from page 86
A limo with tinted windows crawled through the crowd. I made a guess as to who was inside. I shouted to the singers, “To the limo! Nkosi Sikelel’i!” The title of the anthem spread quickly amongst the singers. Moving toward the limo while singing the opening lines, we formed a tight group.
The limo lurched to a halt, and the back door flew open. He strode toward us with a grin, fist in the air. Bodyguards scrambled to surround Mandela, but he moved into our group, joining the song. Men with dark glasses and thin wires running from their ears to beneath their shirt collars surrounded our group and watched our every move.
At the last chord, Mandela’s voice rang out: “AMANDLA!” to which we jubilantly responded: “Ngawethu!”
We were thrilled to share the rallying call-and-response chant of the ANC [African National Congress] and its allies. The Zulu and Xhosa word Amandla, meaning power, is answered: “It is ours.” We’d done it many times in concert and at public protests, but to experience it with Nelson Mandela was overwhelming.
from page 101
“I worry,” he said, grimly. “What will become of us on this path of greed and militarism? Madness! We could turn it around if we prioritized education, art, gardens, cooperation.” He looked at me. “Couldn’t we?”
I didn’t answer. Pete insisted, “We could.”
In a low voice, he said, “Don’t give up. Keep doing your chorus, and keep involving the community. Please stay in touch with me because what you’re doing—what we’re doing—might save our world.”
I didn’t say anything. He challenged me more directly: “Don’t give it up.”
I had not consciously decided to devote my life to leading the Amandla Chorus. I was twenty-five years old, with only two years invested in Amandla. Yet something in me shifted when Pete made his request.
I answered him, slowly: “I won’t, Pete. I won’t give it up.” The moment I said it out loud, it felt right.
“Good!” he said. “You give me hope.”
from page 103
In 1978, at age fourteen, I glimpsed another side of Dannemora [maximum-security prison in New York State]. I volunteered each Saturday morning at five o’clock in a church basement where brown-skinned women and children from New York City stopped in Plattsburgh on their way to visit loved ones locked up in Dannemora.
The chaos and heartbreak of my volunteer shifts made a deep impression. My first real peek into the US justice system was of weary mothers and grandmothers with numb, exhausted children in tow. They boarded the bus in New York City around midnight and tumbled out, pre-dawn, blinking in disbelief at our quiet little town.
from page 107
A door opened. Twelve guards stepped in and formed a gauntlet through which each prisoner passed. The men in prison garb walked with a variety of gaits. Some were loose, rhythmic, and jaunty, while others advanced stiffly. On the whole, the men seemed young, but there were some older guys, too. I saw men who looked strong and vibrant, while other struck me as cautious and overly alert. I saw scars. Many displayed tattoos.
Within moments, I noticed in the stream of humanity moving toward the chairs that nearly every man had brown skin. Men looking beautiful or dull, enthusiastic or bored, anticipatory or sleepy: they filed in until the chairs were filled.
These are the men of the harried women and sleepy children, I realized . . .
from page 112
I don’t romanticize prisoners. Several close friends have lost family members to violent crime. Survivors experience devastating, incalculable, and irreversible loss at the hands of desperate individuals. Make no mistake: some prisoners scare, sadden, or fill me with rage.
Yet still I wonder: what does it mean to poison a river, denude a forest, or drop bombs on civilians? I detest knowing that money is allotted for shiny new missiles while children go without schoolbooks. Dealmakers attend elegant dinners while children go without breakfast. Yet when some of these children grow up to commit dangerous acts, we fail to see the connection.
from page 131
A decade after we met, the Nelsons began collaborating with Amandla, weaving freedom songs with civil rights stories as well as vignettes about right livelihood. Their stories mesmerized audiences of all ages. Our shared projects deepened my bonds with Wally and Juanita.
Lifelong activists, the Nelsons devoted their last several decades to authentic democracy that took into account the health of soil, air, and water. But it might not have been so. Their early experiences nudged them aware from farming as they grew up in African-American families stressed by poisonous injustice.
from page 237
Hearing her name in the song’s first word, Malala smiled. The half of her mouth that still moves easily turned up in delight. Despite her injuries, Malala is radiantly beautiful, glowing with intelligence and strength. Her father beamed.
When we switched from English to Urdu, father and daughter looked astonished. “Wow!” exclaimed Mr. Yousafzai, bringing both hands to his heart as tears sprang to his eyes . . .
Her dad stepped forward. “Malala, we should go on stage with them when they sing this wonderful song.”
from page 256
I believe it’s irresponsible to raise a white boy without teaching him about racial, economic, and other kinds of disparities. To raise a white child without radical cultural understanding is to risk inflicting upon the world another entitled white supremacist. We have plenty of those already.
from page 259
As I try to keep my balance as a choral director, a mom, and a citizen of the planet, I’m spurred on by stories about some of my heroes . . .
. . . When I wonder how to get through the next moment, I feel guided by folks who persevere in the face of steep odds. I reach for my pitch pipe, smile at the singers, and give the starting notes. This is how I travel the world.