Thursday, August 8, 2019

Indifference Helps the Oppressor, Never the Oppressed

A sign at a march on the Connecticut state capitol, March 24, 2018.

Indifference manifests itself in ignorance, silence and blind acceptance. Turning our backs to the injustices suffered by the marginalized, vulnerable, and victimized in our local communities and around the world is a weak and heartless admission that the status quo is just fine with us when it doesn't affect our lives directly -- at least not yet. And that's a very big "yet" because unchecked turmoil can arrive anytime at our doorsteps regardless of who we think we are.

"It is not enough to limit your love to your own nation, to your own group. You must respond with love even to those outside of it. ...This concept enables people to live together not as nations, but as the human race." These words of Clarence Jordan, scholar, author, activist, and founder of Koinonia Farm, are his charge to all of us to follow a path of love, acceptance, and respect.

Let's face reality. The other, the stranger, the not-of-my-kind are real people, not abstractions. Each has a story -- a personal story of a real life, filled the with the kinds of hopes and dreams most of us share in wanting to be accepted, and allowed to live in peace and pursue a purposeful life.

A wall plaque at Habitat for Humanity's Atlanta, GA headquarters quoting Clarence Jordan

The challenge is to move us from uncaring indifference, or gratuitous caring with no commitment, to making a genuinely positive difference, large or small, however we are able. We must move from ignoring today's reality to facing it head-on. We must take a stand, and turn ignorance into awareness and action.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel fought relentlessly against the force of indifference. It's dangerous. It's deadly. In his December 10, 1986, Nobel Prize acceptance speech Wiesel said,

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe." 

Let's face reality. Let's take a stand. Let's make a difference. Today and always.

Don Shaw, Jr.

* This post is adapted from one of my previous posts. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, An Accessible Path to Nature

Clockwise L-R: A Palm Warbler seemingly jumping for joy, an Eastern Towhee,
and a Red-winged Blackbird photographed along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail

Celebrating the Trail's Accessibility to Nature 
April is here. The weather warms, days lengthen, plants sprout, and birds arrive. Earth Day, April 22nd, is a day to celebrate one of my favorite stretches of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, the roughly three and one quarter miles running through wetlands and farmland from Copper Hill Road in East Granby CT to Congamond Road in Southwick MA. Like most of the trail's entire route from New Haven to Northampton, it's accessible to almost anyone who wants to be outdoors enjoying nature without having to hike through fields, forests, and marshes. In step with the countless walkers, joggers, cyclists, and dogs pulling their masters, you can find folks using walkers, pushing baby strollers, and motoring in wheel chairs along this comfortable, level pathway. The trail's accessibility to people from all walks of life is a celebration itself. So for anyone who wants to be outdoors enjoying nature, especially birding like I do, the trail has much to offer. While its path is different from the terrain of nearby hills, woods, and swamps I often hike, the trail provides excellent opportunities to exercise, socialize, and bird watch all at once.

Cyclists and walkers enjoying the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
between Copper Hill Rd, East Granby and Phelps Rd, Suffield

For the better part of the past two decades I've walked, run, and cycled along many miles of the treasured Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, however it's only the past few that I've spent countless hours on it observing and photographing birds, especially on the East Granby to Southwick section. I owe much of my new found hobby to my friend Chris Fisher, an expert nature photographer of distinction from East Granby who travels the trail, too. He's coached me on camera selection, and more importantly on techniques to improve my photography skills. Check out Chris's website at Natural Expressions Photography to learn more about him and his nature photography exhibitions. 

Birding Along the Trail
In March bird activity along the trail picks up and lasts through most of the fall. Some birds are year-rounders, some are flying in during the spring to nest and raise their next generation, while others are passing through en route to breeding grounds farther north, and then passing through again in early fall southbound for their winter home.

To capture the essence of what the trail's accessibility can yield for birders, I've created several collages of bird photos I've taken without having stepped off the path, not even an inch. Certainly, there were many days (the majority, in fact), when I saw nothing of note and left without any pictures. Often it's when the trail is busy with foot and cycle traffic that birds keep their distance, but when I have successfully photographed a particular bird, I've reaped the rewards of persistence, patience, and calculated timing that are the keys to what it takes to be in the right spot at the right time to photograph nature in the wild.

Clockwise from top left are a Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Common Yellowthroat Warbler photographed soon after arriving in April and May along the wetlands nearing the CT-MA border between mileposts 21.6 and 22.0.

In this collage Eastern Bluebirds are making sure their chicks are well fed in the Bluebird house near milepost 21.0 in Suffield CT. I first photographed this couple as they were building their nest, and then later as they were feeding their brood. Unfortunately, I was not present when their young fledged, though I visited nearly every day. It happens quickly, and timing and chance are everything.

Clockwise from top left are a Cedar Waxwing, Gray CatbirdRed-winged Blackbird, and Eastern Towhee. The Cedar Waxwing was photographed along farmland near milepost 21.0 in Suffield; the Gray Catbird was photographed in the trees along wetlands between mileposts 21.6 and 22.0; the Red-winged Blackbird in the marsh just north of milepost 20.0; and the Eastern Towhee near milepost 22.5 in Southwick. 

