Friday, April 29, 2016

Friendship is at the Center

Friendship Center's Dining Room

Saint Elizabeth House

Just over ten years ago I met "Sister Pat." At the time, Patricia M. McKeon, RSM, was executive director of Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation in Hartford. She was my team lead on one of several Hartford Commission to End Homelessness in the Capitol Region committees organized to create the Commission's implementation plan. Our team, comprised of many organizations doing the good work of supporting and serving the homeless, created "strategies to increase supportive housing and affordable housing." I was representing Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity.

Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation is one of those organizations. St. Elizabeth House is one of those good works. St. Elizabeth is a transitional home providing the homeless a path to a better life -- a return to self-sufficiency and independence. 

Two weeks ago, Mercy Housing's Associate Executive Director Judith Gough invited me to tour the just completed renovation of St. Elizabeth House. The work is an impressive testimony to what can be done to create a welcoming place that provides the homeless respect, dignity, and support, along with what I believe is the basic human right to decent, safe shelter. Although Sister Pat retired last year, her presence could be felt throughout the new construction. Her team should be proud to know that a good strategy, implemented by a good organization, can lead to a good result.

Hartford Courant reporter Vinny Vella's article, "A New St. Elizabeth," and Cloe Poisson's photos tell the essential story about what Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation is doing to make the world a better place.  

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hidden Treasures Revealed

Reena Shresthra

Georges Annan-Kingsley

Eman Solman

Reena Shrestha, Georges Annan-Kingsley, and Eman Solman pictured above were among seven Asylum Hill exhibiting artists featured, along with inspiring youth performances by The Choir School of Hartford and the Hartford City Ballet, at the 2016 Town & County Club Spring Forum Hidden Treasures: Arts & Culture on Asylum Hill. These treasures should not be hidden, and for those who know the many treasures Asylum Hill has to offer, they definitely are not.

Reena, Georges, and Eman are friends whom I have the honor working with through the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association - Hartford Public Library Welcoming Committee. Reena, born and raised in Nepal, holds a BFA and MBA, and works for Hartford Public Schools and Hartford Public Library; Georges, born in Ghana, and raised in Cote d'Ivoire, is a painter, sculptor, art teacher and author; Eman is from Iraq. She creates jewelry, a craft she mastered while in exile in Syria.

Other friends exhibiting were Lar Pwe Paw, Louisa Barton-Duguay, and Bernie Michel. Lar, born in Burma, creates sculptures from recycled material, a skill she developed while in a Thai refugee camp; Louisa, a native of the prairies of Canada, is artist in residence and outreach worker at Grace Lutheran Church; and Bernie, born and raised in Ohio, originally worked in the music industry, and now is an accomplished photographer.

Rounding out the exhibiting artists were Marthe Annan-Kingsley and Magrette Balogou. Marthe, originally from Cote d'Ivoire, is a case manager/interpreter at Catholic Charities managing placement of refugees. She creates fine jewelry. Magrette, from Togo, West Africa, owns an Asylum Hill store that features handicraft from Africa, Jamaica, and Haiti.

The Forum also hosted a panel discussion moderated by Rabbi Donna Berman, executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Panelist were Dartanion Reed, Artistic Director of the Hartford City Ballet (HBC) and the School of HBC; Bert Landman Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal  Church and The Choir School of Hartford; and Georges Annan-Kingsley.

Annan-Kingsley, Reed and Landman shared their journeys on becoming accomplished artists and educators. Their impassioned presentations stressed the absolute importance of artistic expression in youth development and education. Then Reed and Landman directed youth from their organizations in outstanding ballet and choral performances -- most definitely the highlight of the afternoon.

To learn more about Dartanion Reed and Bert Landman please visit their respective organizations' websites featured above.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Meet Your Muslim Neighbors Building Bridges in Community

"Building Bridges in Community." It's the motto of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut (MCCT). Nabeel, Sameer, Shaq, Nour and Faseeha, five young Muslim leaders and professionals on the rise, were living that motto last Saturday volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity home being built in Hartford. As a Hartford Habitat board member, I met with them briefly simply to say thanks for coming out to work on the house.

MCCT year after year is one of Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity's most consistent and dedicated faith-based volunteer groups, especially on our interfaith builds. Their service, as well as that of all of the many diverse faith communities that collaborate with Hartford Habitat, is invaluable.

