Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Turn Your Back on Hate. Change Starts at Home.

My daughter enjoying #keystorome
Whether I'm a brave adventurer or certified homebody depends largely on whom you ask. I will jump in a car at a moment's notice to make the hour long trek to Atlanta, Georgia, or Chattanooga, Tennessee. I didn't blink at loading 3 children under 10 into a van and driving them 11 or so hours to see their father during summers he spent working in West Virginia. I hopped aboard a bus filled with strangers and road to Washington, DC, where I got lost after the Women's March and walked alone from one end of the district to the other, arriving at a crowded stadium with no clue which bus was mine about 10 minutes prior to its departure. However, in almost 35 years of life, I've only been on 2 round trip flights to anywhere and have never once left the United States.

As a local student at an international boarding school, I used to say: The world comes to me. This notion has continued into adulthood as the future owners of my company's musical instruments often travel from abroad to collect their new TerraPans. Through each of these ventures, I have helped make Rome, Georgia, a temporary home for people from virtually every continent. Yet, sometimes, I am still surprised by the ways my hometown, and the surrounding areas, reveal themselves to me.

Kingston garden bounty
I had an opportunity to revel in this a couple weeks ago when the local group Turn Your Back on Hate hosted Change Starts at Home, an evening of merriment and music in the courtyard of Schroeder's Deli in downtown Rome. A raffle was scheduled during the event, and I needed to drop off my donation, a CD of TerraPan music performed by the local artist John Hand. I intended to attend the event in the evening with my husband, but I enlisted my children to help me deliver the CD earlier in the day. Our journey was fruitful. It began with a stop by the gazebo south of Rome in Kingston, where a family of gardeners were selling herbs, vegetables, wild flowers, painted pots and snow cones. I live in Kingston and loved giving my children an opportunity to make a meaningful purchase from neighbors whose child had sat in my former middle school classroom just after my daughter was born.

Afterward, my now 8-year-old daughter settled down at a piano on the corner of Broad Street in Rome. She has always had an incredible knack for free style lyrics, and the keys added a welcome dimension to her playful, spontaneous art. We walked back and forth between Rome's new gourmet frozen pop shop Frio's and its landmark deli Schroeder's, each time seeing familiar faces and entertaining new ones with original songs.

The piano my daughter played exists thanks to the project Keys to Rome. Keys to Rome is one of many efforts supported by Turn Your Back on Hate, and its sister organization Peacefully Engaging the Rome Community. TYBOH and PERC exist to empower people to find their voices through artistic self expression, and the prevalence of this goal in Rome is one of the things which makes my hometown special to me. 

My husband, performing TerraPan at Change Starts at Home
One of my most vibrant memories of late childhood takes place in the Schroeder's courtyard. I attended a poetry reading which marked the publication of one of my favorite high school teacher's chapbooks, as well as his farewell to the south. He would be heading off to pursue new opportunities in New Hampshire in the morning. I spent the evening marveling at how the combination of a sudden rain storm clearing in the moonlight, my teacher's powerfully delivered elegy to a friend who spent many years courting death, and my chance encounter with a college student bound to protest with the Zapatistas in Mexico made for powerful memories in real time. However, the highlight of that evening was a familiar shopkeeper named Seth taking the stage with his band The Strange. My bare feet felt so good splashing in the puddles as I danced.

Twenty years later, with gray weaving its way through his otherwise red beard, Seth and the most recent iteration of The Strange took the stage at Schroeder's again the other Saturday night. So did my husband with his TerraPan. So did my friend Jessie Reed—not just as a performer, as I used to know her, but also as founder of TYBOH and PERC. Observing this, I felt the power in having spaces which hold constant. These spaces remind me how my passions have seeded and grown over time. These spaces also root us in our own stories—ultimately giving us more ground on which to stand and relate to different cultures, calling now more than ever for our compassionate attention, exploration and understanding.

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