“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~ Langston Hughes.
The first time I worked as a professional model, I must have been no more than two years old. OK, to be honest, I wasn’t paid for my stint. Apparently (I had to get my older sisters to search through their archived memories) the church needed to raise £10,000 to repair the 110-year-old building, and they put on a ‘Mannequin parade’, a fashion show in today’s vernacular, sponsored by a local dress shop (so long ago it wasn’t even called a boutique!). I was one of the children recruited to pose, look cute, and help raise those funds.
I can’t say that it influenced me in any way. I have no memory of it although somewhere in my house is a newspaper clipping with a photo of me in a dress my mother could not have afforded to buy for me (no, we were not allowed to keep the outfits). From that point on I spent most of my daily life in uniforms of one sort or another, from the navy blue, pleated, button-front, sweetheart neckline of my Beulah Primary School uniform with light blue blouse underneath, to my nurse’s scrubs many years later. It was a while before I developed any sort of fashion sense. It was too easy to pull on a prescribed uniform and go.
The second time that I can remember participating in a fashion show, it was again as a professional, in nurses’ scrubs for a ‘Nurses’ Week’ activity at work. Some years after that, again at a Nurses’ Week event, for the first time in my life I fell in love with a Donna Karan black strapless little black cocktail dress, and had to have it.
This week these memories were sparked by another fashion show. I was invited to the summer’s end performance by a local children’s camp. Family and friends were invited to attend (and were even fed at the end of it – cooked food at that!). The kids, aged from around two to twelve years old, entertained and delighted. All of them participated in a number of fashion shows, and like true professionals, they sashayed, snapped fingers, and smiled on cue. Ok, that was mostly thanks to their hard-working coach who knelt and gesticulated and reminded and encouraged, calling the children down to the spot on the floor where they were to twirl, or slap hands with their partner. Both boys and girls participated, and they of course ranged from the wildly enthusiastic to the stoic, the ones who were perplexed by the cheering adults, looking wildly for a familiar face in the crowd.
Apart from the fashion shows there were songs and dances. The organizers of the camp (Miami Youth Garden) were also faith based, and the emphasis of their summer camp was not merely to entertain children, to keep them occupied while school was out, but also to instill values, things like kindness, love, peace, brother- and sisterhood. Three boys performed a dance that included ‘trust’ activities, falling and being held up by their brothers, promoting that concept of togetherness and solidarity. The group was the brainchild of a young woman who had conceived the idea while still in high school. A group where children could be nurtured, could grow healthily and strong, surrounded by supportive adults.
For African Americans, the pandemic highlighted the gross health disparities in the US. Gun violence also affects black communities, cutting short the lives of twice as many Black Americans as White Americans. Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than White women. Black Americans have higher rates of hypertension than any other groups. Having Black children grow up to be healthy is not a foregone conclusion. The work being done by the Miami Youth Garden has implications far beyond arts and crafts, far more than song and dance.
Throughout the evening we were introduced to bright, young, college educated Black leaders, who had worked with the children. One FIU grad had helped the children with gardening activities, and so the children were able to tell us what it takes to grow healthy plants. This is no small accomplishment. Food insecurity is a growing threat to the children of the US. According to one study, more than 13 million children in the US are classed as food insecure, of being without a reliable, affordable, nutritious source of food and have to rely on food banks. If you have ever worked in a food bank, you know that the donated items do not tend to be the most nutritious or healthy. Food banks provide calories, provide sustenance, but they cannot provide the healthy food choices that promote health and reduce the risk of diseases like hypertension and diabetes.
The plan for this organization is to develop gardens at various local churches, to help provide the community with fresh, home-grown fruit and vegetables. In poorer communities like those populated with people of color, they talk about food deserts, geographic areas where it is difficult for residents to obtain healthy food options. The fast-food chains will provide cheap, convenient meals which we know are not nutritious. You will not find a Whole Food Supermarket, or a Trader Joe in these areas. Convenience stores and Dollar stores that abound do not have produce sections. The inequities that created these food deserts have long been documented, and they have long term consequences. So it was very encouraging to see that there are those who are working hard to make new opportunities for creating healthy solutions.
On this Friday morning, I am giving thanks for having the opportunity to participate in such a joyful, hopeful, promising evening. I am reminded of a mantra taught to us by the Ombudsman of the college where I work: ‘I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And what I do, I will do, for the good of all’.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!