Sat Nam. When I was 10 years old in 1960, my closest friend, Marshall Williams, was a fellow classmate and Sunday school student at the local Protestant church in Rumford, RI. Marshall and I went to church Summer Camp together and my dad took us both to Red Sox games, just about the time the Boston American League team became the last professional ball club to hire 'Black' ball players.
One summer in 1961, my friend Marshall invited me to go to the North Providence youth swimming pool. It was 99% Black swimmers. I didn't care, I was with my friend. On this one summer day I was swimming in the deeper end. I was really into swimming under water to see how far I could swim on one breath. As I reached the far end, eight boys, younger than me, jumped on my back and head, attempting to drown me. I was struggling to stay afloat and gasping for air, when an arm (a Black man's arm) reached down and pulled me to safety. Its was Marshall's older brother, Buddy. He was 16 and far stronger than the younger boys, handicapped by being in the deeper end themselves. Buddy pulled me up and out of the pool. I will always remember that moment. It stayed embedded in my consciousness, a human being, a brother of another hue, saved my life while kids who thought it was fun to harm another kid, just because I reminded them of the inequality facing them in the inner city in the 1960s.
Years later, in 1979, I was a turban-wearing Sikh, working in a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Boston, MA. I had worked all day at a Sikh-owned comfort shoe store in Cambridge and worked several nights after the store closed at another work place, the Golden Temple Conscious Cookery. This one night I was a waiter taking care of table of eight folks. The restaurant had been open for about 2-hours. I noticed two men coming in and one asking for use of our restaurant public restroom. It appeared only one man came in while the other stayed on the stairway at the front door.
I had served beverages and just finished serving the main course meals at one of my tables. As I was returning to get another order for a separate table, an arm grabbed me as I walked passed the swinging doors of the pantry (where the pots, pans and dishes are washed). It was also the way to the restrooms. The arm was from the man who had asked to use the restroom. He pulled me, brandishing a weapon. He asked me and the other waiters he had pulled in for the money in our register. We didn't move fast enough so the nervous fellow fired off a shot. I looked up and could see there was hole in the ceiling. At that time, there was total silence. Two ashram directors were at the restaurant that night in a business meeting. They both came back to see what happened, and what was causing all the fuss. They too were nabbed and pulled into the pantry. We gave the guy with the gun all the cash we had from the TIP jar, which was probably less than $100.00. He then backed out of the restaurant with his fellow robber, at the stoop.
They then vanished into the night. Both of therm were African-American. It was all a blur. Who could pick them out of a line up? Later that night, Boston police showed all of us 'mug' shots. I looked at hundreds of shots, and I knew I could not ID either of the two.
I just know the reaction from my table with the eight who sat and waited for the evening to continue to normalcy was that of total shock. I asked if everyone was okay, and if they would like to look at the menu for dessert or a hot cup of Yogi Tea? The response from one of the guys was spontaneous and hilairious. "Thank you, but we're full. The meal was delicious, but next time we'll skip the floor show."
It was the best way to relieve the stress and our sense of disorder and shock. We all had a big laugh over the comic relief that occurred for that brief moment.
Later I would reflect how these two episodes, along with others involving young Black men and trauma, would give me pause. I was blessed to know that it was the karma I had to experience and fortunately for me, I never look at the individuals and make a broad judgement about people of color as reason to fear. These unique experiences were mine. Only the individuals were involved, not an entire race of people. Later in life, as a turban-wearing Sikh I would have many positive experiences involving serving, lecturing, teaching, even in a role as sales person and remembering how I was treated due to my unique appearance.
Within four months I was attending Kundalini Yoga classes on Cocoa Beach. Yogi Bhajan was invited to (then) BCC, Brevard Community College, by World Religion professor, Dr. Lin Osbourne. 1971 was a jammed packed year, beginning with my 21st birthday on Feb 17. My girlfriend was pregnant. I was forbidden to see her. That night I bought a fifth of Red wine, walked in the snow to a Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comments, Rock n Roll concert in Manchester, New Hampshire.
After settling my affairs in NH, I hitchhiked to DC for this anti-war rally. I was arrested for 25 hours, paid a $25.00 fine for Disturbing the Peace. I then got my gear in NH and hitchhiked to Titusville, Florida to see my mom. I enrolled at BCC on the GI Bill, became a vegetarian, stopped smoking pot and tobacco, and quit drinking wine (I hated beer and whiskey).
Anti-War photos from "May Day" 1971
Life Magazine, May 14, 1971
Kundalini Yoga In The Prisons
In 1974 through 1975, I taught Kundalini Yoga in several prisons in Florida, one was a Federal high security prison near Gainesville, a couple were minor security work release prisons, and one was a medium security prison in Central Florida.
One week in 1974, a letter arrived from a prison inmate to the Director of Baba Siri Chand Ashram in Altamonte Springs, Florida. It was a request for Kundalini Yoga classes to be taught at the Sumter Correctional Institute in Bushnell, Florida. I was assigned the job of teaching the classes, and tasked with making the long drive.
