James Kazongo makes the best potato chips in the world. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2013 v7n1 p0429
April is the month of magic when the earth releases its restraints and trees and bushes and grasses burst into flower. North Philadelphia, the bleakest part of Philadelphia, the area most affected by school closings and lack of constraint in gun laws (these are intimately connected) looked gorgeous.
Flowering dogwood and azaleas and magnolia and cherry mask despair and hopelessness. Mask the lack of belief in a future that was shown by whoever it was that neglected safety precautions in Texas that blew up the town of West, or the drug-addicted crazies who blew up the lives and off the limbs of more than a dozen runners and spectators enjoying the spring in Boston on April 15.
I remember that Mother Teresa explained what she did by saying that every person has the face of Jesus. And she loved Jesus, so how could she not help any human needing help?
I do not know that I have ever met anyone with Mother Teresa's ability to love every human. I do know that I know a community leader from North Philadelphia whose love for his friend has extended to his friend's wife and his friend's children and has stretched all the way to South Africa.
Salomon is a son of Angola who lived for 5 years in a refugee camp in Botswana before coming to the US 30 years ago. His best friend for most of those years has been James Kazongo.
In February, Salomon started getting calls about articles in the BBC and NY Times about James Kazongo being arrested with 19 others on Feb 5.
He called James' wife, and organized a trip to Delaware of 3 of us from African community organizations. Which is how I became aware of a son of Congo, a man of 55 who works as a cook, being held in a prison in Pretoria, South Africa, on absurd charges of conspiring to overthrow the government of Congo.
During the first trip I took a picture on time release: you can see us all holding hands in solidarity with James' wife Jeanine click here.
Since that first trip, I have been back twice and once brought Jeanine and her little boys back to my house. The next morning we all went to a Congolese church service in the basement of a large Presbyterian church in North Philadelphia.
Last week I stayed with Jeanine and the 3 boys in Delaware. In the morning the 2 older boys very proudly showed me certificates they had been awarded for proficiency in a spelling bee. We talked about cutting the grass; the oldest told me he loved seeing the yellow daisies and he wanted to wait until they were gone. Yes.
They explained to me that their father makes the world's best potato chips, and takes them swimming on Saturday mornings.
They have explained to me a lot about their father: 3 healthy, well-adjusted boys whose entire lives have been stable and free of any sort of drama. Until now.
We are all extremely upset that the lives of 3 boys have been disrupted. So far the disruption has been slight, the boys are doing mostly what they were, except that James is not there. Jeanine has kept things as normal as she can, and really has done well. However, unless things improve dramatically and quickly, the future holds little hope that they can stay in their home, in their safe neighborhood.
Journey to the Gates of Hell. SJ Dodgson. MJoTA 2013 v7n1 0513
For the past week I have been preparing for my visit to the gates of hell. Pretoria Central Prison was the place of execution of so many condemned during the apartheid era; when South Africa was the first in the world in heart transplants, but did not give full citizenship to so many of its residents. I have read that the prison at one time boasted that it could hang 7 at the same time. That sounds like hell.
They don't hang the condemned any more, but they do keep prisoners at Pretoria Central Prison and James Kasongo has been imprisoned there for over 3 months.
And I am on my way to Pretoria Central prison to meet James Kasongo for the first time.
So why am I going to Pretoria?
1. Because I
2. Because every man accused should have a friendly face from the
country where he sees his future, where his children were born;
Because we in the Philadelphia African communities want to
know what happened, what is happening, what will happen;
4. Because I
want to tell the accused man that his wife and 3 sons love him.
will continue to be posted on these pages.
Salomon has been working on that: every weekend he has been arranging
groups of sons and daughters of Congo to visit with food and plans for
making sure the family is ok. He starts every day with a prayer group by
phone; every day he is taking care of his own family and his best
friend James' family. We want James Kasongo to stop his hunger
strike, to be released from jail in South Africa, to be back home
playing baseball with his boys, taking them swimming on Saturdays and to
church on Sundays. And making them the best potato chips in the world.
Release James Kazongo click here
However bad they are in the north, things are worse in North Carolina. The Rev Dr Barber never stops fighting for human rights. With the video below, he posted
"In this video, Republican House Rep. Michael Speciale interrupts NC
NAACP President William J. Barber, II as he presents expert testimony to
the North Carolina House Selection Committee on Elections. A week
later, as amendment after amendment is shot down in committee, students
in attendance at the meeting walk out in protest and voice their
opposition to the Voter ID bill."
Watch the video below from April, 2013.