Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miss Mo (The Great Haircut)

Speaking of fightin’ tough, here’s Miss Mo (not to be confused with Mo from the previous blog post, who happens to be a big guy – this here is our supertiny lady Mo) fighting for her right… to get her hair cut!! I laughed my head off through the entire story when she read this out loud.  Her tone was feisty the whole way through.  My fave part, is how she titled the story The GREAT Haircut. As in, Take that, Society (Miss Mo is 91 so this all took place in the early 30’s): If a girl wants a triangle on her head, a girl gets a triangle on her head!

Missouri Grier
The Great Haircut

I had a job at a beauty shop where my sister used to get her hair dressed. My father did not like girls and ladies getting their hair cut. In his world, only men did that. My sister got hers cut and he was very angry but said to her, she was a grown-up.

She suggested it was time I started to take an interest in how I should look as a teenager so she started me there to get my hair done. This went on for a year. One day she said, “Are you going to get your hair done today?” She gave me money to get it done, but did not say anything about cutting. I lied, told the hairdresser she said I could get my hair cut. I sat at the dinner table with a triangle on my head from Monday to Friday. My father looked at me and wanted to know why I kept my head covered, reached over and took the hair net off, asking, “Where is your hair?” Answer: Upstairs. “Why is your hair up there, when you are sitting down here?” Answer: I got it cut. He was so mad. He said, “I will never buy you anymore hats.” At 14 years old, who cares. Mother said, “Leave it alone, it will grow back.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mo and Joe (Friday Night Fights)

Boxing is my absolute favorite workout (oh yeah!) so when Mo told a story about the sport, I was all ears. And as you know, what’s cool about this project is things keep getting cooler and inspiring unexpected things week after week. So guess what? Mo’s story didn’t just end that week – it prompted Joe to tell his own story about a boxing match the week after. When Joe dedicated his story to Mo, Mo beamed and everyone cheered. Everyone was so loud – I love it when they get crazy like that. It was almost like we were at our own mini boxing match. Whatever battles they are fighting in their lives, during that moment, in my mind, they have won.

Mo McCooper
Friday Night Fights

At the corner of the main street in town and a street 2 blocks west of the only red light, was the town bank. Next to the bank was an electric store, which sold radios, phonographs, and record albums. When TV came (maybe in the late 1940s), they would place a set in the store windows which we could watch from outside.

Our favorite show was the boxing matches on Friday nights. We had learned the names of the fighters by listening to the fights on radio for years and it may have taken to the fifties before we could watch them on the Danenhower Electric Store TV screens. We missed the great Joe Louis, heavy-weight champion, but we saw the incredible middle-weight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the feather-weight champion, Willie Pep, fighting Sandy Sadler. And we saw heavy-weight Rocky Marciano.

Joe Garrison
The Kid’s Last Fight

For nearly 12 years, Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion of the world. His nickname was the Brown Bomber. He was the first prizefighter that I can remember as I was growing up. His final boxing match was in late September 1950. His opponent was Rocky Marciano, a young upstart heavyweight.

By the end of the fifth round, it was easy to tell that Louis lacked the power of his earlier fights.

I was at home watching. I was nervous, because I could sense that Joe’s strength was gone, and I was rooting for him. He wasn’t reacting to Marciano’s punches. The end finally came in the eighth round, after Marciano threw a right cross that knocked Louis through the ropes and nearly out of the ring.

At that moment, I felt more emotional than anything. I didn’t scream or do something physical. But I knew it was the end of an era in sports’ history. I was eight years old. It made me realize that even a champion has to succumb to defeat; however, it didn’t change my mind about being a fan of boxing for many years.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hattie and Helen (Love by the Pound)

Super Girlfriends! Nov 17, 2011

New Girlfriends Oct 29, 2009
My grandma’s best friend Mrs. Wu once told me that happiness is a choice that you have to keep making over your entire lifetime. I see that in her, and as you all know I see that in my grandma. I see that in Hattie and Helen too.

