Harmony: Harlem’s Celebration of Life Earth Day Concert

Monday, May 08, 2006

Final Thoughts

Our project was not only innovative and necessary, it made sense. It was an experience that was rooted in conversation and celebration. We hope that no aspect of our plan or performance was environmentally "preacy" or invasive. Our invitation into the Senior's Garden by the seniors and the managers of the garden has left a wonderful impression on my value base, plans and hope for the future in the garden. I intend to continue to invest time and effort tending to the garden throughout the summer, possibly to utilize the space for summer concerts and festivals.


In the end, Harmony's Mission

Harmony is about sharing. Harmony, A Celebration of Life is about getting a neighborhood outside in its own garden for the sake of coming together outside in a garden. Our mission is no greater than that, but that has much to do with a great mission.
Environmentalism is struggling in its expression, and we have found ourselves unwilling to struggle. The words with which environmentalists work to express their mission have left us still fighting and moving too slowly towards the protection and conservation of our natural resources that we desire and know is necessary.
The neighborhood most struggling with environmental health, also happens to be the neighborhood closest to the Barnard community. Harlem is largely environmentally unaware, and its people's health have suffered greatly as a result of this.
Harmony is about Harlem regaining common experiences in the organic world. Our team hopes for people to re-member the organic things which surround them and to feel the biological connections to these organisms and elements. Considering the harshness of this concrete New York City landscape, this task is a difficult one to achieve. However, we intend to lead a neighborhood by the hand to their own garden, where hopefully they will be able to remember.
Harmony is about refusing to accept. It is about believing in a greater connection and understanding of humankind and life, where the connections rest on the shared resources of the Earth itself. We are here to help people re-member these connections. And we believe that sort of re-membering is only possible if people experience the connections themselves. For that, the collecting of a neighborhood to enjoy a spring afternoon together in a garden is one great achievement.
The event we have developed is to be supportive, encouraging, relaxed, with plenty of room for all to attend. We are not applying any pressure surrounding environmentalism because we do not believe that tactic is effective or beneficial. Instead we intend to lead Harlem residents to their own resources within their own neighborhood to show them what value lies in the forgotten green spaces next door. This in and of itself is great enough to alter people's perspectives and attitudes about much.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hello elephant, have a seat.

Adrionna and I are 15 minutes late and Dr. G is watching cartoons and eating poridge out of the pot she cooked it in. When you're working on Saturday, I think that's a necessary style.

After we arrived at her brownstone and Dr. G turned off the cartoons, we headed for the Taqwa Community Farm, a garden in the South Bronx that had promised us some ground cover and other plants.

Dr. G introduces Adrionna and me to "the brother that runs the place." He's an old gent, with grey hair and few wrinkles. He shakes my hand, offering little eye contact, then shakes Adrionna's saying "how you doin', sistah?" Dr. G asked him to show us the yard.

He walked 'round the garden mumbling the names of fruit trees, waving an arm in the direction of a cherry, a pear, a mulberry. He showed us their hydroponic growing system, telling us the vegetables it grows don't even compare to other vegetables because they're so good. Then he led us to a bed of irises, telling us we could take a clump made up of about a hundred of the bulbs.

We dug irises until we had two buckets full. The first thing I noticed was when you lifted up a brick laying in the dirt in this garden, there was nothing underneath. The ground was not squirming with rolly-polies, roaches, spiders, larvae and worms. There was nothing. Just dirt, if dirt can even be called dirt when there's so little in it.

There was a group of kids that had come to the garden, a woman who works with literacy programs had brought them there. We were just leaving as they were getting a breakfast of white bagels, cream cheese, and colored sugar water with artificial flavoring. They sat in a row on the two benches where one enters the garden. The woman running the program offered Adrionna and me something to eat (we refused) and gave us water to drink. She said they had brought bottled water for the adults, but you couldn't make the kids drink the stuff.

