Of Blogs and Bridges
The blogosphere can, in fact, occasionally get stuff done, and the proof was on Saturday.
My friend Steven met me because he read my blog. He's also a journalist, and when he came home to the Bay Area, he asked me if I wanted to meet up. We hit it off, not only with each other, but with each other's friends, and now we work mere blocks away from each other and meet up for coffee and collegial griping. We possibly would have met eventually, since many of his classmates have worked with me, but instead of being passing acquaintances, we've become good friends.
Steven's girlfriend Katie works at a spunky, ambitious charter school in Oakland, KIPP Bridge College Prep School
. It has slowly been moving into an old building that previously belonged to Lowell Middle School, finally getting the whole building this school year. They didn't have any janitorial service until very recently, so the teachers had to clean the classrooms themselves--on top of a grueling work schedule. (KIPP schools have very long days, and teachers carry cell phones so their students can call them for help after school and on the weekends.) Steven felt bad that no one had time to wash the school's windows, which were covered in cobwebs, and that the library was unusable because it was overflowing with old textbooks and dust. The teachers have had a slow time clearing it out on top of all their other duties. Since I'm an East Bayer he asked me if I'd be interested in helping them do a little cleaning, and maybe my friends . . .?
I put out an email request. A couple of the usual suspects you know answered--Scotto and Emily Cooper and EChan--as well as another friend Emily. Let us say these were the friends I have in "real life." That's a pretty good gathering. But from blogospheric-friendland I also got replies from Robin of Snarkmarket
, and Salil, a fellow commenting Sepia Mutineer
. Again, like Steven--perhaps I would have met these guys anyway, but probably not. And their enthusiastic email replies were the tipping factor that made me think that yes, this was going to happen.
Several flurries of email later, we met up on Saturday afternoon. Steven brought three of his friends. We boxed shelves and shelves worth of old text books up, clearing space in the warehouse so that the library itself can be cleared out and made clean and organized so children can go look for knowledge and stories and have a nice place to do their work. There's a lot of work left, but I think we made a sizable dent. Windows were cleaned, both from the inside and outside. Salil and Steven's friend Joel were quite a sight, standing on the roof of a walkway, hosing off cobwebs and grime, uncomplaining about the fact that they were soaking themselves wet, despite the cold. The Emilies applied their eyes for detai
l and organizational
skills. EChan boxed up copies of the U.S. Constitution study guides. Robin and I rebonded over library memories like D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
. Steven's friends Sue and Ashanti brought bagels. Scotto kept everything safe
. (Not trivial with huge boxes of books--at one point he had to come and unpin me and EChan.) We worked pretty solidly for four or five hours with music and snacks. There's still a lot of work to be done, and I'm not sure if, when, or how it will get done. But I do think we helped. It's really wonderful to have friends who are willing to party with me like that.
The whole thing gave me a lot of food for thought on the whole subject of our public school system and the way our communities and our age group interact with that system. It'll be many years before I have school age children, and now I think I'm going to need all of them to do my bit for the school system. There's a lot to say and think about that, and I'll try to later. But for now I'm glad that we put aside the saying and thinking and did more of the doing. I was raised with the belief that unselfish hard work is life's greatest joy, and while I usually feel about as far away from that ideal as from the stars, every now and then I brush against it and feel its truth.
I want to emphasize how simple this was. All you need to do is have a friend who is a teacher at a school in need, a Saturday afternoon, and some other friends, and less coordination then you would put into a BBQ. Try it! It's a huge amount of fun.