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Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Photo: Margaret Jankowski.
Students in a 2013 sewing class test their new skills on a suite of machines donated by the nonprofit Sewing Machine Project to a community center in New Orleans. 

There have always been a few followers of this blog who quilt, weave, knit, crochet, or sew, and I’m hoping they will like today’s focus on a nonprofit that harnesses the multifaceted power of sewing. Richard Mertens reported about it at the Christian Science Monitor.

“A tsunami helped Margaret Jankowski understand the real value of a sewing machine. Like many girls of her generation, she had learned to sew at an early age. Her mother taught her on an old Singer Featherweight, and she learned the basics by hemming her father’s handkerchiefs. As an adult, she bought her own clothes off the rack but sewed for her first child. … She taught classes at a sewing shop, ‘preaching the gospel of sewing,’ she says. …

“Then, in December 2004, a tsunami hit Sri Lanka and other coasts around the Indian Ocean, leveling communities, hurling wooden fishing boats far inland, and killing 230,000 people. … What touched Ms. Jankowski most deeply was the story of a woman returning to her ruined village. The woman had worked for years to save enough to buy a sewing machine, enabling her to work as a tailor and giving her a future. Now it was gone. …

“She resolved to send sewing machines to Sri Lanka. ‘I thought maybe I could collect a few of these machines that people are getting rid of anyway,’ she says. She explained her idea on a local news program and was inundated with machines. She raised money for voltage converters and shipping, and in 2005, with the help of the American Hindu Association, sent five boxes each to five orphanages in India and Sri Lanka, each packed with toys, medical supplies, fabric, and the most precious cargo – a sewing machine.

“ ‘They were used to sew for kids,’ she says. ‘They were also used to teach kids a trade, which I felt was really important.’

“It didn’t end there. Ms. Jankowski went on to start the Sewing Machine Project, a small organization that redistributes used machines. It’s a mission that springs from a love for an old craft and a belief in its practical and redemptive possibilities today. …

“In 16 years the project has shipped 3,350 machines around the world – and across town. It’s sent them to coffee pickers in Guatemala, women who help vulnerable girls in Guam, and war widows in Kosovo. It’s sent them to programs that help refugee women in Detroit, incarcerated women in Mississippi, and sewers of Mardi Gras outfits. … In these and other places, unwanted machines find new uses. In many places sewing can be a livelihood, whether in a factory job or at home.

For those trapped in poverty, Ms. Jankowski says, sewing ‘is a way out.’

“Sewing is also a way forward for immigrant and refugee women in Detroit, says Gigi Salka. Ms. Salka is the director of the B.O.O.S.T. training program at Zaman International, a nonprofit that serves poor and marginalized women and children, including immigrants and refugees, in the Detroit area. … Zaman began offering a two-year sewing instruction program. Graduates earn money doing alterations and creating made-to-order clothing, often from their homes. …

“The pandemic disrupted the classes but also created new opportunities for the women. ‘We gave them fabric. They took machines home. They made masks,’ Ms. Salka says. ‘In a population where five dollars makes a big difference, any supplemental income, any extra dollar is a dollar they can have. … Sewing is very empowering. You see it in a population that’s lost hope; the ability to create a product is very powerful to them. They’re so proud.’ …

“This idea is being tested in Rankin County, Mississippi, where a local woman, Renee Smith, persuaded prison officials to allow her to start a sewing program for women in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Her aim was to get help producing reusable menstrual pads for girls in countries like Uganda and Haiti where girls frequently stay home from school while menstruating, or quit school altogether because they lack access to sanitary supplies. … The inmates were glad to have something to do, she says, but sewing for distant schoolgirls also gave them a sense of purpose. …

“Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Sewing Machine Project have been the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, an African American community known for the elaborate feathered and beaded suits they wear for Mardi Gras. That effort, too, started with a disaster. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city, hitting African American neighborhoods especially hard. Cherice Harrison-Nelson, also known as Queen Reesie and an early collaborator with the Sewing Machine Project, says that making Mardi Gras suits is an important cottage industry in the city, but that many people lost their machines in the hurricane.”

Read more at the Monitor, here.

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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: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor.
Shoppers in Chelsea, Mass., have benefited from cash payments during the pandemic.

How many years have we kicked around the idea of a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty? If you search at this blog on the topic, you will see several forms the concept has taken in the past. And since COVID-19 became part of our lives, the feeling of urgency around Universal Basic Income (UBI) has grown.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Simon Montlake as a report on Chelsea, Massachusetts.

“Inside the hillside church where she works part time as custodian, Ana Vanegas-Rivera rests on a wooden bench and pulls out her phone wallet. She holds up a blue debit card, similar to the others in her wallet, minus her name or any issuing bank. 

