Resistance & Resilience: Charlottesville

Starting in July, and scheduled to run eight weeks, Resistance & Resilience: A Memoir Workshop of the Jim Crow Era, sponsored by 7CWP, has been meeting at the Colored Community Library Museum in Portsmouth.

We are now in our tenth week.

It quickly became quite clear there were too many stories to tell.

We’re going to have to take a break at twelve weeks for me to edit the anthology we’re building, one heartbreaking story at a time.

Meanwhile, Charlottesville happened, and I had to ask my writers to respond.

Lisa Hartz

 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA 2017

What’s shocking to me concerning the Charlottesville racial uprising of early August weekend, 2017, is to see young, white men – late twenties to late thirties – dressed in well-tailored clothing, pressed shirts, khaki pants, and expensive sneakers for their feet.

They had gathered in a public square and in the streets of Mr. Jefferson’s city — he, of the presidency, writer of the Declaration, and finally the owner of six hundred or so slaves — to demonstrate their presence as a Neo-Nationalist American variety.

They told reporters they were there to protest anyone thinking of removing their beloved Southern general’s statue of Robert E. Lee.

(Touch me, Citizen, I thought the South lost the American Civil War.)

They gathered in the darkness with tiki torches – yes, those torches you bought at the hardware store to surround the back porch, and perhaps keep the mosquitoes away, so friends and relatives could chitchat and drink a little and do a broad grin.

These white men, along with a smattering of bemused white women, had the tight-lipped expressions of men at war, waiting to take the well-defended hill of the enemy.

These men gathered five or six abreast, while marching in the darkness of this August evening with the serpentine movement in long columns through the small, bucolic college town of Charlottesville – Mr. Jefferson’s town. Small Town, USA.

I wondered at the look of these squeaky-clean men. No thick-soled booted men pounding, high-stomping hatred in the streets (as Hitler’s men did) were they. No. These 21st Century adult and perverse children of Hitler carried signs of hatred for Jews while walking in high tech shoes, which felt feather-like.

Someone said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” It all comes out the same, doesn’t it? Whether it is the deep, guttural intonation of the German language, or the lighter inflected tones of Americanized English of these white, Neo-Nazi Americans spewing hatred for the Jews. It is cosmically the same. It must be condemned. It must be condemned.

Hatred Continues:

There is a small truck which speeds through Norfolk streets at random times. It catches your breath at first seeing it. It is one of those small trucks with seating for two at front and an open bay at the back. The open bay is sturdy enough to carry small lumber or not very heavy machinery. But the merchandise I saw carried that day in the bay of the truck were two six-foot poles extended into the air and at the top of each pole were unfurled flags. One, the American flag. The other, a Confederate flag. Both flags are a little bit wider and a little bit taller than you would see in a school yard. Both flags blowing in the breeze of that day. That sighting was on Tidewater Drive in Norfolk. The truck rushing to the corridors of mostly black neighborhoods of Huntersville and Church Street. I last saw the truck speeding down Military Highway.

The Healing:

We, who are elders, observers, participants, along with the teacher of this Seven Cities Writers Project have observed many racial tragedies in our lives. We commune each Friday in an historic black public library museum to share narratives that witness American life. Our witness to our families; our witness to our communities; our witness to ourselves; and lastly, our witness to the other.

In this room, I have heard the great and great-great grandchildren of slaves speak of their encounters with racism in this American loved by us all. With it came grief and resilience. We are still here as the sons and daughters of disinherited slave people. I understood what integration meant upon hearing one of our writers speak of an unintegrated lunchroom. The black city workers felt uncomfortable walking into a lunchroom where their white counterparts ate. It was a matter of integration, our witness said. Our brave, black female witness to the truth boldly walked through the front door of the lunchroom, showing these men that integration is spelled a-c-t-i-o-n.

There is a black woman here who saw a black man dangling from a tree. I hear in her narrative the small, breathed prayer of a six-year-old from a time so long ago.

Both these, and all the other witnesses here, and the teacher, too, still carry that burden, but still they remain alive to life. This is resilience. This is my joy that I hear in each one of our narratives, and the teacher’s, too. This is what I have learned in this class. Our lives are works in progress, as our narratives are works in progress, never to be completed. The others to take the next breath in their new world. This is the legacy of brokenness and mending. Use our narratives to heal this divided country. This is the legacy we leave for the next generation.

