Saturday, July 30, 2016



“HOPE is How One Perceives Everything- Susan Allenbacak
“Music is the healing force of the universe” - Sun Ra
Hope attracts chances.” —Toba Beta

“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.  Martin Luther King, Jr. 

       Wednesday, July 13 my wife and I went to a concert at World Café Live featuring Sharon Katz and the Peace Train. Katz is an amazing guitarist, singer and organizer who is a white South African woman. In the early 1990’s in apartheid South Africa she put together a 500 member interracial and inter-cultural performance group and did performances of a show called, “When Voices Meet.” She then became an ambassador for Nelson Mandela, chartering a train and performing “When Voices Meet’ at dozens of places around South Africa, risking jail and possibly death. It was a movement that tied in with the anti-apartheid movement and played an active role in getting people to vote, spread news about health and child welfare, and more. After Mandela’s election Sharon became even more involved in what we would call humanitarian and social justice work, starting music therapy groups, raising money for children displaced by warfare, HIV/AIDS, and bringing stories and songs of peoples’ struggles to places around the world. Over the years this work that has taken her on tours to just about every continent. Her concert last Wednesday featured Peace Train 2016-a multi-cultural group of children from schools across the country singing and dancing to South African tunes and Sharon’s own rhythm-heavy and inspirational compositions. The concert attracted people of all ages, all nationalities and colors. It was a veritable United Nations of joy, happiness, commitment and unity as Sharon and the kids moved together, hand clapped, sang, shouted, and danced their commitment to a world of inclusion and peace. It was also a moving reminder of the central and powerful role music has played throughout history as a unifier and inspiration in movements for social change. We stood, cheered, clapped, cried and left the World Café with a heart full of energy, love, and most importantly, hope.

    Friday July 15 saw us at one of our favorite spaces, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.. A museum dedicated to the work of outside artists, this museum is one of the most joyous spaces web have ever visited, filled with color, unique sculptures, vivid drawings and paintings, and thought provoking exhibits organized around wide ranging themes. The current major exhibition is ‘The Big HOPE Show,” a multi-media examination and presentation of thoughts, experiences, and ideas about what hope is, does, can be and enables us to do. From one man’s cartoons and colorful post card illustrations of his years long medical issues and struggles to paintings and drawings re-examining the myth of Pandora’s Box, the exhibit challenges and involves one directly and calls for emotional responses. There is a video speech by Kevin Briggs, a San Francisco Bay Bridge officer who has talked down some 200 potential suicides from the bridge. He talks about how he tries to listen to the people when he talks with the would be suicides, trying to find places where some little bit of hope still lies within. He then tries to speak to that bit of hope still in them. There is also a wonderful video examination of Philadelphia artist Lily Yeh and the work she did in transforming a neighborhood in North Philadelphia with her Village of Arts and Humanities, and how she has since carried that work to places around the world. There is a scrapbook table and exhibit that calls for us to look at our positive memories as a scrapbook of a trip through our lives. And there are paintings that look at the near universal human tendency to look at birds and butterflies as images of hope and prayer. The exhibit was inspiring, and it also reminded me of who I am and how much hope is a part of that.

    As a child of the 1960’s, a son of African-American Southerners who came north and established a household in a Jim Crow world, and as a musician, teacher, and birdwatcher, I am constantly and deeply involved with hope. All of those activities point to a person who engages the world, believes in looking for the positive, imagines what can be, is working in some small way to make what can be possible, and who delights in being a human being in this world; the world that is here right now with all of its challenges. And over these past few weeks, I needed to be reminded once more that hope lives deeply within me and that it is one of the thing that motivates me; that it is an essential part of who and what I am. Last week the concert and the museum did that for me in real ways, and I am so grateful. While it may appear to be "hip" and "cool" to be cynical, hope is what provides the fuel for important change. Just look at the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and more. We live in a world where hope, joined with persistent and consistent action, has provided important change in the face of incredible odds. And we need to remember that.

    For many of us these past few weeks have been a hard time. Our screens, TV’s, papers and more have been filled with images of violence, fear, hatred, and anger. Our new technology brought us face to face with some unpleasant things that have been a part of the United States for some time but unseen by many of us, including the shootings of unarmed people by police and the hunting and killing of law enforcement personnel. I have talked to and heard many friends and acquaintances mention how scared they are feeling and how unsure they are of where we as a nation may be headed. For those of us who are committed to a world of peace, tolerance and diversity, it may seem as if we are farther away from that vision than ever before. Those powerful positive motivators, vision and hope, may seem very, very distant. But experiences such as Sharon’s concert and the Visionary Art Museum’s exhibit are strong reminders that there are plenty of reasons to be positive and plenty of examples of the transformative and positive power of hope being lived and demonstrated all around us. And as Lily Yeh’s life illustrates, there are many people, groups and efforts in the world that are building on that hope and working to bring aspects of it into existence. Fear, despair and conflict drive our media-it is flashy, it delivers viewers for advertisers, and it can even ignite a political movement or two. But it has never produced a way of life or a society that has delivered peace, stability, beauty and tolerance. Never. We need to remember that and to focus instead on hope and to find ways, even small ways, we can be a part of building the world in which we say we want to live. Using that hope to motivate us and then putting effort into manifesting it are the only things that can defeat our fears and help us envision, engage with and build toward the world we want. For I agree with the words of Holocaust survivor, psychologist and philosopher Victor Frankl: “The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude.” I say look up, do not despair. Choose hope, and then work  in some small way to make what you are hoping for happen in our world. We must be the world we wish to see and to live in. It starts with us. I say, choose hope.

1) Here is a link to Sharon Katz’s music and work:
2) Here is a link to the American Visionary Art Museum’s exhibit, The Big Hope Show:
3) If you are interested in getting a list of some organizations that I support and think are doing some important positive work, please write me.

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