspects, we played on each other’s strengths.’ …

“The original plan was for the hour-long classes to occur in-person, but they shifted to Zoom when the pandemic arrived. Online classes have allowed Balamurugan and Williams to expand their reach, as families have inquired about joining from multiple states. … Balamurugan and Williams go over the basics of music notes and tempos, give instructions on how to play the piano and suggest how to use music to improve one’s mind-set. …

“Balamurugan and Williams are proud to inspire children by showing them women of color can create and teach music, too.

“ ‘We want kids to know that through all your struggles, through anything that you’re facing,’ Williams said. More here.

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Ben Hoyle of the UK-based Times writes that Christine Walevska went to Facebook to post a painting of herself at aged eight with her child-size cello.

Here’s a story about a virtuoso’s stolen cello that has a happy ending. I initially learned about it from the Los Angeles Times, where reporter Stacy Perman starts out with a bang: “It was Sept. 14, 2013, when a mysterious email bearing the subject line ‘Is this your first cello?’ landed in Christine Walevska’s inbox.

“The renowned cello virtuoso, however, checked her emails infrequently. … And so six months passed before she clicked on the missive sent by strangers living in Chico, Calif.

“ ‘Maybe you will recognize this cello,’ the note read, describing the instrument made by the 19th century French luthier Auguste Sébastien-Philippe Bernardel. Three photographs were attached.

“Walevska scanned the first two, showing the front and back of the instrument. When she pulled up the third, her heart nearly leaped from her chest. ‘I was so shaken up,’ she recalled.

“The image revealed the luthier’s label, visible through one of the curlicued f-holes. Across it was a note inscribed in the feathery pen of the master himself: Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834. ‘For the little Countess Marie.’

“ ‘I could hardly believe it,’ she recalled. The cello had been given to her as a child by her father; nearly 40 years earlier, it had been stolen. …

“Walevska responded to the email with alacrity: ‘Please phone me as soon as you can! Anxiously awaiting your phone contact.’ …

“Her father, Hermann Walecki, an internationally respected dealer of fine and rare classical instruments in Los Angeles, [had] presented the little cello to her in 1953. She was 8½. …

“[Even as she outgrew it,] she remained stubbornly attached to the Bernardel, said her brother Fred, recalling how hard-pressed she was to move up to a larger instrument. Hermann mounted the little cello on a wall in his store, telling her, ‘You will hand this down to your daughter, and her child after that.’

“When Hermann died in 1967, Fred took over the music shop and transformed it into a rock ‘n’ roll mecca — the place where everyone from the Beach Boys to the Rolling Stones went to buy guitars and have them repaired.

“Then one day in 1976, two men in their 30s walked into the store. ‘Wow, what a far-out store,’ Fred remembered one of them saying. ‘You must have a lot of expensive things. What are the most valuable?’

“Without thinking, Fred immediately pointed to his sister’s cello on the wall, as well as a custom-made guitar with mother-of-pearl inlay. That night, after closing, the store’s windows were smashed, setting off the alarm. By the time the police arrived, the cello and the guitar were gone.”

♥♥♥

Years later, when the Breshears family decided to rent a child-size cello from a reputable dealer for their daughter Starla, Julie Breshears “found the label intriguing,” the Los Angeles Times continues. ” ‘I thought it was crazy that this belonged to a countess and nobody knows about it.’

“So she searched the internet looking for clues. When she typed in ‘Bernardel’ and ‘Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834’ she came across an interview that Christine Walevska had done with the Internet Cello Society. The Breshearses decided to reach out to her. They typed up an email, attached three photos and waited.

“It was shortly after Walevska’s birthday, March 8, 2014, when she spoke to the Breshearses.

“The conversation started on a note of wariness but quickly turned to amazement. The Breshearses described how Starla had been winning contests and was about to solo with an orchestra. Walevska recounted the instrument’s theft. ‘Now you know the true story of that instrument,’ she told them. The Breshearses were dumbstruck.

“Before they ended the phone call, Dustin told her, ‘You should have your cello back.’

“ ‘We’ve got to figure out how to handle this properly,’ she replied.

