Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘neighbors’

Why Shop Indie?

logoFrom Indie Bound

Why shop Indie?

When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.

Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.

More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.

The Environment

Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.

Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.

More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

Now is the time to stand up and join your fellow individuals in the IndieBound mission supporting local businesses and celebrating independents.

Neighborhood Nectar

Neighborhood Nectar
by Gabriel Constans

Ah, nectarines! What a treat. Not only do they taste fabulous, but they are also rich in potassium, sodium, and calcium. Nectarines help clean out the toxic crud that accumulates in your pores, thus aiding your complexion. Try sharing this smoothie with your neighbors – they’ll love it!

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Yield: 5 cups

6 tablespoons plain yogurt (soy, almond or dairy)
6 fresh nectarines, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
1/3 cup wheat germ
1 cup seedless grapes
3 cups filtered water

Place ingredients in a blender, and blend on medium speed for 45 seconds.
Pour into tall glasses and serve at your next block or neighborhood party.

15 Years of Hard Work

Dear Gabriel,

In rural central Uganda, a lone woman makes her way though an expanse of prickly green leaves, below a hazy blue sky. Guided by instinct and experience, she spots what she is looking for – a perfectly ripe pineapple.

To you and me, a pineapple is something purchased in stores or from fruit stands, to be diced into a sweet snack or blended into a beverage to enjoy with friends.

For Madina Namanda, this pineapple represents 15 years of hard work; nearly 50 FINCA loan cycles; and a drive to do better for herself and her four children.

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Beginning with a US $40 loan, Madina has worked her way up the agricultural ladder. She currently runs a 12-acre pineapple plantation, a 3-acre coffee plantation, and a poultry farm, and she is installing a clean water distribution site on her property, for her neighbors to use. With so much work, Madina shrugs off the loss of some of her pineapples to marauding monkeys, who bite off big chunks of golden sweetness from some of the fruit on the edges of her farm.

Working with FINCA clients has given me the opportunity to see how clients like Madina can take a small loan, and turn it into a new life for themselves and a boon for their communities. With access to credit, Madina has been able to boost her family’s income and personal savings – they now own their own land and home, and have sent two children to university. At 45 years of age, Madina can even consider retirement, a rarity in cash-strapped Uganda.

The perseverance, business acumen, and entrepreneurial spirit of women like Madina are among the chief reasons why I come to work every morning. FINCA clients are individuals who merit our support, and who are not afraid of hard work to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Help us support entrepreneurial women and men like Madina; donate to FINCA today.

Sincerely,

Soledad Gompf
Vice President FINCA

In Your Own Backyard

The Five Stages of Garden-Talk
by Meredith Greene
March 13, 2013

Read this and other stories at GardenGreene.

A surprising number of folks in my nearer social circles do not know much about gardening. Certainly, they can browse the colorful annuals on display at the large home store and likewise can stick them in the sunny spots twice a year whilst waving at passing neighbors. Most can even pull a weed or two as well as set a mean schedule on the automated sprinklers but, somehow, the simplest aspects of organic vegetable and herb gardening elude them.

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In calling on neighbors, and speaking with extended family members over the years, I’ve come to predict the various expressions that ensue when the conversation invariably shifts to growing food. These facial indications rather line up like the five stages of grief, but instead of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance I see Surprised, Confused, Mildly Interested, Incredulous and Overwhelmed. Getting food out of your own backyard is considered by many to be just too darn complicated.

One of my children usually let the ‘cat’ out of the bag in playing with the smaller versions of the other adults in the room. Some time during the course of the visit a child runs over, their faces alight and eyes shining, tugging at the arm/dress/leg of their owner and say something akin to:

“They grow strawberries in their backyard! And tomatoes! They get to pick them and eat them! Can we grow those, too?”

“From the mouths of babes,” I murmur, watching as the parent’s face slides into the first stage.

“How can you possibly find the time to garden?” Surprised then asks of me.

Now, when I was younger–upon being asked this question–I used to launch into a succinct and factual spiel outlining the amount of time that the average American spends in front of television set every day. I would then point out that it was a better use of time to turn over compost and chase after hordes of insidious snails with pale clouds of ditomacheous earth. Oddly, this set of facts seemed to inspire little but denial, anger and depression. Now, I simply focus my argument on Money.

