“I had a 23 year old homie named Miguel working for me on our graffiti crew. He was an extremely nice kid, whose pleasantness was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he had been completely abandoned by his family. Prior to then he had been mistreated, abused and scarred him plenty. He calls me one New Year’s Day.
“You know Miguel,” I say, “I was thinking of ya-you know on Christmas. So whad you do for Christmas?” I asked.
“Oh you know I was just right here,” meaning his tiny little apartment.
“All by yourself?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he quickly says, “I invited homies from the crew-you know vatos like me who didnt had no place to go for Christmas.”
He names the 5 homies who came over-all 11 former enemies from rival gangs.
“Really,” I tell him, “that sure was nice of you.”
But he’s got me revved and curious now, “So,” I ask him. “What did you do?”
“Well,” he says “---but---I cooked a turkey.” You can feel his pride right through his phone.
“Wow, you did? Well how did you prepare it?”
“You know,” he says, “Ghetto-style.”
I tell him I was not really familiar with this recipe.
“Yeah, well, you just rub it with a gang of butter, throw a bunch of salt and pepper on it, squeeze a couple of lemons over it and put it in the oven. It tasted proper.”
I said, “ Wow, that’s impressive. What else did you have?”
“Just that, just turkey.” he says.
His voice tapers to a hush. “Yeah. The 6 of us, we just sat there, staring at the oven, waiting for the turkey to be done.”
One would be hard pressed to imagine something more sacred and ordinary than 6 orphans, staring at the oven together. It is the entire law and the prophets, all in one moment, right there, in this humble, holy kitchen.”
-Gregory Boyle, "Tattoos On The Heart"
And there it is staring me in the face, “Ubuntu,” I am because we are.
And I think of Father Pat, who taught me about “righteous anger” and the power of facing truth and justice.
This week I was called a “self absorbed bitter person,” and I could actually feel my face on fire as if I had been slapped. Are these the words of the anti-negativity group who speak of verbal graffiti? Personal negativity on that level is wrong. I am still stinging from that verbal slap. Though people are assuring me to let it go, it’s nothing, it stays like garbage in my mind and mouth. And I keep reminding myself of Father Pat, and the citizen who simply said, “Judy, you have more support than you realize.” And maybe I do, all I ever hear in my ear, is “No-one likes you or what you stand for, you shoot yourself in the foot- etc. etc.” It was such a shock to hear someone speak so positively. Sir-I thank you.
I try never to get involved in politics, only in what ( as I see it) is up or down, for the city, for the neighborhoods, for my kids and their families. I could not live with myself if I did other. Going along to get along is not my won’t in life, I am not Sister Theresa or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King but I am an admirer of them and try to live by their example. And if that makes me self absorbed so be it. But bitter, never, too much going on that is truly beautiful to be a prune.
And heres one example. At my house we are getting ready for bees! We are setting up a small and simple aviary, surrounded by multitudes of flowers, we already have a small hive living in a tree stump hopefully they will move right into the mansion we are preparing. I talk about this often to kids at QUEST. How the bees are dying and how it will affect them personally. Most of them did not know about pollination, and what is needed for food to grow. All of them are scared, petrified even by any bug, especially bees and spiders. I guess they are only knowledgeable of cockroaches and bedbugs. And consequently believe that all bugs are bad bugs. They don’t even know anything about honey. Don’t you think this should be part of their schooling? I will take pictures as we go along and make carefully planned visits of small groups to our little colony. Where I will again lecture on the evils of pesticides. And speaking of gateways to knowledge, how many of our youth are being tuned into Cosmos? I watch and tape every week so I can speak with knowledge about this amazing series. Schools should be involved here. All the latest in cosmology at the fingertips of ordinary folk like us. I bet they are all still talking about “universe,” as opposed to the accepted theory of “multiverse.” This is a totally free window into the past and future of cosmology. Easy to understand and full of “WOW” factors to make kids and their families sit up and take notice. 8 weeks of superb programming only one hour long, and taught by a black, astrophysicist. How much more could you ask for? And yes the introduction of women scientists, through the centuries who have changed the course of history. Women that I have never knew existed and who have been left out of the lexicon of science. Cheers a plenty to this program. It follows in Carl Sagan’s footsteps and continues on past our sun and moon and milky way out of our universe and beyond.
What is in our midst and not beyond is still violence, in particular youth violence, there has been another fight on State St., so bad C.D.T.A. had to be diverted as well as the school buses. Guys and gals, men and women it’s not even summer yet, it will escalate. We need pro-active not reactive solutions. Not arrests for crime and violence, that is way too late. But programs to arrest behavior. To change attitudes about fighting, instead of something to brag about, make it something to regret.
The 12 year old girl whose mom fought another woman in the street and came home with a black eye, yes that woman is encouraging her 12 year old daughter to fight. Just this week issues at Elmer Ave. School escalated from eye rolls to pushing and shoving, and mom of our 12 year old told her daughter to “KNOCK” as in knock the other girls face off. “Go Girl,” she said, “I posted it on Facebook.” Which mom did, video’d it and posted it and captioned it, “Look at my girl fight!” What really galls me is that many of these altercations start at school/schools! With nary a intervention option. Talking to parents, as in this case, often goes nowhere. And this young lady, who yesterday informed me her mom was pregnant, really loved by her mommy when she fought. Usually she moves from place to place, and often stays with her grandmother. Yet she craves love from mom, and if fighting gets it for her, thats what she will do.
