Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Freedom Summer: The next generation (not about nostalgia)


This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, 1964, the summer white and black college students from the north bussed to Mississippi to work for voter registration and voting rights of African-Americans. On June 21st, their first day in Mississippi, three young men, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner were arrested and released. And then disappeared. During the days of searching for them, eight other bodies of local young black men were found. And eventually, Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. Murdered. (A movie, Mississippi Burning, was made about this case.)The anger over these murders would eventually lead on July 2nd to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

One of the three, Andy Goodman, grew up right next door to West-Park. He grew up in a neighborhood with a progressive ethos, home to long time union people who had moved up town, old school Jewish communists, civil rights activists. A neighborhood that understood and affirmed his choice to go. A neighborhood that gave birth to people like Andy. It’s a very different Upper West Side now. His mother Caroline established  a foundation to keep his work and legacy alive. And his brother David has worked to encourage the next generation of workers for justice.

Since most of the events around the actual date, June 21st, would be in Philadelphia, Mississippi, we felt it important to lift up Andy’s life and witness here in his own neighborhood. And so worked with the Andrew Goodman Foundation to put together our commemoration. Our main commitment was that it would not be about nostalgia.

jeremy and musicians
West-Park’s Jeremy Mage curated the music with support from  Andre Solomon-Glover, Marcelle D. Lashley and Monica Hope. They began with the old Freedom Songs, done with their own soul and gospel style. 

Our city council member Helen Rosenthal brought a commendation to the Andrew Goodman Foundation. As she read the proclamation from council, I looked and noticed that she was crying.
Helen Rosenthal delivers the proclamtion
Later in the night, our Borough President Gale Brewer would bring her own proclamation. David, Andy’s brother, had been looking for Gale all night long because of their years of friendship and her support his work. Gale also spoke of her love and respect for Caroline Goodman, an activist into her 90’s. I am happy to have met her in support of the church. In 1965, she sad of her decision,
I still feel that I would let Andy go to Mississippi again ... [E]ven after this terrible thing happened to Andy, I couldn’t make a turnabout of everything I believe in.

It’s that spirit we were here to honor.

Dr. Forbes preached
Our keynote was Dr. Jim Forbes, of the Riverside Church and Union Seminary. He spoke of his days as a young man at lunch counter sit ins. And then drew on the Bible story of Cain and Abel fro his thoughts. And went after the whole issue of violence, including the insanity of gun violence in our American culture.

He was my brother

Before our panel, we had another music break and this time Jeremy had me take the lead on Paul Simon’s He Was my Brother, a song written to honor civil rights workers, dedicated to his Queens College classmate Andy after the murders. 
He was my brother

Our responders were carefully chosen to show the more broadly interfaith reality of our culture today and the expanding circles of hate and prejudice and their effects. Stosh Cotler came from Bend the Arc, a Jewish Partnership for Justice. (Named fro Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: The arc of the moral universe is longbut it bends towards justice.)
  She chided her own community for moving away from the movement as they became more comfortable and challenged them to reengage. She has helped establish a truly progressive organization focused entirely on national and local issues.  And called on u sot join them in a candlelight vigil to stop the roll back of voter rights currently underway in the American south, aided and abetted buy the courts.

Our good friend Simran Jeet Singh was to come and speak of his experiences as a Sikh after 911, but got stuck in an airport after a valiant day long effort to make it back in time for the event. (for a video of Simran’s previous visit to West-Park go to

City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, Exdcutive Director of the Arab American Association of New york came to us through her friend Helen Rosenthal. She was direct and o the point, going straight to issues like stop and frisk and the NYPD’s focused harassment of Muslims.  A Palestinian – American from Brooklyn, and a mother—Linda brought the word strong and true.

Our three speakers spoke of what they appreciated most about each other speaker.  In his wrap up, Dr. Forbes, quoting Father Divine, called me a tangibilitator which felt pretty good.

Stosh Cotler, Dr. Brashear, Dr. Forbes, Linda Sarsour

More stirring music. Then it was over.  A beautiful and powerful night. It’s hard to leave. Circles of people standing around, talking. What was. What is. What is to come.

David Goodman interviewed by WBAI. They carried the event live then filed a story. To hear the story go to :       

Thanks David, for keeping the flame burning...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Psalms of lament


Martin’s been waiting to talk with me all day long. Antigone, he says, the music, the beginning. Well, the beginning, you know what you’ve been watching, it’s like a flowing river, like crossing over into death…

The river Styx…

Yeah, but then I looked and i realized it was like a vagina….like a birth canal…

I saw that the first time…

But the music. Like ancient prayer …I can’t get it…the priests, the Delphic Oracles, they get messages from God, pass them on…but they speak to God. Say Why must we suffer like this/? How long must this go on? Zeus, do something…our joy is but a fleeting moment, the suffering…I’ve been listening to Muslim muezzins. Close to our flamenco. But….not …anguished enough. Our flamenco, still too much show.. Where do I go?

I think. In the Bible, there are laments. The Psalms are strong. And uncensored. They express anger to God. Hatred of enemies. Abandonment. They were sung…

Yeah, but what do they sound like?