Vincent Davis

 

Jim Crow Replay

Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, is no longer the quaint, sleepy, college town, replete with rolling hills and grassy knolls.  On August 12 and 13, the old , repugnant south, brandishing tiki torches and battle type gear, rose again to claim its own, General Robert E. Lee.  For me, all the old images of Jim Crow America and its horrors, many of them learned through my parents’ sharing, suddenly resurfaced.  All the attempts to convince myself that we had moved past the ignominy of that era, that we had somehow learned how to live peacefully among our captors, disintegrated.

The white sheets of the KKK were the only things missing.  It took me back to the long tamped-down fears of early years when we avoided certain street and communities and sparsely settled rural areas.  The memory of crosses, homes and church burnings resurfaced. I again fear for my children and grandchildren.  When will it end?  Are we destined to replay the worst of the Jim Crow era?

Alma Anderson

 

Mama South

The South is so bound and bowed over.

The South is a black woman.  She is panting and sweating, she is groaning.

She is birthing.  The south is a black woman.  She nurtured the soil of this land with her hands, sweat and blood.  She coaxed the harvest to come forth.  She spoke to it with Yoruba words and it grew cotton. Cotton she picked with her baby strapped to her back.  A back that we all stand on, a beaten back, a worn back from carrying the weight of America.  An American load.  Geographically the South is the southernmost state territories.  She is the lower, the bottom.  The foundation on which the other states rest.  America first lived life in the south.  This country nursed from her black breasts.  The South is a black woman where the heat is oppressive.  It boils the skin.  It draws out sweat from all crevices and parts of the body.  Your whole body sweats here.  The heat here generated from her fury it drains you, you have to slash through like thick bush in Congo jungles.  It’s heat you can touch.  Southern heat hot and wet, sticky and suffocating.  It’s hot down here from the fire in her eyes.

Sherilynn Cherry

 

A Charge to Keep I Have

In spite of unifying efforts of man on every front to promote a spirit of dignity and pride for one culture or another, we have missed the mark. God created the earth and everything therein. He made man out of the dust of the Earth and blew into him the breath of life.

It was God who gave man duty, purpose, and direction for his life. We are all created to do great works in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Self-centeredness of pride and arrogance has made us to ignore our charge, as well as our creator.

While the monumental statues that have been erected in our country, our prideful erections of man’s confidence in man, they do represent dynamic events during the special periods in the history of our country. We cannot erase history, nor can we erase the sins of the past. We must learn from the mistakes of the past in such a way that all of the glory goes to creator God, who is the beginning and end of all things.

Of a certainty, the satanic impulse that was responsible for the hatred, bigotry, and racism that this country witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, 2017, was on the part of both those who initiated the movement, as well as those misguided defenders who purposefully prepared themselves for battle against the invader, both fell victim to Satan’s plan to amplify his victory over righteousness in our land.

In spite of all the faith-based preaching, teaching, and training of God’s church on Earth, we yet lack the evidence of an embracing faith that produces a working righteousness in the fabric of America’s moral consciousness. Only a loving, living, laboring relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, will produce the degree of righteousness that will exalt a nation.

I challenge the body of called-out believers to take up their cross and except the charge that God has given us, and directed in his word: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.”  II Chronicles 7:14

If our nation, then, is to be healed, our faith-based community must come together in unity and purpose to develop a movement to mandate the prominence of prayer for the healing of our nation. God has given us the power, the authority, and the responsibility for victory in the land. He himself will hear from heaven to transform the evil heart of man into redeeming vision of light and he will give man a shepherd to propel him in all of the work to which he has called him.

Katie C. Davis

 

On Charlottesville, VIRGINIA

The United States is STILL IN A CIVIL WAR!

A WAR WHICH NEVER ENDED,

PHYSICAL SHACKLES WERE REMOVED

BUT BRAIN SHACKLES REMAINED ON ALL

WE ARE STILL MARRED AND SCARRED.

WILL THE RESIDUE EVER BE ERASED?

CAN PROPER PERSPECTIVE REPLACE THE DEGRADATION OF A RACE?

CAN THIS COUNTRY OF OURS SAVE ITS FACE?

 

NATIONALISTS FLUNG THEIR THOUGHTS OF SUPERIORITY,

KLANSMEN FLUNG THEIR HATE,

PATRIOTS CAME IN BROTHERHOOD AND SISTERHOOD, UNITY,

AND WERE DISGRACED.

LAW ENFORCEMENT STAND, POISED FOR BATTLE,

WHILE MY PEOPLE AND THE WORLD…CONTINUE TO WATCH, WAIT AND DEBATE.

 

WHAT HAS COME TO LIGHT HAS ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN TO US.

The hate that underlines our country’s interior despite its outward appearance.