“Do you go to the gym?” I ask. Confused nods in the affirmative, an answer more often than not a complete fabrication. “Did you know,” I continue, “that a couple of hours of vigorous gardening is comparable to spending the same amount of time at the gym?” No, they didn’t know that, but it sounds pretty good. Confused is quickly replaced with Mildly Interested as I go on to list just how much money my family saves over a given winter season by not having to buy my fresh herbs at the store. ($300-$400)

“That is a big savings,” Incredulous returns. “But it ‘s such a lot of work. How do I even get started?”

Here it gets a little tricky. Too much pushing and the average consumer will balk and return to safer subjects, such as waxing poetic on how their favorite washed-up celebrity weathered Trump’s Board room the previous night. Too much information up front and they’ll leap to the Overwhelmed stage too quickly. Too many dire predictions about rising food costs and the Environment and they’ll tune you out AND lump you in with some odd group they heard about on the news that anoint themselves with carrots and say they can raise goats that defecate copper bullion.

Nostalgia has proven to be the most powerful argument of all. Most folks harbor—way back in the warm recesses of their memory—lingering scents, sights and tastes of fresh produce partaken of as a child. It might be the ripe, red raspberries they picked in a grandmother’s arbor. It may be that luscious purple plum that they bit into one hot summer day. It may be a cool clump of sweet, green grapes that can be recalled, even now, with frank fondness. That same wide-eyed wonder, that propelled their offspring to run over and inquire of our garden, still lives on in them even if they are currently unaware of it. It is a useful tool to help lever the conversation away from the precarious Edge of Unconcern and back into the Realm of Feasibility, and is relatively easy to make contact with.

I show them pictures. (see blog header)

“These are some of the tomatoes we harvested last year,” I say, sliding one full-color image after another over the screen.

“Omigawd! Those look delicious!”

“We get about two-hundred pounds every season, all without pesticides.”

“Are those artichokes?!”

“Yep. They were especially good picked young, pared and sauteed with garlic and olive oil.”

“And you still have time to write books?” This question is best answered with a small shrug and a half-smile.

“My kids help me out a lot, but I like the exercise. These are the strawberries…”

“Wow… look at those! I bet that’s nice to have just out your back door.”

“Not as nice as this basil,” I tell them, going to the next picture.

From there the questions tend to get more sincere. Once folks realize that you can actually raise food on a city lot without having to spent a fortune–or work on it 24/7–they find that other hobbies don’t really cut it. Most parents already wonder how they can encourage their kids to get outside a bit more and move around, and when my oldest daughter walks over and launches into a short monolog on the how one can induce thriving vermiculture with an old plastic tub and leftover coffee grounds, they’re sold.

“Families have been growing food together for millenniums,” I conclude. “It’s a proven method of keeping active, and–as my grandfather used to tell us–’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’” My grandfather had a rock garden in the high desert–and a cement patio for a back yard–but some information can be safely omitted.

Read entire story and more at GardenGreene.

Meredith Greene is an author, book reviewer and freelance writer.

Women Not Intimidated

Dear Gabriel,

How easily do you scare? We all have a sense of the lines we won’t let bullies cross, and rightly so. For poor women in Guatemala, fighting for their dignity can be a daily struggle. But fight they do.

Poor women in Central America have often been refused service at “traditional” banks and even been manhandled out the door for having the audacity to enter the premises and apply for small loans.

Treating poor women this way is designed to humiliate and intimidate. It reinforces a poverty trap and reminds Central America’s most excluded women of “their place” at the bottom of a hierarchical society.

But, today, these women refuse to be intimidated; they will not accept second class status. And they take their business elsewhere. They come to FINCA.

Growing numbers of mothers and sisters and neighbors are finding FINCA’s doors open. We want their business, trust their financial management and believe in supporting small enterprises, morally and as reliable sustainable micro-businesses.

Ironically, we know that the average repayment rates for microfinance loans are better than those for “regular loans” in Guatemala, the US and most everywhere else.

More importantly, FINCA’s work is not just about financial services, it’s about empowering women to shatter the poverty trap and beat the bullies who would happily see them permanently excluded from access to financial services. We are proving, woman by woman, loan by loan. that people can fight their way out of poverty.

We believe in the poorest women from Central America and we’re asking you to believe in them too. Many of these women face poverty, the backdrop of a particularly violent society and gender-based exclusion day and daily. And they face it down, again and again. Please stand with them today.

