Someone at Atlanta Friends Meeting recently asked me, “What do you do?” This was meant to ascertain how I spend my time apart from my responsibilities as Friend-in-Residence. Below is a snapshot of “what I do,” or at least what I “did” this past month.
While Charlotte and I do own a vehicle, living at the meetinghouse has allowed us to significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
In October, I logged 78 miles on my old mountain bike, traversing the narrow streets and scenic trails of Decatur, Clarkston, and Atlanta. A highlight has to be cycling through the lush and lovely Lullwater Preserve.
Every dark weekday morning, Charlotte gets to school by riding a bus and walking. She enjoys the three-mile stroll from Medlock Park back home, always ready to share highlights from her day and often of her journey.
When not cycling, I can usually be found on MARTA or sidewalks.
We are not 100% car-free yet. However, our move here has shifted us from being a two-car-dependent household to a couple that rarely uses our sole vehicle. And the benefits of this transition are multiple – physical and spiritual health, financial, and environmental.
I am glad that Kevin W. has joined Atlanta Friends Meeting as its new property coordinator. We have already brainstormed ways the meetinghouse can speak more clearly to the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peacemaking, integrity, community, equality, and sustainability. I look forward to working with Kevin in tangible ways.
Kudos to Hannah M. and Alex Z. of the Atlanta Friends Meeting for sustaining the relationship between the Atlanta Friends Meeting and Innovation Law Lab. These monthly asylum defense workshops are a hidden gem of solidarity at the meetinghouse. My small collaborative efforts have thus far been welcoming our Central American guests and offering transportation for these families to and from the meetinghouse, knowing that they are cash-strapped and have typically paid $50-$80 to commute to and from here usually from Cobb and Gwinnett. I know Alex is seeking ways to highlight this ongoing effort and solicit more support from the Meeting. I am encouraged that this relationship holds a high value amongst Friends.
Another tangible way we connect with immigrants is through a partnership with Paz Amigos (Peace Friends). Paz Amigos greets individuals released from Georgia’s immigration detention centers. Last week we had the opportunity to offer hospitality to H., a gentleman from Cuba. Two years after he and his wife, A., left their homeland, they finally reached the United States, where he knew he would be automatically granted asylum, but not until they were forcibly separated at the border, where A. was detained for two months and H. for four and a half months. Released from Stewart Detention Center, a for-profit prison in southwest Georgia, we were his first taste of freedom in the US. His first meal? Pizza. Together we watched his favorite sport on TV via the World Series. The following day we traveled to the Greyhound station, where he was reunited with A. I helped them with some immigration court matters and then bid them farewell as they returned on a bus to their new life together in Texas.
I am also collaborating with Presencia. Presencia provides tutoring, mentoring, and leadership development for the children of immigrants in Atlanta’s Buford Highway Corridor. I have taken on the role of leadership development with their youth team. These leaders are teens and young adults living in the same immigrant community that Presencia has served for a decade. These young people may be the first in their respective families to graduate high school or attend college. This month we met at the meetinghouse and explored notions of Beloved Community and what it means to embody values of inclusion, vulnerability, and community. We hosted the team for a meal in our apartment but enjoyed the “backyard” environs of the meetinghouse during our team-building time together. I’m glad this location can be a welcoming place where, as Presencia says, “presence matters.”
Charlotte is a teacher at International Community School (ICS) in Medlock Park. ICS serves 400 students representing more than 30 nationalities and speaking 25 languages. In January 2020, ICS will open a Community Resource Center to equip parents and families with assets and resources to help their children thrive. The center will emphasize both academic and non-academic needs. With my background in social work and past experience as a school social worker and school/home engagement coordinator, I have offered ICS my volunteer services in setting up this center. I hope to collect items for the center, specifically food, clothing, feminine and general hygiene products, paper products, infant/toddler supplies, laundry supplies, and multilingual/multicultural books.
A friend recently told me I had a gift of making connections. I do confess that I love watching what happens when like-minded do-ers meet and cross-pollinate for the first time. This month has been a time for such connections.
The most significant recent connection was inviting my longtime friend, Olivia Matt Ceto, to speak at an Indigenous Peoples’ forum at the meetinghouse. Olivia, an Ixil-Mayan woman, shared the realities, challenges, and opportunities that indigenous women in her home country of Guatemala face.
Kevin and I met with Georgia Commute Options (GCO) and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) representatives. GCO’s mission is simple yet ambitious, to reduce traffic congestion and improve its air quality. GIPL engages communities of faith in earth care as a response to global climate change, resource depletion, environmental injustice, pollution, and other disruptions to the environment. GIPL and the Atlanta Friends Meeting have partnered in the past; Kevin and I and others of the Meeting are looking to engage both organizations to help AFM lower its energy costs and better steward the land we occupy and the watershed upon which we, and our neighbors, depend. This connection is just beginning.
On more trivial matters (literally), Charlotte and I have initiated a weekly trivia team at Mellow Mushroom. This has been a way for us to merge Charlotte’s love of pizza, my enthusiasm for games, and our shared passion for face-to-face interactions with friends. Charlotte and I will host November’s newcomers’ meal at the Atlanta Friends Meeting; we also hope to launch an occasional board game gathering with Friends.
So what do I do? I play trivia, eat pizza, ride my bike, and enjoy being amongst (F)riends who help us glimpse a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.