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Stories For the Living December 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, [we] may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

“‘Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’”

– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

Today I have two stories for you. Both are fables, in that they are stories with a moral. Both are also true – in that they actually happened. Finally, both stories are open ended… in that we are still living with the ramifications of the stories and their lessons. There are some other overlaps; however, ultimately, one of the stories is a dark and twisted fairy tale, while the other is a bit of a horror story. You can decide which is which.

In the first story, a 15-year old student, coming home from school, was told she was in a place where she didn’t belong. For the record, she was in a place specifically designated for “her kind,” but that was neither here nor there when someone designated as her “better” was going to be in the area. This student, let’s call her Claudette (because that is her name) and an older pregnant woman (let’s call her Ruth) decide they were going to stay put. Of course (I say with a lot of sarcasm), the police were called. Ruth moved. Claudette did not. Eventually she was (re)moved, by the police and arrested. On the way to the police station, she was sexually harassed by the officers and she feared that one would take the harassment farther. A minister bailed her out of jail; she was convicted (in juvenile court) of three charges; and two of the charges were eventually dropped on appeal. Ironically, the charge that stuck – assaulting an officer – might not have even happened.

The events described above happened in the Montgomery, Alabama in the Spring of 1955. Claudette Colvin was not the first Black person to refuse to make room for a white person on a bus, or anywhere else, and she would not be the last. But, her story is one that many people forgot or didn’t know; because, nine months later – today in 1955 – Rosa Parks sat in the “white section” of a bus and didn’t get up.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

– Rosa Parks, as quoted in Fight Like A Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella

Some people referred to Mrs. Parks as a tired seamstress, a 42-year old “Colored” woman; but, more importantly to the story, she was an activist who had worked as a secretary for the NAACP and she made for good optics. Unlike, Claudette Colvin, who was a pretty, dark skinned teenager who was pregnant and unmarried, Rosa Parks was a pretty, fair skinned, established married woman – who was also trained in civil disobedience.

There are lots of different lessons and morals to that story. Some of the big ones (to paraphrase Claudette Colvin) are the importance of knowing your rights, taking a stand, and saying when something isn’t right. Another big lesson: optics and messaging matter. Which leads me to the next story that is relevant to today.

Once upon a time some people got sick and, because of their illness, some children were born prematurely. Doctors thought the illness was a form of pneumonia. While there were some studies around the illness, it didn’t affect enough people in the right places to become a priority on any one’s radar. After all, optics and messaging matter – and it was believed that the adults who got sick did so because of their behavior. Fast forward 69 years and an African-American teenager in Saint Louis, Missouri (let’s call him Robert R) died of this pneumonia with weird symptoms. 7 years later a Norwegian sailor (with ties to Africa) died, 4 months after the death of his daughter and 8 months before the death of his wife. The next year a Danish doctor, also with ties to Africa, also died – as did several other people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and (in the case of the adults) occupations.

By the late 70’s, children were being born with this pneumonia that some doctors then thought was a form of cancer. By the 1980’s, researchers and major American news outlets were publishing news about a “gay cancer” – which it is not – and people without any medical knowledge were guessing at how the disease is spread. And it was spreading, globally.

“If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

It took a playwright and activist – that some people called “the angriest man in the world” and others considered to be a man “with a golden heart” – to really sound the alarm and lead the charge. Lawrence “Larry” Kramer started consolidating information, resources, and people. He started organizing. Mr. Kramer held a meeting in New York City with over 80 gay men and a doctor. In addition to gaining critical information from the doctor, the group raised over $6k towards research and efforts to raise awareness about the growing pandemic. That first meeting was the impetus for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (now known as GMHC Health Services), whose mission is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” Mr. Kramer, who died in May of this year, was also one of the co-founders of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Because yes, we’re talking about AIDS which, along with HIV, currently affects over 38 million people (including over 1 million children) worldwide. Yes, we’re talking about AIDS, because today is World AIDS Day. Designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), today is simultaneously an international day of mourning and remembrance as well as a day to raise awareness. As is the case with other epidemics and pandemics, fact-based awareness and testing are essential to prevention, treatment, and support. About 81% of people with HIV (worldwide) have been tested and know their status. Unfortunately, that means 19% (approximately 7.1 million people) have not been tested, do not know their status, and therefore risk infecting others. (In the United States that statistic translates to 1 in 7 people.) Additionally, HIV and AIDS still disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people designated as “male” at birth, and gay and bisexual men.

One critical thing to remember about HIV and AIDS is that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are now life-saving treatments which make it possible for people to live a long and healthy life. It is also possible to go about your life without a high risk of sexually transmitting HIV to others.

The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact.” There will be virtual displays of memorial quilts (in places that are still actively battling the COVID-19 pandemic), symposiums, access to rapid self testing kits, and information about how the disease is transmitted and how it is treated. That last part is a key element of the story and it’s moral, because when we look at the timeline of COVID-19 in other countries, we find that countries that learned from their response to previous epidemics – like AIDS and Ebola – have had better success rates of containing COVID-19. You may wonder why everyone in the world isn’t publicizing those facts…. Sadly, again, it may have something to do with optics.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will see how the practice “evolves.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist (revised at 2:30 PM) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

A beautiful version of the “23rd Psalm,” which Claudette Colvin prayed in her head during her arrest.

“‘I know that segregation isn’t dead – just look at schools and neighborhoods and workplaces, and you can see that it’s still all over America. And yes, we are still at the very beginning economically. But at least those degrading signs, “White” and “Colored,” are gone. We destroyed them. There are laws now that make segregation illegal. We forced white people to take a different view. They had to change their attitudes toward blacks. The civil rights movement cleared the way legally so we could progress.’”

– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose



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