Your support is more than symbolic. Your donation will help find and fund another microfinance client, potentially a women who’s been mistreated, but who will not accept exclusion.

Don’t accept second class citizenship. Take a stand. Support FINCA’s One In A Million campaign to find client one million and help her prove what women can achieve with access to small loans.

Please give generously,

Soledad Gompf
Vice President,
New Business Development
FINCA

Foreclose On Bank Not Homeowners

Gabriel –

It was no ordinary morning. Police arrived at 4am and broke down the door to Alejandra Cruz’s (photo on right) family home with a battering ram. PNC Bank was trying to take her family’s Minneapolis home after a bank error, and their friends and neighbors were in the home to defend it. The police forced everyone to leave — but now Alejandra is fighting back to save her family’s home.

Alejandra’s family made every online payment on their home for seven years. But one month, PNC Bank didn’t withdraw it. Instead of admitting their error, they demanded two months’ payment as penalty.

Alejandra says there was no way her family could have come up with so much money on such short notice. So PNC put them into foreclosure and forced them to leave the house in 48 hours.

But now, Alejandra is fighting back. She’s started a petition asking PNC to sit down and negotiate — and this Thursday, she’s traveling to the the bank’s headquarters to deliver her message. It could decide the fate of her family’s home — and if thousands of people join her before then, she knows the bank won’t be able to ignore her message.

Click here to stand with Alejandra — ask PNC Bank to admit their mistake and negotiate a loan modification with her family.

Alejandra says her family has worked incredibly hard to meet their mortgage payments. Her father worked two jobs, and she and her brother worked part time through school to help. The foreclosure has already forced them to move out of their home, and when friends and neighbors tried to stop the bank from taking the home, police arrested them.

But Alejandra knows there is hope. Just last week, another Minneapolis resident named Nick Espinosa started a Change.org petition to save his mom’s home. Thousands of people signed in a matter of days, and the bank was forced to back down and let Nick’s mom keep her home with a reduced mortgage.

Local media are already taking interest in her family’s battle, and if PNC Bank hears from thousands across the country right now, Alejandra is convinced they’ll decide to negotiate rather than face a public relations nightmare.

Click here to help Alejandra save her family home, and tell PNC Bank not to penalize the Cruzes for a mistake of its own doing.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

Tim and the Change.org team

Healing Loan For Three-Year-Old

From FINCA Newsletter.

When Her Daughter Became Ill, FINCA Made a Difference.

Wendy Yesenia Molina de Recinos and her husband thought life couldn’t be going any better. They had a beautiful, three-year-old little girl. Wendy was in her third year at university in Santa Ana, El Salvador, and her husband’s income was enough to keep the family in good stead.

But then their beautiful daughter fell terribly ill with a kidney disorder. Even as the doctors treated her, her condition worsened, and it was soon discovered that she had an intestinal tumor. Wendy knew she had to withdraw from university and give all of her attention to caring for her little girl.

It wasn’t long before the expenses for medicine were overwhelming, and Wendy knew she needed to help with the family income. A neighbor told her about Grupo Comunal Argentina and the loans that she could receive from FINCA. Her neighbors rallied around her, and she was quickly accepted as a new member of the group and received her first loan. Wendy invested the money she received in shoes to sell in the market, and it didn’t take long before she was able to add to her husband’s income, and help pay for the food, medicines and transportation that their daughter needed.

Wendy says she is grateful to FINCA and to the women of Grupo Comunal Argentina who have accepted her so easily into their group. She continues to work hard every day to do everything she can to help her daughter’s recovery.

Wendy’s most recent loan was funded through FINCA Lend A Hand. To learn more about how you can give a little and change a lot, go to www.LendAHand.FINCA.org

Muslims Help Stop Riots

Excerpt from story by Robert Lambert on 12 Aug 2011 in AlJazeera.

Muslims tackle looters and bigots

British Muslims’ reaction to the riots should dispel any continued demonisation in the media.

There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and right wing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.

“When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian”, a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbors is worth highlighting – especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Pro-active response

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked ‘East London Mosque’ took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europe who used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasize is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBT Community. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

I am not sure if the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.

Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.

I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright…. sorry I won’t go on, it’s a long list!

Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are ‘extremist’. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ALJAZEERA

Child of the Holocaust – Part 2

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call by Gabriel Constans.

Child of the Holocaust – Gitta Ryle – Part 2 (Conclusion)

Auschwitz. The word is synonymous with death, loss, murder and extermination, the worst barbarism that can be inflicted by one human upon another. For many it symbolizes evil incarnate. Most of us know it only as that: a symbol, a word, a dreadful image from the past. Yet for others, such as Gitta Ryle, Auschwitz is a living, cold reality that consumed her beloved father and grandparents who were starved, beaten, gassed and incinerated in its Nazi machinery of hatred and racism.

Mrs. Ryle survived the holocaust by being hidden in French schools with her sister and was reunited with her mother at the war’s end. While pregnant with her third child her mother died of a heart attack. Gitta’s years of family separation and loss were compounded and reawakened with the death of her husband from cancer.

Over the years, Mrs. Ryle has spoken of her life during the war with increasing frequency to elementary, high school and college students. Her living, breathing, realistic account of her experiences has brought history and its relevancy to the present, before the hearts and minds of many generations. On a more personal and less publicly noticed form of engagement, she has provided support and comfort for young people who, like herself, have had to cope with the death of a family member or friend.

GITTA: My mother told me that when Dad got his paycheck he would go to the market and get groceries for his brothers and take care of everybody that he knew who didn’t have much. Then he would give the rest of the money to my Mom for the household. He was very generous to other people, a very caring man. When he came to France he worked in a nearby nursing home run by nuns. He’d do any labor he could in order to be close to us. We were his joy. My mother was also very generous helping neighbors.

We had nice neighbors. They were not Jewish. There was one family whose daughter was my sister’s best friend. Her and her sister are still alive and we continue corresponding to this day. That’s another thing I’ve discovered has helped. There were Jewish people that helped me and there were not Jewish people who helped.

I still feel connected to those who’ve died. Sometimes at night I hear my name very clearly. Sometimes it’s my Mother’s voice and at others it’s my Dads. And I’ve definitely heard Bob’s voice.

When I’m doing things, like driving, I have a different calmness about me then I did before Bob’s death. I don’t know if it’s because of the time I took in grieving or not.

For a while I kind of separated myself, emotionally I was cut off from everybody. I let my adult kids know that if they needed help they’d have to get it from somewhere else because I had no energy or anything left to give them. I’d always been a nourishing mother and this didn’t fit that image. It was a complete change for me. I had no thoughts for me or anybody. It was like a blank. Everything was gray and passive. There was no color, no life, just existence. My body was in need of replenishment. In some way you need to shut off for a while, otherwise you go nuts or kill yourself. I mean, you know, go into a deep depression. Anyway, that was my analysis of it. I allowed the process to happen. It wasn’t easy. It was very hard and I don’t remember all of it. I know people came to visit me but I couldn’t tell you who.

I am very, very fortunate. I have a lot of people that love and care for me. I had one girlfriend call me every single day from the day Bob was diagnosed. At times I definitely felt more connected with the dead then the living. I felt Bob’s presence off and on.

Lately I don’t like where I am. It was better where I was. I will get there again. I want to work on getting cleaned out of attachments to my ego. I would not have wanted my life to continue like it was in that first year, but I know a lot of people who live like that.

Somehow things finally changed. I can’t tell you exactly what happened but I remember talking with my counselor one Monday morning and saying, “Wow, I see color! I see color clearer now then I have ever seen in my life. I’m taking everything in.” I didn’t know that it would ever come back, especially feelings of joy. I feel it in my body and a lot here in my stomach (rubs stomach). I remember feeling little butterflies when Bob would hold me and we would hug and be loving. I never thought I’d feel that type of feeling again, but it happened. I felt life all over. Now I can feel both, the heartaches and the joy.

It’s funny; I never looked into the rhyme or reason of the whole thing. I just allowed the process. A lot of Europeans take a year for grieving; they wear the armband and all that stuff. I just shut down because I didn’t have anything left. It’s like you know this is it, there is too much trauma, I can’t go through another one. I think I shut down for safety, to not get hurt again. If anything had happened to anybody else during that time I wouldn’t have felt it.