Hattie and Helen have been a part of the group since its earliest, tiniest days. Hattie was there on our very first day on September 24, 2009, and soon, as she realized she liked it, asked her best friend Helen to join. Back when our attendance was small, sometimes it was just the three of us at the table.

This past Thursday, after class was over and the many other members finished hanging out and eventually dissipated, Hattie and Helen stayed behind and we just got talking about how big and full of personalities the group has become. We were all smiling so much. Basking in their radiance, I realized what a miracle it is, that these two beautiful women who happen to be optimists to the core, also happened to be two of the earliest members of our group. I realized that the positive energy of the entire group has everything to do with the positive people that they are.

This Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to all the beautiful people around me who choose happiness and let me soak in a lil’ bit of what they’ve got.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Love by the Pound

My little 3-year-old great-great-granddaughter, Ari Anna, stepped on the scale the other day…looked up at her mother and asked, “How much do I cost?”

My answer would have been, “Priceless!!!”

Helen H. Lahr
A Rose is a Rose

Some years ago members of my family & I were riding through a certain neighborhood when after seeing a lot of very lovely homes, we came upon a decrepit old house. Grass & weeds & trees surrounded it. Some of the windows were broken & the basement windows (also partly broken) were covered with debris.

Then, to my amazement I saw a beautiful rose growing up out of all that chaos. To me, it was one of the loveliest sights I had ever seen!

Afterwards, a line from a poem came to mind.

“Blossom where you are planted.” This tells us that no matter where we live or what the situation, we can attain the goals that we have set for ourselves. All we have to do is try.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The best two years so far. Help make the next two years even better!

Dear Participants and Friends of 
The Best Day of My Life (So Far),
Last Monday, I was greeted by this subject line in my inbox –

"Please Thank Isadora for Me"

The last story on our blog, written by Isadora, was dedicated to her daughter and was written one week before Isadora's daughter passed away. Isadora's story prompted Christine, a blog reader from all the way up in Montreal, to reach out to her mom and to email us. The title of the story is "You are My Sunshine".

Isadora’s story and Christine’s email, along with hundreds of others that I have received, remind me of why I started The Best Day of My Life (So Far). At the same time, they surprise me with how deep, and how big, this project has grown.

Two years ago, my grandma's friendship inspired me to start a class and a blog. Since then, our class has become a true family, joining together 100 seniors with ages from mid-60s to 90s, 20 teens, and 40 international volunteers with ages ranging from 16 to 78.  Our blog, which streams stories directly to Facebook and Twitter, have become our extended family, surpassing 16,000 hits by readers from over 60 countries.

In two years, we have hosted and participated in 10 events, bringing our seniors’ stories to the stage and the screen for 900 audience members. We are regularly featured in the press, on radio programs and at public conferences. This summer, we launched a satellite class in partnership with AARP. We have received the Leeway Foundation’s Art and Change Award, and were listed as finalists for Deaconness Associations Foundation’s Innovation Award and National Center for Creative Aging and Martek Biosciences’ Beautiful Minds Award. Along this journey, a growing list of individuals and organizations from all over the world are reaching out to us requesting advice and resources to start similar classes.

We want to keep going.

We want to keep stories like Isadora's going strong.

We want to see more seniors and younger people experience our project’s diverse benefits, from quality of life, family reconnection, computer education, civic engagement, to mental health.

In the next two years, we plan to capture our storytelling methodology in a compact form, and take it worldwide – so that stories like "You are My Sunshine" can be told around the world, and so that the people who have stories to share can experience the joy and support our seniors in Philadelphia have. We want to strengthen the class that we have here, and help these seniors become the role models for a global effort.

I would like to personally ask for your help to help us accomplish our work and mission:

$10 would make possible class supplies for a senior for a full year.

$100 would make possible administrative costs for one ongoing class.
$1500 would make possible one public event.
$2500 would help us build a more sustainable and interactive website.

I believe in this project. I believe our work has just begun, and with your help we can make great changes at a much larger scale.  Donations of any size would be appreciated. To contribute, please click Here or the donation banner at the top of our blog:

Please consider forwarding this letter to friends whom you think may be interested in contributing. And a reminder to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter – those are the easiest way to read stories as they get posted and let seniors know you are reading!

