Monday, April 11, 2011

Leaders Bridge Pathways to Peace

Participants of Roanoke's Creative Communities Leadership Program together with various civic and interfaith members are hosting a BridgeWalk at 3 pm on Sunday, April 17th in efforts to promote 'tolerance, diversity, and understanding in our ever-evolving community'.  This article offers a reflective overview and calls for a collective response in support of the occasion.

"Exploring the Shame" - Salvation in Forgiveness
For whatever reasons, perhaps only because Spring has initiated her graceful embrace, I find myself again pondering the meaning of cast shadows.  Although a fourth year approaches since the Virginia Tech massacre too, a renewed sense of hope nevertheless rests perched in response to the lessons emanating from an extended string of heartbreaking catastrophe. As I blogged in "A Crisis in American Leadership" some nine months after the Tech incident, and for grounds I couldn't possibly fathom in their entirety at the time, its occurrence marks a significant crossroad in my life.

Columbine Students Holliday and Perez
More recently though, and as Marilyn Hamilton at Integral City mused in her blog only days after the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January, such episodes appear to reflect "strong “weak signals” that may be indications of onset of the human hive’s CCD in America"(1).  Likewise, and as a former public school instructor, my own perspective over the last decade and a half has been profoundly affected by a pervading sequence of similar tragedies originating with the Oklahoma City bombing but including also the Columbine High School massacre, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Northern Illinois University (NIU) killings perpetrated by Steven Kazmierczak (see also - "Revolution, Anarchy, or Madness?: A Crisis in American Leadership").

Jane Vance - Bridging East and West

Subsequently then, I suppose, it's all the more astounding that a role in community involvement has drawn me into the collaborative company of such an illustrious group of soulful others.  I'd already had the pleasure of meeting one of these exceptional individuals named Jane Vance, at a recent opening of her downtown gallery in February.  As "an adjunct professor of the Creative Process through the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech" and aide to "special needs children" with a Floyd County middle school, the art she induces is an eloquent testament of her imbued passion for Tibetan Buddhism.

In fact, it's her enchantment with the colors, sights, and sounds of Eastern culture that effectively inspired Jane's travels to South Asia beginning in 1985.  As fate sometimes evinces itself too, she first met Dr. Tsampa Ngawang on just such an excursion in 1995.  Heralding from a long line of 'amchi' practitioners, in addition to using a complex combination of "herbs, mud and prayer" to facilitate healing, Tsampa is also recognized as an "artist, mind-healer, physician and veterinarian, public health expert, settler of village disputes, village chairman and farmer" within the "Mustang district of north-central Nepal".

In the months surrounding the September 11 attacks however, and having instructed a course on Himalayan culture at Virginia Tech that same year, Tsampa nonetheless returned to Nepal's villagers to share the legacy of his experience after only an initial semester on campus. While led to chronicle the amchi's story artistically, yet concerned it would be construed as 'disrespectful', Vance in turn "wrote a personal letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama explaining her intentions" and entreating the leader's approval.  Upon receipt of his blessing however, Jane began work on her project in 2002, becoming "the first westerner and the first female in history to be granted permission to do a lineage painting of a prominent Tibetan amchi".

Although the portraiture itself would take only ten months to paint initially, the task group congregated to document its delivery to the lama's village of Jomsom wouldn't make its trek to the Himalayas until June of 2007.  On their arrival though, and because he'd learned by phone of Seung-Hui Cho's slaying of fellow Tech students less than three months earlier, Tsampa resolved that "the first order of business" should entail holding a candle-light vigil in honor of the campus' dead and wounded (see video above).
"It was so important to me to honor the people lost, but also to honor this strong bridge that now exists between two very unlikely places" - Jane Vance

Where the village had cooked "for days" in preparation "to feed a thousand people", the unveiling of "Amchi" now became a cause for celebration, giving rise to "horseback races and archery competitions, and the village's first game of Twister".  There was dancing, and laughter, and in the midst of this polyphony of life, as Jane herself recounts, two distinct groups of people, as if awakened to a timeless dream, "became family".  Just as miraculously too, this extraordinary convergence of the human spirit has been captured in the triumphant production of an award winning documentary entitled, "A Gift for the Village" (Deacon 2).