I’ve had other deaths since Bobs. My cousin died of cancer and an associate of Bob’s died suddenly. I have quite a list of deaths of people that I’ve loved. When it happens now I say a little prayer for them. I love and bless them. I show my love each time, because they are part of my life. I think of the blessing that they don’t suffer anymore.

I think my life has been more of a struggle then pleasure. I had a good childhood that was suddenly cut off. My marriage wasn’t ecstasy because I always worried that something would happen to him. I was always afraid that I’d lose him. In fact, I remember telling Bob it was difficult for me to say, “I love you.” because if I did something might happen to him. I don’t have that fear anymore. It has dissipated. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, you know?

This stuff was all being worked on without me really knowing it. I came out of it with more peace. At other times there is still a hole, a loneliness and sadness that I can’t share this or that with Bob. That is reality. He will not be here and I need to work on healing that. Nobody can feel that hole. Sometimes I use food to numb that feeling but it just makes it worse.

Most of the time I am OK because I have the comfort of tapping into those I love whenever I wish. I live in reality. I don’t know if they hear me or not, but you know that is not important. It’s important that I can use it for what I need. It’s a comfort that I need for now.

When you go out and watch couples, the age that we are, I realize it is something I will never experience. I will never experience being retired with my husband and having weekends away. My old age will be alone. When I think of being ill without a partner it gets a little scary. There’s nothing I can do about it. If it happens, it happens.

Helping others has been easy. It makes me feel good. It’s like second nature. I enjoy going places and doing things. What life is about is getting joy from watching other people have joy. I think the ultimate thing that I can do is give some peace, joy or understanding to someone else.

My daughter is married to a young man whose father left home when he was five years old. He had another brother and a long history but no contact with his father. Ever since he married my daughter she’s said, “I wish he would find his dad. He says he wants to sometimes but then doesn’t do anything about it. When it comes down to it he says he can’t afford to search.” I told them that if that were the only obstacle I would not mind funding it. They agreed and just last Sunday, after conducting a search, my son-in-law calls me up excitedly and says, “I just talked to my dad. He called me!” I started crying with joy. My whole body became alive with emotions. I thought about all the connections, for someone to have the possibility to make such a connection. He also discovered a half sister whose mother died a month ago. He’s going to meet her too.

That is what life is about for me. I do not understand why I am here most of the time. I get up in the morning and am glad I can get up.

When things are good and I am feeling physically and mentally good, I’m with people and realize I need people more. When I’m not feeling well I tend to isolate myself, thinking I can be strong and take care of everything. It doesn’t work well and I don’t feel good when I do it. I pushed some people away when I was working very hard on that and I need to open up again and allow people in.

About a year after Bob died I became involved with the Griefbuster’s program. I have a lot of compassion and can relate with children, while also being detached and seeing where they are at. I love children.

My niece lives here and she has two daughters Heather and Chloe, age three and five. They are here every Thursday. It is my day to play. I do not think about responsibilities and problems. I’m in the moment of simply playing. I’m teaching them. We learn together. I crawl up on the stairs with them and they laugh. It is wonderful.

Families are important. I had that and it was taken away. So many families now don’t have that connection, they are to busy working. I don’t identify with adults anymore, not those looking for the next goal, the next profession where they can make money, where they can do this and that. I’m trying to simplify my life.

I have wonderful children. They are loving kids. If I had a heart attack or got sick, whatever, they would be here. They’d drop everything else and come help me. But that is not what I want. I want them when I am well. Maybe I’m selfish in that way but I think a nurse or doctor can take care of me when I’m sick.

Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow. I notice that I am in a very strange place. Grieving is a deep thing, but it’s also your life. When you grieve all your past comes up, your childhood experiences and how it affected you.

A woman who takes care of a newborn down the street comes over once a week and we play with the baby and I am fine again for a while. I wish I could bottle that feeling and put it someplace else. That would be good. And when these girls walk in the door on Thursday and come running to me with open arms, giving me hugs and kisses, so full of joy and liberation. No pretensions just clear, loving and happy. What more could you want? It’s so empowering. I am whoever they want me to be for the day.

I hope when I’m dead and gone that I will have given some pleasure to others. That it was a joy for people to know me. That the children who have been in my life know that I love them unconditionally and gave everything I could unconditionally. I feel the same way with my children. I’ve let go of attachments to my children. As far as I know they are healthy, intelligent beings. hey have their own habits and behaviors. I do not own them. There was a time when I wanted them to be different. I did a lot of work with my daughter and myself on that.