“The Breshearses sent Walevska videos of Starla playing the cello, and as she watched Starla perform, Walevska saw herself. ‘I knew immediately, she was a big talent,’ she said. ‘This little girl’s name, Starla, is well chosen.’

Click here to read how a lovely relationship developed between the former child prodigy and the little girl she met because once upon a time a beloved cello was stolen.

The London Times has additional information here.

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Photo: Los Angeles Coliseum
Until a teenager decided to solve the mystery, the story of the coliseum mural was lost in the mists of time.

I’m pretty sure young people are going to save the planet, and after hearing speakers from one youth organization yesterday, This Is Zero Hour, I know I need to follow where they lead. Never underestimate the power of a teen who gets motivated to solve a problem.

On a lesser scale than saving the planet — but illustrating the point nevertheless — a Los Angeles teenage sleuth managed to solve the mystery of a beautiful, neglected mural and ended up providing critical information to the restoration team. Colleen Shalby has the story at the Los Angles Times.

“For decades, the curving mural depicting a golden sun has greeted visitors to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Faded by the elements, its once-vibrant blue lost some luster over the years. The gold-leaf paint had chipped away. Still, the image drew eyes upward.

“No one seemed to know who had painted the scene adorning the Coliseum’s main archway — or when. Guides referred to it as a ‘mystery mural,’ the story of its origins as shrouded by time as the artwork itself.

“But after taking a tour of the historic stadium a few years ago, one local teenager became engrossed with its history.

“Dean Gordon estimates he’s been to the Coliseum more than 100 times. But before that day, he’d never given much thought to the mural high above the peristyle entrance. Two golden Olympic torches flanking a flaming sun, its center a depiction of the planet Earth and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Solving its mystery soon became his mission.

“Two summers ago, at age 17, Gordon began his quest — poring through library books and searching archives, hoping to find a clue that would lead him to the artist.

“ ‘I basically contacted every single person who might have an idea,’ he said, ‘every archivist, historian or professor who might have some connection to the mural,’ rumored to have been painted before the Coliseum hosted the 1932 Olympics.

“After a series of dead ends, Gordon found a clue in the form of a Los Angeles Central Library notecard that read ‘H. Rosien Coliseum.’ Further online digging produced nothing — until he came across a single tweet: ‘Please don’t touch the mural inside the arch that my FIL Heinz Rosien painted prior to the Olympics!!’

“The plea, posted in 2016, was from Mary Lou Rosien in response to the Coliseum’s announcement that parts of the stadium were being overhauled. The mural would be part of renovations, which eventually totaled $315 million, by USC. The university operates and manages the Coliseum. …

“Rosien’s husband, Igor, [and] his father, Heinz Rosien, had worked on the mural together. The Los Angeles Coliseum Commission tasked the elder Rosien with the job in 1969, in hopes of helping the city win a bid for the 1976 Olympics. …

“The archway of the Coliseum proved to be a precarious canvas. The underside of the curved portico stood more than 70 feet off the ground. To reach it, father and son scaled scaffolding without the aid of safety belts, which now are commonplace. They painted upside down. …

“The origins of the mural were all but lost — until Gordon started his detective work. The teen tracked Rosien shortly after spotting his wife’s tweet, shocked to learn that someone directly connected with the artwork was still alive.

‘The entire time I was trying to figure out who painted it, I thought it was from 1932,’ said Gordon, now 19 and a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts. ‘All my research was in that time period.’ …

“The end of Gordon’s search two years ago led to a series of hours-long discussions about the mural — and the start of a friendship between the younger Rosien and the student detective.

“ ‘Thankfully, Dean didn’t take “mystery mural” as an answer,’ Igor Rosien said. …

“Before the mural’s restoration got underway, Gordon and Rosien met outside the Coliseum. There, the artist presented the young detective with one of his dad’s paintings.”

More.

 

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Photo: Jeremy Copeland
Patrick Torres, Erik Miron, Bergen Moore, of the band Vignes Rooftop Revival, on the way to a gig in downtown Los Angeles.

Around the time Suzanne and Erik were planning their wedding, I met a musician’s mother in what I called my Cancer Dance Class. He and his band mates were Berklee grads, and they had a group called Shamus, which I can no longer find on the web. Suzanne loved their music as much as I did and even asked the band to play at her wedding.

