Archive for the ‘About the Urban Ministry Center/CommunityWorks 945’ Category


Sad news this week. Mae is gone. She was found dead in her camp this weekend, no sign of foul play. Of part First Nations heritage, Mae brought a quiet dignity to all she did. No often, but sometimes, she’d help in the garden, but she liked to hang out on the edge of things. We talked a little about the medicine wheel out front, which she found both inspiring and funny. Now, she returns to the ancestors, and to the soil that once belonged to her people.


Here, Cleo rearranges the stone cross that somehow has ended up in the center of our Medicine Wheel. But our stories and symbols are our medicine now, no diminishing their power with appeals to reason or observation. But this wheel is oriented, at least, to the main directions, so you can find your way at least to the north, south, east or west.


In our courtyard, the rubble and improvised art bring a sense of us all being in this together, from the transcendent and almighty to the mundane and struggling.



There are constant parades in and out the back gate – Lite and his pack of hounds, a volunteer and his sons marching down to load up on compost to bring to the garden up the hill.


Tatiana’s paintings grow more secure, the colors and shapes surer, even as neighbors relax nearby, curious but without much to say directly. It is almost as if the painting and the creative process give off a glow, like a log fire late at night on a camping trip .


Our weather is mild in the daytime, though things are still dry it has been raining a little bit, too. But the nights are cold, so when they come through the gate, people are very tired. So they sit quietly and nap beside the bottle tree, in the afternoon.


Closing again of a sweet note, here is another view of the community singing three weeks ago.


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HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE: As we count our blessings at Thanksgiving, let us all resolve to translate our gratitude into compassionate action in support of justice, kindness and positive transformation.


“Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner”: From Harper’s Weekly, Vol. 13, 1869. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

PANSIES AND HISTORY: Today, the day before Thanksgiving, three of us got the pansies into the medicine wheel this afternoon. The day was warm and bright, this doesn’t feel like November at all. And it is dry, though we hope for rain tonight. Word is that Raleigh only has 100 days worth of water in their reservoir, unless it begins raining soon. Now, we need the rain for those pansies, too.


They were a donation from Central Piedmont Community College, which has been very helpful this season, indeed (see the post about the luncheon).

tree planting


Finally, the leaves are beginning to change color, and this year’s colors are very vivid. Here’s our red maple, before (us planting last February) and after (the colors now – look carefully, can you see one of Lite’s bikes on the fence above the garden?) Also, here’s a closeup of the nice color of Tiffblue blueberries in our patch beside the parking lot.

blueberry leaf

Today, Barbara asked me, out of the blue, “So, thinking about tomorrow, what were you doing when you heard?” She didn’t have to explain – I knew just what she meant. I was in band, rehearsing The Civil War Suite, when the news came crackling over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.


Our director said, “Well, let’s focus on the music, and take it from the top.” By the time we got to the last section, based on The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the final word came that he was dead. This time, our director told us to take the last section again, and play it like we meant it. We did – we were a good band anyway, and we played like our lives depended on every note. Some of us were sobbing, others stunned and speechless, but we kept playing, beautifully. I’ll never forget it. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer who began dreaming of serving when I was in high school, I’m a child of Kennedy, and proud of it. Yes, much of what we believed in was a myth, he was entirely human. Yet the enduring and optimistic light from his torch still goes marching on. Glory, hallelujah – and people know how to say that down here like they really mean it.


THE HOMELESS WALK: We also had a walk to support expanding homeless services this past weekend. My estimate is about 500-700 people, a respectable turnout. Saw some good old friends and their kids, Anganette Byrd from Soil and Water Conservation and Velma Thompson-Ross from Recycling. Who says we Green Folks don’t have any heart, and don’t care about social justice? Our world needs both environmental responsibility and justice shaped by compassion. Only odd note, we never were allowed to march through the uptown, past the banks. Something felt a bit coopted…Too bad uptown Charlotte didn’t get to see us, we were an inspiring and upbeat group, marching for a good cause. Hope some solid policy follows to help provide adequate shelter for all.

