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"Because We Don't Have Any Other Choice"

Posted Oct 25 2011 5:54am
Food pantry clients at our weekly harvest
I have long stopped believing in coincidences, so when I saw two interesting emails this morning, one right after the other, the juxtaposition of their contents seemed telling.  

One was a media release from my city, intended for broad distribution, announcing it was planning on acquiring 42 acres of land to build a sports complex (if a $33 million parks bond passes at the voting booths in two weeks) in a part of the city that shows up on national maps as a food desert, even though the Parks and Master Plan survey results ( see Section 3.11 here ) revealed that general park activities (e.g., walking on trails, visiting a playground, picnicking) and special events, not organized sports, were the most popular park activities "by a wide margin."  In this current media release, the mayor is quoted as saying, however:
“The City regrets the need to displace residents (785 apartment units), however, in a built out environment like Dunwoody, we have found it challenging to locate a sufficient amount of vacant land for the athletic facilities desired by the community. The City will work with Cortland Partners on a transition plan for the current residents, which includes 560 school age children who are in the Dunwoody cluster; all current leases will be honored without the threat of early cancellation.”

As I was thinking about those 560 children, many of whom currently live in poverty and are slated to be pulled from what are considered among the best public schools in the county, I opened the second email.  

It was from Luma Mufleh, founder and leader of the Fugees Family, originally a soccer team but now an organization that helps educate refugee children as well, who sent me footage from CBS This Morning this past Sunday.  Luma's organization recently bought 19 acres of foreclosed land not far from where I live, in Clarkston, GA (see 13 Miles and a World Away ).  She intends to build sports fields, too (soccer fields), but as part of the first school for refugees in the nation, complete with a community garden.  You can see the plan for those 19 acres at 6:30 in this video and here (the picture of the sign and weedy piece of land is what it looks like now), but, honestly, take the time to watch the whole video, if you can:

I crossed paths with Luma and the Fugees Family a couple of years ago (along with my friend, Bob: see Bob's post, Why I Do What I Do ).  I feel oddly drawn to them, as if I have some sort of calling to be part of them somehow, a feeling that has manifested itself in very small ways so far (organizating Watermelon Week two summers in a row, basically--see Rain, Patience, Beer, Soccer, and Ten Watermelons a Week ) but hints at something larger that I just can't figure out yet.  
I was hoping to sell a million copies of my book and to donate 10% of proceeds to help build the community garden at the first school specifically for refugees in the Unites States, for which Luma is currently raising money. But that isn't really going according to plan right now.  (See The Lesson of the Watermelons, 2011, or Why I Know Now What I Need to Do Next .)  Book sales are slow, and I haven't even recovered the money I invested to produce it yet (although so many amazing things have happened since the book has been published that I am open to it serving other purposes in my life, besides, of course, its intention as a gift for my daughters) (and I did already donate money from the book sales to do the new Plant a Row at the food pantry garden in my city, where I have no doubt that some of those 560 children get their food--here is my Operation Plant a Row 6-part series so far--the final installment will be this week).  The Kindle version of my book (which is currently available on Amazon and Better World Books , as well as at Farmer D Organics in Atlanta and select libraries in the New York City metropolitan area) will be out in just a couple of weeks, and I will be selling that at the rock-bottom price I can, with the hopes that you will buy it and tell everyone you know to buy it as well.
The Oprah thing was nice, of course , but there is no mention in the print magazine or link in the online version to my blog or book so readers have no way to take action.  Rosie O'Donnell is back on TV (in Oprah's old studio, on Oprah's network), so I wrote to her producers about my book, but then I added, "You know what?  Forget that.  If you're going to read a book, read this one instead" and told them all about Luma and the excellent book, Outcasts United , about how she started the Fugees Family (see this post from my very first blog, Stone in the Pond , which I wrote before FoodShed Planet).  But I haven't heard of any calls from Rosie to Luma yet. (I also sent a copy of my book to Rosie's publicist, and am going to email her about Luma right now, so we'll see.)
I tried repurposing organic produce from a farm not far away that was "refused at market" for cosmetic reasons to the Fugees Family, and I built a team to help deliver it, but we haven't received the frequent pick-up opportunities we were expecting, so helping to feed the kids more healthy food isn't working. (See How Rotting Food Gave Me an Idea .)
I have two favorite parts of the video embedded above (besides the very moving footage at the beginning and end when Luma, who is from Jordan, recently became a U.S. citizen and children from more than 28 war-torn countries were there to witness it). 
1. When the police chief of Clarkston escorts the children as they ride 10 miles each way on bikes to Agnes Scott College each day for summer school, and the chief says, "They say it takes a village to raise a kid.  We are that village."  
2. And then when Luma talks to Peter Jennings about the fact that the school she is building is privately funded, that they take no money from the government, and that they need to raise a lot of money to make this happen, and the dialogue goes like this:
Peter: Confident it will happen?
Luma: It's gonna' happen. Peter: Why so confident?
Luma: Because we don't have any other choice.  And if you want something to happen, you can make it happen.  That's what we tell the kids.
I guess my questions this morning are:
1. What are we telling the kids in my city?  What about yours?
2. What kind of "village" are we?  In our cities?  In our country?  In our world?
3. Do we really have no other choice but to displace people in need? 
4. And, as life keeps bringing me back to Luma Mufleh and the Fugees Family, I continue to ask: what am I being called to do? 
I am a member of Team Fugees.  You can be, too.  Click here , and make the choice to help build that school, and to be part of that very special village.
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