Monday, May 24, 2010

Unhoused Neighbors ~ unexpected, remarkable encounter; Seattle, Pacific Northwest Tour

Ben Harper has a song called Blessed to Be a Witness. And we are blessed, as we travel, to encounter some of the most fascinating people, and share in deeply rich conversation. We get to be witnesses of movements of hope, compassion and goodness. We have the privilege of hearing those stories and sometimes even getting invited to participate in those movements through song.

On our most recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, we met for coffee and listened to the story of our new friend, Dustin Cross, who is a life-traveling companion alongside the community of unhoused in Seattle. Dustin began his journey with open eyes and an open heart, ready to learn and be aware of what was happening around him on the streets of Seattle. He determined to get to know the city and believed he could do that best by LISTENING, especially to "the baristas, the bums, and the bartenders" ~ the people who know their city best. So he became a bouncer at a bar and spent as much time as he could asking people this one question: "If there was one thing you could do to make your city a better place, what would it be?" He told us that out of 300 people with whom he spoke and asked this question, 250 of them answered: "If I could only get someone to hear my story."

Dustin spends his days and nights in mutual relationship with the perpetually relocating "residents" of Nicklesville, marrying, burying, listening, learning, being a friend, being an advocate where necessary. The day we met him, he was working on getting a couple of ladies some shelter. At least, one of them was pregnant.

Dustin invited us to join the Nickelsville's weekly community gathering around the campfire. We went, guitar in hand, and signed in as visitors per the community's own internal security policy. The strict rules for people to stay within the tent village, such as no drug or alcohol abuse and no violence, are regulated by self-goverance and communal accountability.

In the drizzly dusk, several men, women and children casually gathered around the campfire and we did music unplugged. A couple gentlemen passed around a djembe and an adorable curly-haired boy with glasses sat next to me, bongos between his knees, and struck them in rhythm to my strum.

After playing guitar and singing a few songs, I talked with several folks. A really nice couple asked about our travels and when I shared about the trip to Arizona, they were curious if we stopped by the Grand Canyon because the gentleman had worked on the new Grand Canyon overlook and they had stories to tell! They went on to share more about their own lives and about Nicklesville, how they have to relocate every 90 days and that people will walk by their current location and shout insults at them like "Get a job!".
The gentleman remarked that he has a full-time job, and with a sort of ironic humor, said that they should at least shout something like "Get a house!", since THAT'S at least obviously relevant! I could see this man was genuine, sincerely hard-working and I could hear from his story (with a very dignified tone, not a sorry-for-myself tone) that he may sometimes feel dismissed, judged and underestimated.

Thank you to our new friends for trusting and welcoming us warmly to their tent city. And thanks to Dustin for sharing his passion to authentically connect and lead us all into solidarity - the unhoused and housed together; for being an example of a true and faithful friend, a consistent listening ear, open to reciprocity and mutuality as we all grow together as helpful, hopeful presences in our community and world. Learn more about Dustin's work and the work of One 4 One at

From a 2nd Grade Teacher in Montana

Jessica Burgard posted this on the Heatherlyn Music facebook page. Thank you for the encouragement, Jessica! It's humbling to know we could be a small part of the your on-going work.

"Ah, so I was going to tell you. My class was discussing wetlands and the water cycle today and how everything is connected. Somehow they got off on the topic of people who don't have enough around the world. I let them develop that idea a little bit and them played them your song (I can't even remember the name, but has to do with water). It really resonnated with them adn afterwards they started quoting phrases from it and brainstorming how they could change those situations. Thanks for touching the lives of 2nd-graders! :)"

Thanks to all teachers who are guiding the imaginations of students to dream and believe they can change their world and empowering them to do so!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Roosevelt High School ~ Portland, OR :: May 2010 Pacific Northwest Tour

A teacher of Roosevelt High came to the show we did on Alberta Street in Portland. I'm so glad that in that context he had the imagination to invite us to spend time with the students at his school. He invited us to present story and songs for the students during first period in their choir room the following Wednesday morning. He believed, because of my own story (born fatherless, raised by a single mom and the accompanying challenges) AND value of authentic connection, there would likely be some resonance for the students.

This student body portrays giftedness, initiative and care beyond themselves. The community is vibrant with diversity, culture and creativity. And even though there are significant, ongoing economic injustices and challenges in this neighborhood, I saw posters created by students inviting all to attend a benefit concert hosted by student performers to benefit Haiti, "the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere".

Though Roosevelt High School is a public school, the open campus policy of Oregon allows students and their families to choose which high school to attend. When this policy was enacted, those with more resources of transportation or what-have-you left Roosevelt High School, in the St. John's neighborhood, which tends to be underfunded and put in last place for resources to upgrade facilities, etc. There is a lot of school pride and community pride, but the garbage along the walls of the choir room along with the ants crawling in the water fountain told me that morale might some days tend to be low. Meeting the Roosevelt High students was enjoyable.

I shared with the students that I was glad to be there because I believe that all of us - you and I, we are stars. We all have a unique gift and light to shine, to be channels of goodness and positive change in our world, and it's important to me to see that young people remember this is true for them.

The students and teachers were very welcoming and gracious to both Jason and I as we came into their space, met them and presented. During the Q & A time, someone simply asked how I liked Portland and I said, "I really enjoy Portland. I'm a vegetarian, so this is really working for me. Portland seems very hospitable." One student blurted out: "Hospitable!?! We're family!" Me: "Nice, I like that." :-)

One student, sweet and sincere, approached me afterward, struggling to speak to me through his stutter. I so deeply appreciated his efforts and success - asking for a photo, saying "Thank you" and presenting me with orange and green guitar pics that he had with him but "doesn't use very much". I gave him a red one since he didn't have that color in his hand.

A gal with big eyes and soft curly hair in a side ponytail told me that she and her cousin share a dream to begin a music and drama program along with a community theatre on the Hawaiian Island where she was born. She said there currently are no such programs. She and her cousin would like to introduce more instruments to supplement the drums and ukulele. This is a dream I hope she will keep alive!

We learned that some students are involved in a Civil Rights class where they're working with local artists to write poetry - their "Deep Roots" collection - expressing what they are learning and feeling about civil rights. They are headed off on a civil rights trip to Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery to continue learning and also will be visiting colleges. This has already, in previous trips, ignited the imagination of students for possibilities beyond their current circumstances.

I'm thankful for the teachers and volunteers we met who truly care about these students and who are doing their best to empower and enrich their lives. I hope someone with the political power and resources begins to pay attention to the beauty and potential of these incredible young people.

As we were packing up, I joined the choir in some of their vocal exercises, and on the way out a girl said to me, "It's really cool that you came today. I hope you come back next year." I replied, "I hope so too. I'd like that."

The following weekend, we returned to Roosevelt High School for their Inspirations Week and Deep Roots CD release party. Students who wrote poetry and spoken word about civil rights and local artist who put some of those lyrics to music shared the stage to perform, present and lift their voices. We were welcomed to share in this celebration and witness further the students creative initiative and how they inspire community involvement.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peace Jam. Laureate. To Red Wing Correction Facility.

This weekend (April 23-26) was Peace Jam for the Upper Mid West. Youth from the region gathered in Minneapolis at the U and at Green Central Gym to celebrate service learning they have participated in all year. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, journeyed from Guatemala to celebrate with these young people, to speak and share a dream of healing and reconciliation especially in communities torn by racism and violence. This is important to Rigoberta because of her own journey through the 30 years uprising in Guatemala that allowed for torture, abuse, rape and genocide of her Mayan people. She lost her father, mather and brother in the war and through all the trauma and trouble, she determined to be a voice for the forgotten and perpetually pushed-aside poor.

Saturday night, at the Cultural Celebration, there was traditional Mayan dance and performances by youthrive LIVE! artists, myself included. Thanks to local hip-hop artist Mike Dreams for capturing this moment...the very end is my favorite part.

Monday, we spent a few hours with Rigoberta at the Red Wing Correctional Facility in Red Wing, MN for a Day of Peace, essentially bringing Peace Jam to the young men residing there. She presented in the morning and after workshops and lunch, she shared closing remarks, and Youthrive LIVE! artists performed for the residents at the Facility. I opened with Bob Marley's Redemption Song and went into my new version of Dreams, now called We Have a Dream. Rigoberta says one of the things she values most in life is being able to dream. Because in the darkest time, she could dream of a brighter and more hopeful future. So everyone snapped their fingers as I slapped the guitar strings and we all sang to Rigoberta in gratitude: "We, oh we have a dream, and we'll make it, make it come true, oh me and you."

It was truly an honor to have met her and I'm so grateful for these beautiful moments of redemption, peace and big imagination for the brighter and more hopeful future we can create and share together.


Monday, May 3, 2010

ON THE ROAD :: Connecting Deeper into the Community - Portland, OR

MAY 1-5, 2010 :: We are currently on the road, enjoying the people and places of Portland, OR. Lots of connecting and discovering possibilities for future tour visits (networking & scouting in business terms). Had a great show at Enter Being on Alberta Street Saturday night, got to sing with one of my best friends, Melissa who wrote Jack Riddle, that song I've been singing a lot lately. =)

We are learning more about the history, the back story if you will behind the different neighborhoods of Portland. We are listening and learning from our friend who works at the University of Portland about their work with students in civil rights and service learning.

Wednesday, this morning, as I write, we are getting ready to visit the students and teachers of Roosevelt High School, a place that has often gotten the short end of the stick in terms of resources and support. I'm looking forward to spending time with these young people who are facing many challenges in their lives. Many are pressing on in the midst of poverty and lack of parental involvement - not because their parents don't care, but because, for example, a single mom may be working 3 jobs just to get bills paid and get some food on the table.

High School was one of the most difficult times of my life. I'm thankful for teachers and grown up friends who cared. I look forward to sharing my story and music with them and hearing their voices sing along!

Every young person, every student is a STAR. I hope each student in that choir room today will be enCOURAGEd, inspired to shine on with that unique light and gift they have been given to be a channel of goodness and hopeful change in their school, on their sports teams, in their neighborhoods and far beyond!