#851 – Dick Bernard: Haiti, remembering a December, 2003, visit to Port-au-Prince, and the time before the overthrow of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government February 29, 2004.

UPDATE: Yesterday my friend Jane Stillwater reported on a recent short visit to the same area I visited in 2003. You can read her comments, and see some photos, here.

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Back in the spring of 2002 my new friend, Paul Miller, began to lobby me to join him on a trip to Haiti. He’d been there several times, and while I knew where Haiti was, and that it was a very poor country, that was about it.
Paul kept working on me, and during most of 2003 we read and talked about Haiti, and on Dec. 6, 2003, we landed in Port-au-Prince for an astonishing and eye-opening week [Basic itinerary at end of this post]. I wrote here about that experience on the 10 year anniversary.
We had a full and extraordinarily rich week, ending December 13, 2003. At the end of December, 2003, I reflected on my experience in Haiti.
Our associations that week were with people who supported then President Aristide, and were attempting, successfully, to make positive changes in the lives of the poor. We knew Haiti as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and the world; nonetheless we saw hope and pride as Haiti prepared for the bicentennial of its achieving independence from France in 1804.
A few photos from that amazing trip floated to the top of my collection when looking for symbols of Haiti in December, 2003:
(click to enlarge)
Haiti Sculpture Dec 2003005
The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

There are many more photos, of places and people, all conveying pride and even optimism. Nobody expected the end of poverty, but there was discernible pride and optimism, amongst the poor, to at minimum be working towards poverty with dignity; the more real possibility of they and their children becoming literate; and of being recognized as free citizens who could and did democratically elect their President and other officials, etc.
At the end of our week, we stayed the last night at the Hotel Oloffson, made famous in Graham Greene’s novel, “The Comedians”. We sat in the bar listening to RAM, the band of Richard A. Morse. It was in itself a powerful evening. You could almost feel the increasingly intense political intrigue in the bar and on the veranda.
RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

The next day we left, flying to Miami, picking up the Miami Herald story about storm clouds gathering in Haiti: Miami Herald 121303001.
The building storm was, of course, a fact known to us.
While we viewed the common folks going about their lives, we were hearing from the rich assortment of people we met with about the storm clouds gathering which, less than three months later, would end with the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, being flown out of his country by U.S. aircraft, victim of a U.S. sponsored and supported coup d’etat.
“Freedom” and “Democracy” in Haiti were too much a threat to be allowed by the United States of America.
It was a harsh lesson for me, then and now: my own country could do this to not a dictator, but a democratically elected President of an independent country.
The coup happened officially on Feb. 29, 2004, denying even the ability to commemorate an anniversary at its 10th year, 2014.
Back home, as the coup happened, and the stories abounded, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed, trying to find some facts among the sea of fictions that flowed, especially, from my own United States government.
In March, 2006, I took another trip back to Haiti. In the time period before I left, I condensed my concerns into a letter to the leaders of three major political influence entities in the United States, and even submitted a proposed op ed to the New York Times (not printed). For those interested, my thoughts remain on line here.
Life has moved on, and my several feet of files relating to Haiti have lain undisturbed for several years.
But this anniversary brings the memories back, and the lesson learned is to be less than trusting of “truth” conveyed through official or even news sources.
A healthy skepticism is deserved.
I was last to Haiti since 2006, but still keep in touch.
Keep seeing Haiti.
The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003.  Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003. Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The General Itinerary as I recall it:
Stayed at Visitation House
The entire week was jam-packed.
We saw many of the places in the booklet Chemen Kwa Pep Ayisyen, in English, here: Haiti Stations of Cross001
Sunday, Dec 7, Mass at Ste Claire’s, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
During the week, some specifics:
Driving tour of sights in the Port-au-Prince area
Dinner at home of our driver above Petion-Ville in Mont Calvare area.
Morning and lunch at BAI, advocacy group for victims of violence, primarily women
Visit Fonkoze, then beginning to mature into the major micro-finance organization it is today.
Visit Methodist Church under construction
Lunch at one of higher-end hotels above Port-au-Prince
Visit Hospice St Joseph
Visit SOPUDEP School Petion-ville
Visit the national television station/studio
Visit Fr Michael Graves at Orthodox Church
Visit President Aristide’s international press liaison
Visit Methodist Church Guest House
Visit Orphanage some distant into the countryside around Port-au-Prince
Overnight at Olaffson Hotel
from Peter B, Mar 1 (in 2003, this would have been Feb 29, the day of the coup):