Oh, ha, ha. You can just imagine how much they would have charged to bring all their instruments and band members by plane from California! (Suzanne settled on a local band called the Booze Beggars.)

I’m thinking that a band that travels by bicycle like the one in the following story might have been cheaper to hire than Shamus, although I admit I can’t see them bicycling from California to the East Coast.

Lisa Napoli wrote about the bicycling band at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Some musicians arrive at their gigs in a tricked out tour bus. Others, if they’re lucky, in a limo. But there’s a popular band based in downtown Los Angeles that relies on a lower-key, low-carbon form of transportation.

“In car-crazy L.A., the band members either bike, walk or skateboard to all of their gigs.

“The lively acoustic group, the Vignes Rooftop Revival, began by accident five years ago, on a rooftop of a loft building on Vignes Street in rapidly gentrifying downtown Los Angeles.

“A group of neighbors, including musician Erik Miron, would enjoy meals with other building residents, as the dramatic city skyline shimmered in the background.

” ‘After awhile the instruments would come out,’ said Miron, who came to Los Angeles to study music at the University of Southern California. ‘We’d start goofing around and it evolved into something where we decided to take it down from the roof to the bars and restaurants.’ …

“One gig led to another, and accompanied by a rotating cast of musical friends, the band now play 200 shows a year. …

” ‘It’s funny. We’re almost like an Amish jazz band,’ said Miron, who has a full, wiry beard that makes him look right out of Pennsylvania Dutch country. ‘We don’t use cars or electricity so much.’

“Miron said the Vignes Revival didn’t set out to be so green. He and the core members of the group just found it easier to get around without the use of a car. …

“Driving a car leaves him ‘mildly grumpy,’ while arriving by bicycle, he said, is a refreshing way to indulge his love of being outdoors.

” ‘It’s nice to move under your own power,’ he said, as he loaded up his guitar, banjo and trumpet in a trailer he hitches up to his bicycle. He also adds in a few succulents in pots adorned with the band’s logo for good measure. At each show, they give them away. …

“Bass player Bergen Moore uses different wheels to get to the show: a hand-made, hand-painted skateboard. That has been his preferred mode of transportation for a while, even when he lived in hilly San Francisco. Now, he’s got his instrument affixed with wheels, too. …

“Nary a pothole, nor the occasional motorist agitated at their speed, daunts these musicians. For a gig that was ten miles away, they made their way via a combo of human-powered transit and the Los Angeles Metro system.

“They do enjoy playing the tavern around the corner. Then, they get to indulge in an even simpler commute: walking.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Craig Schwartz
Tom Hanks as Falstaff in the recent Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV — the actor’s “Los Angeles stage debut.” Hanks went off the script when a medical emergency in the audience interrupted the show.

One always wonders if an actor known for subtlety in close-ups can make the shift to the grand gesture on the big stage. It’s such a different kind of acting, and I have sometimes been disappointed (e.g. the otherwise brilliant Liv Ullmann, the amazing-on-screen Sally Hawkins). But Tom Hanks, apparently, rose to the occasion in his recent performance as Falstaff at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles presentation of Henry IV. He channeled Falstaff so well, in fact, he was able to ad-lib in an emergency.

As Tara Bitran  reported at Variety in June, “A few scenes into Wednesday night’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’ Tom Hanks had to go off script. …

“ ‘An audience member became dehydrated and had to be taken out,’ Heath Harper, Hanks’ theatrical dialect coach, told Variety. …

“One of the crew members with medical training assisted the audience member until they regained consciousness and the paramedics arrived. The medics performed tests on the guest in the crossover under the seats. Because this is the actor crossover as well, the show could not restart.

“ ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Harper said. “It credits the work we’ve done and Tom’s commitment to the character that he was able to just jump on the stage and improv as Falstaff like that. The audience absolutely ate it up.’ …

“Hanks addressed the ‘scurvy rogues who stood up from their seats’ to leave during the 20 minute pause, describing their departures as an ‘insult to all actors and to Shakespeare himself.’