IT’S been a known WAY OF LIFE, JUST MORE SUBTLE NOW, TILL NOW!

VIRGINIA DURING THE CIVIL WAR WAS UNION BEFORE SECEDING.

And later some parts sided with the CONFEDERATE; dropping what we know now as West Virginia.

AS PLAYED OUT IN CHARLOTTESVILLE:

VIRGINIA IS STILL DIVIDED IN HER VIEWS.

THAT’S BEEN OUR HISTORY. JUST LEARN FROM OUR HISTORY:

THE DEAD STATUES CAN’T HURT US; IT IS THE LIVING PERPETRATORS, VIRGINIA, ET AL.

Yvette Johnson Simmons

 

IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING WHO SAID:

“When you diminish the rights of one person, you diminish the rights of all.”

Therefore, it is insane for those groups who profess and practice bigotry to think the tables will not, cannot be turned on them in the time it takes to complete one hateful act.

We all know what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent news conferences, protests, funeral, and social indignation which followed.

We can easily recall the many black women and men who have been killed on the streets of the United States of America.

It was not too long ago that we experienced Black Lives Matter marches against the attempts to minimize the significance of the killings of people of color.

Now we have the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest, and the killing of one white female.

This killing garnered national and international news coverage. We saw new protests from many sides, many sides.

Again, the president of the United States used this occasion to demonstrate his total ignorance, incompetence, and unworthiness to occupy the White House.

Many of this nation’s national, state and local elected officials demonstrated that they are no more capable of carrying out the public trust than the president.

Lawrence Owes

 

DOMESTIC TERRORISTS ATTACK ON CHARLOTTESVILLE

Home grown terrorists gave Americans a rude awakening when they struck Charlottesville with violence on Saturday, August 12, 2017. White nationalists, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and Neo-Nazis came to Charlottesville well-armed for battle, wearing helmets and military clothing with protective shields. They wore guns, including semi-automatic rifles. They marched with torches, carrying pepper spray and tear gas. Numerous marchers displayed Confederate and Nazi flags. They came under the pretense of demonstrating against the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who fought in the Civil War opposing the abolishment of slavery.

According to media resources, the KKK came into being in the year 1865, soon after the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. The purpose of the KKK was to instill fear in black people so whites could maintain their superiority over them. The Neo-Nazis came into being in the year 1959. Their purpose was to harass and intimidate Jews and blacks, and to keep Hitler’s name alive. These organized groups and other white nationalists are domestic terrorists who work against the moral fiber of our nation. Many in these racist groups are thugs who evidently came to make trouble. Their acts in Charlottesville revealed that racism is alive and well, and that racist groups are becoming more brazen.

The demonstrating groups were so emboldened to show their white supremacist beliefs that many of them did not hide in the white robes and cone-shaped, white hoods that were traditional for the KKK to carry out their hateful tactics. In the past, they wore white robes and hoods to hide their identity, and to frighten black people. With the support of President Donald Trump and his administration, they no longer feel they need to hide their identity. There was little police control of their hateful behavior. The resultant conflicts with anti-racist protesters caused the death of a 32-year-old woman and two police officers, as well as numerous injuries.

A recovering racist who had been an active member of the KKK said that many of the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville didn’t even know the history of Lee, and were marching because of the hatred they were harboring in their hearts for black and Jewish people. According to media reports, many of the marchers were “misfits,” who are unemployed, and feel that blacks and Jews had taken or were going to take something away from them. The idle ones had little to do but wait and look for an opportunity to vent their frustrations and spew their hatred as they did in Charlottesville. They have been taught to fear and hate black and Jewish people. They say they march and demonstrate to preserve their heritage. If they were concerned about heritage only, they would have no problem accepting proposals to dismantle those racist statues, and move them to a museum.

With the support of a narcissistic president who took the side of the KKK and Neo-Nazis against protester who came to oppose the ideas of the white supremacists, the door to more violence was opened. Instead of degrading the violence spewed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis, the President stated that responsibility for the violence, “was on both sides.” Equally shared by both sides — the white nationalists and the protesters.

Any American president who takes sides with racist groups against other American citizens should not be the leader of our nation. Supporting those groups is not who we are.

How can the President and white nationalists end their hatred of black and Jewish people? Hatred is so embedded in a white nationalist’s heart it is not an easy undertaking to get rid of it. One of the first steps white nationalists can take to get rid of their hatred is to have an inner-self spectrum. They need to look inward and analyze why they hate. Don’t use the “Heritage not hate” slogan as a pretense for their love of the Rebel flag and Civil War statues. That’s a false narrative. If that was true, white nationalists would not be demonstrating against the removal of Civil War statues and Rebel flags from state grounds to museums. Once they realize why they hate they must fight with all the energy they can muster to rid themselves of hateful beliefs.

