Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What Do John Mayer and Alicia Keys Have in Common?


What do John Mayer and Alicia Keys have in Common...that is,besides holiday lunching with their "name-saked" rapper friend Common?


Read the recent post on his Honeyee Blog entitled "In Harley We Trust" , the source of two of the included, photos,in addition to the info below, and decide for yourself... Then,carry on with your own independent research, also known as "googling further", and see what else you find out.


1.Multi-Platinum Albums

a. Mayer: Continuum (2006);Room for Squares (2003);Heavier Things(2005)
b. Keys: Unplugged (2005); Diary of Alicia Keys(2003); Songs in A Minor(2001)

2.Multiple Grammy Nominations and Wins

Keys is the winner of nine(9) Grammys so far. Mayer has won a total of three(3) and has been nominated for another five (5) this year in the following categories:

Album of the Year-Continuum

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance-Waiting On the World to Change

Best Pop Vocal Album-Continuum

Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance-Route 66(Cars Soundtrack)

Best Rock Album-Try

3. Community Awareness


John Mayer and Alicia Keys both appear to be compassionate humanitarians based on the amount of time they spend helping out in the local and global community. Each frequently lend their time,name and talent to worthwile causes. The above is a photo of John performing with Alicia at the November 3,2005 Black Ball for the Keep A Child Alive Foundation, for which Alicia also serves as principal spokesperson. John supports various health concerns,artist development and other charitable efforts through his Back to You Fund.He has also lent his time and resources to "Toys for Tots", the Tsunami Benefit, and both Mayer with a performance of Gravity, as a member of the John Mayer Trio, and Keys participated in VH1's React Now Benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims. Keys also contributed her time and talent to Live 8 last year and also managed to sing a duet with Bono ,"Don't Give Up" with all proceeds going to purchase medicine for AIDS infected children in Africa.Mayer is looking forward to working more closely with the Save the Music Foundation in the future.

4. Good Friends

John Mayer and Alicia Keys were hanging out together recently with friends Common, Tracee Ross,Cassandra and Harley Pasternak (pictured above).Besides trusting in Harley Pasternak's fitness and training program,I understand he has a winning diet regimen from which all of his friends,including those pictured here, undoubtedly benefit.

By the way,shout-outs to Common for his appearance in those very positive and emotionally uplifting commercials for the Gap on the "Peace,Love,Gap" tip. Both Keys and Mayer have collaborated with the poetic rapper on recording projects and philantrophic efforts.

Incidentally,I think I'll be checking out Harley's diet...just between me, you and the bedpost. Everyone in that party appears to be healthy and fit. I want in on the secret...

Also,happy collaborations between Mayer and Keys on any upcoming musical projects...if they are in the works...


Peace,Joy and Love to All during the holidays.

Related Blogs and Articles:

John Mayer-Alicia Keys Grammy Performance: "No One"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rosie O'Donnell's- For All Kids Foundation-Help for Katrina Survivors


Like many others before her,not even Rosie O'Donnell could cut through the bureaucratic red tape and other delays plaguing the situation of many Gulf Coast residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.But, remarkably she did manage to bring essential services to displaced residents.

ABC-TV Nightline aired a video report Nov. 1, 2006 about the opening of The Children's Plaza and Family Center in Renaissance Village, a FEMA trailer park in Louisiana. This was an emergency response initiative of Rosie's For All Kids Foundation with the help of many local nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, all efforts were to assist the families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.(more)

Kudos to Rosie for doing what she can to make a difference.

As a member and organizer of a group of scholars and graduate students from Columbia University's School of Social Work and Union Theological Seminary who embarked on a mission to New Orleans and other cities in the Gulf Coast region this past January,I know how important it is to "reach out" and show you care.It's also important to back concern up with needed resources,which does not always translate into money.We know that for money to be effective,it has to be first issued and then spent wisely.

For further stories on Katrina relief and recovery efforts see the articles below.