In case you still want to put something in there about this:
The evening of the Haiti Coup I got on the phone with the State Department’s “Haiti Desk” and spent at least thirty minutes talking with a guy who was of course parroting the party line written by the Noriega character (not the Panamanian drug king, the State man in charge of the Caribbean)). I tried my best to explain that everybody knew (everybody who looked beyond the Washington Post and the New York Times that is, and could spell Haiti) that the thugs on the border in the DR were about to slam into Haiti, murdering, raping and pillaging, freeing the Duvalier Tonton Macoute killer police to add to the rampage, and destroying a functioning democracy.
He was polite and uncaring through out. I was not hurried off the line. I still can’t figure out how the single phone line to State about Haiti could be tied up by a citizen for that long in the midst of a very big military operation to capture a head of state and deport or kill him. But that’s how it was.
And of course my fears were fully realized, far worse than I ever imagined at the time.
I now understand that the cultural rules of “Market Rule” require that no successful alternative economy be allowed to function, let alone achieve a reasonable life for the citizens of any country. I now understand that the punishment meted out by Washington will be destruction, chaos and unimaginable slaughter. There is no place I am aware of today that is not subject to this other than (perhaps) Russia, which as an oligarchy, plays the game quite satisfactorily with the “Western Powers.”
I further understand that we don’t have a vote that counts on this. And that our elected officials are helpless to change it, because they are immediately drummed out of the halls of government, and if they won’t shut up, they find themselves standing next to a spouse at a news conference apologizing for human trafficking.
We’ve seen it all before. We might possibly escape total enslavement, but probably because the environment will drop on the population first, and we will be once again reduced to roving bands of hunter-gatherers.
Gloomy? So what? Show me some evidence to the contrary. Hunker down. Gonna be a long hard one. The old folks hereabouts say they never have seen weather like this. When Vermonters complain about the weather you know something is up.

#830 – Dick Bernard: Dr. Joe Schwartzberg on Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World.

UPDATE JAN 22, 2014: Dr. Schwartzberg has kindly provided the essence of his talk on January 16. You can read it here: Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg TRANSFORMING THE UN, Talk at St. Joan of Arc.
Dr. Schwartzberg emphasizes this isn’t a script, more an outline of his remarks.
UPDATES, including comments, will be added at the end the text. There is also a “responses” feature.
An earlier post about this book was published Jan 2, here.
More about Dr. Schwartzbergs work here and here.
January 16 over 40 of us had the privilege of hearing Dr. Joe Schwartzberg (Schwartzberg Bio001) introduce his new book of ideas on Transforming (rather than “Reforming”) the United Nations System. (Schwartzberg Endorsement001)

Dr. Joe Schwartzberg Jan. 16, 2014

Dr. Joe Schwartzberg Jan. 16, 2014

Schwartzberg UN Book002
How does one summarize two rich hours, during which even the author of this important new book could only scratch the surface of its content?
Best advice: buy the book (information at end of this post), and make a winter project to read it all; agree with it, disagree with it, dialogue about it, have study groups talk about it, but make it an opportunity to learn about an ever more important international institution trying to help 192 nations and over 7 billion people have a future.

The United Nations is far more than simply two simple words created 68 years ago in the “never again” rubble of WWII. The institution remains crucial to our planetary survival: a few hours after the Thursday meeting a front page headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune read “Climate risk is critical, U. N. warns”, quoting a near-final draft report of the Nobel Peace Prize winning U. N. affiliated Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: STrib Climate Change001
In its 400 pages, Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World (hereafter “Transforming”) sets about the task of describing the UN system, and making suggestions for improving its capacity for dealing with relationships between nations in an incredibly diverse and ever more tied together and dangerous world.
It is an academic work, and I predict it will get more than a cursory look at UN and other government and non-government agencies concerned about global issues and solutions to those issues.
Since the post-WWII days of its forming, when five victor nations and 48 others, led by the United States, created the United Nations, and later set up its headquarters in New York City, there are now 192 state members in the United Nations. These states are of almost unfathomable diversity: from a nation with less than 10,000 population to one with far in excess of 1,000,000,000 population; from extraordinarily rich, to very poor, all of us occupying the same speck of the small planet earth. And no longer are we separated by geographic distance or even geographic boundaries.
What happens one place, affects others….
Here are some small additional contributions to the conversation about the United Nations (I welcome your additional comments).
Only once in my life have I been at the United Nations in New York City. It was late June, 1972, and we were on a family trip.
A few days earlier we had been in metro Boston at a college, I think it was Clark College (now University) if memory serves, and we saw a gigantic globe on the grounds.
After leaving the UN that cool and overcast day in June we went down the street, almost literally, and saw the still under construction World Trade Center towers, and then went out to see the Statue of Liberty. The snapshots I took then are below, and in a way they represent the promise and the quandary of the present day world in which we live: little over 40 years ago in time, but so very far away in so many things that directly impact out future.
(click to enlarge photos)
United Nations late June 1972

United Nations late June 1972

Giant globe, Boston June 1972

Giant globe, Boston June 1972

Twin Towers late June 1972

Twin Towers late June 1972

Joni and Tom late June 1972

Joni and Tom late June 1972

New York City from the Statue of Liberty late June, 1972

New York City from the Statue of Liberty late June, 1972

We saw other places of great historic significance on that trip. Boston, Philadelphia, etc. A trip now near 42 years ago, not to be forgotten.
(Best as I can determine, from Transformation, 59 of the current 192 UN member nations have joined since my visit in 1972. The original UN nations numbered 53 in 1945.)
The United States is one of the UN’s 192 member nations, quite young at 227 years, no longer having the luxury of isolation and and the now-fantasy of our exceptionalism (though some would still wish this to be so).
In one sense the U.S. is definitely “exceptional”. In Transforming, the data on pages 338-345 show the United States as having less than 5% of the world population, and near 25% of the Global National income. No other country among the 192 even approaches a 10% share. China, at about 9% is second. We are exceedingly wealthy, and prone to lose perspective. Even our poor are relatively wealthy….
The U.S. is the most generous country in funding the UN: we provide 22% of the UN budget according to the book.
Best as I can determine, the current UN budget is about 5.5 billion dollars, not including peacekeeping and funding for several major UN agencies, which are separately organized and funded, but nonetheless considered UN projects. With world population at about 7 billion, this means less than $1 per year per person is allocated directly to the United Nations by member states.
If 5.5 billion and 22% share is accurate, the U.S. contributes about $1.1 billion to UN operations this year, meaning, divided by our 310 million people, that we each contribute about $4 per year to fund this agency. (The most recent state of Minnesota biennial budget is about $63 billion for a population of less than 6 million.)
Of course, every fact is open to argument.
But as a country the U.S. is so rich, it is difficult for even ordinary folks with ordinary income to comprehend how unequal we are.
Like most citizens, I have only limited knowledge about the world perspective. I think I’ve been to about 13 countries in my lifetime.
Since 2012, I’ve had a real gift from my sister, Mary Ann, who’s been a Peace Corps Volunteer in another United Nations member nation, Vanuatu.
According to the data in Transforming, Vanuatu, in the United Nations since 1981, has a population (251,000) about two-thirds the population of the city of Minneapolis MN, and a negligible Gross National Income.
Since her posting at Vanuatu in the fall of 2012, Mary Ann has provided regular updates on her experience there. You can view her commentary here.
More personally, my first hand acquaintance with the UN country of Haiti began in 2003 about the time the political turmoils were about to take down the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. February 28, 2014 (the actual date was February 29, 2004) is the 10th anniversary of the coup d’etat that led to the exile of President Aristide.
While Haiti has been a member of the UN since the beginning (1945), the near 10 million population island nation has both a dependence on and less than desirable view of the United Nations, and particularly UN member states the U.S., France and Canada which quite demonstrably interfered with its democracy, and officially give only lip service to helping Haiti succeed as an independent nation (Haiti is the land of thousands of NGOs [non-government organizations], coming from everywhere, to help with everything, not always constructively or cooperatively).
There are many connections between the U.S., the UN, and Haiti, not always direct, or easily sorted out, and not always negative, but always mysterious.
On one occasion on our 2006 trip we met with a French speaking Canadian police representative, a very nice man, whose job it was to train local police representatives in the interior city of Ench (Hinche). He was funded through the UN, which in turn was funded by Canada, which may have been supported by the United States. It was all a mystery.
On the same trip, while having a tire repaired on one of our vehicles, we met with some Nepalese soldiers on break in a park in Mirebelais, not far from their post. They were in a UN vehicle, and nice kids. Nepal is a poor country, and being part of a peace keeping force would be, at least, a job for these young military representatives. Likely some Nepalese soldier unknowingly introduced Cholera into Haiti; this was translated into the UN’s fault.
And of course the devastating hurricanes and the deadly earthquake in January 2010….
Between 2004 and 2006, especially, I maintained some web resources on Haiti, still accessible here.
March, 2006, Ench Haiti

March, 2006, Ench Haiti

Some summary thoughts:
In sum, we need each other. But relationships, individual needs and aspirations, and how to accomodate them, can be very complicated. And the UN is a part of a solution….
It is easy to kick around the United Nations, that supposedly sinister force some allege has unmarked helicopters about to force World Government on them. (These are the same types who would encourage their “sovereign” state to pull out of the United States.) “UN” can be and has been used as a convenient hate word.
But we are, like it or not, living in an interdependent world where isolation does not work as a national strategy, and then are extremely negative consequences for the strong, if we do not care a lot about the weak.
In a very real sense, the tragedy of 9-11-01, symbolized by the Twin Towers, pictured above when they were still under construction, is simply a signal that we are not isolated on a big rich island bordered by oceans; nor insulated from the rest of the world. Nor is the welfare of the rest of the world of no concern to us.
For just a few examples: man-induced global climate change does not respect borders; disease epidemics are a daily and exportable possibility from anywhere in the world at any time; the vulnerability of the internet is a reality; the possibility of dangerous mistakes or intended outcomes of genetic modification which will affect us all. These are among the things we, as citizens of this small planet, need to pay attention to.
With all its faults, the United Nations has made the world a better place, and would be sorely missed were it to disappear.
Buying Dr. Joe Schwartzberg’s book:
I can connect you directly with Dr. Schwartzberg. Just send me an e-mail: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. I’ll get the message to him. Include information such as mailing address and phone.
Or, you can order directly from United Nations University Press, here is the link.
Columnist Eric Black wrote about Joe Schwartzberg and the book in MinnPost on Jan 14, 2014: link is here.
from John B, Jan 20: Congratulations to Joe Schwartzberg for his thought provoking and visionary prescription for transforming the United nations. There is little chance for the ideas to be enacted anytime soon, but in time, possibly. One of the most moving experiences of my life was visiting the UN headquarters in New York about six years ago. I was struck by the vision of possibility and, at the same time, a sense of hopelessness as I thought about how difficult it is for powerful nations, like the USA, to share the power it has with other nations.
Joe is a treasure. He is first of all a thinker and a powerful teacher. He is an example for all educators who embrace their discipline (geography in his case) and use their knowledge and understanding to project transformational ideas into the world. Thanks , Joe.

Franco-Fete in Villes Jumelles (the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul) September 28-30, 2012

UPDATE Sep 12, 2012: Here’s an interesting hour with samples of Le Vent du Nord music and discussion of Franco-Fete on Bonjour Minnesota radio program Sep 11, 2012.
CONTACT INFORMATION: Check in occasionally. Scroll to end of this post.
Francophone, Francophile, French-Canadian ancestry…or know someone who is, or is interested? Consider passing this post along, about a very special event in Minneapolis September 28-30, 2012. That’s only two weeks away. Home website is here.

(click on all photos to enlarge them)

Statue of Pioneers corner of Marshall and Main Street NE, Minneapolis, less than a mile from the conference venue.

reverse side of Pioneer Statue

In 1980, the United States Census asked, for the last time, a question about the ethnic background of Americans.
That year, 7.9% of Minnesotans- 321,087 persons, one of every 12 citizens – declared themselves to be a least partially of French (France and/or French-Canadian) ancestry. Neighboring Wisconsin counted 7.3% Wiconsinites of such ancestry and many other states had very significant numbers of persons in this category. Fr-Can in U.S. 1980001
It is this base, and any of those with an interest in the French language and cultural influence, who will want to set aside the end of September, 2012, for the first-ever Franco-Fete in Minneapolis.
All details, including registration information, are on the web here.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE: The agenda continues to evolve. Even if you’ve checked before, check back again to get a more complete picture of the entire conference. The music and meal programs especially should be reserved now as we anticipate very significant interest both Friday and Saturday evening.
Franco-Fete will include all the elements of a fine program: family, food, fun…along with academics, history, music…
This will be the first such Fete in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but is not a first ever venture.
Leader Dr. Virgil Benoit, French-Canadian (Franco-American), professor of French at the University of North Dakota and a lifelong part of the Red Lake Falls MN community, has been putting together similar festivals for over 35 years in various places in Minnesota and North Dakota. Dr. Benoit is a professor of diverse talents and great skill, as well as having great passion for the culture and language of his birth.
This years conference will be the largest and most ambitious thus far. Most likely it will be continued in subsequent years.

Virgil Benoit ca 2008 compliments of Anne Dunn

There are two major venues for this years Conference:
Our Lady of Lourdes Church, since 1877 the spiritual home of Minneapolis French-Canadians, will be the venue for Friday night Sep 28. The below photo, taken ca 1968, shows Lourdes as it was before the development of Riverplace around it in the early 1980s.)
DeLaSalle High School, a few short blocks from Lourdes on Nicollet Island in the Mississippi River, and within a short walk of downtown Minneapolis, will be the venue for all of Saturday Sep 29 programs.
On Sunday, September 30, at noon, the French-speaking congregation at St. Boniface Catholic Church in nearby northeast Minneapolis, will host those who wish to experience the Catholic Mass in French. This community, largely immigrants from African countries with French colonial overlays, is a vibrant French-speaking community in the midst of the Twin Cities. While not a formal part of the conference, we urge participants to take part in this ending celebration.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Minneapolis, 1968

Our Lady of Lourdes, August 7, 2012

DeLaSalle High School, Nicollet Island, Minneapolis MN

Fr. Jules Omalanga, pastor St. Boniface Catholic Church, Minneapolis, after Mass March 25, 2012

After a sit-down supper at Our Lady of Lourdes on Friday Sep 28, and tour of the church, noted musician Dan Chouinard and friends will give a concert in the sanctuary of the Church.
On Saturday evening Sep 29 the noted Quebec band Le Vent du Nord will do music workshops and a music program at DeLaSalle. They are internationally noted, and one of Canada’s most popular ensembles. (The web page can also be accessed in French.) UPDATE: More on the Le Vent du Nord event here.. Tickets can also be purchased on-line here. The evening program begins at 5:30 p.m.
The St. Boniface Francophone Choir of Minneapolis, Dan Chouinard and others will also be part of this evening extravaganza.

And Sunday Sep 30 at noon, the community at St. Boniface will host all for Catholic Mass in French.
Again, Franco-Fete is only two weeks away!
Now is the time to enroll.

NOTE: You can find many related commentaries using search word Quebec or French-Canadian. Or enter any of the following numbers in the search box and click enter: (Each has a basis in French-Canadian or Quebec) #15 Grandpa; 28 Weller; 43 Fathers Day; 280; 306; 313; 388; 449; 450; 459; 481; 486; 510; 550; 573; 582; UPDATE Sep 5: 585; 610; Aug. 17, 2012; Sep. 1, 2012;
You are invited to submit your own commentaries, either as a distinct blog post, or as a comment to be added here.

General, local contact:
Dick Bernard
cell 651-334-5744 (leave message, with return phone #).
Specific, including interview requests:
Dr. Virgil Benoit
University of ND at Grand Forks
toll-free: 855-864-2634

Clotilde Blondeau and Octave Collette about July 12, 1869

Clotilde Blondeau and Octave Collette married at St. Anthony of Padua in then-St. Anthony, now-Minneapolis MN July 12, 1869. In 1871 the City Directory showed them, and the rest of Collette family, living at what is now the corner of SE 2nd Street and SE 6th Avenue at what is now a block or two from Father Hennepin Park and Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge, and perhaps three blocks from I-35E bridge. More here.
Additional information for those with a continuing interest in matters French-Canadian are invited to visit here. This space will be updated and may well become a continuing presence for those with an interest.

#339 – Dick Bernard: Part 9. The Rich

Pretty clearly, the Rich have won, at least temporarily. Not the ordinary rich, but the Filthy Rich.
Take a moment to look at what “rich” means, thanks to a series of charts published in Mother Jones magazine.
Then, there’s an interesting commentary entitled “Koch Dreams” which refers to a David Koch piece in the Wall Street Journal, and some counterpoint. That is here.
There are over 2500 comments to the Mother Jones piece. One can get a flavor by just looking at a few of them.
I am always interested in the apologies/justifications for the Rich folks: they’ve earned it, they deserve it; it’s to their credit, etc. The poor, were they not such dolts, could do as well. The America dream is open to everyone, or so the Ayn Randians suggest. Go for it.
For some of the rich, money does indeed grow on trees…until the tree dies. Ask the supposedly savvy folks who queued up to be accepted as investors by Bernard Madoff. Each of them had heard of the risk pyramid – the greater the return, the greater the risk. But the siren song of guaranteed high returns on investments proved irresistible. And then the crash came and they lost anything, and it is everyone’s fault but theirs. They earned that money, they say. Until it disappeared.
There are lots of followers of Bernie Madoff-likes….
Money does grow on trees, only because it is abundantly fertilized by those of less means. It is the middle and lower classes that fuel wealth in this and other countries. One wonders, then, why the wealthy is obsessed with making the middle class poorer, and weaker, and the lower class destitute. That is what seems to be happening these days.
If I venture outside my suburb to the inner cities, I’ll come across pan-handlers working very hard to collect enough money for their evening delight, whatever that happens to be – or for their very survival.
If I accept the stereotype – that it’s cheap booze they’re after – they have to buy the booze, and in so doing contribute to an entire food chain of wealth, right up to the super wealthy. That panhandler contributes to the wealth of that entrepreneur who markets the cheap wine. It’s legitimate business. But without the addict, it would be a little more difficult for the rich guy.
This doesn’t stop at my communities poor. I have a particular affection for Haiti. If one goes to Haiti these days, the only rice one sees is labeled American rice. That’s because the domestic Haitian rice farming enterprise was deliberately destroyed back in the 1980s by American government policy, giving the long term competitive advantage to American rice growers. Sell cheap rice, drive Haitian farmers out of business, corner the market and increase the prices…. It’s easy.
Haiti is one of the world’s poorest nations. Every time I’d go to a meeting about Haiti someone would ask why there is such an interest in keeping Haiti down. There were a number of different answers.
The one which made the most sense to me was this: there are about 8,000,000 Haitians, and if they have an average resource of $1 a day, perhaps one-fourth of that, a quarter in American dollars, goes for food, usually rice. Doing some simple math, that’s $2,000,000 a day, or $730,000,000 a year – and this in the poorest country in the hemisphere. Low hanging economic fruit.
Bigger picture: the only advantage the rich do not have is the numbers. For every rich person there might be as many as 99 who are not so rich.
This is a known problem for the wealthy, and the strategy is how to keep the vast majority quiet and in chains.
So far they’ve been successful.
But they always live in fear of being found out.
More on that in a following post.

#314 – Dick Bernard: Meeting Martin Luther King Jr in Minneapolis, yesterday

I met Martin Luther King yesterday, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I sat near him in the Choir Stall at Basilica of St. Mary yesterday afternoon.
He appeared there in the body of two women sitting next to each other. Mary Johnson and Janice Andersen.
Janice is the tireless and remarkable Christian Life Director at the Basilica of St. Mary. Where there is a call for justice and peace, there you will find Janice Andersen. Without Janice, I would not have met Mary Johnson.
Mary Johnson was at Basilica because of Janice Andersen. Mary is a Mom from the north side of Minneapolis whose son was killed 18 years ago by a man, now named Oshea Israel, who went to prison for his crime. On his release from prison, Mrs. Johnson not only reconciled with him, but adopted him, and formed From Death to Life, “an organization dedicated to ending violence through the facilitation of healing and reconciliation between the families of victims and perpetrators.
Mary spoke briefly, very quietly and very powerfully, at Basilica’s Vespers for Peace yesterday.
Read Mary’s story here (simply click on “from death to life” under the photo of the man and the smiling woman, Mary Johnson, who is hugging him, and read more of the whole story.)
Then donate a few dollars or more to her work (see the website), and even more important, let others know who might help, or might draw inspiration from her witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Earlier in the day, at the same church – my church – I met Martin in the form of Fr. Greg Miller, one of our regular visiting Priests from the St. John’s University community at Collegeville MN. Fr. Miller is in charge of the Guest House at St. John’s, and yesterday in his homily gave quiet and very powerful witness to Martin Luther King, what he said, and what his work might mean to our lives.
I met Martin in the form of my friend, John Martin, who was also there at Basilica yesterday afternoon. John shows up in life to make a difference. It was John who sent around the reminder notice that gave me the final nudge to take an afternoon trip back into Minneapolis when it would have been easier to just stay home and relax. Martin could as well be Brian Mogren, the man moved and inspired to build the website that helps bring Mary Johnson’s story and her work to the world.
I could continue this list, and make it much longer. Indeed, Martin Luther King is around me all day, every day, everywhere I am willing to look. Martin is all of us, if we stretch a little to be a bit like him.
He’s there in the person of anyone who dares to stretch a tiny bit amongst him or herself and quietly make a difference in his or her own environment. The key is that “stretch a little bit” beyond one’s own self-imposed limits to take even a little risk to make even a little difference.
Today is Martin Luther King Day.
Become Martin, a little bit more, every day. Our world will be a better place because of you.
Yesterday I noticed Mary tear up at the singing of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen“. Here’s Louis Armstrong’s version from YouTube for today.
Earlier, at Mass, the phenomenal Yolanda Bruce, backed by the Basilica Choir, sang a powerful version of another spiritual, Wade in the Water. Here, also, is a YouTube version of that song, sung by young people.
Added comment on the overnight BREAKING NEWS that Baby Doc Duvalier has apparently returned to Haiti:
I envisioned and wrote in my head the above reflections before I saw the headlines about the news in Haiti.
I wrote and published the post before I read any of the first reports.
What would Martin Luther King say about this news about Baby Doc coming back to Haiti? How about his teacher, Gandhi? What would he say?
For that matter, how about Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu? Or former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, exiled in their country of South Africa? Or Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, President Aristide’s supporter, whose passion I heard in person in 2003 in Port-au-Prince and again in 2006 in Miami’s Little Haiti? Gerard Jean-Juste, who spent much time in Prison in Port-au-Prince, and who died three years ago after a long struggle with leukemia.
Really, what would they say? What will those of them still living have to say in coming days?
I would guess that there is much, much more behind the ‘cover’ of this ‘book’, whose cover we are just now seeing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the action was intended to happen on this day we remember Martin Luther King.
Hold, on rushing to judgment.
I have published posts generally related to this theme in the last several days: see Jan. 12, 13, 14

#303 – Dick Bernard: A Christmas Message "what's in a word"

We attended Christmas morning Mass at Minneapolis’ Basilica of St. Mary, where the celebrant was Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Basilica of St Mary, Minneapolis MN, Christmas 9:30 Mass, 2010

The Archbishop’s homily was on the theme of the importance of words: “what’s in a word”. I was particularly struck by a story he related at the end of his sermon.
He had recently read, he said, a story about a woman in New York City who was shopping. She came across a couple of kids who were warming themselves over a grate on the sidewalk, and she noted that their shoes were particularly tattered, in need of replacement. She went in a store and purchased new shoes for the boys, and a pair of warm socks as well.
On presenting the boys with the gift, one said “you must be God’s wife”. She replied, “No, but I am one of God’s children”.
It was a neat story.
I thought, as the Archbishop was relating his story, about another story I’d heard on public radio some years ago.
The subject being interviewed was a minister in some evangelical denomination who had built a large congregation in a southern state, and earned a national reputation. His specialty was hellfire and damnation sermons. He was very descriptive. He described hell as he and his congregation and followers thought it was.
Sometime during the 1994 Rwanda genocide he related that he was watching a TV news clip about the flight of men, women and especially children from the ravaged nation. That instant, he said, he changed his concept of hell: that those innocent Rwandan children were living in hell on earth.
He came back to the pulpit a changed man, and it was a change with consequences: his flock was not interested in his new reality and he went from relative fame to near obscurity.
He had defined heaven and particularly hell, and he had attracted people who believed as he had believed. When the message changed, they left his congregation, and took their financial support with them.
He had to start over.
As Christmas Day continued, I remembered a personal experience in Haiti on December 7, 2003.
I had never been in Haiti before, and I had not yet been in the country for 24 hours when we went to Sunday Mass at St. Clare’s parish in a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. We six ‘blans’ (whites) were seated in a pew, and a young boy and his Dad were seated next to me.
It became pretty obvious that the boy was angling for a handout, and I was tempted, but I remembered a bit of advice from before I left: be careful with this kind of generosity. Once the word gets around it will be more troublesome than it’s worth. I followed the advice, and while I wasn’t happy, it was probably prudent.
The Pastor, the charismatic Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, gave a spell-binding sermon, especially riveting when he switched from Kreyol to English to remind we whites in the pews of the immensely wealthy country from which we came, and our obligations to the poor.
Collection time came and a few people came forward with random coins. This was, after all, a poor parish.
Mass over, we filed out of the church with the congregation, and facing us in the choir loft was a mural of an imploring Christ.

Christ at St. Clare's Port-au-Prince Haiti December 7, 2003

I happen to believe in God. I have no idea who, exactly, God might be, or what God might think of this, or that. No one does, regardless of how learned. I rather expect, though, that God is not as usually portrayed: a powerful White Man.
Perhaps God is really those kids for whom the lady bought the shoes in New York City, or is that kid who sat next to me in the pew at St. Clare’s in Port-au-Prince, or especially those kids in Rwanda.
Just perhaps.