“The card belongs to Chelsea, a blue-collar city outside Boston that is using it to give cash to around 2,000 low-income residents during a pandemic that has disproportionately hit its Latino-majority population. Every month the card is reloaded with between $200 and $400, depending on family size, allowing recipients to spend the money as they see fit. 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera’s $400 goes toward buying food, household items, school supplies, and shoes for Dylan, her third grade son. For now, the family is getting by on her modest custodian salary and disability checks, along with what her husband earns from sporadic construction jobs, so every extra dollar counts.

“ ‘It has been a big help. I’m very happy that we have this opportunity,’ she says. 

“The pilot income program, which began in November and runs until May, has been underwritten by federal and state COVID-19 relief dollars, as well as private donations, and is geared to feeding families, as its name, Chelsea Eats, suggests. ‘Our overriding goal is to get people through the spring,’ says Tom Ambrosino, the city manager. ‘For some of our families that is the only money they have.’ 

“Chelsea is also a national testbed for a simple idea: to help people by giving them money. Not a housing voucher, not food stamps, but a cash-equivalent payment that ensures recipients have a basic income that they can spend any way they want. The rationale is that people know best what they need, and letting them make decisions on how to use the money, without restrictions, is direct and empowering, and doesn’t require a big bureaucracy to implement.

“Chelsea is one of several U.S. cities experimenting with unconditional cash transfers to help some residents quickly – an idea that could become the basis for an alternative to traditional welfare and other safety net programs that have existed for decades. Indeed, advocates see these cash experiments as a building block toward a federal guarantee of a basic income for all, or at least all who manifestly need it. 

“The idea of a universal basic income that would fill in some of the crevasses in capitalist economies isn’t new. … But UBI has always been a provocative notion that seemed just a little too provocative, an unfathomable expense – free money for all – that nobody would want to pay. That was before the pandemic.

Once economies started closing down, governments around the world began to dig deep and spend freely, putting cash directly in people’s hands. …

“Most U.S. social assistance is modest and conditioned on certain requirements, such as work and family size. Except for older adults or people with disabilities, it rarely arrives in the form of cash. This reflects an ethos of self-reliance, as well as decades of conservative criticism that welfare is wasteful and breeds dependence. Backers of basic income believe these traditional assistance programs no longer work. 

“Yet the politics of governments handing out cash remains complicated. Many liberals like UBI but some don’t. Many conservatives don’t like UBI but some do. 

“For now, momentum is building for at least some form of basic income in the face of a lopsided economy that seems to generate more losers than winners, even before the pandemic. But the question is: How far will the idea go? …

“In Chelsea, Mr. Ambrosino doesn’t really focus much on whether the idea of a basic income is gaining ascendancy in Washington or not. His priority is simply to help families in a tough spot, and he’s happy with what he’s seeing so far with Chelsea Eats. ‘We’re getting money in the right hands,’ he says. 

“Roseann Bongiovanni, a former city councilor and now executive director of GreenRoots, a local nonprofit, agrees that the extra money is helping families. But Chelsea faces challenges of housing affordability and environmental justice, and overall demand at food pantries hasn’t gone away. ‘This is a short-term fix,’ she says. ‘It’s not resolving a larger structural issue.’ 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera knows that her debit card is temporary. Though she owes less on her credit cards and is managing better, her money problems haven’t gone away. What has changed, she says, is that she and her husband are no longer lining up daily at food pantries.” 

More here.

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Photo: Donnel Baird.
Donnel Baird is the founder and owner of BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based energy technology startup that markets, engineers, and finances renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to buildings in underserved market segments.

This article starts by showing how a professor and a college friend helped motivate a young man depressed about race in America and then describes how he turned himself into a force for change.

Sarah Kaplan writes at the Washington Post, “Donnel Baird kept his coat on while he toured the aging sanctuary. His breath froze on his face mask as he took in the peeling plaster, the dusty basement, the failing boiler that never seemed able to make Bright Light Baptist Church warm.

But when he peered into the kitchen, the shiver he felt was one of recognition. Every burner on the stove was lit. The oven door was open, its temperature set on high. It was exactly how Baird’s family tried to heat his childhood home more than three decades earlier, in another Brooklyn building with a dysfunctional HVAC system.

“The landlord wouldn’t address the problem, and the family couldn’t afford to move. So they stayed, the need to keep their children warm outweighing the danger of toxic fumes and open flames.

“Baird, 40, has made it his life’s work to ensure other people don’t have to make that choice.