Every time Isadora writes a story in class, she begins with, “The best day of my life is today,” regardless of what that day’s story is about. Her final dedication to her daughter was no exception:
The best day of my life is today. This sun is shining. No clouds in the sky. You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I am always hanging around you. From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, you are my sunshine. Morning, noon, and night you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. I can’t stay away from you. You are irresistible. You are my only sunshine. You are my beautiful daughter.

Thank you so much for your support,


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christine (Please Thank Isadora for Me)

Yesterday, I was greeted by this subject line in my inbox -

Fwd: Please thank Isadora for me.

What unfolded was a very special email conversation between Philly and Montreal, all inspired by the blog post that precedes this one – where Isadora wrote that her daughter is her sunshine the week before her daughter’s passing.

Christine, I love that you reached out to us like this, and that you are reaching out to your mom via Isadora’s story. And Emily, you are such a superfly PR Manager. You guys, I can’t even tell you how much sunshine your emails have brought me, personally.

(And yes, for you all outside of Philly, the sun is outrageously gorgeous today.)

On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 10:26 PM, Christine Ares wrote:

Hello dear Ms. Isadora,

I am deeply moved by your message of gratitude.

I loved what you wrote to your daughter. I even printed it and will show it to my mother
tomorrow. I know she feels the same way about me, too.

Ms. Isadora, I salute you for your courageousness. I salute you for caring enough to share your
thoughts. Most of all, I salute you for your strength.

You are in my prayers.

God bless and thank you,

Christine Ares (Montreal)

On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 4:21 PM, Emily Antoszyk wrote:

Hi Christine,

Thank you so much for your kind words! I will pass this on to Benita, the class leader and project founder, to make sure that Isadora gets the message. Please continue reading and spreading the word about the project, and thank you for your support!

Keep in touch,

Emily Antoszyk

Public Relations Manager

On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 6:38 PM, Emily Antoszyk wrote:

Also Christine - would it be possible to use your lovely e-mail on our blog? We are so honored by your note that we would love to share! 


Emily Antoszyk
Public Relations Manager

On Fri, Nov 7, 2011 at 10:54 PM, Christine Ares wrote:

You may absolutely use my name.
It's the least I can do for the privilege of reading their stories.
Thank you, Emily, for the reply and you, too, keep up the good work.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Isadora (You are My Sunshine)

There was one final thing Isadora needed to tell her daughter, who had been struggling with cancer, and she did it by writing this story in our class. The date was October 20. Her daughter passed away exactly a week later. One day after that, I received an email from the senior center telling me that the family heard about the story – I would assume this is because Isadora told them about it – and would like to include it in the obituary.

Every time Isadora writes a story in class, she begins with, “The best day of my life is today,” regardless of what that day’s story was about. For months now, most of her stories have been about the status of her daughter’s cancer. On October 20, whether she knew or not what the next week would bring, she began her story the way she always does.

Isadora – please stay strong during these difficult times. We missed you in class the past couple weeks and are thinking of you, and we feel your daughter’s radiance in the room. See? Today, the sun is shining. No clouds in the sky.

From: Estavia Jefferson
To: Benita Cooper
Date: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:12 PM
Subject: Writing Class Member

Hi Benita,
I received a call today from Isadora Fields family member informing us of the passing of her daughter yesterday. Ms. Isadora wrote a story last Thursday, October 20th about her daughter called “My Sunshine.” Is it possible for you to email me the story so, that I can pass it on to the family to put in the obituary?

Thanks in adavnce,
Estavia Jefferson
Activities Coordinator
Philadelphia Senior Center

Isadora Fields
You Are My Sunshine

The best day of my life is today. This sun is shining. No clouds in the sky. You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I am always hanging around you. From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, you are my sunshine. Morning, noon, and night you are my sunshine my only sunshine. I can’t stay away from you. You are irresistible. You are my only sunshine. You are my beautiful daughter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Greta (Walk with Me)

Lately, I am constantly shocked and moved by things I see and hear.

