Saturday, June 18, 2016

World Refugee Day June 20

World Refugee Day Poster

June 20 is World Refugee Day. It is a day to listen and learn.  It is a day to speak out. It is a day to take a stand. It is a day to act.

The plight of refugees globally is horrific. It's an unconscionable and tragic reality for the more than 65 million people today who have been displaced forcibly worldwide.

With violence forcing "hundreds of families to flee each day, the UN Refugee Agency believes now is the time to show world leaders that the global public stands with refugees, and it will launch its #WithRefugees petition on June 20th to send a message to governments that they must work together and do their fair share for refugees."

To Act Globally on June 20: Sign the UN Refugee Agency's #WithRefugees petition. It will help "send a clear message to governments [worldwide] that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility."

To Act Locally on June 20: Reach out to refugees who have made their way to your community. Check with your local refugee resettlement agencies and other public and private organizations to learn about activities and opportunities to support refugees in your community.

To Act Locally in Hartford, CT on June 20: Visit The Hartford Public Library. It offers an excellent opportunity to "get to know your newest neighbors. From Monday, June 20th through Thursday, June 23rd, from 12:30 - 2:00 p.m., members of Hartford's diverse refugee groups invite you to join them for a cup of tea and conversation at Hartford Public Library, Downtown."

Also visit The American Place on the Library's Main Floor, for a display of Andy Hart's photographs "featuring the rich cultural contributions new arrivals bring to [Hartford]," and the ArtWalk on the Third Floor featuring Marc-Yves Regis' Headstrong photographic exhibit of Haitian children, which reflects "the deep passion that Marc-Yves Regis feels for street vendors who carry Haiti’s economic burden on their heads. Despite their constant struggle with bone-crushing labor, their faces show a mixture of determination, pride, sorrow, fear and joy."

Photograph by Marc-Yves Regis

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

The Connecticut Forum: Bishop Gene Robinson on the Solidarity of the LGBTQ Community

In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando, The Connecticut Forum's just released Video of the Week is timely and essential viewing.  The Forum's words quoted below speak for themselves. Please take a moment to read them. Then watch the video clip of Bishop Gene Robinson.

"Earlier this week a mass shooting was targeted at the LGBTQ community, in a space that was meant to be a place of celebration and safe haven. Our hearts are with all of those who lost friends or loved ones in this tragedy.

In this newly released clip, Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop, talks about threats of violence directed at him and his family and the LGBTQ community in general, as well as the solidarity and strength of that community.

Robinson was joined on the panel by Dan Savage and Martina Navratilova, with Jonathan Capehart moderating. The Forum Being Gay took place on October 5, 2013 at The Connecticut Forum."

Don Shaw, Jr
Writer and Editor

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pedaling Their Mission

Bike & Build cyclists cheered by greeters upon
arrival at First Congregational Church of Granby, CT,
June 7, 2016

"I see them! They're here! Bike & Build just arrived!"

Every June for more than ten years the Bike & Build Providence to Seattle Tour has overnighted at First Congregational Church of Granby, CT on it annual Providence to Seattle trip, one of its eight yearly cross-country cycling tours raising awareness for, and money to fund, critically needed affordable housing. It's a celebration the church looks forward to hosting every year.

Bike & Build, founded in 2002, has been pedaling its message for affordable housing ever since 2003. In its first 13 years Bike & Build’s cross-country tours have engaged 3,000 young adults in service who have delivered the affordable housing message, and have donated more than $4.5 million for the cause in the process. In 2015 alone, riders rode 1,021,000 combined miles, worked 25,700 hours building affordable homes en route, and awarded $637,311 in grants to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity,  Rebuilding Together, and many other affordable housing groups.

As its mission and vision state, "Through service-oriented cycling trips, Bike & Build benefits affordable housing and empowers young adults for a lifetime of service and civic engagement," and it "envisions future generations who are committed to a lifetime of civic engagement and who inspire individuals and communities to create fair, decent housing for all Americans."

