Friday, February 18, 2011

CONVERSATION: "Reach out, touch a hand, make a friend if you can"

I love The Staples Singers. I remember listening to "Respect Yourself" many times as a young adult. It was on compilations of soul and/or gospel songs like Black Power: Music of a Revolution. It was a song that inspired me to think differently and find hope.

I was introduced to Mavis Staples, one of the siblings in The Staple Singers, thanks to my husband. He brought home her album "We'll Never Turn Back" when it came out almost four years ago. I fell head over heals in love with her deep soulful voice and her messages of struggle, unity, and spirit.

As a result of my love affair with Mavis Staples, I went out and found old The Staples Singers albums. I had to have more of their songs and soul. I found and played their compilation album, The Best of the Staples Singers, over and over and over again until all the songs started blending together and I started to internalize their joy, sadness, and courage.

The Staples Singers were definitely an inspiration to refocus and re-imagine The S. Kitchen into something more than just a potluck. I knew I wanted to exude the same determination, casualness, perseverance, and compassion they did. Their music, while religious and spiritual, is more than just gospel and Christian. It is a way of life, a way of seeing the world that transcends spirit and is rooted deeply in personal experience and culture. If I could embody just a sliver of what they exude rooted in my own personal experience and culture, than I would have done my job.

I still listen to The Staples Singers and Mavis Staples religiously. I have to listen to them at least twice a month. And I am still finding hope and deeper meaning in their songs. They still bring me to a place that beyond the singular self.

Today, as I was again listening to them, their song "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend" really hit me. The lyrics:
Can't you feel it in your bones.
A change is coming on
from every walk of life
people are seein' the light.

Can't you feel it in your heart, now.
A new thing is takin' shape
Reach out, touch a hand, y'all.
Make a friend if you can.

Hey, I heard about you from my friend.
Ain't it time you come on in?
Live the united way.
Why don't you join us today?
Seem to call forth in the most prescient way (the lyrics were written in 1973) what is happening around the world right now. We are seeing people coming together in unprecedented numbers peacefully (and sometimes not so peacefully) all over the world. We are witnessing a remarkable change. And while at times it may be frightening and scary and uncomfortable, it is ultimately hopeful. It is happening because we are reaching out, touching hands, and making friends.

It is my dream that The S. Kitchen contributes to this much larger change in the way it does it best: through cuisine, conversation, and camaraderie. And I welcome you to "come on in". Who knows, you may even make a friend.

Upcoming The S. Kitchen events where you can "come on in" are:

The S. Kitchen presents...Women & Film with guestpert Scarlett Shepard of the Women's Film Institute on Sunday, February 27th at 4pm. You can learn more and RSVP on Facebook. You MUST RSVP to get the hidden location.

SOUP'S On!, an informal learning and networking opportunity for youth workers, educators, and teaching artists, with guestpert Carmen Lo on Thursday, March 10th from 6pm to 8pm at Progressive Grounds in San Francisco on the corner of Bryant and 21st Streets.

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