“The video also shows Hanks-as-Falstaff warn: ‘Get back here or find this sword and many a dagger placed neatly in the tires of your carriage’ to laughs from the still-seated audience members.

“Hanks then returned back to center stage, inviting audience members to ‘come sit here, and I shall give thee a haircut,’ he offered. …

“Once Hanks and the production team received word that the audience member had recovered, ‘the show went on and the crowd was completely behind us to the end, giving us standing ovations all around,’ Harper said. … ‘All in all, I think it was a fantastic true-to-Shakespearean moment in LA,’ Harper said. ‘The crowd definitely got their money’s worth.’ ”

I love seeing this kind of thing happen. In fact, I still remembering seeing René Auberjonois do something similar in Alice in Wonderland when he wasn’t more than 14, presaging the brilliant career he would later have. And there’s a funny scene in Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, in which the actors are supposed to pretend that someone backstage got sick and that they are all discussing it chaotically downstage. I loved the line of the actor at the Antrim Players in Suffern: “It must have been the chocolate matzohs.”

Theater can be such a good training for life: Something always goes wrong.

More at Variety, here.

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Photo: Alan Greenblatt/NPR
Growing up, Liam Foley (left) was in charge of dishes and never cooked. He was still able to help chop the onions, though, at a burrito-making project for the poor in San Francisco.

Here’s another great story about ordinary people stepping up to try to make a dent in some of life’s knottier problems. This initiative is about making a dent in hunger and getting to know a few people experiencing homelessness.

Alan Greenblatt writes at National Public Radio, “Jimmy Ryan’s recipe for burritos is really pretty simple. It calls for 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of beans, a couple of cases of canned tomatoes and several hundred tortillas.

“That may sound like a lot, but Ryan is one of the organizers of the Burrito Project in San Francisco, an informal charity that makes and distributes about 500 burritos to the homeless once a month. On May 21, the group celebrated its second anniversary and rolled its 10,000th burrito. …

“The desire to distribute healthy, easily portable burritos is catching on. … A couple of the entities have registered as 501(c)3 charities, but others remain completely informal. Anyone is allowed to use the name as long as they’re providing burritos and not making any money off the service.

” ‘From what I understand, we have one of the only burrito projects that runs four days a week,’ says Rai Doty, a coordinator in Salt Lake City. ‘Four days a week, we feed 200 to 500 people a night.’

“The groups rely on a mix of donated food and sponsorships. In San Francisco, different companies pay the bills each month, helping out with both funding and manpower. …

“The crowd [I saw] was mostly young and white, but several other racial and ethnic groups were represented, with at least one grandmother helping out. For some, this effort represents just one stop along their personal charity journeys, which also include efforts such as working at animal shelters or churches. But for others, this was a quick and painless way to give back. …

“The organizers say they’re trying to make the event fun and welcoming, asking everyone to introduce themselves and providing kombucha and cake to celebrate their anniversary. …

“The soup kitchen that allows the Burrito Project to use its kitchen is located on the edge of the Mission District, which is ground zero for gentrification pressures in San Francisco. …

“The Burrito Project encourages volunteers not just to hand out food, but to stop and interact with individuals who are often neglected or avoided. …

“No one is under the illusion that handing out an occasional burrito is going to solve anyone’s problems.

“Some Burrito Project outposts try to do more than occasionally feed people. During the snowy season in Salt Lake City, the group partners with Warm the Homeless, which distributes blankets, coats and hats. The long-running project in Bakersfield, Calif., has been adopted by high school and church groups who hand out clothes and shoes when there are donations. Their ninth anniversary event on July 8 will provide a forum for representatives from other local groups that provide housing, health and legal assistance.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Kol Peterson
Los Angeles will pay homeowners who are willing to house pre-screened homeless families by creating “granny flats,” like this accessory dwelling unit over a garage in Portland, Oregon.

I like stories on creative ways cities are trying to tackle homelessness. These initiatives may seem like a drop in the bucket, but some may actually work well over time and help alleviate the effects of our extreme inequality. You have to start somewhere. After all, the homeless population includes working families unable to make ends meet on their wages.