“That’s why he launched BlocPower. Since its inception in 2012, his Brooklyn-based start-up has brought clean energy to more than 1,100 low-income buildings across the New York area. Baird’s business plan is simple: the company replaces heating and cooling systems that run on fossil fuels with greener, more efficient alternatives such as electric heat pumps and solar panels. That reduces the pollution driving climate change while also making indoor air healthier. The gains in efficiency generate enough savings to lower costs for property owners and deliver a profit to BlocPower investors. And the renovations create jobs and increase property values, building wealth in neighborhoods that have long been marginalized. …

“The foundations for BlocPower were laid during Baird’s childhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood just a few miles from Bright Light. It was a community with a spirit of civil rights activism — the center of school integration protests; the home district of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first woman and African American to seek a major party’s presidential nomination in 1972. But the area had also been depleted by predatory real estate practices and ravaged by the crack epidemic.

“By the 1980s, when Baird’s parents emigrated from Guyana, the neighborhood was at a nadir. Buildings were in disrepair, jobs were hard to come by, tensions with police were high. As an elementary-schooler, Baird witnessed a fistfight escalate into a deadly shooting. That taught him about desperation, he says; when someone pulls the trigger, it’s because their back is already against the wall.

“Baird’s family eventually moved to Atlanta, where Baird got scholarships to attend a private high school and then Duke University. Surrounded by Whiteness, wealth and privilege, ‘I really started to see the structural elements of racism in America,’ Baird said.

“Then police in the Bronx killed an unarmed Black man named Amadou Diallo, firing 41 shots at him. The immigrant from Guinea was only a few years older than Baird and had been standing in front of his apartment building when he was killed.

“Baird sank into a deep depression. He might have stayed there if he hadn’t wound up in a course at Duke about social movements taught by historian Larry Goodwyn. He became close with the professor, who called the struggling sophomore into his office one day and told him, Baird recalled, to ‘get my s— together.’

“ ‘He said, “You’re so smart, there’s no excuse for you not to figure out how to plug in and get active on the issue of race,’ ” Baird said. …

“After graduation, Baird moved back to New York to work as a community organizer, then got a job partnering with the Department of Energy to retrofit low-income houses so that they used less energy and cost less to heat.

“Roughly a third of U.S. households have trouble paying energy bills, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wealth disparities and decades of racist housing policies mean that Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately likely to live in homes with broken or inefficient HVAC equipment that is more expensive to operate.

“This energy inequality is a public health crisis: aging gas and oil furnaces — as well as the stoves and ovens used to supplement them — can fill homes with dangerous pollutants. A recent MIT study found that ozone and lung-irritating particles from buildings are the nation’s biggest cause of premature death from air pollution. In the neighborhood around Bright Light, where 67 percent of rented homes suffer from maintenance defects, children are hospitalized for severe asthma at twice the citywide rate.

“It’s also an environmental crisis. The energy needed to heat, cool and operate buildings produces almost a third of the United States’ planet-warming emissions.

” Working on buildings ‘brought all the themes of my life together,’ Baird said. ‘The racial justice stuff, the economic justice, the climate stuff.’ …

“Baird began to envision a company that could raise huge amounts of capital and use it to finance green retrofits in low-income buildings. Investors would be paid back out of a portion of the utility bill savings. Baird would make the venture profitable by embracing technology and seeking out partnerships every step of the way.”

Read how he established his company, BlocPower, here, and what it has accomplished so far.

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Photo: AP
A child protection officer in Sri Lanka wanted to help out rural children who have plenty of hardships but no books. He brings them books in his off hours.

Everybody needs books, maybe especially children who are developing. But children living in poverty often lack access.

I’ve blogged several times about efforts around the world to get books into the hands of poor children. (This post, for example, is about doing it by boat. And here’s one about delivering books on horseback and another by camel!)

Singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton is probably the best known person getting books to kids in the United States. We do have poverty here. Parton grew up poor and knows the discomfort of admitting you need help, so she gives out books without regard to family income.

Bharatha Mallawarachi writes at the Associated Press (AP) about a guy in Sri Lanka who is not famous but is equally determined to fill a need for reading material.

“During his leisure time, Mahinda Dasanayaka packs his motorbike with books and rides his mobile library — across mostly muddy roads running through tea-growing mountain areas — to underprivileged children in backward rural parts of Sri Lanka.

“Having witnessed the hardships faced by children whose villages have no library facilities, Dasanayaka was looking for ways to help them. Then he got the idea for his library on wheels. …

‘There are some kids who hadn’t seen even a children’s storybook until I went to their villages,’ he said.

“Dasanayaka, 32, works as a child protection officer for the government. On his off days — mostly during weekends — he rides his motorbike, which is fixed with a steel box to hold books, to rural villages and distributes the reading material to children free of charge. …

“His collection includes about 3,000 books on a variety of subjects. ‘Boys mostly like to read detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, while girls prefer to read youth novels and biographies,’ he said. …

“He began the program in 2017 with 150 books — some of his own and others donated by friends, colleagues and well-wishers. He bought a second-hand Honda motorbike for 30,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($162). He then fixed a steel box on the bike’s pillion seat. …

“Apart from giving away books, Dasanayaka also speaks to the children for a few minutes, usually under a roadside tree, highlighting the value of reading, books and authors. He then conducts a discussion on books the children have read, with the aim of eventually forming reading clubs.

