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Blog post by Stephanie, a Kindness Investor from Mt. Laurel, NJ.

I created an intention this morning ~ Today, I focus on listening.

My next Year of Giving experience brought me to my local library, a place I hadn’t really been to since I was a kid.  I was motivated to sign up for a library card when I was there because I found a series of children’s books called “The Way To Be” series which interested me.

This is where I met Carl B, who can best be described as “a wealth of historical knowledge”.  We began talking and Carl shared stories about Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Milton Hershey, Da Vinci, Pearl Harbor, The Roman Empire and Ancient Greeks.

He is currently unemployed himself, but dreams about being a highschool history teacher one day. I was amazed at the “wealth of knowledge” Carl has within him and could easily share with high school seniors.   He said he was always interested in history since 5th grade and he learned a lot from books and museums.  He did say history movies sometimes fabricate the truth but documentaries are more accurate.  What fascinated me was Carl, didn’t just share historical facts and info. He talks about history like he lived it and knew the people directly.  He talked about the character of people, the stories that aren’t always in text books, and the history of objects and technology.

Carl was very friendly, talkative and is truly motivated to make a difference in teens.  He said his dream would be to teach seniors specifically because that would be the last year to motivate them to go to college and continue learning.  He believes he is a self-taught historian because of his hunger to learn about the past.

Carl plans to donate the money to PHILABUNDANCE, an organization that helps feed the hungry throughout Philly and the Delaware Valley. Every year he gives them money and shares a quote from Deuteronomy.

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Rain drops on the metallic chairs on Love Cafe's patio. (photo: Reed)

I don’t know why I carried my umbrella over to U Street with me; I didn’t use it to ward off the drizzle that fell as I dodged puddles along the uneven sidewalk.  I ducked in to Cake Love’s Café on the corner of 15th and U Streets.  I think its actual name is Love Café…according to the young Latina behind the counter it opened seven years ago…a year after the original bakery opened in 2002.  It’s a cozy little place with a spectacular corner view perfect for people watching.

Gerald with the original Cake Love in the background. (photo: Reed)

I met Gerald there. When he came in he said, “That’s where I usually sit…it’s got a great view.”  Gerald tells me that he lives across the street which turns out to be the same building that Almena from Day 21 lived in.

This is one of those encounters that I don’t even know where to begin.  We spoke for hours.  Gerald is a character too.  Some of the stories sound too sensational to be true but he swears by them; from being born in Freedmen Hospital (forerunner to Howard University Hospital) in 1943 to looting liquor stores during the riots of 1968 to inheriting a million dollars from his step-father. 

Gerald grew up living on Columbia Road around 12th Street.  “There was only one white person on my entire block back then,” he said. 

7th Street post MLK Assassination riots in DC in 1968.

During the riots Gerald said he was working at the Post Office.  On the day the riots started he was taking a test at the Watergate building.  He got home and painted “Black Power” on the side of his 1961 Dodge Polaris and headed out into the city.  “I didn’t have any prior riot experience, so I didn’t exactly know what to do,” he said.  He decided to go over to the People’s Drug Store and crossed the line of National Guard soldiers and stepped through the broken glass of the front door.  The store had already been heavily looted but he remembers thinking about taking a watch he saw inside, but didn’t. 

Gerald displays his $10 purchase. (photo: Reed)

Armed with a .357 Magnum he went down to Central Liquors at 9th and F Streets and then headed over to another liquor store on U Street.  All in all he says he took more than 22 ½ gallon bottles of top shelf liquor.  “I had two years worth of liquor!” 

Years later he got a job with IBM.  Now to appreciate this you got to understand that he was making about $6,100 a year at the post office and then was offered a $15,000 salary plus bonus at IBM.  The next couple years he made a lot of money and bought lots of material goods…namely cars. 

At some point the good times ended.  He divorced.  He lost his job.  He lost several houses that he owned and said he was even homeless at one point.  Now he lives in a very modest low-income housing complex.

I wish there was some way to bottle the loquacious couple of hours we spoke and serve it up here, but you just had to be there.  Before I left I asked him one last time if he knew what he would do with the $10.  He decided to go next door to the picturesque Best DC Supermarket and purchase a bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Miles Davis Bitches Brew.  I walked over with him and even spotted him an extra buck to pay for it.