Katrina Related Blog Entries:

Jan.13,2006-More Pictures of Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans Final Stop On Katrina Trip

January 12-Biloxi,Mississippi-Moore Community House

Jan.11-Ocean Springs,Mississippi-Rich and Poor Alike

Friday, December 08, 2006

Living "Life Out of Context"

I came across this book as I was visiting a social networking site today,Riottt.com.It seems like it would be an interesting read. So,I ordered a copy from Amazon and will try to squeeze in a read during the busy holiday schedule. I am resonating with Kristin Wartman's review. Here is an excerpt:

Walter Mosley is well known for his literary fiction, mystery series and science fiction. His latest book however, is a departure from those genres as he explores a variety of nefarious effects of economic globalism in Life Out Of Context. This slim, quick and enthralling read is an examination of what he calls the contemporary condition each of us are living in — a life out of context. By that he means human beings across the globe do not see their connection to each other or to any political, social, ethical or moral cause, despite the fact that globalization and technology have brought us all closer together and implicated us more deeply into each other's lives.

He writes with beauty and precision, and his scathing critiques of our government are right on point. Mosley, an African-American, discusses the lack of context among African-Americans and the problems they face as a result, consistently and seamlessly tying in the seemingly endless problems and injustices in this world. He emphasizes how all problems are connected and to remedy them, we must each pick a particular cause, learn about it and try to help fix it. He believes that if enough people do this a clearer sense of equity and justice will evolve. Mosley acknowledges the idealism present in these notions, but goes on to make them feel like real concrete possibilities...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

World Aids Day at Riverside Church- Sunday,December 3,2006

This past Sunday,I attended the World Aids Day program at the Riverside Church of New York and it was very inspiring.This was also the day that the official Aids Ministry was installed at the church.I plan to have pictures of the event posted soon...

It was a very enriching time.The day started off with a moving sermon by the Senior Minister, Dr. James A. Forbes entitled "AIDS: Beyond the Cause to the Cure."

My Highlights of the program which followed immediately after the worship service:

-I met and engaged in heatwarming dialogue with a very dedicated woman from Lesotho,a small country enclosed by South Africa, who founded an oprganization--Less Aids--several years ago to fight the growing scourge of AIDS in her country.

-I was moved by stories shared by Miss Black New York 2006,Shade Ogunleye, who did volunteer work on an AIDS unit at Harlem Hospital. She shared the moving story of an AIDS stricken child.

-There was a wonderful presentation by the Rev.Linda Tarry-Chard on the People Project Foundation which she founded to fight AIDS in South Africa. I was really inspired by her illustration of the "IF" or "Internet Family" which has been created to provide mentors and virtual family members for the number of AIDS orphans growing at an alarming rate in that country.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

John Mayer News Blast from the Past,Present and Future...

Well...looks like (I have it on good authority) that the next single from John Mayer's Continuum record will be the bluesy and soulful "Gravity" which is also the song he played last year for VH1's REAct Now Benefit for Hurricane Katrina surivivors.Here is the VH1 version of the song in the video below.For the most recent rendition,you might want to check out the new Continuum CD,if you don't already have it in your collection.If you do,then you know that John plays a mean "blues" guitar solo,there are some stellar background vocals and Alicia Keys was one of the musicians participating on the track.

John was recently in New York over the Thanksgiving holiday getting some much needed down time. He keeps busy these days with events like the Save the Music Foundation benefit which was held at the Esquire House 360 Degrees in Beverly Hills, California last night. There he ran into blues "rock badass" ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons who returned the acknowledgement in kind by proclaiming John a "bluesman." To learn more about that humorous meet up,you can read John's blog #30-"Things that Happened Last Night."