As I wrote in my February 26, 2016 blog, Walking the Interfaith Path"think of the impact collaborating faith communities could have sharing their common principles of welcoming and serving people in need -- the neighbor, the stranger, the marginalized, the vulnerable...Think of the impact collaborations could have in advancing the peace, understanding, and acceptance among different faiths when they come together to work in partnership for the greater good of the world."

The faith communities collaborating with Hartford Habitat have that impact, and MCCT definitely is one of them.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016: Follow the Heron Home

Today is Earth Day. It's a day to take action. It's a day to celebrate. It's a day to honor the movement that began in 1970 giving "voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling human energy toward environmental issues. " It's a matter of survival. Let's give thanks to all people around the world who do their part, big or small, in protecting our planet, and making it a better place to live for generations to come.

To celebrate I'm sharing a few of my recent photos of a Great Blue Heron I observed by chance last week in a nearby swamp. These photos are of a heron (whose mate is nearby keeping a watchful eye) that made a nest atop the remains of a tall dead tree in the middle of the swamp. I photographed the herons from afar and I won't be going back to visit for several weeks because human disturbance, particularly during the beginning of nesting, often results in nest failure with abandonment of eggs or chicks.

The heron photographed is returning to the nest and settling in to incubate a clutch of eggs that I hope yield a healthy brood, and become a new generation. It would be a minor miracle if I actually got to photograph them as they fledge, however I'll be happy just to see the new arrivals soon after they leave the nest.

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"This is paving the way for different athletes coming after me."

HELEN NEWMAN, left, a freshman at Granby High, and Stephanie Marquez, a junior at Sport and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford, head into the first turn of the 400-meter race at Canton High School Tuesday afternoon. Visit for more photos. (John Woike |

“We made history in our state,” said Stephanie Marquez.

“Definitely, I think we did,” said Helen Newman.

“It is something that had to be done,” said Marquez, born with spina bifida. “It is a very important day. This is paving the way for different athletes coming after me."

"Yes, this day was about state history. This day was about inclusion," wrote Hartford Courant reporter Jeff Jacobs in his article, "Team Inclusion."

Jacobs' article tells the inspiring story of two student athletes, their teammates, parents and educators  leading the way by paving a path of inclusion. A path being cleared of the stones blocking long overdue progress. If you haven't read it, please do.

The photo and quotations are from the Hartford Courant article.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

"Honest Conversations With Muslim Neighbors" April 28, 2016

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bipartisanship: A Bridge Too Far?

"You do affirm that all the testimony you are about to give in the case now before the court will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; this you do affirm under the pains and penalties of perjury?" So reads a common oath of affirmation used in many United States courts. Not telling the truth when sworn to do so can lead to contempt of court and, as the oath threatens, "the pains and penalties of perjury."

Can we as a nation come together to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in today's destructive U.S. court of public politics, where the truth can be elusive, and where spinning truth and facts to fit a point of view or a promised outcome seems all that we hear from competing politicians, regardless of political party?

"'Spin' is a polite word for deception," writes Kathleen Hall Jamieson, as quoted in Mark Gurzon's new book "The Reunited States of America." Our acceptance of this spin, whether voiced from the left, center, or right, should be grounds for holding us, not just the spinning politicians, in contempt of the court of public opinion because we lack the courage to listen, learn, and lead as one nation. E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), Gurzon reminds us.

Two influential leaders and writers, Mark Gurzon and Arthur C. Brooks, offer persuasive points of view that offer direction on ways to bring America together to reject the polarization that is preventing our ability to govern the United States effectively.

Last week at Leadership Greater Hartford's 40th Anniversary Breakfast, Mark Gurzon, author of "The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide", presented his ideas to mitigate the growing polarization in American communities. Specifically, he calls for building a transpartisan movement in the United States with citizens having the courage to take action. Action to "bridge the partisan divide" by:

Reinventing Citizenship: Moving from dogmatically confirming our own beliefs to having the courage to listen and learn from others.

Leading Beyond Borders: Moving from wanting absolute control of policies and programs to building healthy and diverse community relationships.

Championing the Whole Truth: Moving from digging-in-our-heels position-taking to collaborative problem solving seeking to understand all sides.

Serving the People: Moving from endless campaigning to actually serving the public.
Building on these basic actions, Gerzon's book offers several bridge-building steps we can take to reunite America.