White nationalist groups who engage in violent and racist tactics are indeed terrorists and should be treated as such! There have been some nationalists who have changed. Mature and objective analysis and judgment will allow these individuals to move from learned, hateful beliefs to respect and love for all other humans.

May it be so!

Helen Bessent Byrd & Shedrick Byrd

 

In Response to the Recent Violent Protest that Occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia

I say racism is alive and well.

Racism deals in politics and power, not emotions.

About twenty years ago, I met a historian who said to me in a very serious tone: “Sistah, you have to understand white supremacy, and when you do, you will understand just about everything that goes on around you.”

I never forgot that. Understanding white supremacy does not mean you hate white people. You just understand their plight.

White supremacy groups are committed to staying in control and protecting white privilege. They do not share power with people of African descent.

We are spiritual people. Most of us of African descent have been taught that religion is color-blind. We are taught to love everybody, turn the other cheek, love your enemies and pray for those who, despite this, use you and persecute you.

HUH?

It’s interesting that the protesters in support of the Confederate monument were carrying rifles and stick, and wearing bulletproof vests while the counter-protesters were carrying signs.

Anne Boone

 

Mr. President, Remove Those Confederate Monuments

There are 718 Confederate monuments throughout the United States, and they all should be removed. Slavery was the nation’s original sin. The monuments are a testament to Confederate generals who believed in and fought a war to keep black folk in bondage.

Slavery was evil. Women were sold away from their children. Men were branded, beaten and hung in trees. Slavery left an unforgettable scar on black folks. If you have ever seen a “slave collar,” which was worn by a slave to identify him for sale, you think of a dog wearing such a collar. Slaves were advertised along with household goods for sale.

These Confederate memorials have been placed in Old Townes, downtowns, and on the main streets of American cities so that we will never forget.

A few memorials and monuments celebrating black folks have been placed near railroad tracks, beside interstates, in neglected African-American cemeteries, or removed to the segregated sections of cities.

I say again and again, over and over, we must move forward toward a truly diverse society where all the people and all the ancestors are treated equally.

Remove the Confederate monuments from the hearts of our cities to a memorial park in a cemetery, where they belong.

M. Breckenridge-Haywood

slave collar

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I made it out of the jail

without falling apart yesterday, but just barely.

I’m working with women now, and while we don’t directly address the circumstances that lead to their incarceration, addiction comes up frequently. As does motherhood.

One of my writers was prostituting herself at age eleven to feed her mother’s addiction. She’s a mother and an addict herself now. To solve this problem we put her in jail. She got kicked out of my class for some unnamed misbehavior. I’m guessing a fight with another inmate. If I feel rage at her heartbreaking fate, what must she feel?

I think about all of them all the week in between our meetings. I think about their kids. I think about how much they’d love to be taking a walk, or making dinner, or taking a shower unobserved. Or hugging their kids.

I bring a few dozen used books every week and they snatch them up, starved for escape.

I bring word prompts I write on a whiteboard and they choose one and start writing. So much pain scratching itself out across the page.

If a writer is feeling brave, she can read her piece aloud. Yesterday, the shared wound was so fresh we were all in tears. Then someone applauded and it turned to cheers.

I bring poems and short prose pieces, and visual images clipped from donated art magazines to use as writing prompts. In that gray place the pictures spread out on the table are like artifacts from the living world. They bloom.

Project director Celina Santana brings inspiration and life skills to these women once a week with her program, The Three Principles. A perfect complement to the writing workshop.

When this session with the women ends in a few weeks, I’m starting another session with the men. And this summer, I’ll be guiding a workshop, Resistance & Resilience: A Memoir Workshop of the Jim Crow Era, which will meet at the Colored Community Library Museum in Portsmouth. I’m guessing the tears will flow there, too. We’ll be collecting the stories of that era, which isn’t over, and archiving it at the museum.

At the same time, Project Director Rachel Thompson will be guiding workshops for at-risk teen boys at two group homes.

I’ve spent too long lamenting the state of the world and watching other people try to fix it. This work we’re doing, this Seven Cities Writers Project is an attempt to get our hands in.

We give what we have, which is a love of words and what words can do: break you open; expose your true self; heal.

I’ve been so honored to be the disciple of words for these forgotten people. And to be in a position to share their work with the world on our blog: (freshandlocalblog.wordpress.com).