Ending on a Save the Music Foundation note,a current PSA campaign involves Beyonce,John Legend and Jewel. John is also a part of this project and PSA's featuring him will begin to air in January 2007. Here's an excerpt about that from a past CNN Money press release:

"Beginning on Thursday, November 9 the VH1 Save The Music Foundation will premiere the first of its series of new public service announcements (PSAs) featuring Beyonce, John Legend, Jewel, Rob Thomas. Each PSA will feature one of these artists as they speak about the importance of music education. Additional PSAs featuring John Mayer and Ciara will roll-out in 2007."

To learn more about this very enriching effort and to also view the current VH1 Save the Music Foundation PSAs featuring Beyonce,John Legend and Jewel, click here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rapper and Music Mogul Jay-Z Seeks to Solve a World Water Problem


Jay-z is lending an impressive hand in an effort to raise awareness about the severity of the water shortage problem in Africa which is about as devastating as any virus or war.To download and view the original United Nations Webcast click here and scroll down to the August 9, 2006 archive entry.To see the Nightline Online video "A Higher calling for Jay-Z" click here.

In a recent interview with Nightline's Martin Bashir,Jay-Z states:

"Three people die every three minutes … from easily preventable diseases,"

In order to see these problems firsthand, Jay-Z approached MTV and invited a crew to follow him during visits to Angola and South Africa. But he wanted to do more than entertain and meet and greet fans.

"I set an incredibly lofty goal of getting the U.N. involved," he said. "So they spoke to my people, they spoke to MTV and then the whole thing happened and it's like — wow!"

...The result is a public awareness campaign launched by the United Nations and spearheaded by a 30-minute documentary, "Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life," which debuted on MTV last week and can be seen on their website.

I must say even though the man has more than enough material wealth,his "goodwill" stock just soared upwards a few notches in my "humanitarian concerns and giving back to the community" book.I do keep a running tab on those things you know,as that is part of what Heavier Octaves is about.We report the good, the productive and the meaningful.

It's really heart-warming to see the "Hova" stepping out and representing like this.I also like the way in tonight's interview with Bashir, he owned up to his admittedly sometimes mysogynistic lyrics of the past and suggested that his rap on women has improved and he has since grown.Bravo to Jay-Z!

I have checked out the new CD Kingdom Come.And,I am definitely listening to the cut "Minority Report" Jay-z's take on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With his clout,I'm glad to see the multi-platinum rapper, hailing from Brooklyn,New York, keeping it real by offering up strong,relevant and informative rap with kicka-- beat and overall production.Jam on and soar while you're at it...

BTW,that was a short retirement. But,I'm definitely not mad at'cha (at you). As a matter of fact,welcome back to the mix...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

John Mayer One on One with Oprah and Performing "Waiting On the World To Change"

John blogs to his friends on http://www.johnmayer.com/ while he waits patiently in the Green room which just happens to be sandalwood. His blow by blow account of the pre-show anticipation was quite endearing. See more on his blog.


Not only did John get the one on one treatment with Oprah today in an interview which revealed his sensitive yet rebellious schoolboy side,but he also performed the hit single "Waiting On the World to Change". The initial single released from the "Continuum" CD, he revealed during the interview that the song took only one night to pen. More accurately characterized by Mayer as a social observation song, it is viewed by some as his upbeat contribution to this generation's protest song genre. It is one of this writer's favored picks ,and several of its versions including those on the Continuum and Best Buy Exclusive EP featuring Ben Harper are broadcast on Heavier Octaves Radio.For a peek at the lyrics go here. Take a look at a segment of John and Oprah interview below:

John Mayer Oprah Interview

Self professed know it all 

 Myspace Video

John told Oprah how he always knew exactly what he wanted to do as a kid and specifically requested an audience with his parents to discuss dropping out of school,which of course they didn't go for since they are both educators. Here's an excerpt:

John says he even asked his parents—a principal and a teacher—if he could drop out of school to pursue music. He says now he's thankful they didn't let him. "You have to be careful as a successful person because success validates any of the stupid decisions you made in your life," John says.
Well, one thing for sure, it is nice to know that John does his own blogging.His friends who aren't already in the know will certainly be happy about that.It must become quite overwhelming since he has a rather large fan base,especially in light of his unusual penchant for staying in touch with their varied sentiments and views. Based on my observations,he is uncannily deft at it...
He's also a gifted prose writer...what a nice touch.

