Rethinking Chickens

An on-air comment by Micah Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe, about how much she loved her three chickens, one ironically called “Nugget,”made me ponder our relationship with the poultry that’s beating out beef in popularity with Americans.

Years ago I saw a PBS special about a man who loved chickens who had a large, luxurious “coop” and an assortment of truly beautiful bantams. He told stories of traits shown by the chickens indicated a higher level of intelligence that surprised me. I was so touched that it gives me pause each time I look at a crispy thigh or watch hungry kids scarfing down nuggets of sometimes questionable contents. Images of the life of chickens in factory farms fill my mind.

While living on sabbatical on a Greek island in the seventies, I developed a bad attitude about chickens, particularly roosters. Mykonos was on a different schedule than America’s. Businesses shut down in the middle of the hot days for siesta. (Imagine if Americans shut down for a nap after lunch!) Slowly re-opening in late afternoon, mostly for the tourists clogging the narrow streets, dinner wasn’t served until around 11:00 pm followed by dancing ‘till dawn in the tavernas. Dancers took to the streets under the midnight blue sky with hundreds of shooting stars twinkling across the universe. Walking home via the donkey trail, ready to sleep, the sky glowing a soft pink, one by one, roosters across the valley began a cacophony of ear shattering cock-a-doddle-do-s which didn’t help falling asleep and made me cranky.

As a child, I’d accompany my mother to a local farm where she’d select a chicken, we’d watch as the farmer chopped off its head leaving a headless body to run around the barnyard spurting blood, no doubt the source of my adult avoidance of horror movies. I once raised an Easter chick that ended up on the dinner table; I had to leave the room.

Recently I met a woman with a remarkable chicken story. It used to be that when grandmothers met they’d share pictures of their always adorable grandbabies. Nowadays with the seduction of smart phones, some grandmothers now include endless photographs of their companion animals, often in costume. She had photos and videos of her rescue cat and dog. And a chicken the dog had gifted her with, dangling squeaking and protesting from his softened mouth. The chicken took over the fenced city backyard and spent her days playing with the cat and dog. They all got dressed up for holidays though the chicken was usually not cooperative. Twice a day, they all came in to eat and cuddle. The chicken slept outside in the beribboned coop the woman had built for her.

One morning, the woman decided to sleep in. Not long after the silenced alarm would have gone off, she was awakened from a delicious slumber by a tapping sound. Raising the blinds, she looked out onto the back yard. There was a storage shed beneath the window. She stared at the face of a disgruntled chicken who’d somehow gotten up on the shed scolding the woman for neglect. No one knows how she got up there though maybe she’d taken secret flying lessons.

Maybe the roosters are trying to tell us something. Maybe sharing their hens’ eggs is ok but a short life of never moving or seeing the sky before being slaughtered for nuggets cannot be ok. Maybe we need to listen to them.

If you find yourself enticed by Tyson and McDonalds, pause, take a deep breath and think of that plucky, un-plucked chicken who has so much to teach us. Show gratitude for their giving us their eggs.

The Loss of a Queen

It’s Scary Loving an Old Person: The Loss of a Queen

Have you ever met someone that you loved immediately almost before a word was spoken? That’s how it was with me and Queen Mother Nana. It was as if our spirits recognized each other and filled the room between us with their dance. But she was old and disabled-could I risk loving her only to lose her?

There we were in 2002, a still-feisty community activist and beloved elder from North Philly, known to the community as Josephine “Mom” Johnson, and a white, middle-aged, middle-class human rights activist, author and filmmaker. We’d heard about each other from some of the students in my former creative writing class at Graterford Prison where she and two other remarkable women had volunteered for over thirty-five years, bringing African studies to many behind bars yearning for an identity, community and culture. In these women they found mothers. As did I. Nana told me that they prayed for me by phone every night.

In the sixties, Nana worked with then DA Ed Rendell to end gang violence, to close nuisance bars in declining city neighborhoods and advocated for stronger liquor control laws. She took Yellow Cab to court for their discriminatory practices in services in black communities.

In 1979, she’d begun outreach work at Graterford where they adopted her Pan African Studies Community Education Program (PASCEP) from Temple University. She earned a Bachelor of Historical Education degree from the Pan-African Federation Organization.

In the late eighties, she visited several African countries, delivering educational supplies and over 2,000 books, helping to establish a school in Ghana. On every trip she took school children (and adults) from N. Philly to Africa, instilling in them pride of their heritage. She was “enstooled” in 1992 as Queen Mother Nana Ama Akoffo 2nd.

Philadelphia City Council and the State Senate recognized her several times through the years for her work giving voice to many social issues like housing, voter registration, family unity, teen pregnancy and police abuse.