I know a writer in Austin who guides a writing workshop in a homeless shelter. We agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are perfectly suited for this work. Then we agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are wholly unsuited for this work. We also agreed that we’d found the work of our lives, the very best job there is. We get so much more than we give.

I hope you’ll help us by giving what you can to our Go Fund Me campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/give-to-7cwp).

Our goal of $25,000 is a dream – it would fund year-round projects in the jail, and multiple Jim Crow workshops, expand the at-risk youth projects to include homeless teens. But every dollar counts.

Please help us continue to give voice to the voiceless. Thank you.

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#GivingTuesday

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a one-day charitable giving campaign for non-profits across the country. Seven Cities Writers Project is counting on your support. 
This spring, we will be expanding our established creative writing workshops in the Norfolk City Jail to include a twelve-week, university-level, multi-genre workshop for up to 20 incarcerated women. Participating writers will be provided folders, composition books and loose leaf paper, pencils and erasers. Used books and sample readings will be distributed. We hope also to provide each student with a new dictionary and thesaurus of her own. Instruction will be equivalent to a university-level creative writing class.
At Seven Cities Writers Project, we believe every voice has a right to be heard, and creative expression has a healing effect on the suffering. Please contribute what you can, and give hope to these vulnerable women. Let them know they are not forgotten, and you, too, believe in the power of creative expression.
To make a contribution, if you have a PayPal account, please go to: paypal.me/7CWP
If you’d like to use a credit card, please go to : 
All donations are tax deductible.
Thanks so much for your support. It means the world to us, and to our writers, Lisa Beech Hartz, Executive Director, Seven Cities Writers Projectjess

Give Local 757

Read what our Norfolk Jail Project writers have to say about 7C.

7CWP

GL757 RGB stacked Date with white.pngGive Local 757 starts tonight at midnight and runs through midnight tomorrow. It’s your chance to contribute to local non-profits in a very simple way, with a ten dollar minimum donation.

Seven Cities Writers Project will be participating for the first time, and we really need your help.

We’re on our third session of workshops at the Norfolk City Jail, where your donation will provide things like the dictionaries and thesauruses I was able to give each writer last week. These are the things they crave, things we take wholly for granted. Dictionaries, thesauruses, pencils, erasers. Your donation will help pay for composition books and folders. For used books from thrift stores. For loose leaf paper so my writers can copy over their work and send it home with me to post on our lit & art blog, freshandlocalblog.worpress.com.

Here’s what some of my writers have said about the project, responding…

View original post 184 more words

Give Local 757

GL757 RGB stacked Date with white.pngGive Local 757 starts tonight at midnight and runs through midnight tomorrow. It’s your chance to contribute to local non-profits in a very simple way, with a ten dollar minimum donation.

Seven Cities Writers Project will be participating for the first time, and we really need your help.

We’re on our third session of workshops at the Norfolk City Jail, where your donation will provide things like the dictionaries and thesauruses I was able to give each writer last week. These are the things they crave, things we take wholly for granted. Dictionaries, thesauruses, pencils, erasers. Your donation will help pay for composition books and folders. For used books from thrift stores. For loose leaf paper so my writers can copy over their work and send it home with me to post on our lit & art blog, freshandlocalblog.worpress.com.

Here’s what some of my writers have said about the project, responding to our participant survey:

Marcus: “It helped me to find the beautiful and creative side of me that was just waiting to burst out. I’ve found a sense of inner peace and a desire to write what’s in my heart.”

Charles: “This class went above any expectations I had. Ms. Hartz gave us something to look forward to all week. She was a ray of light in a dark place.”

Derek: “I loved this class. I felt unjudged and free to express my feelings in any way.”

Calvin: “For once I felt free, felt recognized as an artist.”

This work has meant more to me than any job I’ve ever had. These writers are so grateful for my time, for the materials I bring. For listening. For sharing this craft I am so grateful to practice.

This summer, we’ll be starting workshops at two group homes for teenage boys, and a fourth workshop will begin at the jail. Please help us continue to bring the reference books, novels, poetry, paper, pencils, and inspiration to these underserved writers. Go to https://givelocal757.org/ and make a donation. Thank you.

 

Never the Same Love Twice — Lisa Hartz

imagesYMK3OXNT

Thursdays became very special to me over the course of this project. Emotionally both exhausting and exhilarating. Sometimes I made it all the way home before I cried.

