Reading to the kids of Nickerson Gardens

Last week I flew to Los Angeles for an American Federation of Teachers media event on August 19th. As a child, unions were a natural part of life to me. I grew up with talk of Cesar Chavez, as well as shop talk about the electric union my father belonged to. So I was honored to be included in supporting the union that supports some of my favorite and most respected fellows: educators.

The event took place at the Head Start Center, deep in the Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts, Los Angeles. The outside walls were covered with fading, but powerful renditions of Martin Luther King Jr. and inspirational words. The images reminded me of public religious paintings I’ve seen in Brazil and India, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Art made out of faith, out of hope, sharply pointed toward a message. Images of memory and lineage meant to inspire courage and commitment to the path. They looked like they were a thousand years old.

I wanted to sit and meditate in front of those images, just be present for a moment with the profound history attached to the land that holds the Watts Projects. I wanted to think on the kids that lived there and played there. These are the children I work with. I call them stressed out kids. But that day I wasn’t doing my usual work with children, I was just coming to read my book to a class of Head Start kids. An easy ride for me.

I immensely enjoyed Randi Weingarten’s enthusiastic closing speech and having the opportunity to talk to Dr. John H. Griffith, President/CEO of Kedren Community Health Center. I would love to go back and work more in this community. I met one of the parents and a sibling of a student in the Head Start program. The sibling’s name was Destinee and she absolutely LOVED animals. We took a picture together with her as a tiger and me as a jaguar. She got a copy of me and Francisco’s book of animals, Animal Poems of the Iguazu, which made me extremely happy. We talked about art and animals and books as I signed all the free books the AFT was giving to each kid in the Head Start class. Destinee looked like a powerful artist to me, a strong girl in the desert loving animals. She made sense to me. I was home again in San Francisco later that afternoon, but I kept thinking about that neighborhood and its powerful history and its ancient art. The AFT video is a beautiful sampling of the day’s experience, watch the video >>>

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