With similar sentiment to find common ground, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, writes in his article Bipartisanship Isn't for Wimps, After All (New York Times, April 10, 2016) that today's polarized commentary "is more contemptuous than angry, overflowing with sneering, mockery and disgust." A condition leading to "permanent enmity" where "Bigotry and contempt make it impossible for America to do many great things."

Brooks emphasizes that one does not have to "surrender to the those with whom we disagree...but our duty is to be respectful, fair and friendly to all, even those with whom we have great differences." He further writes "Rejecting polarization is more than self-improvement; it is an exercise in self-respect...Next time someone on your side insults people on the other side, think of someone on that side whom you love and respect. You have just been insulted."

Both Gurzon's and Brooks's writings open a knowingly difficult path that, if we have the courage to follow it, can lead us to restoring our faith in each other and our faith in our country. It's not a bridge too far.

Graphics are from Gurzon's book and Brooks's article.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Essential American History: Jackie Robinson


Airs April 11-12, 9 pm and 11 pm ET on PBS

Jack Roosevelt Robinson rose from humble origins to cross baseball’s color line and become one of the most beloved men in America. A fierce integrationist, Robinson used his immense fame to speak out against the discrimination he saw on and off the field, angering fans, the press, and even teammates who had once celebrated him for “turning the other cheek.” After baseball, he was a widely-read newspaper columnist, divisive political activist and tireless advocate for civil rights, who later struggled to remain relevant as diabetes crippled his body and a new generation of leaders set a more militant course for the civil rights movement.
JACKIE ROBINSON, a two-part, four-hour film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon tells the story of an American icon whose life-long battle for first class citizenship for all African Americans transcends even his remarkable athletic achievements. “Jackie Robinson,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

Film Resources:

Text and photo from PBS's and Film's Websites

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Invest in Someone on Their Best Day" - A Positive Approach to Community Development

Asset Based Community Development Model

"When Trying to Solve Problems Does Not Solve Problems: Rev. Bill Stanfield at TEDxCharleston" is a convincing 12-minute TED Talk video for everyone working toward positive community development. Stanfield's approach, summarized in the graphic above, is persuasively explained in the video.

Instead of focusing on problems, Rev. Bill Stanfield presents a compelling case that "philanthropy should focus on discovering and investing in the assets of particular individuals and neighborhoods." He strongly believes in Asset Based Community Development that is driven by the people and organizations in the community. They know know the issues best, and represent the essential fabric of the community. 

In his approach, Stanfield certainly takes community problems seriously.Yet his method goes beyond simply identifying problems, and then funneling dependency-creating aid into the community to relieve the symptoms. It examines the problems and looks for available community assets that could, if given proper investment with the residents' buy-in, solve the problem itself. 

Stanfield's points compliment those made by Robert D. Lupton in his must-read book Toxic CharityLupton argues that "unexamined generosity" can become toxic when "people full of compassion forget the fundamentals when it comes to building relationships with those they attempt to serve. Forging ahead to meet a need, we often ignore the basics: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability." 

Stanfield's approach and Lupton's book taken together offer a primer for all who want to "do good" to help communities "do well."

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Essential American History: "Having Our Say" and "Having Their Say"

OLIVIA COLE, left, plays Sadie Delany and Brenda Pressley is Bessie Delany in “Having Our Say.” ( T. Charles Erickson )

I have my tickets for "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years" now performing at Hartford Stage, March 31- April 24.  Do you have yours? If not, better reserve them quick. 

Hartford Stage's website describes the play's essence: "103-year-old Sadie Delany and 101-year-old Bessie Delany were the daughters of a former slave, grew up in the Jim Crow South, lived in Harlem during its renaissance, and had professional careers as a teacher and a dentist, respectively. While they make dinner to remember their father’s birthday, the two sisters tell us the story of the last century, as they lived it. History at its most immediate, and poignant."

In his Hartford Courant review, Christopher Arnott writes "Having Our Say is a special sort of show. Part storytelling revue, part civil rights drama, part housekeeping ritual. The stories Sadie and Bessie tell largely concern the racism and chauvinism they experienced as African-American women during the 20th century, tempered with tales of personal triumph, social progress and supportive friends and family members."