Comic Relief to Raise Money for Katrina

Comic Relief, the celebrity-studded fundraising telethon for the homeless, is back, after an 8-year hiatus.

Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg will take the stage Saturday to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims, capping a weeklong Comedy Festival that began Tuesday in Las Vegas. For more,click here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Video Blast From the Past-JM3-"Gravity"-VH1-React Now Hurricane Katrina Benefit

Thought it might be a good time to lift this up...

Click here for the link to stories and insights from fellow scholars and students with whom I traveled on a mission to the Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast this past January.



Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oprah and Bono Paint the Town Red-Alicia Keys & Bono Sing Duet "Don't Give Up Africa"(click here)




Bono joined Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys and other guests in painting the town red and Keeping a Child Alive this past Friday,October 13,2006. Bono and Keys performed their song "Don't Give Up Africa" for the first time on stage together.
The song which is a plea to Africa not to give up in the face of overwhelming death and disease in the wake of the AIDS pandemic is haunting,moving and soulful. It is currently in rotation on the Heavier Octaves Radio ..."playing sound and music on the scale of humanity...deep and broad..." and has been for nearly a year now(See related blog).
The song has been selected as one of Revcoolc's picks as a winning combination of "social observation" and "protest" in a related Heavier Octaves' blog on Myspace.com. Revcoolc is and has been a supporter of the mission and philosophy of Keep A Child Alive and feels their efforts are well worth promoting and "getting the word out" about.
And,of course,kudos to Oprah,Bono and Alicia for their continued efforts in this area. You can buy your "red t-shirt" at the Gap,purchase the song "Don't Give Up Africa" on the Keep A Child Alive website's Sony Music Store link here. You can also tune into Heavier Octaves Radio to hear the song in rotation on our internet broadcast. It is on our playlist and we are keeping it in heavy rotation this month in honor of this most recent AIDS campaign.
We hope you will take the time to buy a t-shirt at the Gap , if you don't have time to get involved in the "war on aids" as a social or political activist. The money you spend will be channeled to those who need it most (more...)
God bless you all and remember to keep Africa and those struggling with the ravages of AIDS worldwide in your prayers.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Invisible Children(click for more Info...)

I came across the most remarkable movie today. One that was released in April of this year. Quite honestly, I hope that admission of this tardy discovery is not viewed to my discredit. What moved me about as much as the story itself, is the manner in which the suffering and annihlation of yet another large population of Africans--in this case Ugandans instead of Sudanese--seems to have gone undetected by,or, should I say, missing, from the radar screen of mainstream media and its related cult of public personality almost entirely.

Unfortunately this fact does not suprise me. It does, however, impress upon me the urgency for vigilance concerning such matters by people of goodwill everywhere.No matter what their social strata or point of "creative entry",there is a need to seize the opportunity to do something about it at whatever level and "how they can". So,I recommend that you click on the link here, view the trailer and painstakingly scour the website for what you can do to make a difference. The site is chock full of dynamic offerings for meaningful involvement,including signing up for screenings of the film which also serve as opportunities to raise funds for the children of Uganda.
It seems quite an enormous artistic and humanitarian effort. Kudos to the "twenty-something" students that ventured out courageously and demonstrated their ompassion. I'm looking into hosting a screening of the film as well, among other things. I'm on it...check it out!


Invisible Children, Inc. is dedicated to providing financial resources to
invisible children by documenting their true, untold stories in a creative and
relevant way, resulting in positive change.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What I'm Up to Lately-Fosdick Convocation-For the Living of These days

It occured to me that I should bring you up to date on a project that Heavier Octaves.org is helping to spread the word about, which is taking place at --The Riverside Church of New York--from October 23-26,2006. It is the fifth Harry Fosdick convocation. Bill Moyers is one of the moderators and preaching giants include Dr.Gardner Taylor, Dr.Jeremiah Wright,Dr. Barbara Lundblad,Dr. James Forbes and Dr. Cornel West.There are a host of other preachers and scholars from all over the country attending. There will be a live webcast of all events. For further information visit the website.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In Memory of Billy Preston

Known as the fifth Beatle,Billy Preston passed away yesterday. One of his more memorable performances was at the massive benefit concert for Bangaledesh organized by George Harrison and his friends in 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh was one of the most ambitious humanitarian efforts in rock music history. It produced an extraordinary contribution for UNICEF, exceeding $15 million. Perhaps more importantly, the concert focused global attention on the crisis in Bangladesh and raised the consciousness of other musicians and millions of their young fans to a new awareness of UNICEF and its role in the developing world.For the video footage of Billy Preston's performance,follow this link to "That's the Way God Planned It."

For more on Mr. Preston's passing,please click on this link. For further information about this historic concert and its current legacy in the realm of positive global humanitarian action and what people are currently doing to make a difference,visit the George Harrison Fund for Unicef.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

January 13-Shelter From the Rain-On the Way to New Orleans

As a prelude to the New Orleans journal entry,I thought I'd share a song which I really love by Stevie Wonder and narrated by Wynton Marsalis. I believe it is quite appropriate now that I'm coming upon the New Orleans segment of blogging about the Katrina Recovery Team Trip to the Gulf coast from Jan.7-14,2006. Stevie is donating all the proceeds from the purchase of this song or the video to Hurricane Katrina Relief. Please go to the Stevie Wonder website for further information:

Get Music Video Codes by VideoCodeLibrary.com

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Jan. 13-More Pictures of New Orleans Area...5 Months After Katrina- Part II

Photo Credits:(1-5) Lower Ninth(9th) Ward-New Orleans,LA.
All pictures taken by Michael Lee, except #5.

As our time in New Orleans progressed we saw and experienced more devastation.
Above are some pictures of what we saw.Members of our team did what we could to help in whatever way was possible. Some team members either talked with residents or helped to strip drywall. This area of the city is uninhabitable. Many of the residents are living in other cities and states along the Gulf Coast. Some have moved as far away as California and North Dakota.
More to come...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jan 13-New Orleans-Final Stop on Katrina Trip-Part I

Photos: (1) Driving into New Orleans on I-10;(2) At Press's Office;(3) Press Making his case to rebuild New Orleans;(4) Mr. Edinburgh's Neighbor's House on a resdential block in NO. All photos taken by C. Wilson

Today we drive into New Orleans from Biloxi,Mississippi by way of a small town in Alabama. We had to detour because of a technical glitch about which venue we could return the vans. The drive was good . Our team had a chance to bond more. We had our usual reflections and sang some songs together. Our reflections were abruptly interrupted by the force of the winds hitting against the van.Ironically,it was a very windy day and our van swayed and rocked a few times violently back and forth as we traveled down the highway. It began raining like cats and dogs soon after these several frightening episodes. It was a bit unnerving to say the least. I'm sure some of us were thinking,...well, at least me, if no one else..."Not another hurricane". We immediately tuned into the AM radio weather station.

As we approached New Orleans we were able to see some of the devastated areas of the city. It was hard to capture it accurately on video,because we were simply moving too fast. But, I did manage to get some footage which will be available in the future. Our group split into two sections. One was scheduled to travel directly to Ache Community Center and the other,which I was a part of, headed over to meet with an influential New Orleans real estate developer, "Press" the brother-in-law of group member Susie Hermanson, who had also organized the meeting. We would soon discover that there was a lot more to the New Orleans disaster than "meets the eye".

The presentation was very informative. Press spent almost an hour and a half presenting a power point on the political problems the city is facing and the various alternatives being proposed to rebuilding. It was good to have the other side of the story i.e., the viewpoint of a member of New Orleans' influential business community i.e., wealthy and powerful real estate interests. This is definitely the flip side of what we've seen and experienced so far on the trip. The most important result of the meeting, in my view, was the insight shared about:(1) the various political twists and knots involved in the whole rebuilding scenario; and (2) the Baker Bill, a piece of legislation that Press is hoping will be passed; and, of which, our President doesn't appear to be too supportive. More to come...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

John Mayer Makes a Case to Stop Global Warming

John Mayer in a well crafted appeal, sets forth his honest views about global warming and other "heady" concerns in his recent "My Space" blog specifically addressing this controversial topic which has continued to grow in worldwide interest.

In his usual clever and witty style,Mayer entices his readers with the subject heading "Free Online Haircut". After the following lead in, "Now that I have your attention...", he goes into detail about how he was gradually,although it might appear to have been instantaneous sans a closer reading, won over by the apparently savvy head of the organization,Stop Global Warming, and asks his fans and loyal blog readers to sign up for a virtual march organized by the organization. Some of the virtual marchers include such high profile celebs as actor Leonardo Dicaprio, Senator Barack Obama and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to name a few. Mayer's quite persuasive and it looks like a worthwhile endeavor.

At least it will start you thinking on the matter,if you have not begun to do that already. It certainly has gotten Mr.Mayer thinking enough to want to pass on the challenge to his friends and fans to do the same. Follow the headline link for some interesting insight and gain a window into the quirky,yet creative heart and mind of one of music's well respected and admired musicians on this important environmental issue.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

January 12,2006-E. Biloxi,Miss. Moore Community House

[Photo Captions: (1) Entering Biloxi;(2) Broken Bridge (Accordion-shaped) ;(3) Devastated Bridge (from another angle); (4) Displaced Casino Barge; (5) Rev. Carol Burnett in Front of Space Where One of Her Buildings Once Stood;(6) Cynthia Wilson,Carol Burnett, Charon Hribar and Willie Baptist in front of gutted Moore Bldg.]

Today a few of us opted out of the work relief due to allergies and other physical limitations.
Nonetheless, it was a day well-spent touring Biloxi's Casino District and the neighborhood surrounding Moore Community House, which is run by a Union Alum,Rev. Carol Burnett. The devastation witnessed in Biloxi was simply unimaginable. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen a bridge of steel and cement contorted and twisted up into an uncanny resemblance of a deformed accordion instrument, as you can see from one of the above photos. As incredible as it was to observe that,it didn't even come close to seeing how an entire casino barge weighing in the megatons was dragged by hurricane force winds from one side of the street over to the other,spanning the length of a least two city blocks. Miles of bits and pieces of fragmented buildings blown apart by the wind or storm surge which came crashing onto shore, lined the streets.

After driving and stopping through areas of Biloxi,we finally ended up at the Moore Community House,or at least what was left of it. Most of the eight (8) building complex which provided vital early childhood development and learning programs for single low-income mothers and employment for thirty-six (36) employees was gone.The entire neighborhood was just about deserted. There were relief workers there from organizations such as Service International, Hands On or individuals and groups like ours that had traveled miles across the country on their own initiative just to help victims of Hurricane Katrina rebuild, among other things. One of the men working on the construction team had come all the way from Seattle, Washington. Another, a doctor hailing from New York City like most of the people in our group from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. It was heart warming to see total strangers that had traveled so far to help out.

The thing which struck me most about today is the fact that we were told earlier on in the trip that the further south we traveled the worst the structural damage would become. I just could not imagine how that could be. Next stop, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

January 11, 2006- Ocean Springs, Mississippi-Rich and Poor Alike-More Photos

All Photos by Cynthia Wilson,except#5.

Here are more photos of the day the Poverty Initiative's "Katrina Relief Team" spent removing debris from the property of Chris and Mary. Starting from the top as # 1- a photo of Reverend Ron of Emmanuel Baptist Church and the people who help him coordinate the "work relief" efforts in that area of Mississippi. #2 - Chris talking with one of our instructors Dr. Jan Rehmann. Chris is telling him that it was a breech of the levees which caused most of the damage in New Orleans.(Dominique Atchison and Willie Baptist are in the background) #3- Instructor, Dr. Steed Davidson wheelbarreling debris recently collected to the curbfront. #4-Susie Hermanson surveys an area on which the group just completed picking up debris. #5-Wille Baptist,Me(Cynthia Wilson) and Mica Root on the outskirts of Chris and Mary's property where a truck is transporting "unknown"materials in the background. Their house was right off the Gulf of Mexico. You can see a little bit of the Gulf in the background. #6- Jessica Chadwick and Emily Sieracki raking up debris. In the distant background are men on a golf cart. #7-Colleen Wessel-McCoy with a bag of Debris and collecting more.#8-a panoramic view of the debris surrounded foundation where Chris and Mary's home once stood, as Chris walks by. #8-Jessica Chadwick and Alix raking debris.#9-Tallu Schuyler uncovers an angel in all the debris!

The Ashbakers and their neighbors were all very grateful to receive help from Union Theological Seminary's Poverty Initiative relief workers. And, we were happy to be able to help out. It was a very rewarding experience on both sides.

January 11, 2006- Ocean Springs, Mississippi-Rich and Poor Alike

[Photo Captions:(1) Bay St. Louis Storm Surge-courtesy Chris and Mary Ashbaker;(2) Chris walking past foundation of his house;(3) Alix wheelbarreling up debris to the curb;(4) Debris on property 5 months after storm;(5) Hannah Hofheinz removing large piece of debris (6) Liz Theoharis,Dominique Atchison helping the Ashbaker's neighbors; (7) Diana Bell in the throes of clean up; (8) Chris and Jan-the levees gave way; (9) Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico bordering the Ashbaker's property (10) Photo of the Mississippi sunset on the Ashbaker's property] All photos by Cynthia Wilson except #1.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi is the third city on the Poverty Initiative's "Katrina Relief Team" tour. Our first stop is Emmanuel Baptist Church where we will be lodging for two days. It sponsors a work project where our group will be assigned real people in the community who need helpers to come out to their property and remove debris that has been lingering since Hurricane Katrina. We're deep into disaster territory now. Rev. Ron took us on a tour of Ocean Springs and Biloxi. They sit pretty close together. The destruction which Katrina caused is just unimaginable. Driving through the neighborhoods earlier today on the way to the work site was simply heart wrenching. Just view some of the pictures and video clips for yourselves. But, what is even more incomprehensible is how the government response, a service which we pay tax dollars for as citizens of the U.S., has been so unbelievably slow. I've seen some FEMA trailers today. However,people that have them say they just received them within the last couple weeks.

Most of the pictures I took on the the property of Chris and Mary Ashbaker, today's relief work site. However,the first one is of the storm surge, the "culprit" which flooded and uprooted many homes in the area, including theirs. They sent it to us by email a few days after we left.

A team of us,consisting mostly of Union students and instructors, were assigned to their home. They lost everything. Their entire home was washed away except the cement foundation. The 2nd pic from the top pictures Ted walking near the foundation where several of our group members are collecting debris.

