Monday, October 17, 2005

Paving The Way

Paving The Way, Days Two and Three

Dear Friends,

I meant to write every day on the Paving the Way Journey, but didn’t get to it yesterday.  But I want you all to know that day two was pretty amazing.  It started with twenty or so of us going to attend church at Grace Van Vorst Episcopal Church, where we were warmly welcomed by the Pastor, Janet Broderick  (yes, she is Matthew’s sister).  Pastor  
Broderick spontaneously decided to integrate my brief C2EA homily right into her sermon.  At the designated moment, she simple stopped her sermon, invited me up, I did a three minute mini-sermon, and she got up and finished her sermon.  I have never before preached an extemporaneous tag-team sermon, but it worked.

We set out for Newark at 2 pm, chanting lustily about forty people strong.  It was sunny but with powerful gusts of wind.  The wind was so strung that at one point, our flag pole, with the American flag, snapped in two.  (We are marching with the American flag out front and adding state flags for each state through which we pass.)  Still, we met many folk on the street, and thrilled each time someone jumped in and joined us even if only for a few blocks.  One teenage guy joined us for several miles.

We spent Sunday night, at the Firehouse, a program that serves children affected by AIDS and their families, run by the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children.  The fire house faces a $1.3 million dollar deficit, accumulated over several years, because it has been run without any government and little private support.  The Board of the Foundation has decided to close the Firehouse and sell it if a plan isn’t developed by the end of this year to secure its future.  Still, the treated us like honored guests, with a delicious home-cooked meal of roast turkey, baked potato casserole, home-made bread, home-made pies…you get the picture.  (The Foundation is a family affair, founded and directed by Terry and Faye Zealand: the Firehouse is run by their son and daughter-in-law, who did all the cooking.)

The financial circumstances of the Firehouse were a vivid reminder of the number of tiny AIDS organizations around the country running on little more than passion and ingenuity who need C2EA.  So we cheerfully bathed again in sinks, shampooing in the slop sink, which worked out quite nicely and got ready for today’s march.  We were so moved at the dire circumstances and the warmth and hospitality with which we were received, that we took up a collection and left $716.00 behind to help keep the doors open.  

Today was a long day, with two rallies and a fifteen mile march, but we had more than 75 people, so it was nice and rowdy.  We started with a spirited rally at Newark City Hall, where we shouted “shame, shame” at Mayor Sharpe James, for his total neglect of AIDS prevention and services.  From there we marched to Elizabeth, for a rally in front of City Hall.  At each stop in New Jersey, we have emphasized needle exchange, which is illegal here.  We have also come up with some great new chants, thanks to Amos Hough of the NYC AIDS Housing Network.    

The banana chant is the best.  “Bush is bananas, B—A-N-A-N-A-S, he won’t give no money for A-I-D-S-H-I-V.”  Alex was with us, so we sang “We Shall Overcome”, “We’ve Come This Far By Faith”, and “I Ain’t No Ways Tired”.  Between Amos’s preaching chants and Alex singing, we sounded like a revival service marching down the street.  And the impact was similar.  One man asked for an “End AIDS” sign to mount in his car.  He told us his uncle died of AIDS just last week.

Today ended at The Second Baptist Church in Rahway.  Again, the hospitality was amazing and the food was delicious, spaghetti, chicken, chocolate cake…the works.  The only downside:  No showers, only two sinks.  But then the mayor’s office called.  The City is keeping its recreation center open until 11:30 tonight so that we can all get a long hot shower.  As we have each night, we went around after dinner and shared highlights of the day.  I could not possibly capture in words how rich the experience was this evening.  All I can say is that I am traveling on this journey with some pretty incredible people.

Tomorrow, we will begin our day with a demonstration outside the Rahway State Penitentiary.  I am exhausted, but fired up for day four.  While he was marching with us to Elizabeth, Terry Zealand received a call informing him that one of the children with AIDS served by the Firehouse had just died.  One more child dead: one more program on life support; one more powerful reason to keep on marching.

I so look forward to joining you all in Washington, and I hope and prayer your own journey is as rich as mine.


Charles King


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