“His program has spread to more than 20 villages in Kegalle. He also has expanded it to some villages in Sri Lanka’s former civil war zone in the northern region, more than 340 kilometers (211 miles) from his home.

“The long civil war ended in 2009 when government troops defeated Tamil rebels who were fighting to create a separate state for their ethnic minority in the north.

“Dasanayaka, who is from the ethnic majority Sinhalese, believes books can build a ‘bridge between two ethnic groups. … Books can be used for the betterment of society and promote ethnic reconciliation — because no one can get angry with books,’ he said.

“He also has established mini libraries at intersections in some of the villages he visits, giving children and adults a place to share books. These involve installing a small steel box that can be opened from one side onto a wall or on a stand. So far, he has built four such facilities and aims to set up 20 in different villages.

“While Dasanayaka spends his own money on his program, he is not wealthy, with a take-home income of 20,000 rupees ($108) a month from his job. He said he spends about a quarter of that on gasoline for his mobile library. …

“ ‘I live a simple life,’ he said. ‘No big hopes, and I am not chasing after material values such as big houses and cars.’ …

“Dasanayaka said he does not seek any monetary benefit from his program.’My only happiness is to see that children read books, and I would be delighted to hear the kids say that books helped them to change their lives.’ “

More at AP, here.

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Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Eddie Adams rehearses on a cello at George Mason University.

This summer I have been reading installments about the early life of someone I thought I knew well when she was a child. I thought I knew how difficult life was for her and her younger brother after her parents divorced. Wrong. Without getting into details, I’ll just say I didn’t have the slightest idea. Reading her story, I feel like crying. I feel like going back in time and trying to fix things.

Fortunately, I know this girl as an adult and can see that somehow she was saved, with the violin playing an important role in saving her. I’m telling you this because I want to share a story about a boy who was saved by a cello.

Allison Klein reported the cello story in April at the Washington Post.

“Eddie Adams didn’t have the money to buy college textbooks this semester, so he had to rely on his classmates at George Mason University to loan him theirs. He is the principal cellist in the school orchestra, but he couldn’t afford to buy or even rent a cello. That, too, he had to borrow.

“That was two weeks ago.

“After a story ran in The Washington Post about Adams’s tormented, impoverished childhood and how the cello has become his lifeline, people started donating money — more than Adams ever imagined was possible.

“The day the story ran, April 13, Adams looked at a GoFundMe page that had been set up for him and saw it had reached $25,000. It was so much money, he was sure there was a technical problem with the fundraising site.

“ ‘I legitimately thought it was a glitch in the system,’ said Adams, 20, who as a child moved around Northern Virginia with his mother and five siblings about seven times, including to a homeless shelter in Alexandria.

“The next day when the fundraiser reached $70,000 — and hundreds of people had left comments telling him he was worth every penny — he texted his strings professor and mentor, June Huang: ‘I’ve been crying all day … happy tears.’ …

“As of late Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe donations had reached $141,120.

“ ‘I still don’t want to believe it happened because it’s too much money for me to even think about,’ said Adams, who is estranged from his family and whose only home is his dorm room.

“On top of that, people donated other large and personal gifts. Two people are buying him cellos, one valued at up to $20,000 and another that will be specially made for him, valued at more than $30,000. A couple in Delaware bought him a $700 custom-fitted tuxedo he will wear during performances. Gift cards and checks started arriving at the university, totaling close to $5,000.

“The City of Alexandria invited him to play at a homeless shelter, Huang said. He plans to do it. …

“Adams’s first move was to pay a $250 deposit for an educational music festival he will be attending this summer. Then he went to the dentist for the first time since he was a child. And he paid off $15,000 in student loans that were accruing interest and had been weighing heavily on him.

“ ‘That was a very big moment for me,’ he said. …

“Huang, whose support of Adams was described in the Post story, said she has been deluged by calls and emails from people who want to help Adams.

