This teenager is an environmental superstar

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez must have come out of the womb caring about the earth. He  was six years old when he gave his first speech at a climate change rally. He was 12 when he addressed the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. In June 2015 the 15-year-old addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, asking world leaders from 193 countries to act together on behalf of the planet.

The self-described “indigenous, environmental, eco hip hop artist and activist” is mobilizing youth in 25 countries as youth director of Earth Guardians. He and his brother Itzcuauhtli inspire environmental action through presentations, hip-hop performances and demonstrations. At times they are joined by their sisters Isa Caress, Tonantzin and Jasmine. And they are joined by young people around the world who are not waiting for politicians and industry. They are acting now for the earth.

Kid Warrior: The Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Story from BLKFLM on Vimeo.

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David Zinn’s fabulous street art

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David Zinn, please move to Kelowna, British Columbia. I am in love with your street art.

Sigh. I know how unlikely that is.

You create that oh-so-temporary chalk art in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You cannot be everywhere, but thanks to IndieGogo your art will reach a wider audience.

I love the whimsy of your art, the poignant scenes, the creative imagination, the gentleness and love behind them. You see stories in the cracked urban landscape most of us inhabit. I look at your Sluggo on the Street scenes and see the tender fissures in everyone’s heart.

We are such fragile creatures. We need to laugh. We long to feel loved. Your art would put a smile on anyone’s face.

Help support David Zinn’s ephemeral art on IndieGogo. Buy his post cards, buttons and more on Zazzle. Follow David Zinn on Twitter and Facebook,

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Proud father of Malala Yousafzai

Around the world, women grow up knowing they are considered inferior to men. Ziauddin Yousafzai was determined to give his daughter Malala a very different upbringing. Instead of accepting the patriarchal attitudes of many in his country, the Pakistani educator was determined to give his daughter a strong sense of her intelligence and power.

He enrolled her in his school. The Taliban nearly ended his hopes for Malala when they shot her on a bus in 2012. Malala survived. So did her and her father’s dreams.

If you have ever wondered how the young Nobel Peace Prize winner became the inspiring young woman she is today, watch her father talking about his belief in equality for men and women. It is an inspiring 16:36 video.

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Homeless customers are welcome at Rosa’s Fresh Pizza

Mason Wartman did well on Wall Street. By the time he stopped doing equity research to start a pizza joint, he had saved a quarter of a million dollars. He used that money to launch Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, in honour of his mother, Rose.

One day a customer asked to buy a slice of the restaurant’s $1-a-slice pizza for a homeless person. Wartman got some Post-It Notes to keep track of the kind gesture. Now Rosa’s walls are covered with notes from all the customers wanting to do the same.

Over 14,000 free pizza slices have brightened lives since 2013. One small request has sent ripples of kindness around Philadelphia. People receive more than pizza. They are given the loving letters and notes written by people happy to have a chance to share.

Follow Rosa’s Fresh Pizza on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Forget the cane and dance!

The World War II veteran is waiting for a plane at the Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. Then a trio of three women singers start harmonizing a song the Andrews Sisters made famous, “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. Music and memories set his heart thumping, his legs moving, and he is up and dancing.

Any stiffness his bones may be feeling disappears as he swings to the beat. Someone tries to give him his cane, but he ignores it. Another vet joins the singers and is soon invited to dance by a young woman with the veterans. The first vet taps him on the shoulder and takes over. You can feel the smiles spread.

The whole thing is only a couple minutes long, but it is 2:15 full of life, memories, and joy.

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Small moments of grace

Orange lily

Small moments of grace are all around us, as in this lily’s deep hues

Sunday was a hot, but not scorching, day in Kelowna, British Columbia. I set out on foot to do a little shopping at a nearby supermarket. Crossing the parking lot of Prospera Place, I was stopped by a family of Japanese tourists. Several of them spoke excellent English so I was able to help them find a source of beach towels and sunscreen within walking distance.

By the Rotary Centre for the Arts, friends called my name. They split their year between New Zealand and Canada but had come home early so Sue could be in Halifax for the writing course she began a couple years ago. These two talented women are role models for aging with verve. Their “retirement” years are filled with the joy of new directions. Bonnie is an artist whose work regularly stops me in my tracks. Sue is honing her craft in an international writing course. I am already looking forward to the book that will be the end product.

In the grocery store, the young man stocking the produce shelves stopped what he was doing and cheerfully retreated to the store room to bring out the limes for me. When I bought my groceries and loaded them in my pack, I suddenly wondered what I had done with my sunglasses. The young man behind me pointed out I had hooked them on my blouse. Instead of shaking his head at a senior moment, he told me he had recently looked all over his house for the glasses he was wearing.

One of my panhandling regulars asked me for a dollar when I passed him on my way to the store. I told him if I had change when I came back by, I would give it to him. All I ended up with were two quarters, but he received them with a sunny smile and a big thanks.

As I ambled back home, I came across an unusual sight, police tape across the street I had planned to walk along. I asked the nearest cop what was up. “We’re investigating a suspicious package,” he said. We have a lot of homeless neighbors so odd-looking packages are nothing particularly alarming around here. On the other hand, I appreciate the police, fire fighters and hazardous materials folk who are tasked with the potentially dangerous job of checking out things like that. So I thanked him and gave him a high five. And he thanked me, with a wide smile.

