Desmond’s Way

>Kissing Violence Good-Bye, Desmond Green's Way
>Susan Campbell
>July 5, 2006
>Let's say - just for the sake of argument - that part of Hartford's
>antidote for its addiction to violence lies in its residents' diet, and in
>their breathing habits.
>Add to that the self-talk practiced by the residents of Hartford - what
>they say to themselves when no one else is listening - and their focus and
>purpose in life. It makes sense, once you've talked to Desmond D. Green, a
>Jamaican native who arrived, with wife Dawn Vaz-Green, in Hartford's North
>End to start the Reverence for Life Foundation on Westland Street.
>The foundation, housed in a storefront just off Barbour, is not a cult, nor
>is it a church. There is no dogma, only seven principles the Greens are
>trying to teach their neighbors that include exercise, self-acceptance, and
>showing a spirit of generosity. Psychologist and minister Green - whose
>cohorts call him the honorary "Dr." - created the first Reverence program
>for Jamaica's correctional system in the mid-'90s. The slight and energetic
>man is credited with helping shift that country's penal system from
>corrective to rehabilitative, at least for a time. In prison, Green
>encouraged the formation of musical groups - vocal and band - among the
>inmates, whom he called "teammates." The teammates were then told they were
>responsible for themselves and their actions. Recidivism dropped, as did
>violence within the jails.
>When Green came to Hartford a few years ago to visit family, he thought
>what works among criminals might just work among people besieged by
>poverty, violence, and hopelessness. He opened the Westland program a few
>months ago.
>Already, the Greens are building good will in the neighborhood. The
>foundation offers computer training, video classes, a dance troupe, a rap
>group. The neighbors - mostly young people - are drawn to the activities,
>and then, sometimes, intrigued by the message.
>"We are spiritual," says Dawn Vaz-Green, an artist. "We are not religious.
>We believe you come with what you need. We believe you are your own
>On a recent rainy Sunday, five young women under the tutelage of Leal
>Williams, a 20-year-old dancer, practice their routine for an upcoming
>show, a fundraiser for which the neighborhood women have promised to cook.
>Williams, who just had a birthday, is wearing a tiara. Her mother, also a
>dance instructor, bought it for her, and Williams says she's going to wear
>it forever. She puts the dancers through their paces once, twice, a third
>time. The song on the boom box is "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye," which the
>organizers have renamed "Kiss Violence Goodbye." It's hard to escape such
>cultural harshness. Some of the rappers expected to perform in the upcoming
>show use questionable lyrics, as well, but they will still perform. While
>the bullets fly, at least they're off the streets.
>As the young women dance, Green stands in the door, watching the water
>collect in the streets.
>"Look at him," says Dawn Vaz-Green. "He still gets up every morning and
>does his push-ups. He's 67, and I can hear him do his self-talk: `I am one
>with God. I am one with the universal spirit.'"
>Later, Green sits on a folding chair - but just barely - talking to the
>dancers. He claps his hands together, hard.
>"That can be annoying because he does that to me, too," says Dawn
>Vaz-Green, and her husband smiles.
>"We have to respect the lives that we have," he says. "Nobody else is
>responsible for us."
>That just might work here.
>The idea is to attract neighbors to the center's various programs, and
>teach them the movement's seven principles. Where they go from there is up
>to them. Williams' father, Angelo Brown, is the program director. He says,
>"Even in the midst of madness, there can be peace."
>Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant

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