We exchanged numbers and he walked back to his apartment and I went the opposite way toward my place.

So something funny is that he put my number in his phone but never added my name.  Over the next week he called me about six times thinking I was somebody else or maybe he was just hoping that I would be giving another $10 away!

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The Clintons walk down Pennsylvania Avenue at the 1993 inauguration (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

I left work and instead of walking home I thought that I would walk in the opposite direction and see if I could find a recipient of my daily ten-spot.  As I walked down 25th Street I passed Trader Joe’s on my left and arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue.  What a historic avenue!  This 36 mile stretch of road (about five of which are in DC) is most known for the 1.2 mile section that connects the White House to the Capitol.  I was standing about a mile west of the White House near where the avenue begins (or ends I guess) at the edge of Georgetown.  That is where I saw Rigoberto. 

I stopped Rigoberto on the sidewalk of Penn. Ave. as he left the bank on the way back to start his shift (photo: Reed)

Originally from Honduras, Rigoberto has been here for approximately ten years.  He lives in the District and works as a cook at a restaurant on the iconic Pennsylvania Avenue.  “Es una ciudad muy bonita,” he says as he talks fondly about Washington.  Although he has patiently waited nine years for his green card to be approved, he dreams of one day returning to Honduras.  “Toda mi familia está alla,” he tells me explaining that his wife and six children (ages 11-22) are there in a small town that is a two day bus trip west of the capital of Tegucigalpa. “It’s right on the border with El Salvador.” 

He looked down at the ten-dollar bill in his hand and said that he was going to send it to his daughter who is a university student in Honduras.  Every month he sends her $150.  This time he will send her $160.  It comes at a good time too.  He told me that she had just asked if he could send her some additional money this month for some other expenses she incurred. 

Rigoberto, who is legally here, has worked in the US for ten years in order to provide for his large family.  Moving thousands of miles away to a strange city with a different language would not be a choice some people would be able to do.  “This is how I support my family,” he tells me.  In his hometown, rent for a nice home for a family of his size costs about $105.  “And this includes someone to help with cooking the meals, cleaning the house and doing the laundry.”  He would not be able to make the kind of salary he has here if he were to be working there. 

Rigoberto (photo: Reed)

Rigoberto had just left the restaurant where he was working to run to the bank so I didn’t want to keep him too much longer.  The last thing I would want is for him to get in trouble for not being at work.  I told him that I would try to stop in some time and eat at the restaurant where he works.  “Well, that’s up to you,” he says with a big smile.  “It’s a pretty expensive place and I’m not that good of a cook!” 

I have listed on the Lend a Hand page two items that Rigoberto needs.  His refrigerator can not keep up with the heat and says that the freezer compartment does not work well enough to keep things frozen.  He also needs a new stove.

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So my first two days at work are in the history books.  I am still in orientation mode, but I can tell you that this organization is full of talent.  The WWF is doing really meaningful work around the world.  Please visit their website to learn more about their 19 priority areas.

I am still trying to catch up on my blog entries!  Today was actually day 211, so I am 13 days behind in my writing.  Oh, by the way, if you are at the supermarket this week and see a magazine called Woman’s World, there should be a story in this week’s edition about the Year of Giving.  I haven’t gotten to the store yet to check it out but am going tonight, so I will let you know.

Alexander on his pedicab (photo: Reed)

Day 198 was interesting.  I spent the entire day over at my brother and his wife’s house dealing with my sick computer.  At 11:00pm we were still running into dead-ends.  I hadn’t given my $10 away so I grabbed my things and headed back to DC in hopes to find someone along the way to give the $10 to. 

Right off of Pennsylvania Avenue near James Monroe Park I spotted a pedicab waiting to pick up a late night fare in front of Kinkead’s restaurant.  I parked the car and walked over and introduced myself to Alexander.

After a career as a military air traffic controller, he tells me that he has been pedaling for the past three years for a company called DC Pedicab.  “We’re the original pedicab company in DC, we started four years ago,” he tells me.  It’s a nice alternative to a traditional cab.  You slow down your travel and actually can take in some of the rich history of our nation’s capital.  While Alexander is pedaling away he likes to share some of that rich history with his customers.  After an hour and a half of chatting with him I can assure you that he is very knowledgeable about the city. 

photo: Reed

Fares typically run about $15-$30, but this all depends on how far and how many people he is pulling.  “I actually charge a little more if the customer is considerably overweight too.  It’s a lot more work!”  And he is a good judge of weight.  He said he could guess my weight and what do you know, he guessed mine within five pounds! 