The following photographs tell the story of Bike & Build's Providence to Seattle (P2S) 2016 tour stop at First Congregational Church, June 7-8, 2016. Check out the Bike & Build website for lots more details.

Enjoy the Ride!

Thrilled to get off the saddle!
Cooling off in the shade and resting weary legs.

Parking the van and trailer carrying clothes, equipment, and food.
The caption on the trailer says it all.
Riders showing off pictures from today's ride while munching on calorie replenishing snacks.
Off to the showers courtesy of the Farmington Valley YMCA,
and the Marquis of Granby Junior Ancient Fyfe & Drum Corps bus.
Chowing down on First Congregational Church's legendary annual B&B feast.
Brian Liss, executive director of the Farmington Valley YMCA, being congratulated by Rev. Dr. Ginny McDaniel of First Congregational Church, and Don Shaw, church member and member of Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity board, in recognition of the YMCA's many years of generously offering its showers to the cyclists.
After a good night's rest, up and at 'em early to get the bikes ready to roll June 8, 2016.
The pressure to get going.
Last minute treatment.
Mandatory morning briefing on the ride ahead. Today's destination: Kent, CT.
The reason they ride!
Group photo before mounting up.
Ready to lead cyclists to the Granby Habitat house under construction.

Bike & Build cyclists at the Granby Habitat house construction site,
which is right along the start of their route to Kent, CT.

Underway! Leaving the Granby Habitat house site. Onward to Kent. Enjoy the hills!!

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photographs by Don Shaw, Jr.
Tour map and Bike & Build information from its website.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Listen to the Heartbeat of Africa in Hartford

GhanaBeats Radio's Georges Annan-Kingsley
hosting this Good Times show which airs Saturdays from 12:00-2:00 p.m.

"Welcome to your greater Hartford African community radio, GhanaBeats Radio, broadcasting the heartbeat of Africa direct from our Bloomfield, Connecticut, USA studio."

Yes, you read it right: "from our Bloomfield, Connecticut, USA studio."

Georges Annan-Kingsley, an artist, author and teacher, and John Ackeifi, a computer engineer and entrepreneur, from Hartford and Bloomfield respectively, have teamed up to establish the first station specifically to serve the greater Hartford African community, with a mission of ensuring continuity of African culture and heritage to Africans who now call the USA home. Similarly, it serves to introduce the richness of African culture and history to the greater Hartford area, and what it can contribute to building bridges of understanding and acceptance in our diverse American society.

I visited the studio this past Saturday at Annan-Kingsley's invitation. He and I met through our work on the Asylum Hill Welcoming Committee, whose mission includes helping assimilate immigrants and refugees into the neighborhood.

Originally, broadcast from Accra, Ghana's capital, GhanaBeats Radio operation was moved by station owners Ackeifi and Pat Ackeifi, his wife, to their Bloomfield studio this year now that they live in Connecticut. What made the transition easy was that GhanaBeats Radio is an internet station, not available through an actual radio, but accessible globally via a computer. From Bloomfield the station still can be heard in Ghana, in fact it has listeners from around the world. I know this because while I was being interviewed by Annan-Kingsley on air, a listener texted Ackeifi from Germany.

Georges Annan Kingsley and John Ackeifi
founders of GhanaBeats Radio set up for Georges' radio program.

Annan-Kingsley's and Ackeifi's shared entrepreneurial spirit, complementary talents, and common Ghanaian roots made for a natural team. Before relocating to the United States, Annan-Kingsley was Assistant to the Cultural Attaché for the French Embassy in Ghana, and was teaching at the National Institute of Art, University of Cocody-Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Ackeifi, a computer engineer and entrepreneur, earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the USA.

