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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

Investing in gang members

Yes, here I am, I know I haven’t written in a while, but all these thoughts keep running around in my brain, and are driving me to write them down at 3 a.m.

Life is never what you expect it to be and so for all the writing I have done in January are end-of-the-year reports and grant forms. Needless to say this is neither my best or favorite occupation, but I have no choice an I lumber slowly on.

We have so many new programs and volunteers I am a tad overwhelmed. And 3 in the morning the house is quiet and still and I can work quietly in peace.

With The Moon Language

“Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them

“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;


Someone would call the cops,

Still though think about this,

This great pull in us to connect,

Why not become the one

Who lives with the full moon in each eye

That is always saying,

With that sweet moon


What every other eye in this world

Is dying to


-- Hafez

I write this because at the moment I am reading "Tattoos On the Heart" (The power of boundless compassion) by Gregory Boyle.

A Jesuit who founded Homeboy Industries in the Barrios of Los Angeles 22 years ago, he has worked with over 11,000 gang members from 18 different gangs.

This book was given (loaned actually) to me by a sister of St. Joseph’s Order, an order who does street outreach in the poorest neighborhoods, and at this moment is working with prostitutes in Hamilton Hill and its surrounding environs.

She paid me one of the dearest compliments I have ever received. “Judy, you are a strong woman, keep at it, keep moving forward.”

I write this now because of all the lies and insults and rude ignorance I have encountered for 22-plus years, for my work at QUEST and in particular my involvement with gangs. I have been accused of dealing, running my own gang, encouraging gang culture, etc. The only thing I appear to be missing is my own tattoo.

“A new parish attitude. Suddenly the welcome mat was tentatively placed out front. A new sense of “Church” had emerged, open and inclusive. The Christian Based Communities were sectors of people in the parish, mainly women who reflected on the gospel as it impacted their real lives. Their reflection compelled them to extend themselves to the gangs in their area of the projects. They would have gatherings to communicate clearly that the gang members were not our enemies. They wanted to signal to the gang members, “You are our sons/daughters -- whether we brought you into this world or not.”

What are you thinking as you read these lines, I would be very curious to know? I love the next line,

“We help gang members because it is what Jesus would do.”

-- A quote from Teresa Navarro, at a meeting.

And then people applauded and the parish never looked back.

What about you, gentle readers, would the people you work with, or live with or worship with be so open and accepting? And you, gentle reader, what do you feel about these clear and straightforward statements? I am really, really curious.

Thousands have found assistance through Homeboy Industries, which has operated as a symbol as much as a place of concrete help, it still remains a tiny drop in a pretty deep bucket. For more than 20 years it has asked L.A. “What if we were to invest in gang members, rather than just seek to incarcerate our way out of this problem?”

After 2 decades the city of Los Angeles has embraced Homeboy Industries as its own and has allowed it to shape this “condition” and how we, in part, respond to it.

The poet Kabir asks, “What is god?” Then he answers his own question, “God is the breath inside the breath.”

Willie (gang member) found his way inside his breath and it was firme.

To the homies, firme means, “could not be one bit better.”

"Not only does god think we are firme, it is God’s joy to have us marinate in that."

-- Greg Boyle

And now something from a local who once was a homie.

D.C. writes philosophy now daily on Facebook, and I was especially struck by this.

“Can you put your pride aside to listen to what I have to say? Don’t forget I’m the same kid from the hood like you. That used to be an excuse on why I wouldn’t make it nowhere but now that’s my hunger and motivation to change it. Success is the greatest revenge.”

-- D.C. Dunkel

And he is a shining star in this neighborhood. An example to us all. I have known him for over 10 years; he did some magnificent murals on my walls in the old place on Craig Street. I see a book on this horizon, his words illustrated by his drawings. Powerful “firme."

Surprise help

Christmas at QUEST was a real tearjerker. No help from those Metroplex-supported businesses, but a group of women stepped up and stepped in. Strangers to me once but not anymore. Women bonded by friendship and a need to move out into the greater community and just plain help out. And they did, my little family in such need got beds, got sheets, got towels, got blankets, got pillows and new winter coats, got new boots and other new clothes.

The churches of Ann Marie (my bookkeeper) gave gift certificates, and mittens, and hats and scarves. (We got one family a Christmas tree with a gift certificate.)

Toys for Tots, riches galore, bikes and a doll house, electric cars and a watch -- 200 toys in all.

And Fred, the fire alarm guy, gave 20 balls, basket balls and foot balls.

And the Latin Kings a real movie projector with the promise to run a movie night every Wednesday. (We are still waiting on BowTie to provide popcorn.)

And we find that my nice white suburban women are more than willing to work with the Kings on Movie Nights. To sew 4 white sheets together to make a screen. Kings to hang it, ladies to get either popcorn or pizza. And when I quietly interjected, “Oh no popcorn fights," one delightful woman responded with “thats what brooms are for.”

All these strong women who brought and bought Christmas ornaments and helped decorate our 9 ft. tall tree. And best of all, all these people who stayed on after Christmas to continue to offer aid and comfort and love.