On what would have been the tenth Thursday I visited the jail, my father died. I’ll just say that my dad was outsized, and the world without him feels unsteady. His favorite word was “marvelous,” and he always encouraged my sense of wonder.  I’ll also quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, because I’ve found this to be so true: “There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.” I am so grateful for the so simple and yet so fraught love my father and I shared. It was and is a beautiful, singular gift.

My jail workshop had a graduation ceremony of sorts on our ninth  Thursday. The writers gave a brief reading and received certificates from the Sheriff’s Office. I hadn’t wanted this to end ever. These gentleman taught me so much about myself, what I am capable of, and about how false those walls are that we put up between ourselves and others. I asked them to choose work to share with you. It follows this post.

There will be no ceremony to say goodbye to my dad. His choice. Instead, my brother, sister and I will choose books that have special meaning for us and donate them to his local library. I’ve chosen Sharon Olds, “The Father,” which I warn you not to read in public unless you are missing a heart. But do read it. She manages to conjure a father who is yes, outsized, and yet oh-so-real. A particular love for a particular man. Never the same love twice.

And I’ll be back at the Jail in February, to work with a new set of writers, and to be moved and changed by them all over again.

 

Marcus Cooper

Untitled by Doris Ulmann, Revived by Marcus N. Cooper and Titled A Girl with a Bow through the Eyes of Lil Marcus, My Son

Dad, Daddy look what I see! Little girl in the picture, she looking at me. Oh look, Daddy look, can you see that little girl looks sad? Can we give her some candy, Daddy, please? So she can smile and be happy like me? I know what Mikey would say: She look pretty. And I like the bow in her hair. So please Daddy, please, can we give her some candy so she can smile and be happy like me?

 

A Piece of Mind

Today I rise with a sense of PEACE

in my mind so today I seek to recognize

what is truly a piece of mind can I have

some PEACE if you don’t mind you know

just to take some time to seek a sense of

inner PEACE in my mind when

I meditate and pray that I get some

Piece of Mind

 

DaDa NuSense

Five Senses

Early morning, awaken fresh smell brewed java. Whistle blows, birds chirping from distance. Watching through window, kids load bus laughing, screaming. Phone rings, answers. Wrong number. Mrs. Parker, hard-of-hearing, yells when she speaks — Breakfast! being served on plates. Sounds of silverware clings to the table. Rush toward kitchen. Funny faces being made behind Mrs. Parker’s back. Very old, but cooks mean breakfast. Sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese, green peppers and onions. Toasted bread, spread with butter, grape jelly. Oatmeal and last but not least, hot fresh steaming brewed coffee for whoever wants some. Me and my siblings sit, join hands, close eyes, say grace. Oh, how sweet the sound.

Song

People try to judge me just trying to live right

the enemy don’t love thee worse than a parasite

truth uh-huh yo look what we’re facing

signs of the end times abomination desolation

no need for that shrewd face evil eyes proud look

running off with that mouth lying lips sly crooks

evil hearts that shed blood offspring are devious

sneaky quick to kill imaginations mischievous

my Lord never feed me this shower me with blessings

I’m praying continuously intersessions

my life isn’t easy we all go through

being one with God doesn’t mean the enemy won’t bother you

many temptations like Jesus in the wilderness

flowing from my heart know many people be feeling this

go hard for my Lord no perpetrating a fraud

praying on one accord Jesus’ word is our sword

whenever you’re in danger stay true never change up

like Daniel in the lion’s den see how he came up

final calling whole world ending in flames

yo read check the script everybody streaming his name.

 

Charles DesRoches

Little Bird Lost

I chased her until I caught her.

Then I lost her.

Now I’m lost.

What did I do?

What didn’t I do?

And what am I going to do now?

The bridge is up in flames.

And I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

Should I even try to cross?

Or should I just go back where I came from?

How could I do this to her?

SHE SAID.

She thought I was different.

We were both dreamers…together.

Now my side of the field is cold and barren,

like Langston’s field.

She was my Little Bird and I broke her.

I don’t care what anyone says.

About her or me or us.

We were built for each other.

Our love song was more beautiful and precious than tanzanite.

Now here we are, singing the blues.

Maybe the show’s over.

Maybe our contract has expired.

Move on, there’s nothing here to see.

Some say, out of sight out of mind.

Isn’t that the truth.

She’s gone and I’m out of my mind.

But at the same time,

it’s nothing but a big fat lie.

You see, I can’t ever forget her.

To do so would be to forget myself.

For she is a part of me.

Because of her, I am who I am.

For better or for worse.

I just pray there is hope in the mechanics.

And this can all be fixed.

All I want is what I had.

I messed up and scared her away.