Huang first heard Adams play at an audition for the school’s orchestra. She dropped her pencil, forgetting to score his performance because she found it so soulful and beautiful. …

“It was Huang’s private violin student Noah Pan Stier who at age 12 set up the GoFundMe page last year after Huang told him about Adams’s difficult childhood. Noah recently turned 13 and had a bar mitzvah, asking for donations for Adams instead of gifts. By early April, Noah had reached his goal of raising $10,000. That is the same GoFundMe that is now at more than $141,000. …

“Now, Huang is the point person coordinating Adams’s donations and talking with people around the country and in places such as Germany, England and Singapore who contacted her in recent days wanting to help. She has been getting pro bono guidance from various estate planners, tax lawyers and accountants to figure out how to keep the money safe for Adams and make it last. She said she’s been in nonstop motion the past 10 days, but she’s thrilled with all the support. …

“Huang said she includes one of Adams’s close friends, Adam Rothenberg, and his former middle school teacher, Gerald Fowkes, in financial discussions she has with Adams for transparency’s sake. She keeps all his financial information in a binder the four of them can look at. And she’s trying to teach Adams how to manage his newfound money at the same time she’s trying to figure it out herself. …

“Adams said he is now getting a lot of attention on campus, as people approach him and say they had no idea that his past was so difficult, that he faces so many challenges. He’s shy so the attention is not always easy for him.

“ ‘I have anxiety about these types of things, but I should get used it because it’s all really good,’ he said. ‘I’m trying not to think about it because finals are coming up and I’m trying not to let that take up all my head space. I still need to study and practice as much as I was before. I need to focus on my schoolwork because that’s the whole purpose of it all.’ ”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: John Waire/Washington Post
Richard Antoine White behind the scenes during the filming of “R.A.W,” a documentary about his life and musical career.

What is it about tuba players and altruism? Maybe I should say, What is it about Baltimore tuba players?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a Baltimore tuba player’s inspiring outreach to young impoverished musicians (here), and now I have a related story about a tuba player who grew up poor in Baltimore and now mentors kids.

Tim Smith writes at the Baltimore Sun, “Richard Antoine White looks back on his life — poverty and an unsettled family life growing up in [the Sandtown section of Baltimore]; tuba studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute and Indiana University; his current jobs with the New Mexico Philharmonic and University of New Mexico — and sums it up simply: ‘The American Dream is still alive and well.’ …

“White’s successful pursuit of that dream has been chronicled in the documentary ‘R.A.W.’ (White’s initials) by Baltimore filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson, co-founders of Early Light Media. …

“ ‘I feel honored and humbled that they wanted to do a film about me,’ says White, 45. ‘There was an awe factor when they showed up in Albuquerque. I thought, you guys are really going to follow me around with a camera? But I trusted them to tell this story appropriately.’

“Storytelling is a specialty for Durlach and Larson. They formed their production company not only to make a living (clients for their video work include companies and foundations, local and beyond), but also to give themselves an outlet for spotlighting worthy individuals and causes. … The duo decided to direct that interest into Invisible Thread, a venture they envisioned as a series of ‘people-driven stories.’ …

“[Their first film] had a screening at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Durlach and Larson met the school’s director, Chris Ford.

“ ‘We were talking with him about an idea we had for a feature film about the arts, specifically arts education, in our culture,’ Durlach says, ‘how the arts are misunderstood, underfunded, and underutilized. And Chris said, “You know who you need to talk to is Richard White.” …

“ ‘The second we met Richard, we fell in love with him and were inspired by him,’ Durlach says. … For several days, the filmmakers shadowed White to chronicle his life in Albuquerque, where he is principal tuba in the New Mexico Philharmonic and associate professor of tuba/euphonium and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the University of New Mexico.

“The action then shifted to Baltimore, where more filming took place at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody. The filmmakers also accompanied White to places in Sandtown, where he spent difficult years as a child and had largely avoided revisiting.

“ ‘Family members would sometimes let my mom and I sleep on a couch,’ White says. ‘Sometimes I slept under a tree or in an abandoned house. My mom had problems with alcoholism and finally gave me up. Her foster parents took me in. …’

“After White’s life smoothed out with the help of his foster parents, he found himself drawn to music — first the trumpet, then the tuba, which he learned partly with the help of a self-teaching tape. That gave him the confidence to go to the Baltimore School for the Arts, ready to audition for admission. … White gained admission.

“ ‘That proved to be a good decision on our part,’ Ford says. ‘He was an incredible worker. Through sheer grit, he was pushing past everyone. And he was a delightful individual throughout. ….

“ ‘Richard moved from someone who needed a handout to someone who now puts his hand out to help others,’ Ford says. ‘He’s been really powerful mentoring some of our kids.’ ” More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Jorge de la Quintana
A ballerina admired impoverished acrobats performing at Lima, Peru, traffic lights and decided to offer them a better opportunity. In the photo, members of her D1 Dance Company rehearse.

Once upon a time, a privileged young lady, a ballerina with an international reputation, saw the face of aspirational poverty on acrobats performing in traffic and decided to offer them an opportunity.

Dan Collyns writes at the Guardian, “Vania Masías vividly remembers the first time she saw acrobats somersaulting at a traffic light on a visit to her home city in 2004. She was at the peak of an illustrious career as a ballet dancer in Europe – but before long, she would leave it all behind it to nurture the raw talent she found in the streets of the Peruvian capital. …

“She was so inspired by the abilities of the teenage acrobats she encountered in Lima she set up a pilot project to teach them to dance – not ballet, but hip-hop. …

“It began on the self-taught gymnasts’ home turf in Ventanilla, a tough neighbourhood near the city’s port. Masías arranged to meet them on the shanty’s sand dunes where they practised their flips. The response was overwhelming.

“ ‘I thought I was going to meet with three kids,’ she said. ‘When I arrived, there were more than a hundred kids.’ …

“In 2005 Masías formed the D1 Cultural Association: part dance school, part non-profit organisation seeking to create young leaders and promote positive social change through the arts.

“D1’s social arm, which is 85% self-sufficient thanks to the school’s private classes, works with 7,000 children and young people in the capital and has schools in the Peruvian cities of Ica and Trujillo. More than 100,000 children have passed through the programme over the years, says Masías.

“Among them is Eddy Revilla, who at 13 became his family’s breadwinner somersaulting at traffics lights in downtown Lima.

“ ‘I was earning 300 soles a week [£66/$92] and here in Peru – that’s money! I could help my family and they started to thank me,’ says Revilla, now 25.

“But after blacking out in mid-air doing a somersault, Revilla auditioned for D1, and is now a member of the group’s professional dance company.

“ ‘When we started nobody thought that you could make a living from dance. Now it’s an amazing opportunity for young people,’ says Revilla, who also teaches hip-hop to paying students at D1’s dance studio. …

“Masías acknowledges that only a few of the young students will eventually follow a career in dance, but she says that the act of dancing itself gives them the confidence to transform their circumstances. …

“Masías has encouraged her dancers to embrace their provincial roots through fusing traditional Peruvian and urban styles.

“ ‘It’s in their blood, in their veins,’ she says. Dancers who had been ashamed of their origins ‘now fight to say where they come from,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Nichole Sobecki for NPR
This Kenyan hamlet is participating in a cash-distribution experiment. The nonprofit GiveDirectly will give $22 a month for 12 years to people in 200 such villages and compare the results with 100 other Kenyan villages.

MIT-based Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) has been working on poverty alleviation for many years now. The nonprofit describes itself as “a network of 145 affiliated professors from 49 universities. Our mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.”

A long-term experiment providing Kenyans with a guaranteed income was recently described at National Public Radio. The story caught my attention because my former colleague Erin has been proposing a guaranteed-income approach for years.

NPR’s Nurith Aizenman explains.

“Young guys in dusty polo shirts. New moms holding their babies. Grandmas in bright head wraps. They’ve all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person’s cellphone starts tinkling.

“It’s a text alert from an American charity called GiveDirectly. Last fall, GiveDirectly announced that it will give every adult in this impoverished village in Kenya an extra $22 each month for the next 12 years — with no strings attached. The money is wired to bank accounts linked to each villager’s phone. The alert is the signal that the latest payment has posted. Everyone starts cheering. Some of the younger women break into song.

“The payouts are part of a grand and unprecedented experiment that is motivated by an equally sweeping question: What if our entire approach to helping the world’s poorest people is fundamentally flawed?

“Today practically all aid is given as ‘in-kind’ donations — whether that’s food, an asset like a cow, job training or schoolbooks. And this means that, in effect, it’s the providers of aid — governments, donor organizations, even private individuals donating to a charity — who decide what poor people need most. But what if you just gave poor people cash with no strings attached? Let them decide how best to use it?

“GiveDirectly has actually been advocating for this kind of cash aid for the past decade. Founded by four grad students in economics who wanted to challenge traditional aid, the charity has already given $65 million to people across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, provided by a mix of Silicon Valley foundations and ordinary citizens who contribute through GiveDirectly’s website. And

GiveDirectly has shown through rigorous, independent study that people don’t waste the money.

“Still, those cash grants were relatively modest one-time payouts. With this experiment, GiveDirectly wants to see what happens when you give extremely poor people a much longer runway — a guaranteed ‘basic income’ they can count on for years.

“Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly, says they’ve chosen to set the payment at $22 because in Kenya $22 per person per month is ‘the food poverty line — the amount of money it would take to afford a basic basket of food for yourself.’

“This hamlet near Lake Victoria — about 400 residents living on less than $2 a day in mud-brick huts with no running water — is just the beginning. [This] fall, GiveDirectly wants to extend the monthly payments to every adult in 200 similar villages across Kenya, then compare them to 100 ‘control’ villages that don’t get the cash. To do this they need $30 million, of which they’ve raised $25 million.

“Some of the world’s foremost researchers of anti-poverty strategies will be doing an independent study of the data that emerges — including Alan Krueger, professor of economics at Princeton University, and Abhijit Banerjee, a professor of economics at MIT and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. …

” ‘Let them make the choices,’ says [Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly]. ‘Because the poor are pretty good at making them.’ ”

At NPR, here, there’s a lot more detail, plus interviews with a couple recipients.

