Faiza Haji immigrated to the United States from Kenya in 2006. Faiza was born in Kenya of Somalian parents. Faiza has embraced the Somalian tradition of poetry which is embedded in the culture of the people. Both Faiza and her mother are poets. “I’m very passionate about spoken word poetry. I love being able to communicate with different groups of people and move them with my writing.” Faiza has found a supportive and accepting community in Decatur, where she is a student at Decatur High School. “Many teachers have inspired me to do things that I would have never done if I had not met them, like tennis. I actually played for a year. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had. It had been on my bucket list.”
“Since Decatur is a majority liberal community, it’s very accepting. Being a Muslim in these times in America is nerve racking. Everyone has a different view of Muslims, and there are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes. I feel that we don’t fit under those stereotypes because Islam preaches peace. I don’t want people to label me based on how I look or my religion. I want people to look past that and see me for a spoken word poet and an artist. It’s very hard to be the community that is always being attacked. Not only am I Muslim but I am also a black woman. It is a lot to carry on my shoulders.”
Faiza’s experience living in America as a minority has inspired her career choice. ”I want to go into civil law because I want to stand up for people who don’t have a voice. That’s what I do with my poetry.”
Happy Easter to those who celebrate this holiday and Happy Spring to those who do not. Today a neighbor of mine hosted his traditional Easter egg hunt for the neighborhood children. While the youngsters searched for hidden eggs the adults sipped on Bloody Marys. Robert always makes a guest appearance as the Easter Bunny at the beginning of the festivities. I snapped this picture just as Robert had finished dressing for the occasion.
Corbin McKinnon’s roots have been firmly planted in Decatur all 28 years of his life. Although he attended the Georgia Academy for the Blind for much of his schooling, he spent his senior year at Decatur High School (DHS). Corbin enthusiastically recalls his time at DHS as being a “wonderful experience” and expressed fond memories of playing flute in the symphonic band.
Music has always been an integral part of Corbin’s life. “I was inspired to learn the bagpipes after I heard them when I was five-years-old. I liked the way they sounded and I fell in love with them. When I was fifteen-years-old, I started studying the bagpipes. They are definitely hard to play. I also play the drums and sing. I read books with Braille but I learn music by ear.”
When Corbin was born, the doctors would have never imagined that Corbin would excel at playing the bagpipes one day. Corbin was born prematurely at 28 weeks. At that time, the doctors were concerned that Corbin was at high risk for developing lung problems. Corbin beat the odds and over time was able to develop the breath control needed to successfully play the bagpipes, flute, and sing.
In the summer of 2016, Corbin moved out of his parent’s house and into L’Arche Atlanta, located in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur. Corbin lives in community with three other adults with intellectual disabilities and three assistants. “Moving out of my parent’s house was a better fit for me. I like it and everyone is nice. My favorite part about living here is having jam sessions with the assistants. They play guitar, ukulele, and I sing harmony. Music makes me feel good. “
In downtown Decatur, an extraordinary school, called the Global Village Project (GVP), educates refugee girls ages 11-18. It is a private, tuition-free school. Many refugee girls arrive in the United States without a command of the English language and with gaps in their education. At GVP the students are taught in a loving and supportive environment and provided intensive instruction in English, academic subjects, and the arts.
Khaty and Farzana, who are 16 and 14 years old, have been students at GVP for one year. Both girls arrived in Atlanta on October, 2014 from Kabul, Afghanistan with their mother, Khadija. They came to the United States on a special immigrant visa because their lives were in danger.
The girls have thrived at GVP. Farzana likes it because, ”The teachers treat you with love and respect. They open their hearts to people and they care. They want you to experience life and the world. Everyone is like a family and we are like sisters.” Khaty has developed self-confidence and discovered the joy of reading. “Before I came to GVP I hated reading because I couldn’t speak and I could not read any words. Now I am really in love with reading books.”
Khaty describes being in the United States as being “in heaven.” “In my country (Afghanistan) some girls cannot go to school. They have to marry when they are 13 or older. Here, girls have freedom.”
When asked about her dreams for the future, Khadija has two wishes. First, that her daughters finish their secondary education and go to college. Second, “that we are at peace in the U.S., and as refugees, that we are accepted. We are Muslim so it is hard for us. We never hurt people. I want people to know that we are hard-working and try our best to prove ourselves. We can be successful and make America bright.”
At 92-years-old, my dad is still energetic and sharper than ever. The change that I have witnessed over the last year is that he needs to recharge himself periodically during the day. He is able to revitalize himself by snoozing intermittently for a few minutes at a time. These periods of rest always occur while he is sitting up.
Last week I was in New Mexico visiting my dad. I have been photographing my father in his daily life over the last four years. I am compelled to capture moments that reflect the person I so admire and love. The moments that inspire me to click the shutter may include a glance or expression, one that is not only familiar to me but etched into my very being. Other moments are captured during his daily routine. Reading the paper is a ritual that I have observed my entire life. Dad usually reads the local paper while eating breakfast. He reserves reading the Wall Street Journal for a later time in the day when he is able to get comfortable in his favorite chair and devour the news at his leisure. At the moment above, my dad had looked up from reading the paper to glance at his Dodgers playing a game on the TV.
The City of Decatur is known for its numerous festivals and events that attract thousands of visitors each year. Decatur owes its tradition of celebrations to a group of long-time residents, including Catherine Carter. Catherine remembers when “they rolled up the streets in the evening. There was no activity or event to go to in downtown Decatur.”
One Fourth of July, Catherine’s family piled into her husband’s pick-up truck, and went to Stone Mountain to enjoy the fireworks. They were overwhelmed by the dense crowds and by marijuana smoke that permeated the air. “When I got home I called a friend and asked her what she thought of the idea of having fireworks and a parade in Decatur. She thought it was terrific.”
“We didn’t know how to do a parade. I tried to think what we could use to make our parade successful. We knew someone who had horses and they agreed to let us use them if we cleaned up after them. So my children agreed to dress up like clowns and follow the horses. They scooped up the poop and dumped it into the little red wagon they dragged. Afterwards, we had a very meager fireworks display but everybody had a good time.” From that point in 1979 forward, the Fourth of July fireworks and parade continued.
By 1982, the “Discover Decatur Arts Committee” had formed and they launched their first Concert in the Square. Catherine recalls that they rounded up people who wanted to perform on a Sunday afternoon and set up chairs on the courthouse lawn. We had no money. We passed the hat, it filled up, and I took the proceeds to the bank on Monday morning. Of course it has changed a lot since then. In the beginning it was just folks in Decatur who wanted to support what we were doing. Now people come from all around. But it had to start somewhere and this is how we started. We just wanted some things to do and a way to bring people together. We did it and it was fun. Those were our Heydays.”