These Eastern Phoebes arrived in mid-March in Suffield near the bridge at milepost 22.0 at the CT-MA border. They are among the earliest spring arrivals as they migrate to breed in this area.

Late last summer for two days in a row I was fortunate to observe this Great Blue Heron fishing in the swamp between mileposts 21.6 and 22.0 in Suffield. On the day I captured these photos, I patiently leaned against a trail fence for almost an hour with my camera focused and ready for the heron to strike. When it did, I clicked away in rapid fire bursts capturing the action of a successful catch.

Spring is mating season. These three couples were sharing the same stream one morning north of milepost 21.6 and just past Mountain Brook bridge. Clockwise from the upper left are Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Mergansers.

In this final collage are, clockwise from the top left, a male Wood Duck, A male Mallard, and a Mallard couple with their ducklings. The Wood Duck and Mallard were in the stream near milepost 22.0 at the CT-MA border; and the Mallard couple were in a vernal pool just north of the trail's entrance at Copper Hill Road in East Granby.

Final Thoughts on Celebrating the Trail
I've seen many other birds along the trail during the years I've been walking it. They include birds that typically gather around my home feeders, or nest in the trees in my yard such as Eastern Cardinals, Eastern Mockingbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, House Finches, and Blue Jays, among many others. Also, I've seen Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Northern Flickers, and Downy, Red-bellied, and Pileated woodpeckers. Clearly, many species of birds may be seen simply by venturing up and down the highly accessible stretch of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail from East Granby to Southwick. Beyond being able to walk among the birds that thrive in this habitat, what makes this section of the trail priceless is that's it's made for anyone and everyone to enjoy, and that's cause for an Earth Day celebration!

Don Shaw, Jr.

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Celebrating Fifty Years of Hands On Hartford

It's Time to Celebrate Fifty Years of Hands On Hartford!
That's right, fifty years! Fifty years of Hands On Hartford helping Hartford. Since its founding as Center City Churches in 1969, Hands On Hartford has been committed to feeding, clothing, housing, and caring for Hartford's most vulnerable residents, all with the helping hands of countless generous donors, volunteers and collaborative community partnerships. Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 24, 2019, from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm at the Hartford Marriott Downtown to celebrate Hands On Hartford's 50th anniversary. Details about sponsorships are posted at the following links: Sponsorship Package and Sponsorship Form. Tickets for the celebration will be available soon - contact for more information.

To learn more about Hands On Hartford's fifty year impact, I recently met with Hands On Hartford Board Chair Rev. Donna Manocchio and Executive Director Barbara Shaw for lunch at The Café at Fifty-Five. It's a café with a cause in its third year of operation serving up many new HOH opportunities for community engagement.

The Café at Fifty-Five
55 Bartholomew Avenue, Hartford CT

The Café at Fifty-Five
Located at 55 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood, the Café is HOH's mission-driven restaurant offering healthy, everything-tastes-good selections for breakfast, snacks, and lunch, including specialty crepes and a full coffee-tea-smoothie menu. And what makes frequenting this bright, welcoming eatery even more nourishing is that the Café's proceeds feed directly into HOH's revenue stream supporting its many services to people in need throughout Hartford. To make this happen the Café employs people committed to overcoming employment barriers, engages volunteers as kitchen team members, and offers a pay-for-a-neighbor program to help bring together people from all backgrounds and means to enjoy food and camaraderie together. Additionally, the Café's licensed commercial kitchen is in high demand for shared use membership. Currently, thirty-two qualified entrepreneurs and organizations schedule time 24/7 for their food preparation operations. And topping it all off in the spirit of good neighborship, its convenient and comfortable community spaces are available to the public for meetings, conferences, or social events.

Crepes are a Café specialty. 

During lunch, where my Sweet Chili Asian Slaw Wrap with grilled chicken proved a delicious introduction to the Café's offerings, Rev. Donna and Barbara recounted one success story after another explaining how each program helps realize HOH's "commitment to increasing food security and nutrition, improving health, and providing housing" by engaging volunteers and connecting communities. Barbara summarized HOH's mission in just six words, "serving neighbors, engaging volunteers, and connecting communities. "

The Next Success: Affordable Apartments Planned for Bartholomew Avenue
Following in the path of the Café's success a new initiative to provide much-needed affordable housing is on the table for 2019, the construction of thirty affordable rental apartments.

A rendition of the planned apartments after renovating the adjacent coal power plant,
which is shown in the background advertising the old Spaghetti Warehouse

In a 2015 initiative to consolidate its scattered site operation under one roof, HOH purchased a vacant building (formerly home to the Spaghetti Warehouse, and then Trout Brook Brewery & Pub), and an adjacent abandoned circa 1912 coal powered energy plant. With Fifty-Five Bartholomew Avenue now housing its community center and café, HOH has turned its attention to renovating the power plant into affordable housing. Twenty-three one-bedroom units and seven efficiencies are planned. Four units will be designated for disabled homeless people, with the remaining available as affordable rentals for people with incomes between 30 - 80% of local average median income (AMI). With a groundbreaking expected later this year, apartment occupancy is planned for mid to late 2021. The new units are certain to give a quality of life boost to this corner of Hartford's historic Parkville neighborhood.