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Photo: Charleston County School/Facebook
South Carolina teacher Katie Blomquist said she wanted her students to grow up with happy biking memories like hers.

I woke up one morning and checked the headlines and saw four stories on horrible things and felt the weight of the world descending. But I also keep finding stories reminding me that, whatever happens, the human spirit of kindness survives.

Here is a recent example from South Carolina, where a teacher was so moved by the poverty of her students that she took an unusual action.

Eun Kyung Kim reported the story at TODAY.com.

“Students jumped with joy, hugged one another and squealed with delight as teachers at their South Carolina elementary school revealed hundreds of custom-made bicycles beneath parachutes normally used for P.E. class.

“The new set of wheels [came] courtesy of first-grade teacher Katie Blomquist.

“ ‘I made a really conscious effort to watch their faces and let it soak in and imprint in my brain when those tarps went up,’ she told TODAY. ‘It was that moment I’ve been waiting for seven months.’

“But the idea originated more than a year ago. Blomquist, 34, teaches at North Charleston’s Pepperhill Elementary School, where many of the students live in poverty. Last year, one of her students mentioned how much he wanted a bike for his birthday. His parents couldn’t afford to buy him one, and neither could she.

“ ‘I started thinking about all the other kids who might not have bikes. We take a lot for granted and we forget that there’s a large category of kids out there who don’t have bikes,’ she said. ‘That was such a large piece of my childhood memories, and I immediately thought, “oh, they’re not getting that!”‘ …

“In September, Blomquist started a ‘Every Kid Deserves a Bike!’ GoFundMe page and set a $65,000 goal, enough to buy bikes and helmets for the 650 students at Pepperhill. Within three months, she had raised more than $82,000. …

“ ‘This was an entire second job for me, when I got home from work until midnight every night,’ she said.

“Radio Flyer donated 100 big-wheel tricycles and training bikes for the pre-school students, while a local business, Affordabike, worked with Blomquist to customize the remaining 550 bicycles …

“Beyond the children’s reactions — and the hugs from parents as they picked up the bikes —Blomquist said she’s enjoyed the sense of community created by strangers around the nation who donated to the campaign. It was support she hadn’t anticipated. …

“ ‘But maybe one day when they’re adults, they’ll know that this gift, it wasn’t from me. It was from our community and our country,’ she said.”

More here.

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Photo: AP
Young ballerinas practice under the instruction of Kenyan ballet dancer Joel Kioko, 16, left, in a room at a school in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

The other day, someone clicked on all my ballet and dance posts without leaving a comment. I can tell from looking at my site stats.

I hope whoever it was is still checking as I have another great dance story today. It was reported by AP staff in Australia on December 26, 2016.

“Joel Kioko is arguably Kenya’s most promising young ballet dancer. Currently training in the United States, he has come home for Christmas — and is dancing a solo in a Nairobi production of The Nutcracker while he’s here. …

“Kioko grew up in Nairobi’s Kuwinda slum and took his first dance class five years ago in a public school classroom, with bare walls, no barre and no mirror, the desks and chairs pushed outside. …

“ ‘I don’t know what I could have done without ballet, without dancing,’ Kioko said. …

“He was discovered by a fellow dance student who at age 14 was teaching a class at his school and told her teacher, [Dance Centre Kenya’s artistic director, Cooper] Rust, about him.

“ ‘From the beginning, when he joined the ballet, there was nothing else he could talk about,’ said Kioko’s mother, Angela Kamene, who raised him and his sister in a one-bedroom shack shared with an aunt and a grandmother. …

“Now others are pursuing dance as a way out of poverty. … Michael Wamaya, a finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, teaches dance to around 100 kids a week in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums.

“At the end of the day, we’re not just training them to have dance for fun, we’re doing it in a serious level,” Wamaya said. …

“ ‘People say sometimes, why are you not teaching them, for instance, African dance or hip hop?’ he said. ‘Yes, it’s a Western thing coming in, but it’s dance, and dance is diverse, you know? To me, it’s not about ballet as a dance style, but it’s about the discipline that ballet has in itself as a dance technique.’

“As the only son in a family growing up without a father, Kioko laughed at the notion that some people might consider a man in tights, dancing classical ballet, to be unmanly. He was teased by some in his neighbourhood about the dancing, he said, but he never had to fight.

“ ‘Where I came from there is poverty, there is stealing, there is drugs,’ Kioko said. ‘You have to be a man to live in where we live. … It’s like a lion in the jungle, you have to show that you are the male there, you are the one who roars and everyone follows.’ ”

More here.