Broadcasts of joyous western and southern African music are GhanaBeats Radio's specialty. Shows are broadcast twenty-four hours a day, mostly prerecorded, but eight shows are hosted live by nine DJs, who can be heard at regularly scheduled times Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The hosts, whose roots are  from Ghana, Togo, and Côte d'Ivoire, broadcast in English, French, or Ghanian languages, with plans to introduce Swahili very soon. The music is interspersed with local public service announcements and information about Hartford area cultural events. Near term plans are to increase public service content, and then longer term begin limited news programming.

Listening to GhanaBeats' engaging music is comforting and uplifting, although, as I mentioned to Ackeifi and Annan-Kingsley, my lack of relevant language skills prevents me from enjoying the lyrics -- we all laughed -- "the words are all good" they said.

Listen for yourself. It's all good.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

It All Started with a Gingerbread House

It all started with a gingerbread house when "Chef Paul," Bloomfield Public Schools culinary arts instructor, and his students competed in Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity's Gingerbread Build fundraiser a few years ago. It was then that he heard Habitat would be building several affordable homes in Bloomfield. An idea began to percolate.  

Building a holiday gingerbread house is fun, even tasty. But what if the students could actually fund and build a real house, an affordable Habitat home. If so, the students truly would be living up to the school system's motto "Raising the Bar is Taking us Far" -- its mission for maximizing student achievement.

Combining enthusiastic school district support, Habitat's know-how, and student-led creative fundraising, Chef Paul's idea has been formulated into a winning recipe for building a safe, decent and affordable house in Bloomfield rightly named "The House that Students Built." This Energy Star-rated single-family home will be built with 85% volunteer labor.

Bloomfield Public Schools' first-of-a-kind partnership with Hartford Habitat to build an affordable home is a district-wide initiative combining education, social awareness, goal setting and student-engagement focused on achieving the school system's mission to be a high-performing district.  By creating "a positive climate, an expectation of competitive academic achievement and a culture of meaningful parent and community engagement" Bloomfield school programs are specifically geared toward enabling student success. 

A critical piece in making this partnership a true community endeavor is that the Town of Bloomfield, in support of the school plan, donated the property at 89 East Morningside Street where the house will be built. The town's moderate homeownership rate and modest family income levels make the East Morningside Street neighborhood an ideal site for this project. Habitat already has built nine homes in Bloomfield—two in 2002, one in 2006 and six in 2014 with the town's full support.

This initiative is an excellent example of how student service learning projects should work. Well-designed projects result in students realizing increased academic achievement. Engaging students in meaningful service to their schools and communities allows them to apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. Students lead the process, supported by adult partners, and apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to community concerns such as poverty housing, homelessness, and neighborhood revitalization.

To get a flavor of the excitement building in Bloomfield, take a few minutes to listen to this brief clip of legendary Bloomfield-based radio talk show host and huge Habitat fan Brad Davis's interview with Chef Paul Waszkelewicz, Stacey McCann (Community Relations, Bloomfield Public Schools), and Marie McNamara (Individual Engagement Manager, Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity).

How will students, parents and staff volunteer?
  • Students ages 16 and above, along with parents/staff, are invited to volunteer at the Habitat ReStore located at 500 Cottage Grove Road, Bloomfield, CT. 
  • Volunteers 16 and above (must be 18 and over to use power tools) are welcome to form teams of up to 10 people to come out to assist in building homes on site. 
  • Students will be actively engaged in raising funds through creating social media funding pages,  requesting corporate and individual sponsorships, as well as creating other fundraiser events. 
While the advocacy, volunteering and fundraising portions of this initiative begin this month, the construction began in the spring of 2016, with completion in 2017. 

Join the Celebration!

The Bloomfield community is invited to join Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity and Bloomfield Public Schools to celebrate the kick-off of construction on "The House that Students Built" with an on-site Beam Signing at 1:00 pm on Tuesday, June 21, at 89 East Morningside Street, Bloomfield. 

See you there!

For details about the Bloomfield School System's partnership with Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity and other community engagement programs, as well as how to contribute or get involved, please contact Stacey McCann, Community Relations, at Bloomfield Public Schools, or Marie McNamara, at Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor