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Panels by Jackson Middle School students, framed by mural art by Aden Catalani

{as always, please click the images for a larger version}

Here’s a modern story for you: Tara has two facebook friends from Jackson Middle School who were about to present art in a show. Tara had never met them in real life, and thought she should go to the show. It would be a fun night out, and she would get to meet her friends in person. I agreed that it was a good idea, and I felt some of her delight at meeting friends in RL who had till then only existed as profile photos and comment strings on a status post.

The two girls seemed younger than her, but possibly the same age. I’ll guess 12 or 13. So I was genuinely impressed at the quality of the art and the depth of expression that came from all the students at the show.

It was called Know Power – street art for social change. Each artist covered a small panel – most were 2-3 foot rectangles. The theme was Africa, and in particular they expressed the suffering of Rwandans during genocide, lack of food and water, and the plight of child soldiers kidnapped and forced into war.

Parents, friends, and artists discuss the imagery

The Grassy Knoll Gallery is in a second-floor space on NW 2nd Ave, just off the Burnside bridge on the edge of Chinatown. A wonderful space with high ceilings and enough room to move around and gain new insightful perspectives, while small enough to remain intimate and to share the sense of shared experience with the others also appreciating the art.

In the central gallery room, Aden Catalani had painted a mural to set the stage, with a silhouette of Africa and graffiti illumination. It’s no secret to those who know me that I love graffiti art. I said as much to the artist who eagerly encouraged us to come to his own show opening with Stephen Holding at Backspace the following night. (We were unable to make it to that show opening, but I see the show is up all month, so we will try to hit it later.)

Jackson teacher Bethany was on hand to manage the show and answer questions about her talented students. She told me that she had taught some of the background during her Social Studies classes, but the students had also had the opportunity to hear visitors describe some of the social challenges in Africa. The students had also worked with a visiting artist who helped them design their pieces.

A room off to the side held a buffet of things to eat and drink, and traditional and world music played on a actual record player during the show (vinyl!). The people who put the show together did a great job and I am so glad the middle school students had the opportunity to experience a real art show. They had all been instructed to dress up for the event, so Tara and I had polished up as well. (I got to see my tomboy kid in a SKIRT! She made me promise not to put the photos on facebook – ha!)

Friends in real life

The art easily outshone all the other stories of the evening. Many of the images were powerful on their own, and each artist included a short paragraph below the piece to explain the idea behind their expression. These snapshots of pain, hunger, thirst, war, fear, and death told a single story of human suffering. Young people can often see most clearly in the face of societal failures, because they have not yet learned the advantage that some seek through the oppression of others.

All proceeds from donations at the show will go to Play Pumps by Water For People. See previous post for a short video on the Play Pumps project.

There is a lot of powerful good in my life right at the moment. The most amazing of all is that I have been recently welcomed into the arms of a family I didn’t know I had.

My friend Romain is a priest from Rwanda. When we first met a few years ago, I told him my knowledge of Africa was poor, and could he please help me understand where Rwanda is. “It’s right next to Burundi!” he answered.

We met because we were both in the International Mediation program at Brandeis. This is rapidly becoming a well-known international place to study peace negotiations, considering that the program is brand new. My class mates were from around the world, and helped me immensely in understanding different ways to understand a situation and different ways to negotiate. Further, they helped me understand some universals – that music and art can often be a way to speak to those who can’t communicate in any other way. My hard core conservative side is still in doubt of this concept, but sharing this idea with friends whom I trust has made it a little easier for me to believe, while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.

Anyway, Romain is Tutsi. In 1994 sixteen of his family members were killed on one day by supporters of the new regime and the Hutu majority. He is the only one left. His dedication to, and love for, humanity inspired him to love even more, when that amount of violence could have inspired others to hate. He told me that his tragedy led him to the mediation program at Brandeis. While I have known him, he has not spoken often of his pain. He has a quick smile and an eager mind hoping for new information and new friends at every opportunity. I had known him for a year before I found out the story of his family, when I was an audience member at an international peace conference he was speaking at.

The day it happened was April 21st. He sent me an email on that day this month, telling me of his tradition. He said that on that day, rather than mourn, he thinks about whom he considers to be his current family, and thinks of what he loves about his family today. Then he told me that he thinks of me as his family now.

You must understand how deeply that touched me. I do not feel as though I am worthy of such a great love, and such great symbolism. I feel a huge responsibility and a huge connection. I hadn’t noticed before how powerful family is when you choose them. I have chosen family members already – those who are “Uncle” or “cousin” or even “Mom” – because of our mutual affection for each other, but for some reason it was Romain who showed me clearly that chosen family is an intense bond with someone.

I am grateful for this honor, and I am grateful for all of you who are my real family and my chosen family, and my dear friends who are as loved as any family member.

Comments from the old blog:


Thank you for sharing this lovely aspect of your life. I’m glad I took the time tonight to come see if you’ve shared anything recently. I haven’t been at Gaia in weeks so I hoped there might be something from you.

You know I am having a similar experience with chosen family as I grow into the tribe that has suddenly sprung up to hold me. My real family is about to descend for Isaiah’s graduation and I know it will be my tribe who will get me through the discomfort of everyone being together for the first time since my wedding and our first time with mom since her last melt down. Anyway, I am experiencing a belongingness like I’ve never known before with this family of friends. It’s positively wonderful.

while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.

It’s my pleasure to be of service. : )

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