Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “non-fiction”

To India and Back Again

In just over two weeks, I will travel with a group of global activists to India to see projects funded by American Jewish World Service and hear the stories of our grantees, their challenges and vision. To help prepare myself, I just finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers. I admit I do not often read  non-fiction, but Ms. Boo truly brought the people she followed to life as though they were characters straight from a classic novel. I felt the same regarding setting and even plot (the individuals’ stories). This book has made me reevaluate how I feel about the genre. If you write or read non-fiction, this book is well worth picking up. If you don’t read non-fiction – it is still worth the read and is so accessible in Ms. Boo’s writing. I listened to the audio during my commute and walking my dog – it is a superb rendition.

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Ms. Boo follows the lives of a number of people who live in Annawadi, a makeshift slum that is both side-by-side and overshadowed by beautiful, pristine hotels and the Mumbai international airport, all within a stone’s throw of each other. Their stories reflect everything that seems so wrong in India, but it is told without condescension and judgment. Crime and corruption live alongside hope and the driving desire for dignity. 

The dichotomies are everywhere. As Patralekha Chatterjee shares on DNA India: ”More Indians have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Everyone knows that. The issue became a major talking point in 2010 when a report by the Ontario-based UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health pointed out that while India had roughly 366 million people with access to improved sanitation in 2008, a far greater number, 545 million, had cell phones.”

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It is the irony and frustration of a beautiful land and incredible people, more a continent than a country, several nations under one flag and within one border. But everywhere you go, you find a society immersed in a deep history, rich philosophies, and pulsating culture. I spent several months there when I was younger and, in many ways, I never left.

While the memories have faded, the sensory assault dulled, Katherine Boo brought me back to the streets of India, even as I negotiated the BART public transport commute and long walks with my dog along the water looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz . Back in the early 90’s I was a tourist on a spiritual journey to India to find myself. Two decades later, I prepare to return as a global human rights activist, working for a transformational non profit organization, and traveling with inspiring philanthropists driven to help make a better world for those most marginalized.

To read about AJWS work in India, please click here. One of our main projects is the struggle to end child marriage. Despite a law making it illegal, 47% of girls in India are married before they reach 18. 

Shashi Tharoor summed up best what I am feeling: “India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. … India matters to me and I would like to matter to India.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Writing About Justice

The following article was taken with permission from Bookmarks, the blog of Southern Celebrations.

Dr. Steve Boyd, a Religion professor at Wake Forest University, fights for justice in his writing as well as inside his classroom. Dr. Boyd’s book Making Justice Our Business: The Wrongful Conviction of Darryl Hunt and the Work of Faith has just been released. His first talk about his book and book signing will be held on Monday, November 28th at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Below is a description (from Wake Forest University’s website) about Dr. Boyd’s course “Religion and Public Life.” A course that has taught him just as much as it has the students who have taken it.

(from WFU website)

…For nearly twenty years, Winston-Salem resident Darryl Hunt spent every day in a dreary prison cell serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. In spite of a trial that was devoid of physical evidence tying Hunt to the scene of the crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Hunt was just nineteen years old at the time.

Facing perhaps the cruelest fate a human being can endure, Hunt maintained his own innocence, and his spirit remained unfettered as he called on God to give him strength and to comfort him. As his days behind bars grew in number from the hundreds to the thousands, Hunt’s faith in God only intensified and served as much more than a means of preserving a glimmer of hope for life outside of prison.

Nine years after being convicted, DNA evidence surfaced indicating that Hunt, an African American, could not have committed the crime, yet the appeal of his conviction was denied. In 2003, his attorney, who served him for eighteen years pro bono, threw one last “hail Mary” pass in the form of a motion to compare the DNA in the 1984 rape kit to a state database of DNA profiles. Miraculously, he got a “hit.” Finally, the real murderer was found and Hunt was freed.  Hunt’s remarkable story gained national recognition and became emblematic of Winston-Salem’s historically tense race relations.

Building upon his experience, Hunt founded the Darryl Hunt Project with community leaders to help prevent the criminal justice system from convicting innocent parties, educating the public about faults in the system, and helping ex-offenders re-enter society and become productive, contributing citizens.

Just one year after Hunt’s exoneration, Wake Forest student Rashad Daker had the opportunity to transcribe Hunt’s daily journal entries that he wrote during his imprisonment, an assignment that Daker chose as part of Professor Stephen Boyd’s “Religion and Public Life” course. Daker and Hunt are both practicing Muslims, and according to Boyd, both individuals found the experience cathartic and spiritually engaging.

In addition to Daker’s work with the Darryl Hunt Project, each student in Boyd’s class worked with a local nonprofit organization that is addressing a significant need in the community. For instance, one student worked with Advocacy for the Poor, researching issues related to poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, and hunger. The in-class portion of the course focuses on issues of religious leadership, social entrepreneurship, the separation of church and state, and the differences among service, advocacy, and community organizing, as well as their roots in three dominant theological paradigms in Christian history.

Boyd also sees great value in simply getting students involved in projects off campus – outside the “Wake Forest bubble.”

“As a student, it is easy to get consumed with life on campus,” said Boyd. “Students sometimes forget there is an exciting world outside the ‘Wake Forest bubble’, one that is full of challenging issues that can be gratifying to work on.”

The students and the organizations were not the only ones touched by the course, however. Boyd described the experience as “the most rewarding course I ever taught” and is offering it for the second time in 2011.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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