Monday, May 19, 2008

Belonging, BAm-bam and togetherness

The Al-Ilympics were held on Saturday. it was an event that had the attention of everyone on Skid Row. Apparently it has been an on going event.

This year, like the last 4 or 5 years, it was held at Compton College. AT least a thousand people were there. Most of the different missions and non-profit organizations were represented in the different sporting events. I did not go but I heard a good time was had by all. Everyone came back in there blue teeshirts as if the came from a family reunion.

There is something that must be said here. I have said it in the past and I say it now and will most likely say it in the future.

When there is collaboration in Skid Row, something happens that is magical. Not only do things get done but everyone is uplifted. Just like the shooting of the Soloist. It was a team effort and everyone was involved. Everyone had to be involved for the undertaking to be successful.

I trust that this kind of cooperation inter-organization cooperation will continue
and expand into other areas. I believe that if all of the organizations banded together, some way, Skid Row could have a company located down here that could provide jobs--perhaps in the "Green Industries". Incentives could be created by the public officials, and the companies would enjoy tremendous goodwill.

Now don't ask me who, how or what. I do not know. I have some ideas and working on them. But it is just like anything else down here on Skid Row.

When I came here, I had nothing. I mean nothing. Five cents in my pocket and the clothes on my back. A year later and I have a job, and am in possession of my real estate license again. A year ago I thought life was hopeless.

Most people think that Skid Row is hopeless. And yet there are individuals who are working together to improve the community who are not listening to the prevailing status quo opinion.

The Skid Row Basketball League is a good example. The people feel a part of something. Everybody needs to feel like they are a part of something.
As each day of our lives comes and goes, it seems like we become more isolated. We become more lost out here.

The latest craze on the internet are networking sites. People join softball leagues and other categories of clubs of mutual interest to be around people--to belong.

I was in court one day and the lawyer who spoke my behalf spoke about how it was essential to connect people on Skid Row with their families to insure their continued recovery. At the time I understood what he was saying, vaguely, but I had no appreciation at all for it.

Two things happened that changed my total perspective.

I wrote a post about Steve Lopez. I basically commented on what I thought of his warmth and sincerity that he displayed on the Tavis Smiley show. About 3 weeks later I happened to notice that someone left a comment that I had not seen before.

I opened it and read the comment. It was from a man named Bam-Bam. Bam-Bam lives in the Lamp project on San Julian ST. He shared with people on my blog how he was a featured background artist on that movie set and how it changed his life.
Well, I was on that movie set and I watched every day what was going on.

Some of the extras were asked to do certain things and they did them. I walked up to Joe Wright, the director, and I told him that the reason the extras gave so much of themselves was because the crew treated the extras with extraodinary respect. I had been on many sets. I worked as an extra for two years while in between jobs, and in many cases you have a schism between crew and extras. It all depends on the attitudes of the star and directors. They set the tone of community or lack there of.

From day one Joe Wright and every part of the crew went out of the way to make everyone feel that they were respected and that their opinions and insights were needed.

There were people from the Lamp project who were given more latitude and had freedom to roam around all parts of the set. Joe Wright made a point of including them. You could see how they felt better about themselves, increasingly so, as each day went on. I am talking about people who have been physically, and thus, emotionally scarred. I am talking about people who have been excluded from feeling like they belonged to anything. I am talking about people who were disenfranchised from even those who have perenially been disenfranchised.

They way Joe Wright treated them, you could see that they had never been treated with such coutesy nor had they been embraced with such warmth and sincerity. Bam-Bam
said that that movie shoot changed his life forever because of the way he was treated.

I began to have a clue after I read his comment. Afterwards, I had my own experience. I saw my mother. I had not seen her in over a year. Had not spoken to her in over a year. It was a situation that I never could have imagined.
I felt a part of me had been cut out and

I have talked to many people on Skid Row. I talked to many men while sitting in jail. I was shocked at how common it was that men had not talked to their mothers in 10 to `15 years. I asked them were they estranged from their mothers and the ansswer was no. We all know of people who are estranged from family members for one reason or another. But these men told me that they just lost touch and many of them did not know how to get in touch with their mothers. It was something that was beyond my comprehension especially when I could not see mine and wanted to do so in the worst way.

While talking to these men, it was clear as the conversatons progressed that by not having that connection with family, these men had no connection with self. Many of them, I believe felt it was so natural because they came from communities where people felt disenfranchised from America at large. Therefore it was just a progression. As that progression continued so did their deterioration.