As Vanessa Romo wrote at National Public Radio last month, “In an attempt to alleviate the soaring homelessness problem in Los Angeles County, officials want to pay homeowners to house people by building new living units or bringing existing dwellings up to code if they are in violation.

“It’s part of a $550,000 pilot program launched by the LA Community Development Commission to explore new ways to safely and at a relatively low cost, provide housing options for handful of the county’s nearly 60,000 homeless residents.

“The county Board of Supervisors has narrowed down the pool of applicants from 500 to 27 and is in the final stages of selecting a group of six property owners who are ready and willing to start construction in the fall, according to the LA Times. The county is also leading a design competition for model secondary dwelling units.

“Officials will consider whether to expand the program after 18 months. …

” ‘People are looking at what they can do to make our neighborhoods more affordable and help more Angelenos find stable places to live,’ LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times.

“Garcetti has been urging property owners to build secondary units, or ‘granny flats’ as they’re often called, in their backyards for years. He estimated it could create 50,000 more units if only 10 percent of homeowners would take on the challenge. …

“The Times also reported ‘the loan principal will be reduced each year the unit is occupied by a formerly homeless person and forgiven after 10 years, at which point the homeowners can do as they wish with the housing.’ …

“Los Angeles is only the latest county trying to take on the nation’s homelessness crisis by inducing property owners to provide affordable housing.

“Multnomah County in Oregon started a similar project last summer where four homeowners agreed to have a small unit built on their lot and pledged to provide housing for pre-screened homeless candidates for at least five years.”

More.

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Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
A statue of Gene Autry and Champion at the entrance to the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The museum opened in 1988
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My family had one of the early televisions because my father was writing a story about Dumont for Fortune. It was a clunky little thing, showing black and white only, of course, but we loved it, and all the kids in the neighborhood came to watch.

My hero was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. (Want me to sing the opening number for you, the one Autry sang when he rode Champion up close to the camera and reined him in with a little bounce?)

Recently I learned that in 1988, Autry founded a museum in Los Angeles about the American West. Here’s an Associated Press report by John Rogers at US News on the museum’s 2016 expansion.

“The Autry Museum of the American West [is expanding] to include a garden of native Western flora, as well as new galleries showcasing hundreds of Native American works, some from present day, others centuries old, many never seen publicly.

“The expansion, named California Continued, adds 20,000 square feet of gallery and garden space to the museum that, with its red-tiled courtyard and distinctive beige bell tower, evokes images of an 18th century, Spanish-styled California mission . …

“Museum officials say visitors will now see one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts found anywhere. Also included will be more than 70 plants native to California — many medicinal and some endangered — as well as new displays that include Western mixed-media paintings and interactive works showing such sights as California from the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney in the state’s midsection) to its lowest (Death Valley on the Nevada border).

“Because it’s the Autry Museum, visitors also will still see such venerable Hollywood artifacts as the Singin’ Cowboy’s Martin guitar, TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore’s mask and a wealth of silent cowboy star Tom Mix memorabilia. …

“[Autry] died at age 91 in 1998, just a few years before … its 2003 merger with Los Angeles’ Southwest Museum of the American Indian. …

” ‘This collection that is now in the Autry Museum is a native collection of the very same rank, and in some quarters even better, than the Smithsonian’s,’ said [the museum’s president, W. Richard West Jr.,] who was founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Some of the best of the collection on display is contained in the exhibition ‘The Life and Work of Mabel McKay,’ a Pomo Indian basket weaver, healer, civil rights activist and person believed to be the last speaker of her tribal language when she died in 1993. Her intricately woven, often colorful baskets are accompanied by a recreation of her workroom, narration by her son and other works. …

“The garden contains native plants that caretaker Nicholas Hummingbird hopes will make people realize there is more to Western flora than cactus and sagebrush.”

More at US News, here.

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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lining up for tacos outside the Islamic Center of Santa Ana.  The ‘Taco Truck at Every Mosque’ event for iftar (evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan) promotes solidarity and understanding.

Community organizers are getting creative with ways to pull different groups together. Consider this California example.