I asked him what his longest fare was and he said he once took a wounded veteran from the centerfield entrance at the new Nationals Stadium all the way to Walter Reid Medical Center.  How much?  $150!

Alexander found this job on Craigslist.  “I like it.  I pay a monthly fee for the pedicab and then I can work the hours that I want.”  He says that he earns good money and stays in shape.  He also likes that he gets to meet all different kinds of people.  “You never know who you are going to meet.  I even drove Sir Richard Branson around at the Virgin concert at Pimlico.”  Here Alexander talks about another very memorable fare that he had.

We sat and talked for a long time about a myriad of topics.  From what he was doing the day MLK was assassinated and racial tensions in America to what it was like growing up in a Polish-American household in Bridgeport, Connecticut (his mother was first generation and his father second generation.)  Not to mention all the DC history he shared with me.

If you live here or will be in the DC area, I encourage you to give Alexander a call.  You could do a romantic night out on the town or maybe an hour-long guided tour of Washington.  He offered a special rate of $45/hour (please tip him on top of this!) for the readers of the Year of Giving.  Trust me it will be worth it!  He can be reached at 202-531-7432.

Almost forgot, his $10 went on his metro card.  Sometimes Alexander wants to sit back and relax when he travels!

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Happy Earth Day!  It’s a shame that many people only think about caring for our planet once a year, but I guess that is better than nothing.  I will be posting Day 126 later today about a man who has dedicated his life to saving our country and planet.  His story tonight.

Many people ask how they can help me.  This week I received a check from a friend of mine and four gift certificates from a follower named Tawanna.  A few weeks ago a man from California sent me a donation via PayPal to sponsor ten days of giving.  Although all of these efforts are greatly appreciated, I would encourage you to think about how you can help those on the Lend a Hand page or individuals and organizations in your local community.  I promise to put the donations that I receive to good use, although, I can not accept money for my $10 daily commitment.  I made the $3,650 commitment myself and I don’t feel that it is fair to accept donations for my own personal commitment.  I am in the process of studying the possibility of creating a nonprofit that would help manage and distribute funds that I receive in a responsible manner.  I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.  Call me stubborn!  Larry and Kelly from California told me yesterday that, “to be a great giver, you also have to be a good receiver.”  What do you think?

Gravett playing the EWI4000s (Photo: Reed)

On Day 125 I was walking by Starbucks at Dupont Circle and saw a man playing a clarinet-like instrument inside the coffee shop.  I had seen him playing there before, but didn’t have time to stop.  I went inside and saw that the instrument is connected to a small electronic device that connects to earphones.  He was deep in concentration.  I nervously walked around pretending to be interested in anything but him.  Finally I just bit the bullet and walked up to him and asked if I could talk to him for a minute.

AKAI EWI4000s

That minute turned into two hours.  Gravett is a musician who is practicing on a EWI4000s.  It’s an electronic saxophone.  I used to play saxophone.  My band instructor, Mr. Snyder, I am sure would agree that the saxophone was not my calling in life.

The real benefit of the EWI4000s is that it has an internal sound module that stores the sounds/tones that the instrument produces rather than relying on an external modulator.  This allows Gravett to not have to carry around bulky equipment to hear the sound he is producing.  Pretty cool.

I asked him how he makes a living and he said he played the saxophone and worked as a pedicab driver in DC.  Pedicabs are bicycle powered cabs.  Very timely that I should write about him and his pedicab on Earth Day.  Gravett has returned to Washington DC last year after spending time living in Mexico City, the Czech Republic, and Jamaica.  I told him that I had given $10 to another saxophone player on Day 100 (Bill).  He nodded his head and said he knew him.  “Bill is really talented” he said.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

I asked Gravett what he thought he would use the $10 for and he said he was going to save it for his next stint overseas.  “I have been thinking about going back to Mexico City.  I really like it there … or maybe Guatemala.”  Although Gravett said he likes Washington quite a bit, he prefers to live outside of the United States.  He feels that he doesn’t necessarily know or share in the history of the city and prefers to be somewhere that this is not expected of him.  In his work operating the pedicab he gets asked questions about the city quite a bit.  He impressed me though when he told me the story of Benjamin Banneker.  Banneker worked closely with Andrew Ellicott on finalizing the city plans for the District of Columbia.  I always thought it was the Frenchman Pierre Le’Enfant who was responsible for the entire plans, but George Washington supposedly dismissed Le’Enfant and left

Ellicott and Banneker to salvage the plans.

