I received a phone call from an old friend, a man more like an elder to me, about two weeks ago. Some readers might remember him from previous blogs. He was the elder who suffered a stroke sometime back and the community rallied together to help him through a very difficult time.
Well… he is still recovering and doing much better. While we spoke on the phone he expressed his desire to have me attend to the blessing of a little tea house he was opening in South Los Angeles.
A little background might be in order here. This man has “always” been active in trying to secure resources and opportunities for the youth in the community and his stroke has not seemed to slow him down. He is more active now than he was before his illness. His idea for the tea house is to create a space where elders and the youth may gather together. He has collected books, board games, donations of food and toys. Over the decades he has embarked on similar missions with others. Decades ago they had a community center called “The Malcolm X Community Center” that did a lot to help further the education and cultural awareness of thousands of people here in Los Angeles.
His invitation for me to bring blessings to the tea house was humbling and not an invitation I could refuse. Our schedules were initially conflicting because he wanted to host a gathering during the time that I would be in Brazil. We settled on a date before my departure.
Last night I went to the little store front he has rented for the community tea house. It always gives me an immense sense of pride when people set out on their own, not seeking government or corporate aid to give life to their visions. I stood outside of the small store front thinking that it was the answer to so many of the questions I’ve been asking myself over the past few weeks. What would happen if most of our communities who are suffering from the austerity measures of the past 20 odd years pulled together in recognition of a common vision that served our elders and youth? In Brazil they have a concept similar to this in what they call Quilombos. Today, in Brazil, these are often small community centers in store fronts or homes of average citizens. Quilombos also have an historical antecedent that date back to the era of slavery and Maroon Societies.
I entered the tea house and found him sitting in his wheel chair surrounded by a few friends. I don’t know about you but I love those moments of recognition that occur when you first meet eyes with someone you haven’t seen in awhile and they flash a bright, big smile at you. I returned the smile, gave a hug and found myself a chair to sit right next to him. I pulled out my Kora and started playing while everyone talked. We sat reminiscing and catching up. People began coming in, sitting and contributing to the conversation. Throughout the hours several people came and went. Most people I knew but there were a few new faces I was able to get to know. We shared laughs, a few tears and even some differences in opinions.
I’ve been continually confronted with inequities in our educational system every time I visit or perform at schools. Maybe I needed the invitation to this little tea house to remind me of how powerful a single individual with a vision can be. My visit to the tea house was a perfect send off for my trip to Brazil.