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An obvious barrier for single mothers who want a good education is lack of day care. Some high schools help low-income moms with that, but not many colleges. Kirk Carapezza writes at WGBH radio about one college that is leading the way.

“Twenty-three years ago, when Endicott College President Richard Wylie set out to subsidize room, board and childcare for single teenage mothers at this small, four-year private college in Beverly, Massachusetts, he met some resistance. …

“What Endicott decided to do was admit ten low-income single mothers each year, providing them with housing, meals, and childcare. Today, Endicott’s Keys to Degrees program costs the college about half a million dollars a year. It’s an expensive program for a school with a relatively small $65 million endowment, but Wylie says the school has a moral and professional obligation to help single parent students.

“ ‘We’re not here just to educate the brightest and the most privileged,’ Wylie said. ‘If I can send my football team out of the country to play, why can’t we do more?’

“College is usually an opportunity for students to get ahead and improve their lives. But that promise can lead to disappointment for low-income parents if they can’t find affordable, high-quality childcare. According to the Institute for the Women’s Policy Research, only 17 percent of college students with children graduate within six years. …

“A new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds more than 70 percent of parents say the cost of childcare is a serious problem. And experts say that cost can prevent students with children from graduating.

” ‘Childcare and taking care of your kids can be a major barrier in terms of completion,’ said Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. Adams says more schools focusing on serving student parents could positively affect the economy, since most jobs created after the recession require more than a high school degree.

“ ‘Education absolutely is a route out of poverty for low-income parents and for their kids,’ Adams said. ‘But if they have kids and we don’t provide them with the opportunities to make sure that their children are well cared for, then they are unlikely to enroll or be able to succeed.’ ”

More at WGBH radio, here.

Photo: Kirk Carapezza/WGBH
Sarah Schuyler, a junior at Endicott, and her son Asher play in their dorm room after class.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Ojibwe poet Jim Northrup

I have been trying to learn something about tribal cultures in the United States. I liked Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy (a charming picture book for young children) and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (an early, painful collection of short stories). Now I am reading some Native American poetry.

One poet, Jim Northrup, recently died. Here is a beautiful obit by Jana Hollingsworth in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Jim Northrup was a ‘tough man’ who taught his eldest sons to survive in the elements by living in a tepee on the Fond du Lac Reservation for several years, when money and jobs were scarce.

“But it was more than physical survival, said his son, Matthew, on Tuesday, the day after his father died from cancer-related complications. He taught them how to be strong in a world that didn’t treat everyone the same, he said, using humor — and education — as tools.

” ‘ “When you have really nothing else,” he said to me a lot, “you have your humor,” Matthew said. ” ‘When you grow up poor on the rez and when you grow up a lower class in society, you realize that.’

“Northrup, an award-winning writer of books, columns, plays and poetry — and a prominent member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — died [in July]. He was 73.

“Northrup was a storyteller, known for his stark and honest writing about his experience as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his early years at a federal boarding school. He was funny and pointed in his writings about everyday life on the reservation, politics and change in Indian Country. He wrote as a way to heal himself from some of the trauma he experienced during the war, he said earlier this year.

” ‘I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,’ he told the News Tribune in March. ‘It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).’ ”

More here, where you can hear Northrup read a poem in Ojibwe about passing along the culture. Read the whole obit. It’s really lovely. I hated to cut it.

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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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Dan Holin, who used to run a Concord-Lowell volunteer partnership called the Jericho Road Project, is now director of special projects at UTEC in Lowell. (UTEC doesn’t use the longer title its youth founders originally came up with, but since people ask, it was United Teen Equality Center.)

UTEC describes itself as a nonprofit that “helps young people from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. It works to remove barriers that confront them when they want to turn their lives around and offers young people paid work experience through its social enterprises: mattress recycling, food services and woodworking.”

On May 15, Acton’s Pedal Power joined members of the Concord-based Monsters in the Basement bicycling club to share their bike-repair expertise with young people who wanted to acquire bikes and learn to maintain them. Holin, a serious biker himself, organized the event to give UTEC young people two things that he said they normally lack: transportation and fun.

At the event, one of them, Sav, recounted his story of change. Before UTEC I never talked to anyone,” he said. “I was a problem child on the streets. I was hanging around with gangs, selling drugs. I don’t do that now. Seven months ago, I moved from a place with nothing positive. Atlantic City. I let my family know I’m ready to live life. It was hard for me to get into something good: I’ve got a lot of tattoos and a record. But I’m in the culinary program here. It’s a family. They make you feel like you are somebody that has a chance. They give me love like a family. They changed my life for the better. There are so many new things to do here. Yesterday I went kayaking.”

More here.

Sav, in sunglasses, got a good bike at UTEC’s bike event in Lowell on May 15. The bike will provide transportation to his job at UTEC. It will also provide some much needed fun.

051516-UTEC-bike-clinic.jpg

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