A Student Memorializes Morgan
Regrettably though, yet as we're sometimes brutishly reminded, destiny can prove a capricious lover.  The truth of this is reflected in the fact that among the students scheduled "to travel to Nepal" for the film's World Premiere this past summer was a Tech co-ed named Morgan Harrington (Acclaimed Artist, 3).  For those who aren't otherwise aware, Morgan disappeared in October of 2009 from a Metallica concert she'd attended at UVA, and though her body was recovered more than a year later, the case involving her 'abduction, rape, and murder' remains unsolved.

Kurt Steger - Bridging Worlds through Art 
In addition to Jane, we'll also be joined for BridgeWalk by two remarkable individuals who, each in their unique way, is gifted with a genius for touching or otherwise shaping human hearts.
The first of these is a regional sculptor by the name of Kurt Steger.  Along with a few friends in January, I had the good fortune of attending a showing of his ethereal creations at Roanoke College entitled, Silent Nature.
Steger's 'Burden Boat'
"To get into the exhibit at Roanoke College's Olin Gallery you start by walking through a piece called "The Pearl Gate" . . . As the piece came together we started realizing it had a bridge like quality, and then we saw the metaphor of the bridge from this world into the other world -- the sculptural world." - from a public radio interview
Kurt's work subsequently has the affect of eliciting almost a somatic connection between the viewer and his art which in turn, serves as a portal for transporting those venturing the journey, into a realm of mystically altered forms of space and time.  But, at least in this instance, "healing (was) the point of the show; where the center piece is the 'Burden Boat', a fifteen foot long sculpture with a ceramic section inside it, filled with tiny wads of paper.  These are the 'burdens' visitors to Silent Nature have scrawled out and placed in the boat" (Silent Nature, 4).

Originated initially in 'response to the regional trauma' of the the Virginia Tech tragedy, the Burden Boat Project was envisaged as an interactive experience to 'symbolically' release the weight of a participant's spiritual or psychological affliction.  First showcased in 2009 on the Tech campus with his display of Primal States and Portals, the burdens of community members are ceremoniously cremated and then, returned to the earth in burial.

Carl Tinsley - Bridging Community Relations

Rev. Carl Tinsley - 'Facing the Future'
As the article ('Bridging Community Gaps') written in support of last year's BridgeWalk attests, the underlying theme of the event emanates from a shared observance that the city's bridges have traditionally served alternately to either divide, or unite, the people of Roanoke as neighbors.  The third individual who'll be amongst the key guest figures this Sunday, and highlighting the values of 'tolerance' and 'diversity' in particular, is the Reverend Carl Tinsley.

"Four times a year, branch leaders meet with the school superintendent to review discipline issues, and Tinsley said he often meets with law enforcement officials to bridge the gap between police and the black community." quote from, "Facing the Future" (Rucker 5)
Although long recognized as one of the community's foremost advocates of 'social justice' and 'human rights', especially in relation to Cabell Brand and TAP, the Reverend Tinsley is most recently identified with a crusade on behalf of area youth.  Consequently, it's with considerable zeal I look forward to joining not only with those whom I've already mentioned, but local denizens at large, in a gathering that will undoubtedly afford us the opportunity to meet, interrelate, and in the process, grow in our learning and understanding of each other.

 1. Hamilton, Marilyn. "Colony Collapse for Human Hive or Cracks Where Light Gets In?." (2011): Integral City: The Blog. Jan. 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2011.

 2. Deacon, Darlene. "A Gift For More Than One Village." (2010): Planet Blacksburg. Jun. 2010. Web. 06 Apr. 2011.

 3. "Acclaimed Artist Jane Lillian Vance To Premier New Works at Gallery Opening in Downtown Roanoke." (2011): The Roanoke Star Sentinel. Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Apr. 2011.

 4. "Silent Nature - 2.15.11." (2011): WVTF Public Radio. Feb. 2011. Radio. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.

 5. Rucker, Janelle. "Facing the future." (2010): The Roanoke Times. Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.

Brian McConnell, BA is a divorced father of two college/career aged youth residing in Virginia.  As a member of Roanoke's homeless community over the last two and a half years, a former educator and community advocate, learning and leadership development are currently his central focus of study. Similarly, Brian is also a Researcher/Practitioner with the Integral Research Center in Integral Sustainable Development (SDv) and serves as Director for Group Epignosis.

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