Adrionna set out to explain to the kids why they should drink water. They didn't have any problem telling us why. "For energy," they said. "To keep your skin good." "To keep your body healthy." They shouted their answers, and drank their artificially flavored sugar water.

Then Adrionna tried to talk about eating vegetables. They talked about everything else they eat, the bacon, the eggs, the cheese, and lots of white bread. They talked about how good the food is from the bodega down the street. One little girl said she gets a bacon and cheese sandwhich every day from the corner store. She didn't eat eggs because her mom said they were bad for her cholesterol.

"The bodega calls to her, 'come spend your money,' it says; and she goes. Every day she goes and spends her money on that. It has you fooled, it controls you. Why don't you eat a sandwhich at home?" the girls mother spoke to the group,as she asked her daughter.

The little girl explained that the man gave her plenty of things for free all the time. She said she could prove it and go get 5 bubblegums for free right now if we wanted her to.

"Yeah, I'm just wondering why he's giving you things for free. Investment in future endeavors? I need to know," the mother said.

The conversation became an argument about food choices between the kids and adults. Neither one listened much to the other, and both seemed fairly convinced that the other side didn't get it and never would.

Afterwards a group of the adults there talked about the attempts to organize the gardens, the attempts to get more money, more resources, more political justice. They spoke of the years of failed attempts, as they planned more.

"Half of that money we spend on the lotto needs to be coming back into the 'hood." Dr. G said.

Adrionna and I wondered how you make people stop spending so much money on the lotto. We wondered why the gardens weren't collectively organized.

The man in Taqwa Community Farm eventually spoke to me about the garden because he saw I loved the plants. He saw they meant a lot to me. He saw I knew them. So he helped me dig and smiled at me.
Dr. G talks often of "brothahs and sistahs," suggesting contacts we should make, and looking at Adrionna when she speaks.

I don't know what to call these exchanges, but they do exist. They exist because my color has history.

Every day that I work with this project, I tell myself I will not believe in racism because if I refuse to tolerate it, it will dissappear from my world- because we are here, and we are now, and we have been through so much to have that be an option, that kids like me can opt it out of their lives, and the horrid stain of racism that curses much more than just America will dissipate into thin air, and color will mean no more than color itself, and all will enjoy its spectrum, so diverse in that tiny band of light it comprises.
And I will always begin every day as such, and I will always go to bed as such.

I am over racism in the same way that as of today I have decided to be over sexism.

Harmony is about sharing. And I think that just might be it. Anything else seems a little ridiculous. I'm not from Harlem. I'm not black. I'm not from New York City. I'm not poor. Adrionna's not from Harlem, she's not from New York City, and she's not poor. And Jennifer's not from Harlem and she's not black.

The garden is located in Harlem. We are celebrating the land, the environment- and thus this event becomes about Harlem.

But it can't be about race, it can't be about helping poor people, uneducated people- they do not need to be helped. They are strong, they are wise, they are able.

It is about sharing. Adrionna, Jennifer and I are sharing all we love and adore. A Hue-Man Books banner because we adore books and that is the local bookstore, a garden because we love nature and the earth, life-celebrative music, nutritious foods because we enjoy health, puppet shows and storytelling because they are fun and wise in our opinion, photography because it is powerful.

I am exhausted by the preaching. I am exhausted by the entertaining of injustices carried out by the fighting of the same battles.

I will not fight. I will not convert. I will not preach. Thus, I need no power of persuasion. Thus, my white face need bother no one. I am not here to teach.