And on the road we go with new kids and new families and new programs. And a new intern from Bryant and Stratton. Now all we need is some money to keep us spinning.

My ladies are collecting bottles and cans and turning them in -- imagine if a whole city did that. As Laura says, “Every penny counts,” and it does. But looking at the financial state of several youth programs is downright scary. One who is looking for a volunteer executive director, and one who is closed and carrying a bill of $280,000. And I wonder if I am next.

What will happen if the city does not step up and begin to change priorities? Meanwhile Saratoga was chosen again as one of the 10 best main streets in the country. Some of the reasons given, keeping original architecture, people-friendly sidewalks with places for folk to sit, flowers, eclectic retail, from antiques, to consignment, to gourmet groceries, to amazing bookstores.

Yes I know we have the Open Door, but sadly it has become more of a gift shop than a bookstore. When is the last time we had poetry readings downtown. And to my way of thinking there can never be too many bookstores. We actually have a larger population than Saratoga, and 2 colleges to pull from. Bow Tie Cinema has just built a state-of-the-art movie palace on the main street in Saratoga, but no Proctors or Palace theaters there.

A small-town artsy presence, a place to wander and sit and chat and eat an ice cream cone, and rubberneck at all the folk going by street musicians all the time ambiance. Have we missed something? We have no benches on our main streets. No artists putting up their easels and painting the scenes on hand. Not even any dogs. Stop and think, do we see people and and their dogs on State Street? That's how you can tell the locals from the visitors.

Saratoga, I can hear the singing of that word right now. Schenectady is not a big city, we should not try to emulate the streetscape of a metropolis. We have a history and a charm of our own, and we are not paying enough attention to it. There is currently a Face Group page called Remembering Schenectady -- many many people and their pictures and their memories gather there daily. That is a sign that we should be pulling from our past. A lot has happened in this small town. Where is the Statue of Steinmetz downtown, yet (I kid you not) we have a small rendering of the Statue of Liberty near S.C.C.C.

Robert Blood is a dedicated and notable sculptor living in Niskayuna -- where is a piece of his work on State Street? City Center had its issues and problem, but the steps leading up to the movie entrance were beautiful, and the feel of the outdoor court was very inviting. And why is that Christmas tree downtown surrounded by ads? Tell me that is the only way we can afford a Christmas tree? Puh leeze.

I say this often, where is the give back from the downtown community? And stop bringing up the Green Market; nice it may be, but every single town and hamlet in this area has one. And I salute Barbara Blanchard for the guts to bring one here. But -- Saratoga Farmers Market is the second-best market in the nation.

What are we measuring our successes by? What standards are we using? Patting ourselves in the back daily is not moving on. Why can’t we say,simply, yes we’ve done this, now what else can we do, how can we make it better? Better locally, better for the community, but for our youth, and all of our citizens -- not just a few.

And I know I keep repeating myself, but someone’s got to step up and say “the emperor's got no clothes on.”

I speak now to M.L.K. day, and its “celebration” of sorts, as requested by his family it should be a day of service, not just a search of a church service and a photo and speech op for dignitaries and such. What did we do to mark the day in Schenectady? This should be a get down and dirty day. A put yourself on the line day, not a dress up occasion, but a work boot opportunity. Let me know, and especially let me know how you honored this amazing man, who gave his life to move this nation forward.

Kitten update

I will say only this: Zoe, our kitten, is very ill. Two options here, stomach cancer or irritable bowel syndrome.

I’m devastated, I love this brave and joyous little lady. I will know more in a week and I will let you know. For those of you unfamiliar with Zoe, she is my miraculous stray cat with green eyes who came to us from the streets 7 months ago.

Now a happy thought: Canada, in particular Nova Scotia. when we visited during New Year's, I came across a wonderful spot, right next to Edna’s bakery.

What used to be a 3 bay auto repair shop is now a community arts and consignment shop. (Artsy stuff only).

When I walked in on a cold blizzarding day, a woman named Yvette greeted me, “Come in, come in, take off your coat, there is food and coffee on the table.”

And so there was, a complete snack table, everything prepared locally and urns of hot coffee. Tea. Everything was free, and this big gigantic room with a reading inglenook had 40 ft. ceilings. It was a place to sit and play cards and board games, read and talk.

It had a piano, a guitar, a banjo, a violin, and a trombone. Anyone could come and play and jam or tell stories. Four fireplaces and Yvette telling me she was working on her fifth, and listening to me play, and inviting me to come back, and be a regular. What was so mind boggling is that everything was free. A group of people contributed regularly to keep it up and running, and just plain gorgeous. A welcoming spot, on a main road, no strings attached. “Just come, play, eat, be comforted and welcomed, be home.”

“All night my heart makes it way however it can over the rough road of uncertainties, but only until night meets and then is overwhelmed by morning; the light deepening, the wind easing and just waiting, as I too wait (and when have I ever been disappointed?) for redbird to sing.”

-- Mary Oliver

Joy cometh in the morning

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