Here’s what you do. See if you can find Greek Orthodox settings. Same roots. Our oldest Christian music. Or try Jewish liturgical settings. There’s a holiday, Tish  B’Av, the commemoration for the destruction of the Temple. For 24 hours they sing the Lamentations.

OK, ok….

An hour later, he’s back. This is it, he says. And he plays for me a setting of Psalm 22, Eloi, eloi lama sanbacthaniMy God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? It’s been set as a Holocaust lament.
Perfect, I say. It’s what Jesus quoted on the cross. Hear how close to Muslim it is?

Yeah, and our gypsy music. All from the same place.

That Spanish romance with death, I say.

And he laughs.
recall when an Honduran judge, a defender of human rights, was cast into jail. They asked him what he would do. He said, I will sit. And read. And write. And reflect on my sad situation.

He laughs again. Yeah, that’s it.

I’m working late. RL drops in. He’s concerned that he found Jeremy and Priska’s door open again. Place looked empty in the dark. He’s very protective of us. We go up and check. I think it’s OK, but I call Jeremy just to make sure.

So I stop in. Watch an Alfred Hitchock Presents from the ‘50’s. And a Leverage. Yeah, goo to be back.

Dion's 15 minutes and congratulations Nick


There's Dion (center) in Women's Wear Daly

Just a little time to visit with Danielle until picked u by Javier and Cynthia to be taken to their wedding rehearsal in Chappaqua. President Clinton is not coming as far as I know. After the rehearsal and dinner, I’m brought back to the church. Open mic is still going on, though nearing the end. Dion has been congratulated by everyone for his 15 minutes of fame, selected by the New York Yankees to be part of their Yankees Hope Week. He was personally measured for a custom made DKNY suit by Yankee captain Derek Jeter. Appeared on TV and radio news, several daily newspapers and even Women’s Wear Daily.

Here’s the full coverage of Dion’s 15 minutes:

Twitter:  #hopeweek

Congratulations were also in order for banjo phenomenon Nick who let us know, bashfully, that he had just graduated from high school. We felt very proud to have shared in his last year.
As for me, I repeated my set from the night Jeanie came: Lonely Hearts, the Connecticut Turnpike song, and Tonight Will be Fine. Felt good to be back home again, performing again. Even though exhausted. Tomorrow we’re back for Make Music New York.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good to be back home


Back at last!!! Let me apologize to our readers for blog silence over the last week. I was involved in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in what proved to be a truly historic meeting.  The spotlight issues included granting Presbyterian ministry the right to perform same gender marriages (in states where these are legal), a proposal to change our constitutional definition of marriage to two people instead of a man and a woman, and divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlitt-Packard and Motorola because of their profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. (More will be written about these in the coming week.) Out of the spotlight, important work was done on issues that impact urban ministry, including a review of draconian drug policy and its impact on communities if color—a proposal originated in San Francisco and co-sponsored by West-Park--, and a call for a new study of urban ministry taking account of the urbanization of the suburbs and the suburbanization of the inner city.  And the election of one of our lectionary study group members, Larissa Kwong Adazia as Vice-Moderator. (The last time New York City had someone  elected to national office was 1982 when my predecessor West-Park Pastor, Bob Davidson, was elected Moderator. There is much to catch up on and I will do my best over the course of the week to do so. Thanks for your patience…

(you can read my Tweets from General Assembly at @RLBRASHEAR #pcusa#Ga221)

Now back to West-Park. Saturday, June 21st, we joined the rest if the city in celebrating the solstice and Make Music New York day with a full day of music inside the church and on the steps. The day began inside with a set by Andy Craig

Andy Craig
with electric folk and original music on his bass and computer. Andy was followed by Bulgarian classical and new music pianist Tania Stavreva, )
Tania Stavreva
who after explorations of Satie and new music concluded with Bach. Our own Debra Griner and Robin Greenstein with traditional folk and country.( (

Jeremy Mage and one of his Magi, Emilio, opened up a hot set outside with keyboard, cajon and electric guitar. I joined on some vocals and then Jeremy and I did a rendition of I Know You Rider…People were literally dancing in the streets.( )
Bob and Jeremy

Joel Gold brought his improvised spoken word outdoors and then Pat O’Connell his Americana and added Jeremy on keyboard.
Pat O and Jeremy
Jeremy and Emilano

Alia Alhan  from Kazakhstan brought the show back inside for a set of traditional Kazakh music and classical. 

After I left for a wedding in Chappaqua, there were sets by Friday night sound man and rocker David Smythe and Mandola Joe, banjo phenom Nick Lantigua (our Open Mic all-stars_ and our own RL Haney. Which of course, finished with Stay Awhile. It was truly a celebration of West-Park’s musical identity.
The one and only Joel Gold

I came back after the wedding to join Berik and Leila in a glass of wine celebrating the successful opening of their latest show, Innovation of Art. A truly beautiful day of celebration. It’s good to be back home.

For Pat's album from Make Music New York go to....