Anh Do writes at the Los Angeles Times: “Activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region’s Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

“After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana, taking part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

“Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination. …

” ‘This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?’ asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host food trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. …

“Even young participants such as Idrees Alomari, 13, were encouraged by Saturday’s event, which he said was a good way to show how people can appreciate their differences and similarities. …

” ‘All the way from the parking entrance to inside, everyone’s been like, “Welcome, welcome, we’re so glad to have you here,” ‘ said Dulce Saavedra, 24, [a] youth organizer for Resilience OC, a nonprofit created from the merging of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and Raiz, a group pushing for partnerships between law enforcement and immigrants.” More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

This initiative reminds me of an annual event that took place in Lowell, Mass. It was a gigantic soccer tournament with teams from the scores of immigrant groups in the city. I always admired the ONELowell initiative because it can be hard to get minorities to band together and realize they can collaborate to promote common needs. Sharing a sport loved by many nationalities seemed like a good place to start.

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Photo: Los Angeles Times
Jackie DesRosier conducts a YOLA at HOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles at Heart of Los Angeles) youth orchestra spring concert.

The arts have a mysterious capacity to touch people in ways that nothing else does. It’s as if most of what we do or even think about every day is on the surface of things, involving the small part of our brains that is conscious. The arts, however, can reach into the unconscious part and make hidden flowers bloom.

Read how, in Los Angeles, an arts program is helping students flourish.

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “It is one of the most densely populated areas west of the Mississippi. The poverty rate is over 35%, and more than a quarter of all households earns less than $15,000 per year. At least 30 gangs roam the streets, recruiting children as young as 9. The high school graduation rate is around 50%.

“That’s the state of affairs in Westlake, Pico Union and Koreatown, according to the organization Heart of Los Angeles. The group reaches more than 2,000 kids in those neighborhoods every year through after-school arts and athletics programs, but its crowning achievement is its partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: Youth Orchestra Los Angeles at Heart of Los Angeles, or YOLA at HOLA. …

“The program provides intensive orchestral instruction, including classes on music creativity, singing and ensemble rehearsals, to 250 students in 1st through 12th grades. Classes take place daily. An hour of academic tutoring is thrown in each afternoon for good measure. …

“More than 350 families land on the waiting list for programs at HOLA every quarter, so Brown said HOLA wants to build a recreation center to serve more people. The statistics coming out of the HOLA’s academic enrichment, visual arts and music programs speak to why demand is so high.

“Of the 63 students in those programs who were high school seniors in 2015, 100% of them graduated, and 97% went on to college. …

“[HOLA Executive Director Tony] Brown and his staff are aggressive in preventing kids from falling between the cracks. They sometimes attend parent-teacher conferences to find out what support a child needs, and when a student disappears from their programs, a staff member might make a house call to help bring that student back. …

“Brown likes to tell the success story of a boy named Raymond who came through the program as a troubled middle-school student. His grandmother brought him to YOLA at HOLA because he was failing in school and in danger of joining a gang.

“ ‘This young man started playing the clarinet, and he played the heck out of it. Next thing you know he’s earned his way to playing in London with YOLA at HOLA and Dudamel,’ Brown said, referring to the youth orchestra’s 2013 trip overseas. Raymond is now attending UC Santa Cruz.”

Read why National Endowment for the Arts is crucial to this program, here.

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What is going on with the oceans? Warming trends are bringing sea creatures further north and for longer periods.

In January, Oliver Milman reported at the Guardian about a sea snake with a suggestive name (“Why you yellow-bellied sea snake, you …!”) that has suddenly shown up in California.

“California beachgoers have been urged to steer clear of a species of highly venomous sea snake following a third, and unprecedented, instance of an aquatic serpent washing up on to the state’s beaches.

“A 20-inch yellow-bellied sea snake was discovered on a beach near San Diego … The sighting was the third reported instance since October of the species, which prefers the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, washing up on California’s beaches.

“The only previous verified sighting of a washed-up yellow-bellied sea snake was in 1972. Experts believe the snakes have ridden a warm current of water, fueled by the exceptionally strong El Niño climatic event, farther north than they have ever previously ventured. …

“ ‘It’s been an incredibly interesting year for southern California. We’ve seen tuna and marlin and tropical bird species such as red-footed boobies,’ said Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. …

“Yellow-bellied sea snakes are fully aquatic snakes capable of swimming vast distances. Although they are highly venomous, their targets are small fish and it’s thought they have yet to cause a recorded human death. However, Pauly said people should keep their distance if they encounter another washed-up snake.

