Walk for a New Spring—
Dorchester, Roxbury & Boston
by Skip Schiel
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2007
Three days on the road with the monks and nuns of the Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji, builders of peace pagodas (Leverett MA & near Albany NY, so far)--the 6th annual Walk for a New Spring. Meeting the 12 or so walkers in Lower Mills at the closed Milton T stop, we hiked thru Dorchester, led by Amatul Hannan, Roxbury the next day, organized by Soul, and from the Friends Meeting at Cambridge to the State House on the 3rd day. The walk began on Feb. 18 at the Peace Pagoda in Leverett, winding thru N Adams, Pittsfield, Springfield, Northampton, Greenfield, Brattleboro, Noonday Farm in Winchendon, Worcester, Andover, Amesbury, Gloucester, Providence, New Bedford, Mashpee, Plymouth, and up the south shore to Dorchester where I joined. It would have been a magical journey for me if I'd walked the entire route but with my teaching schedule and need to work on photo projects, such extended off time is proving difficult to find. Maybe when I retire.
The themes were generally local and planetary peace. The latter in the form of the Mayors' for Peace Campaign, the former relying on local organizers to spell out the issues. Beginning in 2002, shortly after the 911 attack, initially to foster dialog within communities after this traumatic event, themes have emerged. One might mark the history of the post 911 nation by examining how the Walk fared, who attended, what was done and discussed.
Personally, a major draw is reunion. I slept the 2 nights with Brother Temm, ever funny, ever sharp, ever helpful. I chatted with Tim in the State House as I wished his wife Myrna of Spirit Walkers well (she was on her way back to the States from South Africa). Watching Sister Clare and Brother Kato hum together as cosmic partners is always a treat. I'd seen Amatul at a distance but now close up I realized what a spectacular human being she is, of mixed parentage, an artist, dedicated to social justice, she with her partner Nate moving to Dorchester from Cambridge and diving into community affairs. And new friends such as Betty from Florence or Northampton, wide smile, courteous and respectful, loving. She might follow up on her initial invitation to host one of my shows thru her Mid East network. Aji, age about 15, walked the entire route last year, this year partially, articulate, hard working, solemn in appearance. Koiko the young Japanese woman who is so attractive. And Makino, the older monk who will lead the San Francisco temple part time while he leads others in Japan.
There were problems, as always. Soul did not accompany us except to meet with us at the Roxbury Community College for lunch and give an insightful talk about youth violence, how pervasive it is and demoralizing. She mentioned necrophilia, the love of death among teens of color. She told us about a young woman she'd been mentoring who at the age of 14 was responsible for the well being of many family members, older and younger than her. This because of how many had died from youth violence. So we virtually wandered around Roxbury not sure about the meaning of sites Soul had picked for us to visit. Such as Don Muhammed's mosque. Is this where much gang violence had occurred, did it represent an intersection between rival religious groups? Luckily at the last minute Amatul agreed to walk with us thru Roxbury and eventually into Boston, going the entire way with us from Dorchester even tho she'd intended only to lead us thru her neighborhood.
Another major problem--I mentioned this to Clare in the State House as we said goodbye--was the lack of key governmental officials in Boston at our meeting places. We visited City Hall--no mayor, only 2 minor players. We visited the State House--not only no governor, no lieutenant governor, but no elected official other than one woman who greeted us and then hurried to another event. I told Clare this seemed to be a charade, a semblance, an illusion of meeting with government. We'd do better to either demand meetings, and if that failed, or even otherwise, we might consider building civil disobedience into the program. I asked her, would Gandhi or King have had governmental access if they'd not engaged in CD?
The theme of youth violence deeply resonated with me. Meeting Tina Chery, who lost her son Lewis Brown about 8 years ago, was a highlight. She radiated energy, passion, dedication, truth. I immediately noticed her glowing countenance and was drawn to photograph her. After her son's death (he was 15, a member of a local peace group, on his way to one of its meetings when he was caught in cross fire) she organized the Lewis D Brown Peace Institute, now apparently a thriving and well respected organization in Dorchester. We lunched in her offices, she accompanied us to several sites. I thought she'd agreed to bring us to her son's death site but apparently instead we went to a place where several had been killed recently. It was a gang intersection zone marked by an abandoned and fenced off gas station. Amatul later explained to me that she thought we'd walked past the son's death site, that Tina had nodded or indicated somehow what had happened there, but wished not to stop. The pain continues to be so deep. At the other killing site, we offered prayer and incense.
I thought about Louise on this journey, how often we'd been together on such walks, or been separate, as last year when I was in Israel-Palestine during the Walk. How much she's contributed to local organizing, missing her insights and energy. I mused about how I'd survive without her presence, or she without mine. Whether her new friends would somehow replace me as a traveling partner, or someone else replace Louise for me. Not on this trip. Maybe thankfully so I can more completely concentrate on the work before me: witness, prayer, organization, photography.
What other problems? Lack of Quaker involvement for one. At the culminating potluck at the Friends Center in Cambridge some 3 or 4 Friends showed up from our meeting (out of a population of some 600), Jaffrey, the elder Japanese man who'd been at the Peace & Social Concerns committee meeting about supporting the walk, and maybe one other whom I've forgotten. Add Lynn Lazar and me, makes 4. Miserly. Expected. Disappointing. Same with the Walk next morning. Only Jaffrey. She said during our group discussion--about revelations walkers might have had and what next steps people would commit to--that she'd hoped to join the walk earlier but for some reason just couldn't manage to do it. A common theme, perhaps, among many. Trapped by their quotidian lives. From the bulk of the others at Friends Meeting at Cambridge, I doubt they even gave serious thought to walking or joining during the evening. Such are Quakers: who talk, don't walk. And this endlessly frustrates me.
I spoke about this when my turn came to announce intentions: work within my own tribe to awaken them. More than talk, more than writing minutes, more than meetings for discuussion are necessary in the face of the problems greeting us with their slimy hands.
The Japanese man, encouraged to speak by the elder monk, told us about living in Tokyo during the firebombing, seeing the ravaging, declaring to himself that all war is evil and he will forever fight against it. This was among the most powerful messages of my entire 3-day journey.
FMC did graciously host, walkers love our facilities, our evening program seemed to go well, the conversation I mentioned above, and our community has acquired yet another strand of peace cranes. Clare and Kato gave Lynn and me each a set, mine included a crane unlike any I've seen: 3 folded together, signifying, Clare announced, unity. I hung the strand, with great pride and gratitude, next to the Tibetan cords over my home altar.
For me this was one of the most joyful, fulfilling, well-planned walks in the 6-year history of Spring Walk. For me mainly because of the Boston component, Dorchester and Roxbury, the work of Amatul and Soul. And meeting again my old friends and traveling companions, the odd monks and nuns of Nipponzan Myohoji. Jun-san looked hearty, I'm sorry I didn't find time to chat with her about her new medical regimen. She tentatively invited me to the Grafton pagoda in April for Flower Day, to give an Israel-Palestine slide show. Despite the absence of Louise--is this a harbinger?--I survived and thrived, felt very good in my new role as single male elder, not thirsting for a younger mate, happy to be on my own in this glorious Buddhist activist community.
Maybe this finishes my current musings about the walk and I am free to turn to other elements of my life.
--Journals of March 23 & 24, 2007
Lewis D Brown Peace Institute
Mother's Walk for Peace, Boston, May 13, 2007
Mayors' for Peace Campaign