I am responsible for my actions and that is what I want to relay when I talk to kids. I try to show them that they have choices and whatever choice they take, that they take responsibility for it. I think that is the hardest lesson to learn but also the best. Whatever it is, even if you felt somebody did you wrong; you have to take responsibility. That is how I have to deal with life, even when I am angry and spout off, “This isn’t fair! I’m a victim!” As soon as I let it out I then take responsibility for it. I don’t blame others for my state of being.

The other thing I try to share with kids is to love them selves and to feel that specialness we each have, which has often been taken away by our experiences. If we can let go of all that stuff, we can see the preciousness. That is what I’m really trying to learn. I can see the beauty of every human being around me – adults and children. I don’t see it as much in me and that is what I’m learning to do. Self-judging, self-hate, self-abuse, whatever you want to call it, we don’t have to do it. That is what I am here to do. This is my work. This is what I need to do to move on.

THE END

MORE STORIES: DON’T JUST SIT THERE, DO SOMETHING!

Hazel Johnson – Part 2

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Hazel Johnson (Born: January 25, 1935 Died: January 12, 2011). Photo of Ms. Johnson holding her Presidential Medal.

Hazel Johnson – Part 2

Looking back at dealing with the environment, I don’t see anything that I’d change. We did a lot of protesting and we had a lot of people working with us. When I started out it was just me. Later, we started organizing, we got people of color in, started working together, you know? We all work together, whether you’re white, black, brown or whatever and one group does not make a decision alone; we do it collectively.

We were at a University of Chicago meeting and one media person came and was really surprised that not one person was trying to make any decision on what was going on . . . that we talked it over and discussed it . . . and it worked very well. He said he’d never seen that done before. We still do that today. Somebody needs support we are there and if we need support they are here.

I wasn’t educated or nothing. I self taught myself. I have a girlfriend who just died a couple months ago and I was talking to her about my personal problems. You know when you’re stressed out you want somebody to talk too? She’d always be the person I’d talk too since I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. She said, “I’ll be your sister.” She said, “God has you here for a reason.” You see I’m the first of four children and the other three didn’t live past a year. So she always said, “God has you here for a reason.”

When I started getting in to the environment and questioned people about different things, everybody was willing to share information with me. A lot of times when you’re doing things you look for a little negative, or something that throws you off, but I never did have that. By people being so willing to share information with me, I thought about what my girlfriend said and thought, “Maybe this is my purpose in life.” Then, as I went along, things started going well for us. I decided this must really be what I was here for. Even though I had a lot of negatives, I didn’t let it stop me because I felt this was something I had to do. That’s what makes me continue working as hard as I’ve worked. I’ve had some problems with the politicians and I say, “Forget them. I’m going to do what I have to do.” I felt I had to do it and I done it. Like four or five o’clock in the morning, I had little visions of somebody, like an inner spirit would say something to me about how to go about doing things. That’s when I really started thinking that this was my mission in life. A lot of things could have fallen apart, but they didn’t. Not everybody can say they’re successful, but I can say that.

Sure, I’ve cried on many days from the situation I was dealing with. It was giving me a big headache, but I didn’t let it stop me. One of the most painful times was when my husband died, just ten weeks after he’d been diagnosed. That’s what really pushed me out, because I looked at him then later looked around and saw some of my neighbors that had died of cancer and it got me wondering, “Why are all these people having cancer?” I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what was actually going on. There were so many people. In one given week I knew of eight people that died from cancer. At another time we had seven infants that were born with tumors and died very early. One of them was a boy and the rest were girls.

We’d been married seventeen years. He was a construction worker. He was on a job and they called me and said he’d took ill and gone to the hospital. It was way on the North side. So I went to the hospital. During that time the hospitals were packed with senior citizens. They even had them in the lobby. Some kind of illness was going around that year. They didn’t have a room available to put him in. Then we took him home and he stayed there awhile. Then we took him to Rosen hospital, not to far from us. He stayed in there a week, came home, stayed a week, then went back in the hospital and that’s when they found out he had cancer. The reason I remember it all so well is the day he took ill was my oldest daughter’s birthday. She’d just turned sixteen. Ten weeks later he was gone. He had lung cancer.