Nana introduced me to the Incarcerated Community, families of the men in my classes. It was through her strong support of my work that I was able to earn the trust of those with loved ones in prison with whom I was writing a book about them and the criminal justice system. The book, Celling America’s Soul: Torture & Transformation in our Prisons and Why We Should Care has been called by people in prison “the best book in print that describes prisons from most every perspective,” was immediately banned. Families were selling the book out of the trunks of their cars at Broad and Erie. Fresh hope blossomed as we were all sure once the public read about the human suffering funded by unaware taxpayers, conditions would change for the better. Twelve years later, people are just beginning to awaken to the horrors and costs of mass incarceration. I also made a documentary, which includes an interview with Nana, Healing Justice: a journey into Shadow America, which is available at www.Trustonekindness.com

By the time I met her in 2002, she was confined to a walker and a wheel chair, her lungs impaired by breathing chemicals during the years she ran a successful hair salon. Yet even from her wheelchair she was still helping the community. Whatever the need was, she’d put out word that a refrigerator was needed and one would become available. Each week, at the senior high rise where she lived in an impeccably neat apartment, she delegated distribution of loaves of bread donated by the Vermont Bread Company. Whenever someone needed a sympathetic ear, she was there and did enjoy a bit of gossip now and then. She also grumbled a lot as she became less independent.

This was a woman who glowed with love, who radiated strength and compassion, and who gave us and the community the kind of mothering we didn’t know we needed. She was 94 when she passed into Spirit.

I am glad I took the risk of loving her. Of course I’ll always miss her, her spirit, her love, her sense of humor and her outrage at injustice. I’ll do my best to try to walk in her shoes.

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Judith Trustone is an award-winning author, filmmaker and human rights advocate. The Global Kindness Revolution: How Together We Can Heal Violence, Racism and Meanness to be released in early 2016. Her documentaries include Soothing and Nurturing the Human Spirit; Healing Justice: A Journey into Shadow America; How to Create a Kindness Circle (on YouTube)

 

My Interview With Jack Canfield!

Check out my recent interview with world-renowned author, Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup For the Soul) about the Global Kindness Revolution and its mission to get 51% of the planet’s population to join the cause and eradicate racism, hatred and meanness, the underlying theme in my upcoming book:

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A Call For Kindness In Response to Violence

From the Portland Press Herald:

Pastors urge grieving Oregon town to counter rampage with kindness

ROSEBURG, Ore. — A pastor whose daughter survived last week’s deadly rampage in a college classroom told his congregation on Sunday that “violence will not have the last word” in this southern Oregon timber town…[click link above]

A Transformational Act of Kindness

I was moved to tears reading this story by The Dodo:

Starving Dog Found Collapsed On Street Is Completely Transformed By Kindness

This starving dog, who had all but given up on the world, underwent an amazing transformation. And it’s all thanks to a little kindness…

Go here for the rest of this amazing story.

 

Do Refugees’ Lives Matter?

Do refugee and immigrant lives matter? It was just a news flash caught out of the corner of my eyes as I tried to ignore the all-Trump-news-all- day cycle that has gripped the media. The TV screen showed an overloaded rubber boat with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan cheering as they landed on the shore of one of the Greek islands, stops along the way to an uncertain future. Standing in a classic George Washington Crossing the Delaware pose, instead of weapons they held selfies aloft, one man in the bow holding a selfie stick as if it were a flag of freedom. Another held up his newborn baby triumphantly as a weeping woman carried a small child above the waves. Kneeling and kissed the earth, a bearded man shed tears of relief. The news clip ended with the bedraggled refugees, in a single file, escorted uphill to a village by authorities, their futures, their very lives, uncertain. They may be forced to return to what for many is uncertain death.

Trump has exposed a darkness lurking within the human spirit that unleashes hatred and fury toward these “others” making meanness and total lack of compassion the norm, here and in Europe in a rerun of the Know-Nothing Party which flourished here in the mid-1800s as an anti-immigrant party. Philip Roth refers to these people as “the indigenous American berserk!” I couldn’t help but recall when a dolphin was recently stranded on the beach where I was staying in Florida. The attention, tenderness and the hours spent cooling the animal, strategizing what to do and occasional reports to the curious crowd about what the authorities were doing when they drew blood and took vital signs.

Three hours later, the struggling dolphin was carried in a sling across the hot beach to a waiting truck that would take it to Sea World for “rehabilitation.” The sweaty crowd cheered, our emotions touched by observing the recue, an act of resistance, to push back against the harm humans cause to the natural world that, according to Terry Maseur of LA, a hummingbird rehabber, “draws out raw emotions that unleash our deepest insecurities about our humanity, mortality and place in the natural world.” My tears flowed at the kindness shown by officials and the watching crowd. That compassion disappears under the dark cloud of nativism and nationalism shown by so many descendants of immigrants.

I heard about the signs for my ancestors saying “No Italians” and “No Irish” need apply. So much for my ancestors. The only true “Americans” are Native Americans upon whom we’ve heaped genocide and government policies that have almost destroyed the original settlers, who lived lightly on Mother Earth, thinking about the effects of any actions on seven generations to come. Those spewing hatred of immigrants should explore their own histories, what their ancestors endured to come to our shores for freedom from violence, religious persecution and the possibility of economic opportunity. A Native American suggested that they collect $500 from every American as a fine!

Imagine if instead of hating these 60 million refugees, 30 million of them children, seeking refuge from their violence-plagued countries, we welcomed them, embraced them with care and kindness, helping them become acclimated, treating them as compassionately as we treat dolphins…

Conscious Living + Global Kindness!

I recently did an interview with Wendy Garrett, host of Conscious Living. We had a great discussion about my upcoming book, The Global Kindness Revolution, my work in the prison system, the healing power of cats, and ridding of technodemons.

Thanks, Wendy!

Listen to the interview here