Harmony: Harlem’s Celebration of Life Earth Day Concert

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.

This page has been created and published by a Columbia University student, faculty or staff member as part of course or other requirements. The ideas and information expressed in this publication have not been approved or authorized by Columbia University, and the University shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever resulting from any action arising in connection with its publication. Columbia University is not responsible for the contents of any off-site information referenced herein.