We have seven children. The oldest one was sixteen and the youngest was two when he died. The youngest is thirty now. I have eight grandchildren and one great grand. I’m sixty-two. That’s why I’m tired and ready to retire. I’ve been working all my life.

My husband’s death was my first major loss as an adult. My mother and my little brother died and my father too, when I was young. I don’t have hardly no relatives, but I have some good friends and two of my husband’s sisters and I are real close. There were a few neighbors of mine that really stuck with me during that time. When they called and told me about my husband, they didn’t tell me he expired, they just said come to the hospital right away. I called my husband’s brother and my neighbor, who by the time I got a ride she came with me.

Come to think of it, I’ve always been helping other people. Just thinking about Lionel . . . that was a hurting thing for me. I had sit up with him that night and went home about twelve o’clock. I’ll never forget that. By the time I got home from staying with him in the hospital I got a call saying he’d expired. And that really hurt because having just left him he looked pretty well. I’ve been finding out that many people who are real ill, that just before they expire, they do a lot better. That happened in my husband’s case and in this young man’s case. He was like a son of mine, you know? In fact I’ve had a lot of sons. You’d be surprised. (Laughs). Um hum. And now they all call me granny.

And I’ve always been helping older women. Um hum. An older friend of mine just passed last January, who I’d been looking out after. Her name was Irene. Before her was Ms. Austin and before her was Ms. Bessie. Maybe I catered to these older people because they were like a mother to me. You know, a mother figure. Mine died when I was twelve. And dealing with older people, they can tell you things that happened when they were young. Some very interesting stories they be telling. I’d like to listen to their stories and the things they used to do.

I grew up in a Catholic school. Years ago the Catholics were much stricter than they are now. I think that really helped me to be more of a religious person. I guess it just stuck with me. The majority of the things I’ve done had to be with the Almighty’s help in order for me to be successful.

I feel good now with a program we have that trains young people how to remove lead and how to respond to emergency crisis. Some of them got jobs from that. We’ve been doing this around three years. We help them to be certified by the state of Illinois. We have a list of contractors that we call and tell them about our trained folks and they get work.

We’ve also been getting into rehabbing apartments. This is our first try. We’ve just about completed it and the city likes what we’re doing so now they’re going to give us some other apartments to do. They’re really happy with the work the people have done.

We’ve been pretty fortunate. The only thing I wish is that we had a little more money coming in so we could do more. But when money is like peanuts, you can’t do the things you’d really like to.

Some universities have been ripping off community people. I was at a meeting in March and a lot of people were complaining about the same things. Here I was having problems with a big time local university. A lot of times they write these proposals and the community don’t know anything about it. They get money for a supposedly joint project with the community and we don’t even know anything about it. So I went to NEJAC (National Environmental Justice Advisory Counsel) and proposed some issues to help resolve the problem we were having with universities. And I spoke to a lawyer who helped me out a lot. Now I’ve got to fight to make sure it gets enforced. Because a lot of times they’ll come up with something then just leave it there and it does no good. That’ll be my next project.

If I died tomorrow I’d want people to remember that I tried to make a difference for the enhancement of folk’s lives. That’s how I’d like to be remembered. The way I look at it is that maybe by me doing some of the things that I’m doing it may help other people. It can’t help those that have already expired, but it will help make people aware of some of the problems like the lead program, where we’ve had the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) go into the apartments and remove the lead. That’s my biggest concern now, is how lead poison is effecting so many children. They eat the paint because it tastes sweet.

Another thing we’re soon going to be working with is water pipes. A lot of our pipes have been installed so many years ago that they’re starting to deteriorate.

My daughter’s interested in helping also. We’ve been here fifteen years and she’s been working with me ten. She knows the inside and the outside of everything that’s going on.

It’s not really that important about me. The thing I’d like to see is people standing up for their rights. That is my biggest concern. People don’t know that they can move mountains. I want people to see that if they stand up for their rights a lot can be accomplished.

Some people say, “Watch out, you say that stuff and they’ll put you out!” People are afraid to do some things, but I’m not. I don’t care who you are. If I feel that you’re violating me, then I’m going to stand up to you. And I don’t do it in no nasty way. I tell people, “You can like me the next moment if you want to or dislike me, it doesn’t make no difference.”

THE END

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

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