So for now, all I can do is wait.

And if my Little Bird comes flying back,

then I’ll know it is truly meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz

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It’s Thursday, jail day, only this Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I probably could have skipped it.

I cook every year for my entire side of the family, which is a lot of people. Fourteen this year. Two down from last. This is the first year my parents won’t be making the drive up from Florida. My dad is busy being slowly and cruelly suffocated by Philip Morris. So I had to go see my guys in the jail. These two things are connected in a way I don’t yet understand.

Today, we’re going to read this poem by Abigail Deutsch:

After the Disaster, New York City, 2001
One night, not long after the disaster,
As our train was passing Astor,
the car door opened with a shudder
and a girl came flying down the aisle,
hair that looked to be all feathers
and a half-moon smile
making open air of our small car.

The crowd ignored her or they muttered
“Hey, excuse me,” as they passed her
when the train had paused at Rector.
The specter crowed, “Excuse me,” swiftly
turned, and ran back up the corridor,
then stopped for me.
We dove under the river.

She took my head between her fingers,
squeezing till the birds began to stir.
And then from out my eyes and ears
a flock came forth — I couldn’t think or hear
or breathe or see within that feather-world
so silently I thanked her.
Such things were common after the disaster.

Then, I’m going to ask my dudes to write about someone they are thankful for having encountered. It might be a tiny moment of connection. It might have become a major relationship. Then, they’ll share. They are always so supportive of each other. And they always blow me away with their creativity.

Next, we’ll read Alberto Rios:

When Giving Is All We Have
One river gives
Its journey to the next

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it —

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give — Together, we made
Something greater from the difference.

Then, I’m going to ask them to write from the point of view of someone who is thankful for them.

I don’t know yet that this will draw tears from a young father. The one who took longer than any of them to trust me. Or that I will find myself hugging him and crying, too.  Or that I’ll be typing this the next day through a blur of tears.

The other day on NPR, I heard someone quote a Mormon bishop. He’d said: “Walk with me while I learn.” That’s what this jail thing is about. I’m learning so much as I walk.

It’s important of course to take a moment, and not just on Thanksgiving, to be thankful for what we have. Sure. We don’t do that enough.

It’s also important to be thankful for what we have given. To take a moment to appreciate that our gifts have meaning.

So be thankful today, and consider yourself thanked.

Also, don’t smoke.

Fresh and Local: Our First Fundraiser

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On Saturday, November 14, we dove into a poetry reading at Prince Books in Norfolk with the amazing and talented Shannon Curtin and Kindra McDonald. We are so grateful for their willingness to be there and for their beautiful words. Pictures from our first fundraiser: our gorgeous flier by Advisory Board Member Leslie Renn.

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Q&A time, (some of) our board with the guest poets.

 

 

L to R: 7CWP Advisory board member Leslie Renn, Treasurer Rachel Thompson, Writer Kindra McDonald, Advisory Board member Lauren Hurston, 7CWP co-directors Lisa Beech Hartz and Claudia Isler Mazur, Writer Shannon Curtin, and Advisory Board member Linda Cobb.

Tidewater Park Elementary: A Project in the Projects — Claudia Isler Mazur

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I’m always nervous when I meet new kids. I want them to like me; when a kid doesn’t like you, you have some work to do on yourself. Kids are like dogs that way–they can smell your fear and your issues. I worried about the kind of chaos that can happen with groups of children–over the summer I worked with young people at a women’s shelter, and they had not mastered sitting still and listening, not even the fourteen-year-old.

Also, the situation feels reminiscent of my own elementary school days, the lone white girl in the classroom, hoping to be accepted, hoping to be trusted. Of course, now I’m the adult, and I don’t want to be viewed as the white lady who thinks she’s doing something charitable and patronizing. I might be the white lady, but I want to write with them and watch them grow as writers. So I have already loaded myself with worry. I knew I didn’t need to, though. Kids are kids, no matter what.

I met eight lovely little girls, ranging in age from eight to eleven. Some of them were very neat and tidy, every hair in place, shirt clean and tucked in. Some had hairdos that looked like a roughly put together pony tail had met a high wind, their clothes to match. They were all bright-eyed and energetic, even though it was five-o’clock at the end of a school day.

All of them were excited to be part of a writers group.

When I arrived at Tidewater Park Elementary, I ran into the principal, Dr. Sharon Phillips, in the parking lot. Dr. Phillips is an experienced educator who has worked for Norfolk Public Schools for a long time. Her affection and hope for the children at her school is palpable, whether I am talking with her alone, or if she is chatting with students in the hallway. She treats them with respect and pride. She remembered I was coming when she saw me, so I knew this first class might be a bit disorganized. But Dr. Phillips also has a calmness about her that assured me all was well.

If there is one thing my own children have taught me, it’s that it is good to make plans as long as you understand that nothing is likely to go that way.

So I had a plan: Each child would get a notebook. She would write her name on the book and then decorate it however she liked with stickers I had brought. “Make it yours,” I would say. We would talk about writing and what sorts of things we’d be doing each Wednesday afternoon. And then we’d dive in to my first exercise.

We went inside to gather up some kids for my group and find a quiet room. The face of a clock in the hallway admonishes “Say No to Drugs.” Inside, the school looks like most urban public schools; it looks just like the one I attended in New York. Painted cement-block hallways are punctuated with colorful student work on bulletin boards and doors decorated by teachers. We found some kids in the hallway who had gone to use the bathroom and were waiting for each other with a member of the afterschool program. They became mine. Dr. Phillips said there would be more next time. I only had a half hour with them for our first meeting.

They couldn’t wait to see what we would do–they suggested I learn their names first of all (I loved that they thought I needed this prompting–they were already helping me). So I learned names–Gina, Kimora, Essence, Aaliyah, Khamiyah, Mikayla, Jameria, and Ariana–and we decorated notebooks. The appearance of Hello Kitty stickers was met with the same joy they would’ve inspired among any group of girls that age, anywhere. They vied for the hearts, rainbows, and stars. We chatted, and I answered questions about myself. I told them how excited I had been all day to meet them (anxiety and excitement are so closely aligned, aren’t they?). I told them a little of what we’d be doing, and I listened to them and began to get a sense of their personalities. The very tidy girls told me all about their excellent grades in writing, and they tried to keep the less poised kids in line. The girls who were a bit less tucked in took it all in stride and did not let their friends’ need for order phase them.

At no point did I have solid control. Someone was always talking. But it was okay. I had given them a lot of shiny stickers. They were little girls. When time was up, without being asked, they all helped gather up our supplies. One by one, they left the room and ran back down to homework time. They were all smiles, saying thank you and “see you next week.” Essence hugged me. She left the room and came back a minute later for another hug.

There’s no doubt that the children at this school face challenges, even if only economic. But what’s also clear is that they are children–bright, ready to learn, by turns silly and serious, delightful. And like all people, they will benefit from having a forum in which to express themselves, to speak about who they are, in whatever form that takes in their sticker-laden notebooks. I want to help make that happen.

Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz

Last Thursday I went to jail. I promise I’ll only make that joke once, because once you’ve been to jail, it isn’t funny. It was my first day as director of our project at the Norfolk City Jail. And it was the first day I would realize that all of the things that have happened to me — all of the things — were in preparation for this day.

I spent my early youth in an all-white suburb of Detroit. I knew there was something off about this even as a small child, and drove my parents crazy with questions. I now know some of the answers to those questions, but the smack of shame that hit me burnt fresh as I walked past the cages (and that’s what they are, cages) full of brown men. Then, the aroma of teenaged boy, which when you have teenaged sons you adore is a sweet scent of promise and loss, brought tears to my eyes. I was following in the wake of Karen Hopkins of the Sheriff’s office who greeted many of the men by name and with a smile. I slapped a smile on and took a deep breath.

Mr. Thomas, the 8th floor counselor, introduced me to my three writers. We sat at a small table in a sort of side hall and got to know each other. Turns out they already identify as writers. They’ve been writing in journals every day for Mr. Thomas, who reads and comments on their entries. Later, he would tell me that this helps him get to know them better, so that he can be his most helpful. I wanted to hug him.

My students so far: C., quiet and introspective; Q., long and lanky with a great sense of humor; and S., younger than the others with darting eyes and a soft voice.

We wrote, we shared, we talked about how grateful we are to be writers, to have that freedom to express ourselves. Each of us had that one teacher early on who called us out as writers, motivated and encouraged us. Told us we were good at something we thought until then was just for ourselves. Something to do, not something to be. The energy in the space was incredible — what happens when real connections are made between people. The time disappeared. Afterwards, I just made it the three blocks to my husband’s office before I burst into tears. I had found my gig.

Everything that’s happened to me — from Michigan to my four sons, from those teachers who called me out to the friends who got me through rejections and dismissals — was in preparation for this.

I’m heading back on Thursday, and every Thursday after that. We started Seven Cities Writers Project for a very simple reason. We have something to give to people who need it, and we are so grateful for the opportunity.

Lisa Hartz