Thursday, 1 July 2010

Eyes on stalks, wandering the house at 3 am singing Blake to a gentle rain on the window. It's our old friend jetleg. Still, at least the other two have it as well,
so we have had some funny early morning tribal gatherings -nutty walks around Ashburton as the sun comes up- priceless actually, if seen through a rather fuzzy inner-fog.

I was in L.A. a few weeks ago and met Luis Rodriguez, an award winning writer and man who knows a great deal about mentoring (old colleague of Michael Meade), to discuss with others the possibility of the establishing of an organized rites-of-passage programme for men and women all over the U.S. Can't say much at present, or who's involved, but it looks very exciting- watch this space. Anyway, i liked the man, so i wanted to get in the below and the call to get to one of his gatherings if you can -he's actually in the UK this fortnight-even coming to Dorset-where i fully intend to meet up with him and continue our conversation. Check his website for schedule -this is great work.

WHEEL OF STORY event this saturday! The LIND WURM is the gnarly old fairy tale we will explore, with side portions of Lorca, Machado and Hughes. £60, 10-5 lunch included- we are almost at capacity so ring 01364 653723 today.

Hey, the one rose i planted is in full bloom in the garden, hidden behind a wilderness of grasses and weeds. I'll go and give it some Neruda. Over to Mr Rodriguez.....

"I met a fella named Luis Rodriguez, a writer and a poet, who had a cultural center in Los Angeles. These are people I've known and worked with for a long time. These are the people trying to fill the holes that should long ago have been filled by government. Those are the people who give me optimism. They're relentlessly hopeful, and they face it all on the front lines on a daily basis."
- Bruce Springsteen from Rolling Stone magazine, Nov. 15, 2007.

By age 11, Luis J. Rodríguez was already a veteran of the gang wars in East Los Angeles. He escaped that world through poetry and literature, he says, and found success as an author and community activist. In his memoir, Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., he captured his experience as a gang member and his use of drugs, testifying to the city’s dark underside. He now shares his story with youth across the United States and Latin America to provide those at risk for violence with hope and the tools for change.

During a weeklong program in February sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City, Mexico, the writer and community activist drew from his experience to share ideas about how to create community in violent times. Rodríguez spoke with youth at juvenile detention facilities, gave presentations at the state’s largest university, conducted workshops with community organizers and participated in poetry jams.

His stories resonated with audiences at a personal level, allowing for honest and constructive exchanges. The goal he says, is to help repair communities, like Ciudad Juárez, that have been most affected by drug-related violence.

Rodríguez said his philosophy for community building focuses on empowering young people through the arts, creativity, imagination and looking at the roots of violence. “These are the things that [have] worked in some of the most violent communities of L.A. and Chicago that, even though it’s not the same as Ciudad Juárez, there were some good lessons,” he said. “I have a friend who used to say, ‘If you don’t turn the young people toward their beauty, they will turn toward violence.’ In many ways, the creation of beauty, art, music, dance, theater pulls away from that uninspired, sad existence that they’re in.”

With more than 4,300 homicides over the past year in Ciudad Juárez, violence is rampant there. In March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led a delegation of top-ranking officials to Mexico, where the issues of violence and drug trafficking were discussed.

In Chihuahua City, a significant number of those killed are young people whose communities are broken and desperate for hope and change. As a former gang member who went on to become a leading author and activist, Rodríguez exemplifies a powerful alternative to a life of violence through community building and creativity.

Rodríguez meets inmates at the Chihuahua prison.

Rodríguez visited the Juárez Juvenile Detention Center and forged a connection with many of the juvenile inmates by sharing details about his own incarceration at a young age. Rodríguez said the dentition center is the only juvenile facility in that area that provides arts and expression training.

“I met with poets and artists. A rich and intimate discussion was held with spiritually hungry and intelligent young people — although many have committed serious crimes, including murder,” he wrote on his blog. “The facility’s director, a young woman with a big heart, even allowed five of the youth to leave the detention center and show me several murals they painted with members of the community along the high concrete walls. They plan to cover even more walls once they obtain more resources. I could tell the administration was helping move the minds and hearts of youth offenders to become whole and healthy — and creative — when they leave this facility.”

Rodríguez told inmates about the gang life that put him in jail, his transformation through writing and poetry while there, and the struggles he faced as he began to reconstruct his life after serving a prison sentence. Many of the inmates were serving sentences for similar crimes and also felt that they had little voice within a community surrounded by violence.

“I used to be a very troubled young man myself. I was in gangs, I was a violent person, I was in and out of jails and juvenile halls, and it was good to see and hear what these young people had to say because they’re very strong and articulate about their issues,” he said.


On his return to Los Angeles, Rodríguez shared his positive experience in Mexico with community members and activists. “I just feel bad that nobody wants to hear the positive side of Ciudad Juárez or Chihuahua,” he said. “The other side of the story is that most people in places like Juárez or Chihuahua and probably most of Mexico are working hard to not have the violence, to work with the kids. They are doing the very best that they can with very little resources.”

He left Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua with a hopeful message. “Even in the midst of violence and poverty, there can come great poems, great songs, great practical organizational measures,” he said. “Always showing the worst aspects doesn’t point out that there’s actually a lot of strong positive energy for change in those communities.”

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