One of the things which struck me most about this visit is that I first did not want to do any work on the property. I had a visceral reaction , feeling and thinking to myself, these people are well to do. They live off the golf course. They could probably hire some folks to come out and clean up this mess. Afterall, in talking to Chris , he informed me that he was an engineer that worked for one of the local shipbuilding companies. There, he makes and designs war ships. Of course, that didn't make my decision whether to "opt out" any harder either. I was definitely leaning towards "CO", conscientious objector, status.Then he informed me about his daughter,who lived nearby. Her house had gone unscathed. Nothing was damaged at all on her property. I thought to myself they don't seem to be completely destitute. At least they can go over to a nearby relative's house to wash, bathe and cook,etc. On top of that, they had two trailers. One they purchased themselves. The other one was from FEMA. That one, however, had not been completely hooked up and made operational for use. Although it was clear to me that this was a terrible inconvenience, it seemed in stark contrast to what I had been observing over the media about New Orleans and the plight of people there. They somehow appear to be so much better off. What am I doing here?
Well, that reason would gradually became abundantly clear as the day wore on. It would even be sealed by the most beautiful sunset I've ever witnessed over the Gulf of Mexico which borders their property. It is captured in one of the photos I took above.

A good many of the other houses on the Ashbaker's block were also still standing. However, several of the homes surrounding theirs were completely wiped also. Debris covered foundations and remnants of what used to be were all that remained. I talked to Chris a little more. He was very forthcoming about his situation and eager like most of the residents in the area to share stories about the storm.

By then, everyone in the rest of the relief team was working really hard, raking, sweeping, picking up and carrying debris. I began to feel guilty standing around talking. But, I remembered what Rev. Ron had said earlier at our training meeting at the church. The person who is standing around talking to the people may have the most important job. People need to vent. They need to share their stories. So,don't judge. The people you're going to help need to get frustrations off of their chest.. They need someone to listen to them. After thinking about that I felt better. I was sincerely interested in getting to know the family a little better. I wanted to know what really happened to the victims of this storm. Why they could not and still can not seem to get adequate help from the authorities is quite frankly puzzling me. I wanted to ask deep and probing questions. I also wanted to listen to them tell their stories and lend a shoulder to cry on while they were releasing their anguish and pain.

My goodness, its' been five months since hurricane Katrina hit. It just seems as though more progress would have been made by now. I looked around slowly again, taking inventory of the surrounding neighborhood,trying to find some new detail or area of damage I may have missed. It was then that it began to register just how many homes had been lifted off of their foundations. Not to mention, the total devastation of houses and buildings which lined the roads on the drive over here. It was a sight to behold. On top of that, storm debris was still laying around as a constant reminder of catastrophic loss, displaced structures and remnants of destroyed buildings. The psychological impact of that alone had to contribute to substantial wear and tear on the mind. Not to mention a strong reason to develop depression or listlessness. It's a wonder the people still have their sanity and human dignity.

I was standing outside when Chris' wife Mary approached me. She kindly invited me to eat some pizza and drink some of the soda they had bought for us. She asked if I could please help her gather the email addresses of the others so she could send a personal thank you to everyone. That was the turning point for me. She was close enough that I could sense that she was a really good person. It emanated from every fiber of her being. I looked into her eyes and saw the pain of losing everything, perhaps still having to pay a mortgage on a house that is uninhabitable. In addition to that, maybe not having a clue as to how the insurance company would be indemnifying their homeowner's claim i.e., whether they'd eventually be going belly up from the weight of the multitude of similar claims. I saw the frustration that comes with not getting emergency needs met swiftly by a local or national government you thought you could rely on. There was something sad,yet very humble and telling in her eyes.
A quiet and graceful uncertainty about the future was evident, reaching out and connecting to the compassion and humanity within me. No doubt, a good part of it was the sincere gratitude and appreciation she felt for finally receiving some kind of help and attention.

Rev. Ron was right. Rich and poor alike had been brought to the same level in a sense by Hurricane Katrina. I thought to myself, this "leveling" is worth deeper exploration... something I need to follow-up on. I also quickly reflected on our emotionally charged discussion on homelessness during the reflection circle last night,which Jessica Chadwick and Cristal had so courageously led us into. When one of our facilitators stated during a moment of rather intense silence that"there is somebody here that wants to say something", I recalled saying that there was a thin line between wealth and poverty. Many of us walk that line everyday. Then, I left her company to gather up the email addresses, now happy to be of service in whatever way I could.