When I approached the crosswalk near home, a car slowed and stopped without my even looking at the driver or hitting the button that would have set a light flashing. Drivers do that here in Canada. They watch out for pedestrians.

I was gone only an hour, but when I returned home I felt blessed by every encounter. These small moments of grace are nothing out of the ordinary, but they are the oil that smooths the wrinkles in our lives. That is one of the reasons a gratitude journal can be so powerful. Keeping track of those moments of grace can be a powerful antidote when the inevitable shadows darken our days.

So that is one ordinary but beautiful hour in my day. What are you grateful for today?

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In every other Civil War prison, men died by the score – why not in this one?

Castle Morgan, Cahaba, Alabama, 1863-65. Drawn from memory by Jesse Hawes for Cahaba, A Story of Captive Boys in Blue. New York: Burr Printing House, 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons

Castle Morgan, Cahaba, Alabama, 1863-65. Drawn from memory by Jesse Hawes for Cahaba, A Story of Captive Boys in Blue. New York: Burr Printing House, 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

Yankee soldiers who became prisoners of the Confederate army endured hellish conditions during the American Civil War. At the infamous Andersonville Prison nearly 14,000 died.

Jails, prisons and forts were quickly bulging with prisoners. Then came barracks and tents and finally open stockades. Last to be pressed into service as prisons were warehouses and other large buildings.

One of those was Cahaba, a cotton warehouse near the Alabama town of the same name. It had only a partial roof, one fireplace, a four-seat outhouse and water polluted by sewer runoff. Though initially intended to house 500 prisoners, at its peak it held 3,000. Sanitation and food were limited.

In other camps death rates hovered around 33 percent. What made Cahaba different was the compassion of one of the two commanding officers. Rev. Dr. A.M. Henderson was a Methodist minister who worked tirelessly to provide for his charges. He not only encouraged the generosity of townsfolk, he also sent sick and injured prisoners to the local hospital.

As a result, of the thousands of prisoners in Cahaba between 1862 and 1865, all but 147 survived. That is a tribute to one special man who respected those in his care.

We all have it within us to be that person, for one of our fellow beings or for thousands.

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White woman, black man shock the audience awake

Darius Simpson and Scout Bosley step up to the microphone and do something completely unexpected. They change places. If that sounds like a simple matter of switching mikes, watch what happens when they also switch roles. Simpson speaks his lines as though he were a woman, Bosley as if she were a black man.

The result is a wake-up call. We can be allies. We can empathize. We can challenge racism and sexism wherever we see or hear them. What we cannot do is speak for each other. Only someone living the experience can understand in her heart, in his bones what the experience of prejudice means.

This is a good video for starting a discussion about the painful impact of all the -isms that do deep damage to our souls.

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The young man who will clean the ocean

Looking like a giant waterbird, this platform collects tons of plastic trash as it moves through the ocean; photo from The Ocean Cleanup Facebook page

In October 2013 I wrote about Boyan Slat, who had designed a platform he claimed “could remove 7.25 million tons of plastic trash from the oceans in five years and make a profit doing it.” His 2012 TEDxDelft talk was convincing, but the distance between conception and execution sounded like a canyon the size of the Grand.

Fast forward to 2015. A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $2 million. Tests and feasibility studies have reassured Slat and his team the scheme will work. In 2016 his company, The Ocean Cleanup, will deploy the world’s first ocean cleaning system.

This is a bold, visionary scheme. The company’s site says they expect “to remove half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years’ time.”

I’m placing my bets on The Ocean Cleanup and will be following them on Facebook and Twitter. And I’m placing my bets on all of us to stop using so much of the plastic that’s poisoning our oceans.

 

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Pouring the oil of music over a bombed Baghdad neighbourhood

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Karim Wasfi playing his cello after the car bombing in Baghdad’s Mansour district

 

On the last Monday in April 2015, three car bombs ripped through busy Baghdad neighbourhoods. The deadliest of them killed at least 10 and injured 27 others and shattered shops and vehicles in the upscale Mansour district.

Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi defied the terrorists ‘ message of hatred and death. He came with his own message, of love and of the ordinary grace of daily life. He carried his cello into the rubble-strewn street, sat on a chair, and began to play. With that act, the former conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra poured the oil of his music over the rough seas of a traumatized city.

This was not the first time Karim Wasfi had used his talents in service of peace. Years earlier he formed Peace Through Arts (the Karim Wasfi Center for Music and Creativity). Within that academy students whose lives have been damaged by the ongoing conflict among Sunni, Shiite and Christian Iraqis learn music and etiquette in after-school programs. Leaving behind sectarian prejudices, they learn how to see beyond their differences and learn, talk, and perform with each other.

Barry Malone interviewed Karim Wasfi after he brought his music to the rubble of Mansour. The musician told the Al Jazeera reporter, “It was an action to try to equalise things, to reach the equilibrium between ugliness, insanity and grotesque, indecent acts of terror – to equalise it, or to overcome it, by acts of beauty, creativity and refinement.”

Karim Wasfi’s response to a horrifying act of violence is one we can all learn from. Responding to hatred with hatred has never led to peace or understanding. With his music, Wasfi reminds us that violence is not normal, rational behaviour. What is normal is going to work, playing with the children, preparing dinner and enjoying good music.

 

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