Sometimes it’s an email encouragement that a volunteer writes to another volunteer when life gets tough – even though they may live in two different countries and have never physically met and their ages happen to be forty years apart. Sometimes it’s a sentence that one senior would say to me after class, about how visibly happy another senior has become – when the senior telling me this is herself a million times happier than the first time she showed up to class.

Last week, it was what Greta shared about her grandson.

Greta has been coming to our class for almost a year now, and mostly she likes to listen to her friends’ stories. But last week, she opened up more than I had ever heard her open up before. She told us that the mission of our project – to connect generations through storytelling and writing – got her to start a conversation with her grandson at home. The two don’t usually talk about their interests or anything like that. The conversation was simple. She told him she is in a writing class, and asked if he writes too. He said he did. She was surprised. He went on to print out 2 poems out for her.

“Walk with Me” is one of them. It is an intense poem about civil rights and black history. Lester is 23 years old.

After reading it out loud for us in class – enunciating every word and raising her voice every time the phrase “Walk with Me” returns – Greta said, with tears streaming down her face, “This is very deep to me. I hope I did honor to it in the manner with which I read it.”

A grandson pours his feelings towards culture and history into a poem. The poem travels as a physical print from his hand to his grandmother’s, then as a verbal reading from his grandmother’s lips to her peers’ ears, then as typed text from a copy editor’s fingers into my email inbox then here via this blog onto your computer screen. The title just so happens to say, Walk with me.

All of that is so shockingly moving to me.

Greta Adams
My Grandson Lester Buffaloe/ Walk with Me

Come on let’s take a walk real quick.
Walk with me
Walk with me through the hot days and cold nights
Through the tough storms and bright lights
Let’s go back before I was born
Way back where my ancestors had to fight for their rights
Even before, walk with me where my ancestors were captured
from the motherland of Africa.
By devils that pulled them on the ships where they were living
unhealthy like animals bunched together.
For many nights, many days, and many months they were traveling
through the middle passage through every weather.
Walk with me through the Underground Railroad.
Walk with me to the wars of the world.
Where Hitler killed the innocent mothers, fathers, boys, and girls
Walk with me to the white bathrooms and black bathrooms.
And water fountains. And many more.
Walk with me to the lynching of black people.
Denzel said the white people weaken your mind
and strengthen your body so you can be inferior.
Walk with me with the great debaters to seek for rights to be equal
Walk with me; come on you can make it
Walk with me while I walk with Malcolm X
“By any means necessary”
And Martin Luther King Jr. “non violent, non violent”
Walk with me to sit on the back of the bus with Rosa Parks.
Walk with me to the sixteenth street Baptist church bombing
where four little girls were killed
and twenty people were injured.
Walk with me through the Watts riots and the riots
where blacks got sprayed with water hoses,
attacked by dogs, and beaten by cops.
Speaking of beating by cops, let’s walk a little faster to the future.
To the Rodney King beating that led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
and to the Sean Bell murder before his wedding.
Walk with me, to the neighborhoods
that’s infested with liquor stores
and crime on every block.
Walk with me to see the project where I have never been.
Walk with me through to see the crack heads and prostitutes.
Walk with me to talk to the kids who don’t have a mom or dad
because of bad choices.
Walk with me to find a solution to why money
is more important than the person.
Convenient stores where people walk in
to buy Cigarettes and leave with death
got a pound of marijuana from his friend that the government
technically gave to him
How do you think crack and heroin
got on the streets (government?)
I like how they want to decrease the population by putting Aids on
the streets and overpricing condoms
where some people can’t even  afford them.
And hard working students that just graduated from college
can’t get a job but yet they’re getting letters quick for loans
that they have to pay back right away.
Walk with me to the future, the end of the world.
Walk with me through the hot days and cold nights
through the tough storm and bright lights.
Walk with me to find what’s right.
It’s over for our journey but I’m going to keep walking,
Will you?