“ ‘They are fairly docile and it’s unlikely for someone to be envenomated,’ he said. ‘It’s rare for them to bite people, it’s usually fishermen who are carelessly pulling up fishing nets.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Carolyn Larcombe/Wandiyali Images
Seen in California after el Niño, yellow-bellied sea snakes usually live in the deep waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

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Green sea turtles are being seen farther north these days, thanks to a very warm river in California.

Sanden Totten has the story at National Public Radio. “The green sea turtle typically lives in tropical waters, like the shores of Mexico or Hawaii. But recently, scientists have discovered a population swimming year-round in a river just south of Los Angeles. It’s the northernmost group of these turtles known to science. …

” ‘The small turtles have heads about the size of a golf ball or even a small lime, and the large turtles, their heads are about the size of a softball or grapefruit,’ [Cassandra Davis of the Aquarium of the Pacific] says.

“Her group has been carrying out this sea turtle census for about three years. She estimates there are between 30 and 100 turtles in the area. But why these large tropical creatures chose this place to settle down is a mystery. It’s a river sometimes mired in trash next to a busy road and a military base. …

“Dan Lawson, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration … says the river is a mix of salt and fresh water, which is good for sea turtles. It seems to have plenty of food. And it has another thing going for it.

“There are two power plants — one on each side of the river. They both suck in cold ocean water and use it to cool their generating systems. This process ends up heating the water before it’s dumped back into the river. This warm outflow results in a sort of turtle Jacuzzi. …

“But, he says, there’s a catch. Over the next decade or so, the plants will phase out this method of using ocean water as a cooling mechanism. That means, eventually, no Jacuzzi. It’s unclear how this will affect the federally protected turtles.” More here.

Reading about warm water from power plants reminds me that when we lived in Rochester, New York, we heard that there was good fishing near a power plant on Lake Ontario. But the unnatural heating of the water is really not considered good for the environment.

Photo: Sanden Totten/Southern California Public Radio/KPCC
A recently rescued sea turtle recovering on the banks of the San Gabriel River.

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It was good to have a little lawn when Suzanne and John were kids, but we gave up the hassle after they grew up. In place of a lawn we have a lovely ground cover called vinca. In spring the yard is entirely purple.

On the East Coast as fall approaches, many homeowners are thinking about taking advantage of cooler weather to rev up their lawns. But in the Southwest there’s a concerted effort to move away from the green carpet.

Ian Lovett writes at the NY Times that since 2009, Los Angeles “has paid $1.4 million to homeowners willing to rip out their front lawns and plant less thirsty landscaping.

“At least the lawns are still legal [there]. Grass front yards are banned at new developments in Las Vegas, where even the grass medians on the Strip have been replaced with synthetic turf.

“In Austin, Tex., lawns are allowed; watering them, however, is not — at least not before sunset. Police units cruise through middle-class neighborhoods hunting for sprinklers running in daylight and issuing $475 fines to their owners.”

In Las Vegas “in the last decade, 9.2 billion gallons of water have been saved through turf removal, and water use in Southern Nevada has been cut by a third, even as the population has continued to grow. …

“The idea that extensive grass lawns are wasteful has now taken hold with many people in this region, especially the young and environmentally conscious.

“And municipalities, hoping [the] savings can be expanded, have tried to entice more residents to dig up their lawns by offering more money. Last month, Los Angeles raised its rebate to $2 from $1.50 a square foot of grass removed. Long Beach now offers $3 a square foot.” Read more here.

Photos: Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Top, Flowering artichoke plants in Mitch and Leslie Aiken’s drought-tolerant yard in Pasadena, Calif. Below, the couple survey the effect of desert plantings.

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Just a quick post to say that there are some lovely blogs on WordPress, where Suzanne’s Mom’s blog is housed. I recently noticed two in particular I wanted to share.

The first features the Modern Museum of Glass Art in Copenhagen.

The second has photos of cool cut-paper art. Enjoy.

 

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