And don't miss Witnessing History: The Life and Times of the Delany Family featured in Hartford Stage's Stagenotes. The timeline of history paralleling the Delany sisters' lives is impressive.

Finally, kudos to Hartford Stage and "Connecticut Humanities, the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, as recommended by the Jackson-Batchelder Family Fund," for sponsoring Having Their Say: Generations in Conversation. Don't miss these stories. They are powerful and emotional.

Developed as an online companion piece to the Delany sisters' story, Having Their Say is an oral history project in which Hartford Stage "invited a group of local African-American female students to partner with 10 African-American women over the age of 70 to share stories specific to our Hartford community. Through a series of intergenerational dialogues, the participants exchanged their personal journeys, reflecting on the influences that have shaped their lives here in our city."

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Residential Segregation in America: By Accident or On Purpose?

Richard Rothstein, a noted researcher and policy advisor at the Economic Policy Institute, has invested years in analyzing the history and effects of residential segregation in the United States. He was the keynote speaker at the Hartford-based Partnership for Strong Communities March 31, 2016, IForum on "Housing Choice and Affordability: Unlocking Opportunity." 

Rothstein's presentation traced the history of how metropolitan segregated neighborhoods formed throughout the United States. His fact-laden recount began with the Great Migration of African-Americans moving to northern, midwestern, and western cities, away from the Jim Crow south in the early twentieth century. He does not hide his passion for destroying myths about how segregated housing just happened by accident, or as one might say today, organically. Rothstein's insight deserves inclusion in any discussion on racism in America.

Rather than try to summarize what I heard in his presentation, I recommend listening to his thirty-six minute discussion with WHYY's Terry Gross from an interview she conducted on her May 14, 2015, public radio show Fresh Air. It is essentially what he presented at the IForum. It is titled "Historian Says Don't 'Sanitize' How Our Government Created Ghettos."  The interview's transcript begins as follows:
"We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls 'de-facto' — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods or because there was white flight."
"It was not the unintended effect of benign policies," he says. "It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that's the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies."
Rothstein is also the author of "The Making of Ferguson" in which he documents how public policies, those same policies he discussed at the IForum, are the root of Ferguson's troubles.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Write and Editor

Friday, April 1, 2016

Essential American History: The Green Book, Navigating a Segregated Nation

The Green Book 1940 Edition

"For African-American travelers in the Jim Crow-era South—often journeying from the north to visit relatives who had not joined the Great Migration—an unprepossessing paper-bound travel guide often amounted to a survival kit. The Green Book often functioned as a lifesaver," writes Kathleen Burke of the Smithsonian.

During Black History Month, I prefaced a couple of posts with the words "Essential American History." The history I wrote about is essential because it is critical to understanding why it is no simple task to bring people together in trust and harmony given what we've done to each other. This is why learning about the Green Book is essential to understanding how heartbreakingly difficult it was for many Americans to navigate a segregated nation.

To fully understand history details, context, and personal stories matter. They are essential. Not enough detail, context and personal stories find their way into our typical high school American history curricula and textbooks.

Arguably, there is only so much history that can be presented in a school year leaving students (and most of us throughout our lives) with only basic themes and highlights, omitting essential points that I believe affect how we look at one another in the United States, how we look at the rest of the world, and how the world looks back at us. A rudimentary history of the United States, let alone the world, is not sufficient to fully appreciate and celebrate the richness of our diversity, and what it means to the future of our country.

Without awareness of history's details and context we miss points that may make a significant difference in how we relate to each other; how we welcome or exclude each other; and how we enact laws and promote behaviors that either treat everyone fairly, with dignity and justice, or discriminate against certain people leading to unfair treatment, degrading and devoid of the justice our country promises to all Americans.

The Smithsonian and PBS stories listed below document the Green Book's important and relevant American history.

How the Green Book Helped African-American Tourists Navigate a Segregated Nation in the April 2016 Smithsonian Magazine is a story about The Negro Motorist Green-Book. It is accompanied by a Smithsonian online story, “Driving While Black” Has Been Around As Long As Cars Have Existed. Included with the online story is a link to a powerful and telling video clip from Green Book, a Ric Burns documentary scheduled for release in 2019. If anything, view the clip!

Further details, as well as links to Green Book copies, can be found in a 2013 PBS story "Green Book" Helped Keep African Americans Safe on the Road.

Understanding history matters. It is essential.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor