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Keep Hope Alive

The only image that seemed appropriate to post is this black box -- 100,000+ deaths from Covid-19, massive unemployment, the shocking videotaped killing of George Floyd by a police officer, right before our eyes. Millions of people marching in the street, not just in the United States, but throughout Europe, in solidarity with all of us who are committed to dismantling a system of white supremacy. Enough of state-sanctioned violence against black people, limiting our voting rights, the massive showing of police force at lawful protests. Enough from a lying cheating blaming pinche pendejo beyond incompetent Impeached President. Enabled by a feckless Republican Party, as he stokes more hatred with his tweets and the incoherent words he spews. Enough. Our nation must heed the warning: No Justice, No Peace. My emotions range from sorrow, rage, numbness, fear, to hopefulness, and resolve to keep the pressure. No Justice, No Peace.

The past 10 tumultuous days have laid bare all the ways in which our country is so badly broken. The NY Times printed 1,000 names of people from around the country, a mere 1% of those who who have died of Covid-19, and the number is still rising. I was overcome with grief reading the few words that said so much about their lives: “quit his job to take care of his parents,” “squeezed in every moment he could with his only grandchild,” “died on the same day as her husband,” “organized food programs for children in the Philippines,” “famous in family circles for his birria stew,” “renegade nun,” “first black woman to graduate Harvard law school.” The vast majority of deaths were my contemporaries, sixties, and older. Although every death is tragic reading about younger people feels worse: Israel Sauz, “new father,” 22, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Latasha Andrews, 33 New Jersey, “always the first to offer help to those in need.” Fred the Godson, 41, New York City, “rapper known for sharp wordplay.”

Reading the list reminded me of visiting The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. First a few names and then more names, and more names, and then I am swallowed by a vortex of sorrow knowing that each name represents an inestimable loss to this soldier’s family. I looked up the names of boys from Alice, Texas (some high school classmates). I feel rage knowing that the burdens of wars fought during my lifetime are borne overwhelmingly by the poor and working-class: whites from rust-belt cities and Appalachia, brown and black people both urban and rural, who were drafted and had no college deferments or bone spurs. After the elimination of the draft, our military overpopulated by men and women with fewer opportunities than those available for the children of the middle-class and well-to-do. We have reason to be angry and out in the streets.

This was the same feeling that came upon me when I visited the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Moscone Center in San Francisco decades ago. The thousands of cloth squares each represented a life that was lost when AIDS struck a community that we as a society devalued - gay men. And later as the AIDS epidemic ravaged poor black and brown folks, there was no urgency to address the problem as these too were disposable people. As we walked quietly past the hundreds of quilts, volunteers held Kleenex boxes, like offerings, we took the tissues with gratitude to wipe the tears streaming down our faces. So much loss, so much grief.

And just when I thought our country had reached rock bottom with the Covid-19 pandemic -- the milestone 100,000 dead, inadequate supplies of PPE for our health care and other essential workers, meat processing workers (most of them immigrants) forced to keep working as Covid-19 infections ravaged their communities -- the Trump Administration washes its hands of the problem. When the explosive news of George Floyd’s murder hit the airwaves it was just too much. Too much.

Basta. We read and hear about the murders of black men and women at the hands of the police and white vigilantes, week after month after year. Other POC also die at the hands of the police and white supremacists. Two months ago, Guillermo “Memo” Garcia died nine-months after he and 45 other Mexican -looking people were gunned down by a white supremacist at a Walmart in El Paso, 23 dead. All of this is also true and heartbreaking, and we mourn them as well.

For now, let us keep the focus on BLACK LIVES, let us join them and tell them we too are willing to learn and grow and to do our part to dismantle racism in our own communities. Brothers and sisters, we stand with YOU. Black Lives Matter.

Now . . . let me share some good things I’ve got going on that are part of the movement of confronting racism. Those of you familiar with my work, my play, blogs, Stairwell Teatro, know that promoting fairness and justice is at the heart of my work. Although my play is not on stage, I’m presenting my work via Zoom in a variety of venues. I was part of the opening session of Hispanics in Philanthropy’s Virtual Summit this week. Later this month, I’ll be presenting a workshop for high school students interested in becoming lawyers. at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland. They have a year-round Youth Law Academy Program and a summer intensive workshop to help prepare these students for success in their educational journey. I'll also be at Puente’s Summer Institute for counselors. The Puente Program works with educationally disadvantaged students from middle school through community college: their goal is to maximize these students’ chances of graduating from four-year colleges and universities. Read more about Puente by clicking here. It truly is an honor to be invited to share my work in these spaces with our youth.

Next week, Thursday, June 11th, I’ll be spending an hour 7:30-8:30 (Pacific Time) with Stephanie Weisman, Artistic Director and Founder of The Marsh Theater. You can be sure I'll be talking about racism and white supremacy. No matter where you live, in the US, Europe, or Africa (lucky to have friends, near and far), you can be in the audience. Click here to join via Zoom, and if Zoom Room is filled you can follow on MarshStream's YouTube Channel.

The thousands of people demonstrating in cities around the world, a rainbow coalition of folks from different backgrounds standing together. the majority of them young people, demanding the dismantling of systemic racial injustice, give me great hope. All of us must keep hope alive.

In closing, I leave you with these two beautiful poems, the first A Working Class Prayer, written by C. Adan Cabrera, a friend, and former work colleague, It has been published in two different literary sites, and you can read poems, blogs, and stories at his website, click here.

A Working Class Prayer by C. Adán Cabrera

for my father, who wakes up in the dark, and who through storm or errant sickness must still ferry strangers to whomever may be waiting for them on the other side. for my mother, who must don vest and name-tag to serve hungry crowds that bite with uncovered maws:

steel their uncured faults, enclose them within your walls;

plant in their garden flowers of joy instead of ashen woe.

for my grandmother, who crossed deserts with naked feet and who once challenged the moon to a shouting match. for my abuelo, who crouched in his dark hut and whose tired fingers turned leather into what gringos called souvenirs but which were to us simply gifts:

permit gray fingers to remain remembered forever;

let them unburdened find their way back to you.

for my sister, mother of three and teacher of all things pure as well as practical, our alchemist manqué: a fistful of cash becomes food for a week, even if she must sometimes go hungry. for my brother, who’s lost faith along with his job and whose stony dread sleeps cold and permanent in the pit of his being:

may they drink deeply of hope and nourish their every hunger.

grant them too safe passage and etch into their hearts your wisdom.

for my brown nephews, children of mine in all but name, who now shelter in place against a predator unseen: outside the young sun beckons, while their feverish father scrubs toilets and wipes sullied windows:

give them a world (please) washed clean

and protect them from invisibility:

for to die one must first be unseen

And finally . . . Langston Hughes.

Thank you so much for reading my blog.

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