Sunday, May 30, 2010

Loretta, Mr. Gordon (and Jill)

If our weekly gathering is the ultimate party, our seniors are the ultimate party hosts. Our core group of seniors is constantly bringing their friends and siblings to join our class – and I mean that literally! I’ll never forget the moment several weeks ago when I saw Bernice proudly walk in with her cane in one hand, and Mr. Gordon in her other arm (who is blind and also has a cane of his own). Mr. Gordon has become a regular member since.

At the same time, volunteers from our team have emerged from behind the scenes, and are frequently taking time out of their busy days to be at class as well. Besides working on this project as a volunteer, Jill is an assistant professor at Temple’s School of Social Work. I feel so fortunate to have her on the team and to be learning from her expertise about the more clinical/therapeutic aspects of our project (stay tuned for more on this in future blog posts). Below are Jill’s reflections on her visit this week, as well as her transcriptions of two of the seniors’ verbally told stories.

Jill’s short story
May 27, 2010

Today I visited the creative writing group at the Philadelphia Senior Center to observe and help with the project. Not only was I welcomed into the group, but was embraced by their contagious spirit. I heard beautiful stories of personal growth, reflections about parental love, and heartbreak associated with loss. The experience was moving—at times, I was moved to cry and at others, I was filled with joy. I feel fortunate to be involved in such a wonderful project.

Lorretta’s story
May 27, 2010

I was daddy’s little girl and I knew it. My daddy would give my anything that I wanted. Sometimes I’d tell lies on my brothers and sisters. Then I’d laugh, and say “ha ha, you got a beating.” I did this to get ice cream.

I remember my dad came to school one day. My daddy said, “I’m going, Lorretta.”

“Where are you going, daddy?”

“I’m dying.”

“I don’t want you to go daddy.”

My daddy died when I was five years old and that was the last time that I had ice cream. It took me a while to cry it out. Now I don’t have my mom or my dad, but my mom always prayed for me and never turned her back on me. I’m living like I’m supposed to now.

Mr. Gordon’s story
May 27, 2010

Back in the 1960s or the 1970s when racial discrimination was a big problem and the Civil Rights were in full swing, I was working for the American Friends Association. We mostly worked with young people. We tried to address the gang activity and we did things like play basketball, sewing classes, teach pregnancy prevention and things like that. One thing in particular was this weekend work camp where we’d bring suburban youth so they could experience the inner city and spend the day with an African American so we could start a conversation. It really troubled us as men that suburban youth only saw the worst parts of African American communities; they only knew what they saw on the news and that were just one side of the story.

A specific interaction that occurred on one of these weekends stands out in my mind. An African American man said to a white a girl, “You’re white.” “I am,” she said. He took out a cue ball and said, “This is white. It’s whiter than you. So why are you called white?”

This started a good conversation about race and how people are different. It helped us to talk about how you can’t believe everything that you see on TV. This program helped people in the city get a perspective on the suburbs. Suburban kids got a perspective on the inner city and the chance to meet African Americans who aren’t involved in gangs and aren’t shiftless or lazy.