I arrived that first Friday at 7:00 pm. I was patted down and then allowed, under escort, to meet the inmate who wanted to learn yoga and meditation. I spent about an hour with him. I informed him that he had to organize a larger group since it was 80 miles each way to the prison. He then informed me he would NOT do any yoga with Blacks. Actually, he used a different word to refer to people of color. I then told him that there had to be 6 more students in addition to him, and 4 had to be Blacks. I told him it was his choice and that I was doing the classes out of seva (service), that I was not being paid, and that the Ashram was paying for the gas. He reluctantly agreed. Years later, he admitted he was grateful that I acted firmly with him.
So the next week I drove the 1-1/2 hour drive through orange groves and back country roads, through Mount Dora to the Sumter Correctional Institute. When I arrived I was informed by the prison guards that there were about 20 students registered for the class. More than half were Black inmates.
Several weeks later, I got there late. I was told to enter the compound and to go to the back. I brought my guitar and walked across a large open area to a building where I was also informed the inmates were already doing some yoga. As I got closer, I could hear powerful "Breath of Fire". I mean, I could feel the building move. It was amazing. The person leading the set was the young White man who had asked me to teach him but with no Blacks. As I walked into the room, he told the students to inhale and relax. I was so in awe of what I was experiencing. It was only the 3rd or 4th class. But after six months of teaching, the class grew to 65 inmates.
In the autumn, just before the Winter Solstice, Yogi Bhajan came to Central Florida. With the help of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the State of Florida Corrections system, two chosen inmates, with escorts, were allowed to come to Baba Siri Chand for a banquet to honor Siri Singh Sahib ji. They presented him a leather flag, hand painted to match the Sikh Dharma Flag. Hanging from the bottom it said, "Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan", and the Siri Singh Sahib ji wept."
In the spring of 1975, I was called by nine inmates who were in a "work-release" program. They were first time offenders and had for almost two years been model inmates in the Correctional system. They were to be released. It was inspiring and humbling. One was the original student, and there were two more young White men. The remaining inmates who were released were Black. One of them was my white-bandaged warrior, who found the Light within that healed his mind, his heart, who then took responsibility for his life. Twenty years later. the original student, the young White man who didn't want to do yoga with Blacks, was out of prison and living in New Zealand. He called me to say, "Sat Nam!", and to thank me.
"Wahe Guru", is all I can express. It was an experience as a Teacher I will always treasure. My thanks to MSS Hari Singh Bird for leaving me with the Orange County ('Thee Door') drug rehab center, Kundalini Yoga classes in Orlando when he and the Birds were sent to lead the House of Guru Ram Das ashram in Denver. I thank Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, my Teacher, and I especially thank Guru Ram Das for guiding me safely home those many Friday evenings when I was exhausted from work and teaching. --
I propose that 3HO/KRI formulate a training program for inclusion in their current system that supports and encourages KRI Certified Teachers and Teacher Trainers to tithe their teaching skills pro bono, i.e., 1/10 of their teaching time for no fee, as community seva for prison populations. Prisons are where large numbers of marginalized people, people of need, are concentrated, especially African Americans, and other minorities. I urge financial contributors to make specific donations to this outreach effort, as well. See Example 1 and Example 2. -- MSS Hari Singh Bird
“Keep the skeer (scare) in ‘em."
SELMA, AL (WSFA) -- The 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches (March 15, 1965) has put Selma in the spotlight this year, but something else in the city is getting national attention -- and for a very different reason.
Sometime before the 50th anniversary events, the group Friends of Forrest commissioned a billboard featuring confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, riding a warhorse in front of a confederate flag with his signature line, “Keep the skeer in ‘em."
WSFA reached out to Forrest and Friends organizer Patricia Godwin. She refused an interview but candidly blamed the controversy surrounding her billboard on the media.
“It's you people causing the controversy. It's just a billboard, an inanimate object. It's urging tourists to come to Selma to see all of Selma's history," Godwin said.
Godwin wouldn't say when the billboard went up, questioning “does it matter?” She said the motivating factor behind the sign was to advertise Selma's assets.
“We are trying to showcase all of Selma, because Selma is an economically depressed town," Godwin said. “We need to fall back on our natural resources like tourism."
Selma tourism director Ashley Mason says this sign doesn't embody the spirit of Selma. Mason says the community is making strides to bolster tourism beyond civil rights and the Civil War, which are currently the biggest draws to the city.
“There's a lot here that people don't realize what all we have," Mason said. “They come here and they see all of this history and they love Selma.”
The billboard isn't alone. The Loyal White Knights of the KKK were also in Selma distributing fliers over the milestone weekend. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group is making a significant effort to circulate the propaganda across the country as well, but it's gaining no leads in membership.
“When you see this trash, put it in the trash," said civil rights activist Rose Sanders. “Keep the scare on them? They need to put the scare on themselves because in the end, nonviolence is going to win this war."
There's no word what company sold Godwin the space or how long the billboard will be up. -- See Our Text Books Are Wrong About The Confederacy.
See SensitivitySummit.com. See Desmond Tutu's Plea To Israel.