Harmony is about sharing.
I have spoken about racism because I needed to say something. Now it has been given the nod. Its presence can stay there in the room. It is not ignored. We know it is here. Everyone nod to the elephant in the room. Please, tip your hat.
I am waiting for things to change enough that racism will walk back out, finding that there's really not enough room for it in here. Eh, let's not wait. Let's just be busy. Let's be so busy with making gardens, with putting on concerts, with promoting musicians, with doing what we enjoy that the elephant in the room shrinks down into a mouse and scampers out through some hole in the floor.
I believe in magic, so such a trick seems entirely feasible to me. Already I'm watching this elephant puff into an assortment of sizes, a series of ups and downs, squeezes and expansions. And oh, when that final swap occurs, what a funny and delightful display it will be.
And we will all sit back, feeling a little less cramped, and revel together in our newly discovered magical capabilities.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Stuff tra la la.....just some things in the garden

Flowers tra la la...just some plants in the garden

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meeting Dr. G

Society has never been short on people with big ides. In fact, it is really no challenge to come across someone willing to espouse fanciful ideas of how to solve humanity’s biggest concerns. The true challenge is coming across those people with big ideas and enough conviction to act on those ideas. I am glad to say that this weekend I had the pleasure of meeting one woman who is full of such conviction. Dr. G’s story is truly an inspirational one.

Dr. G came upon her garden in the mid 90s when it resembled more of a garbage dump than a flower garden. For decades, residents had defenestrated various waste materials from the apartments surrounding the abandoned plot of land, which also served as loitering grounds for local drug dealers. No one had thought twice of using this makeshift garbage dump as anything but that, until, that is Dr. G came up with a plan. She saw that the land under the piles of garbage could be worth something as a catalyst for community solidarity. Dr. G investigated the ownership of the land and with the help of Green Thumb she began the painstaking effort of clearing the land of garbage. Over the years, Dr. G has moved an astonishing four tons of waste from the site.

Not only has Dr. G cleared the land but since 1994, she has begun a community effort of using the garden as a site for senior citizens to enjoy and for local schoolchildren to learn. And while the extent of Dr. G’s good works may, at first, seem hard to quantify, while I sat with her on a sunny Sunday afternoon the signs were all around. Every person that passed by the garden was greeted with a big smile and a hearty “hello, neighbor!” by the cheerful Dr.G. She seemed to know absolutely everyone in the area. And whether through their own experiences growing up or through those of their children, every passerby has some personal connection to Dr. G’s Garden.

Dr. G is far from finished with the garden. Though there has been vast improvement in its appearance, there is still a lot of work to be done. Dr. G hopes to install a Jacuzzi in the garden for the seniors with arthritis and is adamant about conducting art classes for local children as well. (In fact, she would love to have any interested Columbia/Barnard students help her with this initiative.)

Dr. G's sense of conviction and initiative is truly rare indeed. She's not just another plethora of endless plans but a srue source of change within the Harlem community. She is always looking for new ways to continue her efforts in improving her garden. This enthusiasm is part of the reason why Dr. G is such a wonderful partener for the Harmony initiative.

Also I have a question: What do people think of this design for a Tshirt?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Back to Life

Jam in the Garden

So, it seems that our project is continuing to evolve. Such evolution has its ups and downs especially when it comes to the design process. Trying to come up with a theme and develop a coherent design for the promotion of any event can be quite challenging. However, that process is made even more so when dealing with an event that is still in the process of development.

Our project began as a celebration of life in Harlem, then it shifted to an on campus celebration of life in the upper Manhattan community, and now once again it has undergone a metamorphosis into a celebration of life and art in the garden. As one can imagine, all three forms of our event are relevant to the local community as well as to environmental concerns, however, because the concept between each is different the designs and relevant imaging for each is different as well.

Thus, the design and imaging portion of Jam in the Garden must begin anew. For the new variation of our event I hope to be able to create images and art work that reflect the importance of local parks, gardens, and wildlife in the everyday lives of local New Yorkers. I hope to highlight the joy and energy that these elements bring to our lives. I will travel to local parks and around the city in attempt to capture New Yorkers interacting with the environment.

However, all things considered, just as our last shift in event theme seemed to bring more relevance to our goal, so does this latest shift. After all, this class is about environmental ethics and the ways in which people can make changes to interact positively with nature. And what better way is there to highlight such interactions than by focusing on gardening.