By the way, for those of you in Maryland, Ellicott and his two brothers established Ellicott Mills, later renamed Ellicott City.

Gravett is someone who lives in the present.  He believes that communication is only real when it is live and spoken.  Sounds are only real when they are produced live from their original source.  We spoke philosophically about these and many items.  Some things we agreed upon.  Others we did not.  But that is ok.  In the spirit of the legendary newscaster Ron Burgundy, we agreed to disagree.  I enjoyed chatting with him so much that soon we were being asked to leave as the coffee shop was closing.  

We gathered our things and headed to the West entrance that boarders Connecticut Avenue.  We said our goodbyes as he put a helmet on and got on his scooter (his legs are probably tired from all the pedaling!)  As I started to leave he said something that I have found myself telling others.  “Thanks for sharing.”

Because that is what we were really doing.  We were both sharing; sharing our time, our ideas, our questions, etc.  Had I not been doing this project, I don’t think I would have ever stopped to talk to Gravett.  I probably would have lived the rest of my life never knowing about Benjamin Banneker.  

Gravett did tell me something that you could help him with.  He would like information on living in Guatemala.  In particular, he is interested in extremely low-cost housing information as well as general safety issues.  He hopes to move there this summer.  If you have information or know where he can research this better, please leave a comment.

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Several of you have been nice to ask how my job search is going and I thought I would give an update.  I continue to actively look for new employment.  There are several opportunities that I am studying right now.  Most of them are very similar to roles that I have held in the past (leadership roles in IT/telecom and nonprofits focused on education), however, part of me thinks that I should really think out of the box.  What ideas do you have?  What are the most interesting / inspiring careers you have heard of?

As you might have read yesterday, I was down in Southern Virginia with my cousin Doug doing some genealogical research on our family.  On Sunday Doug and I drove to Petersburg, VA to the Blandford Church, where one of my great, great, great (about 6 more “greats” should be inserted here) grandfather, Theophilus Field, was buried.  He is the only person to be buried in the church itself. 

Gate to the area where the civil war soldiers are buried (Photo: Reed)

That’s not the only reason the church (and surrounding cemetery) is notable.  Built in 1735, it is one of six buildings in the world that every window is made of Tiffany stained glass.  The church has an interesting history which includes it’s restoration in the early 20th century.  After years of abandonment, The Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg decided to restore the church as well as retrieve thousands of bodies left scattered around the Petersburg area after the Civil war and give them a Christian burial.  What they thought would take them a year or so turned into a 15 year process where more than 30,000 soldiers’ remains were collected and buried. 

During this time, the celebrated stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany offered to help the Ladies Association and steeply discount the cost of 15 stained glass windows to be outfitted in the church.  The Ladies sought sponsorship from Confederate states and states that were sympathetic to the South.  Only one state that was asked didn’t sponsor a window, that was Kentucky.  When that happened, Tiffany himself paid for the last window. 

The windows are beautiful…my favorite was the Louisiana window that portrays St. Paul holding a sword.  Standing inside the dimly lit church the kaleidoscope of colors and the musty smell transport you back in time.  If you visit Petersburg, make sure you visit the church.

Photo: Reed

The cemetery is also interesting.  The remains of soldiers from every war that the US was involved in prior to the Gulf War can be found there.  It is the resting spot of the late actor Joseph Cotton, made famous for his work in many of Orson Wells’ films.  With more than 300 acres, it’s the second largest cemetery in VA (after Arlington Cemetery). 

So why do I know all of this…because I had a great tour guide!  Gene, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Petersburg for a 2.5 year military assignment and ended up staying over 50 years.  Full of knowledge and energy, Gene now works for the Petersburg Tourism Department.  It is by chance that he ended up being our guide, as the person scheduled to lead our tour was running late and Gene offered to cover for her.