And There's So Much More to Celebrate
Throughout its fifty year history of fostering collaborative community engagement, Hands On Hartford has provided hope for the homeless, nourishment for the hungry, and aid for the ailing. To fully appreciate the scope of HOH's services, all one needs to do is checkout its website, which is replete with information about its programs, services, and opportunities to put your helping hands to work. HOH's seven broad-based programs, as noted below with direct website links (red text), encompass all of HOH's essential community services.

MANNA Food and Neighborhood Services
MANNA food programs provide basic needs to thousands of individuals in Hartford each year. Through Community Meals, Community Pantry & Neighborhood Services, and its Backpack Nutrition Program, HOH provides food and other supportive services to those in need.

HOH's halal friendly Community Pantry, which offers a wide selection of food,
always has been at the core of HOH's mission.

The MANNA program also provides supportive health screenings and a 
Backpack Nutrition Program serving more than 250 students every Friday 
to ensure they have food each weekend.

HOH Housing
In addition to its planned new thirty unit apartment building, HOH Housing provides safe and affordable supportive housing and related support services for individuals and families with serious health issues (including those living with HIV/AIDS), both on site and throughout the Hartford area.

Community Engagement
Through its Community Engagement program HOH involves the public by engaging volunteers in the following ways: serving lunch at its soup kitchen, helping in its food pantry, organizing customized day-of-service projects, and hosting team building service immersion programs, including HOH's unique Dash for a Difference events.

Faces of the Homeless
The Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau travels throughout Connecticut (and beyond) to share personal experiences of homelessness, dispel myths, educate audiences on the causes of homelessness, and encourage others to get involved in making positive changes in the community. Groups or organizations are encouraged to host a speaking event or get their feet-on-the-street by engaging with Faces of Homelessness speakers in a walking tour on the streets of Hartford, which includes a visit to a local shelter, to learn about the challenges people face when experiencing homelessness. 

The Café at Fifty-Five
As previously highlighted, the Café is a mission-based restaurant at HOH's Center for Community offering an excellent menu with low prices, and a pay-it-forward option so that all who enter may enjoy the Café.

Caterers Who Care
You can support Hands On Hartford by having Caterers Who Care, HOH's mission-based catering service, custom prepare and deliver breakfast, lunch or dinner for your next meeting or event at your offices or off-site location, including one of the beautifully restored meeting rooms in HOH's community center. 

The Shared Use Kitchen is an invaluable asset to the community. Currently, thirty-two
qualified entrepreneurs and organizations schedule time for their food preparation operations.

Shared Use Kitchen and Meeting Space
Through annual memberships, HOH offers 24/7 scheduled use of its well equipped, licensed commercial kitchen to qualified food operators, such as food truck vendors, specialty catering services, and small bakeries supplying local markets.

Time to Celebrate!
Hands On Hartford's fifty year history of turning caring into action has affected thousands of lives by creating paths to better futures for people in need. As helping hands and advocates gather to celebrate HOH's fiftieth year in October, may they join their hands in thanks and shout a cheer for the next fifty! 

Don Shaw, Jr.

Photos and images courtesy of Hands On Hartford, and by Don Shaw, Jr.
Program and mission description texts courtesy of Hands On Hartford.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Navigating a Segregated Nation with the Green Book

The Green Book

"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.

The recently released movie Green Book, which opened to much acclaim, depicts a historically relevant tale based on one family's recounting of a story that reconciles the racial divide between two very different people, people who ultimately recognize the common, race transcending humanity that ties them together. While the movie is worthy of its accolades, and offers an important view into America's history of racism, its references to the real Green Book provide scant insight into the book's importance as a once vital African-American travel guide for navigating the country safely. Even traveling with his white bodyguard, Don Shirley, the world renown classical and jazz pianist depicted in the movie, couldn't be guaranteed protection from the violent racist reality of the time. Deeper digging is required to discover the Green Book's true historical significance, and how it links to today's reality.

In early 2016, especially in February during Black History Month, I prefaced a few of my posts with the words "Essential American History." One of them was about the Green Book. Learning about the Green Book is to begin to understand how heartbreakingly difficult it was for many Americans to navigate a segregated nation. It is one more story in the countless many about racism that are critical to our understanding why it is no simple task to bring people together in trust and harmony given what we've done to each other. 

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 Green Book's Black HistoryBrent Staples' opinion piece that recounts "lessons from the Jim Crow-era travel guide for African American elites," along with The Smithsonian and PBS stories listed below, documents the Green Book's importance and relevance in American history. They are well worth reading to gain another much needed view into the cruel and demeaning realities created and sustained by white America.

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.

This blogpost was published in The Connecticut Mirror's CT Viewpoints on February 13, 2019.

Don Shaw, Jr.