Gardening and human cultivation of nature in general is a wonderful issue to bring to the forefront in our community. Why? Well because our interaction with nature is vital to positive mental health, physical health, and environmental health. Human interaction with nature, whether it be a casual stroll through the park, tilling a garden, diving the Atlantic, lounging on the beach or hiking through the forest has long been a source of solace and inspiration to people.

Especially in the bustling streets of Manhattan, people rarely take the time to pry themselves away from their respective computer screens and “smell the roses.” New Yorkers, and people and general, have become entities removed from nature and the experience of life. We search for the answer to our burgeoning levels of stress, depression and anxiety in a plethora of prescription drugs, when maybe we should really be looking to how unnatural our lives have become. When most people spend every waking moment in the confines of air conditioned cars and sterile office cubicles, eating processed Franken-food, glued to computer screens and almost completely sedentary, I would be amazed to find one person who feels in touch with nature.

What we need is a reintroduction of the role nature and our interaction with it can enrich our lives and the environment. In many ways, it is overwhelmingly sad that we need to be reminded of this. However, by bringing at least a few people back to the garden, back to life, nature, and some semblance of normalcy we hope to be able to remind each other just how important interacting with and being a part of nature is.

What Kind of Jam?

"Jam in the Garden" the title of my last blog post is the title for our hunt for musicians on Craigslist- the very popular on line classifieds.

Here is the link: http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/tlg/145366640.html

Our posting, title and its description running since last sunday has been a tremendous success. Already we have sparked the intrest of a (4) time award winning jazz singer, one of MTV's up and comming singer/song writers, an award winning mass choir from Harlem, an electric harpist and Native American flute players-- to name a few.

The title "Jam in the Garden" is truely the way we invision our event. Not jam as in "peanut butter and jam" but as in a melding of cooperative forces, coexisting and performing "in Harmony." The title of our ad also seemingly strikes the fancies of particular types of musicians; Many of whom have us sent links to their web sites and others invited us to upcoming gigs or rehersals.

As demonstrated by Dr. G on our initial visit to the seniors garden, these performers seemed to completely vibe with our intention. Their replies to our ad have had life celebrative tones and the types of music they create do the same.

Check out the links to a few of our potential acts:



Our patience, faith and willingness to be flexible and open about the possibilities that are presented, has proven to be a rightgeous approach. This is the way we (the Harmony group) approach our lives daily.

The Importance of Gardens, for me

I've grown up in gardens, or maybe that statement in and of itself can't help but be a lie; so instead I'll say, I've stayed around the age of 5 because I've always come home to gardens.

My grandmother had a garden. She grew vegetables and tobacco for a living, but around her house she had a flower garden. "Crazy Lottie's Crazy Garden" a sign made by some children at church said. In the South women have a way of sticking "trash" into their gardens, little doo-dads and knick knacks that someone found in the dump, wires and tires somehow turned into beautiful, creative art to give the garden intrigue when the flowers aren't blooming. My grandfather grew petunias in the beds by the river, and every Sunday after church the two of them would walk beside the river picking trash out from in between the blooming plants.

At the church they used to attend, the grave of my aunt and now my grandfather we have covered in Hasta and Day Lillies. We have sprinkled seeds of wildflowers yearly. My family goes to these graves, kneels, and tends flowers. We've never believed much in death, we've got too much power for creation for that. Things die when you let them. Our flowers tell us that's true.

My mother had a garden that took up half our front yard when I was a child. A giant rectangle completely full of flowers. The nieghboors hated it. She had Carolina jasmine climbing on everything, strangling the roses. There was Wandering Dew seeping into the drive way. Honeysuckle was all tangled in the Azaleas. But it was always blooming. The neighboors saw it as a mess- they wanted to see something more manicured. To mother and me, it was an amazing dance of color.

My first job was in a garden shop. Whenever I travel I am sure to visit gardens. There is something special about the creation of a place solely for the purpose of allowing plants to bloom. And there is something special simply about blooming all together.

My grandmother has a pillow sitting on her couch, (She now lives in a retirement home, her patio overrun with potted flowers, and she's begun to dig up the landscaping outside her door to make room for some collards) that a friend embrordered for her. It says "To cultivate a Garden is to walk with God." She's 92 and still planting flowers, so I think the pillow just may speak a little truth.

To have a life permeated with flowers, so richly saturated with every aspect of their being, I am delighted to have Harmony taking place in a Garden.

Dr. G told us she had started the garden ten years ago. The kids in the neighborhood would come to her saying, "Miss Vicky, Miss Vicky, come out and play."

"So I came outside, and we made a garden," Dr. G. said.

We can say the commonness of humanity is enough to keep us all understanding one another, to keep us all connected. And I've got faith in that. But I know I'm a white girl from rural North Carolina, whose spent a good deal of her life chasing flowers. And that's real different from growing up in Harlem, or even just growing up in New York City or LA. And the truth is, in dealing with city folk, communication bounderies pop up looking like glass, but I keep ramming my head into them and find out they're real.

But gardening, now that's a language I can speak, one I can understand. So the boundaries are still there, but now we've found a room all of us can fit in, one I can finally fit in.

People are different. Every day I'm realizing that is actually true. People have completely different value systems. People stand so far at the other end of the spectrum, they couldn't see you, or even imagine you. I think the location of the garden gives us just enough space that we can all come together, and small enough a framework that we're all truly seeing one another.

And the garden has cats. Adrionna and I have always loved cats.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Jam in the Garden

Two Sunday's ago around 10am I got a phone call from Professor Detrrick. She wanted me to call Ms. Goldson who she'd met at a meeting on Columbia's expansion in Harlem. Mrs. Goldson runs the seniors garden on 153rd street between Columbus and St. Nicholas. Later that Sunday I contacted Ms. Goldson (aka Dr. G) to set up a day and time meet and discuss the posibility of using her garden for our concert/festival. She said "What better day then today. Two hours later Megan and I were standing in one of the most beautiful gardens in the city. "What better place to have a party, than in a garden," Dr. G said.

Dr. G wanted our celebration in her garden just as much as we did. The garden big enough to hold 300 people, is tended daily by the neighborhood youth that helped Dr. G revive it from beneath four feet of garbage years ago.

The garden serves as the back yard for the brownstones faces north on 153rd (where Dr. G lives) and a senior center on 154th street. After getting a tour of the grounds and good conversation with Dr. G, we went in the center, told elders about our event;we asked for their permission in part, but more so their participation in our celebration.

The seniors garden is privately owned grounds and rest atop an auqifer. Collards, tomatoes and other edibles are grown there. We saw an assortment of colorful flowers preparing fully show out. There there are childerens sculpters and beautiful mosaics that boarder the garden. That was last Sunday.

In the mid-to late 1980's the area surrounding the seniors garden was on the cusp of drug war territory in upper Manhattan. This activity kept the elders inside the center as they were in fear of being robbed and/or harassed by wandering drug feinds.

According do Dr. G the garden has served as rehabilitator of the elders veiw of young people and the outdoors. The elders work in the garden and rest there. "It gives them the opportunity to engage with young people in a positive way" she said.

Obtaining this particular space has added a new and very important demension to the project. These are historical grounds in which its creators and ancestors still reside. This garden space is also unlike the city owned park or Barnard's campus is maintained by the members of its commuity. This space is truely a community space and lends itself to a stronger community feel.

Dr. G's enthusiasm for toward our event and her desire to use Harmony as a tool to promote the maintanense of green spaces, elevates our project from one of inovation to activism.

Harmony, is once again and finally, a celebration of life and the enviornment in Harlem. The event will take place on Earth Day (April 22nd,2006) from 11a-5p.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Back to Square One

Our NEW logo!

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