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A gathering of a very different type from the march happened earlier in the week on Wednesday at the Westin, a very fancy hotel. Friends of the Urban Ministry Center helped bring Denver Moore and Ron Hall, authors of the book The Same Kind of Different As Me, to be keynote speakers at a benefit luncheon for the Urban Ministry Center. As readers of this blog know, the garden program has been growing ‘edible’ baby salads for centerpieces, along with some violas. We got great help from Central Piedmont Community College. We had almost 1000 people! Denver got a standing ovation when he called for creation of emergency shelter on a vacant lot. It reminded me of that standing ovation Alice Waters got 3 weeks ago here, when she called for healthier school lunches serving local organic produce. I’m delighted to see my fellow Charlotteans stand up, but now will they do more than applaud? Will they roll up their sleeves and work to translate good ideas into changed realities for those among us with the greatest needs?

luncheon view


centerpiece closeup

There were some unexpected and amusing episodes. At the ArtWorks table only Black folks were sitting, informally dressed artists with our program, in contrast to the largely white and affluent groups at surrounding tables . Under his breath, one of the artists was singing, to the tune of We Are The Champions, “We are, yes we are, yes we are the tokens…” In this case, appearances deceive, I believe – this was a bunch of good hearted people who want to help the homeless. But our artist has a point – wouldn’t it have been interesting, speaking hypothetically now, to have mixed people, perhaps had a homeless neighbor or two seated at every table.

We also found that Denver had had dinner only a couple of days earlier with former president George W. Bush and his wife Barbara. During the dinner, he stood up and walked off into the night, as he likes to do sometimes. For six hours people worried, then he reappeared.

After the event, all of the pansies and veggies ended up at the Center’s garden. We’re transplanting them this week and next (while praying for rain).

truck after luncheon

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A couple of quick notes:

It is getting colder, and we are jammed to the rafters with folks needing help. Consider joining us to help with Room in the Inn, our emergency winter shelter program. For more information, email Todd Steck or call 704-347-0278.

We have had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes, hopefully to use in sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving. By the way, we have a huge number of volunteers who want to come down and help on Thanksgiving. That’s wonderful…BUT…don’t forget the other 364 (sometimes 363) days of the year, OK? We sometimes have to turn volunteers away that day – but if that happens, please don’t go away mad, come back and see me. I’ve always got gardening chores, just waiting for you. And there is such power in working side-by-side with folks, rather than “helping” them.

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A big thank you to the group from Hands On Charlotte who helped us out last weekend. Not only did they clean the garden and help mulch the paths, they also gave us a big jump start on the medicine wheel.

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This has been a very productive and busy October, marred only by our lack of rainfall. The images below share a glimpse of what’s happening. Central Piedmont Community College students, under new professor Frankie Fanelli (an expert in bulbs, especially dahlias!, who comes to us from NC State), are helping prepare edible centerpieces for our upcoming support luncheon, organized by our ‘garden angel’ Kathy Izard.

We had an excellent voter registration drive, set up right in our virtual courtyard between the train station and our new building.

Volunteer groups have been making a big difference helping with our fall cleaning (the frost came, Oct 30, and that changes everything in the garden).

And Liz and I got to speak before a garden club, a terrific group of gardeners in the Ivy League garden club here in Charlotte. We presented on our garden program and the other work the Center is engaged in.

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We’re adding a new element in our landscape, modeled loosely on the ‘medicine wheels’ that people made here thousands of years ago. You can still see them in the western US, like one my family visited this past summer Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. Ours does not yet show the sunrise points for the equinox or solstice, but it is oriented to the cardinal directions – so folks don’t get more lost than they already might be. Amazing, how many of us have no idea where north is. We have added other cultural elements – the wheel is planted in flowers, the stones are painted rubble from Charlotte’s streets and vacant lots, and the center is in the form of the cross. For some, certainly another honored way to find direction.

The first picture shows our latest big contribution from Compost Central. Now is the time to be spreading compost! In the second shot, neighbors spread the compost, and in then you see our volunteer group from Hands On Charlotte preparing the soil. More on them in another post to this blog – they also helped out last weekend in our garden.

Keep an eye on the blog, we’ll post a picture of the finished wheel and of our children from Trinity School planting bulbs, very soon.

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