I have an ex-questor, also 12 years old who was turning into an arrogant bully. Also at Elmer Ave. School, I had spoken to his mom, who took umbrage and she and her son pulled out. 2 weeks later I got a call from the school, sure enough, child had upped the ante, and a week before his video had appeared on his Facebook page showing him whooping away at another child on the street. School had gone to home of parents and found no-one there. I told school to call grandmother which they did, but all I got from family was that they took care of it. And so it goes, kept alive from generation, the torch of violence passed on and on.
On another Facebook page I find a rapidly escalating conversation about “bringing it on.” Young moms here- 17 years old, and saying things like, “just because I am a mom, don’t think I ain’t gonna fight you,” and lots more of that ilk, sisters stepping in, strange males saying, “You, my family, I’m there” and another cousin coming down again from Brooklyn with her crew. And so it goes and goes and goes. One of these fighters has 6 month old twins. And how are these babies going to grow up? Really! I hope you see the issues here. I always hear people talking about welfare hierarchies but no-one seems to mention the habit forming violence.
How as a city can we begin to handle this? This is a very touchy situation. You are working with street culture and family pride. One of the biggest insults in the Hill is, “Your Ma Ma.” Families united in standing up and Knock. “The largest battle cry I hear, and I hear it too often is “FIGHT,” and everyone running off to follow the circus.
If you are following along you are aware of my saga to the “House Next Door.” You may have also read the after thought in my last blog, “Ding Dong, the House Is Gone!” And so it is. Last Monday I got a phone call at 7AM from a friend at S.I.C.M. that, “the house next door to your building is on fire.” Well that gave me pause.
So after a few random inquiries, I ascertained that:
1. QUEST building is not in danger.
2. It was only the back of the building that was on fire. That made sense because that was where all the action went down.
3. The fire department was there valiantly pouring water on it.
4. It was over, fire out. Bless you fire people.
Now comes the ongoing interest. While the fire department was valiantly struggling by asking people on the street investigative questions, the house by 10:30 was already being torn down. Of which I was totally gladsome. But questions asked of people on the street met with the incorrect information.
1. “Did anybody live there?”- Well no-not full time but off and on- But no one asked told.
2. Next question- “Was there any kind of drug activity?”--”No-no-no.” Should have been “Yes-yes-yes-Daily.”
So anxious to be of help I stuck my nose right into the pile of reeking ash. I called the fire department Office of Investigation, spoke to an answering machine, told whoever,the down story of the buildings checkered past including the needles and the crack pipes which kept turning up in our playground and parking lot. As of yet, no return call. SIGH. We have a lot of arson in this area, and I am sure these particular fire starters will move or have moved on to another abandoned building.
Because, a house vacant for 4 years (or maybe more) with no electric or gas does not spontaneously erupt.
Now please understand, I am delirious with joy, the house is completely gone, and the ground covered with soil and raked over. In just 3 days. But--and this is an important but, somewhere in the immediate vicinity it is being played out again, and this time the outcome might not be so picture perfect. You know that adage, “If you see something-say something.” And I am and I will. I guess it’s phone-in time again. Meanwhile I am admiring the nothingness of the view. And thinking someone somewhere was sending the right messages and I thank them. We all do.
I am really getting on in years, it feels like I have been doing this for a lifetime. Everywhere I go I see faces from the past. People yelling my name and honking or coming up to me on the street. In fact I have 3 places I am loathe to visit. Subway where I have to go every Friday to pick up the bread donation, and a girl at the counter always gives me a free Pepsi- and yes I am still a Pepsi-freak, 2 different Dunkin Donuts, one on Union and one on State where I always get a free donut and sometimes a large orange Coolatta instead of a small, and McDonalds on Union St. where they always load me up with bushels of french fries. It’s not my fault my belly is popping.
And then there’s the Niska-Co-Op the head cashier yet another one-time Questor. And they all say the same thing-”Remember me?” Truly I am blessed.
“Gang members form an exclusive club of young people who plan their funeral and not their futures.”
A 16 year old home-girl named Terry came to a dance in this magnificent, short bright red dress. She greets me at the door where I provide security. She is radiant and I tell her how gorgeous she looks.
“Promise me something G,” she says giddy from all the compliments she’s getting. “Promise me, that I get buried in this dress.” See again no future, death at 16.
“An equally young home girl bounds into my office one day to tell me she’s pregnant. I suppose my face telegraphed a little too clearly my regret. Before I can speak-she holds out her hand,
“I just want to have a kid before I die.”
“It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd goin’ in the wrong direction.” -Diane Grant
And a real cheery observation. In Montreal, the bus stops, have swings, regular kid swings, but adult size, so us big folk can swing and remember again what it feels like to be a child. All while waiting for the next bus.
I am because We Are