I was wrong when I said that mother's day softened people in Skid Row. I was talking from the perspective of a man who sat in the guard shack at the Transition House. That was the only perspective I had. At that time I never went out of the Transition House unless it was to the library. It was my sanctuary and security blanket.

When I returned from seeing my mother, I walked down San Julian streets. People were smoking crack. But they were not smoking crack like they usually do. It was frenetic. It was desperate. It was as if they were trying to dull a pain that surfaces every so often. I believe it is the pain they feel from dealing with something that is not a part of them any longer. It is the relationship between them and their mothers.

Men and women smoked back to back "hits". They rushed across the street to buy more if they had no more. I had never seen people smoke with such abandon like that before. They have not smoked like that since that day.

People who use drugs become used to separating themselves from themselves. The same thing holds true with people who abuse alcohol and prescribed medication. One becomes so separated that it becomes the norm and the norm is a feeling of constant internal chaos and like of piece.

Sure, I realized after time had passed how I not only separated myself from myself but I separated myself from my family. Of course, I did not know this while I was intoxicated. It was only after the fact that I saw the damage that had been done. But I did not come from an environment where separation was normal. Therefore it was easier for me to feel the profound abnormality of the experience of the people who have made a choice to disconnect from their families and thus from society. And they do not know how to get back.

When I came back home from mother's day there was something different I was feeling.
I feel it every day. I feel that what was cut out of me is returning. Not only the reconnection to my mother but a reconnection to my family. There has been a feeling reseeded of belonging. I no longer have the sickening feeling of being in forced exile. I slept better and that visit provided me with the fuel to keep striving. I was a part of my family again with the new insight as to what that means as it relates to responsibility and obligation-something that is performed with pleasure. I have also been more productive.

The Al-ilympics provided people of Skid Row with the feeling of belonging to something. The filming of the Soloist did the same thing. The set created a sense of family that is common on many sets where people have been together for any length of time. Both of these scenarios were came as a result of collaoratives efforts by the powers that be.

I believe strongly that the powers that be can collaborate on bringing corporate america to Skid Row. Think outside the box. Be creative. Be daring. Be fearless in the pursuit of change and lasting change at that.

People drive by Skid Row and they see people on the streets like the people in these pictures. But what they do not see are the people who are in programs who sit there every day and are learning how to work with computers. I was impressed with a student named Connie. Connie was a crack addict. She said she had to change her life. A couple of months ago Connie joined the Strive program. Connie had never touched a computer. I personally helped her set up an email account.

Over the last few weeks Connie has been working on a presentation. On Friday she unveiled it to me. It was done on Powerpoint. It was powerfully creative and she used advanced Powerpoint applications.

She is trying to find a job. There are many people like that on Skid Row that are not on the streets buying and selling drugs. Those that can bring about change must learn about the Connies that are doing their best to change their lives. And Connie had doubts about her ability to operate the computer. You would never know it by the presentation she produced. It was magnificent.

I have seen people change their lives. I have seen them change their lives while feeling they were a part of something. In the past I saw people change substantially from before the started boot camp and when they came out.
There was a sense of pride, a sense of camraderie that was embedded in their souls.
They belonged to something.

I see where Connie and others, as they progress in the STRIVE program, bond with each other. They start out as homeless individuals but they become a team, a force that is greater than themselves.

I believe that a company that plants itself on Skid Row will do so much. It will be a force greater than themselves. It will give people a sense of belonging.

The Skid Row Training programs can be a feeding mechanism into these jobs that need to be field. That is why cooperation, collaboration and integration of these programs is so badly needed. It will create a synergy that has not existed before.

There are many Connies out here. There are many Bam-Bams out here who are waiting and who are preparing themselves. These men and women are a part of society. They must be embraced. For if they are not, we, as a society, will not move forward.
We, as a society, will have something that is continued to be cut out of us and thus cut out of our soul. We can not be in denial of this. For if we continue to be in denial, that denial will destroy us.

Let us work to bring an industry or company down here. There is a growing labor force that is ready willing and able to prove themselves. Let us find a company or lets find a consortium of companies who are willing to take on a pro rata share of the risk, perceived and real, to embrace these men and women into society. It will be the beginning of something that will heal all of us whether we know it or not.

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