Gene in front of Old Blandford Church (Photo: Reed)

 

I learned some other interesting things about Gene…he used to be a school teacher – taught piano and voice, although had to stop his singing due to some throat complications he had as a result of contacting Polio when he was 10.  Another interesting tidbit about Gene is that he and I went to the same university.  Well, when Gene attended it was called Indiana State Teachers College – now it is Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  I rarely meet alumni by chance and this was extra special since he studied there before it achieved its university status.  

Gene was very hesitant to accept my $10 since I am unemployed now.  He shared that his son who lives in Florida has been unemployed for 15 months.  He finally agreed to accept the $10 and decided to donate it to the Petersburg Museum Foundation, a new organization founded in 2007 whose mission it is to ensure the long-term preservation, restoration, and interpretation of Centre Hill, the Siege Museum, and the Blandford Church.

Gene and I have already exchanged emails and I look forward to keeping in touch with him throughout the year.  I am waiting to get donation details if anyone would like to send the Petersburg Museum Foundation a contribution.  They have ambitious plans but need more than a million dollars in funding.

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Memorial surrounded by the Wall of Honor

I have done a poor job this week of updating the blog…but trust me, I have not wavered on my commitment to giving.  In fact, I have some very interesting people to tell you about as I get caught up.  Today is Hari’s story.

Being unemployed has some benefits.  One thing is that I try to go regularly to the different museums and cultural institutions that Washington has to offer.  There is an abundance of information and history here and I have time to soak it up.

I decided to check out the African American Civil War Museum.  It is located on the corner of 12th and U in DC.  A short walk away is the memorial and the Wall of Honor that remembers the 209,145 soldiers and officers who served in the United States Colored Troops.

Hari is the museum’s curator.  He was gracious to spend some time talking with me about the civil war.  Listening to Hari unfold the events that led to the civil war is exhilarating.  Usually when someone tells you about some event that took place deep in our history, it is hard to appreciate the actual event because you don’t have sufficient understanding of contributing events, cultural references, etc.  But Hari anticipated my questions and painted the full picture for me.

Hari at the African American Civil War Museum (Photo: Reed)

He first was drawn to history by his elders in his hometown of Pauls Valley, OK.  The elders took the time to explain to Hari historical events that they had lived through.  In the 8th and 11th grade, Hari discovered that the text books that he was using didn’t accurately portray the involvement of Americans of African descent  in the Civil War.  His teachers at the time, Ms. Bagley and Ms. Wallace respectively, understood that this history was suppressed and taught the true history. 

Hari went on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma.  It was there that he had a Kenyan American professor of African American History who was not only ignorant of the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War but refused to teach it saying that it was not on his syllabus. It was this encounter that fueled Hari’s desire to dedicate himself to researching the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War. 

He received a commission in the Marine Corps and later found himself as an instructor at the Naval Academy.  He realized that there was still a lack of understanding of our own history and felt that Americans need a foundation of common understanding about our own history before we are fully capable of dealing with conflict and struggles in foreign lands.  “If we can not understand what went on her in our own history and what cultural attributes were possessed by Americans” Hari explained, “then it will be impossible for us to do it anywhere else.  The only thing that we’ll be able to do is to kill people when we can not get them to understand our way of thinking.”

Hari left the Marine Corps to dedicate himself full-time to the topic.  I encourage you to stop by the Museum and meet Hari.  If he has time, I know he would be happy to share with you his extensive knowledge of our nation’s history.

Here is a clip of Hari discussing our views on race and how a paradigm shift has occurred in our society’s views about race as it pertains to sports and how this represents a much greater paradigm shift in our society’s way of thinking.

It’s no surprise that Hari decided to donate his $10 to the museum. 

For those of you who can not make it to the museum to meet Hari, he recommended two books to me that you might want to check out:

  • The Great Conspiracy by John Alexander Logan
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – A note about Mr. Zinn.  He died unexpectedly on January 27th of this year.  He was 87.  He was quoted as saying that he would like to be remembered “for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality,” and “for getting more people to realize that the power which rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns…ultimately rests in people themselves and that they can use it.”

 

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