Friday, February 22, 2013


PARTWAY TO FREEDOM - A CIVIL WAR OPERA  is the first of a scheduled trilogy of operas, music composed by Cynthia Cozette Lee, the libretto (words to the opera) by Dr. Cynthia and her sister Hazel Lee.

On Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, excerpts of the opera were presented at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)  in Center City Philadelphia.

The opera takes place on a street in an unnamed Northern city in the spring of 1863 during the U.S.  Civil War.

There are 4 main characters. Jacob is a runaway slave, happy to be a free man finally. Ben Bearclaw, an African-American and Native American is a cemetery guard and gravedigger, who after chiding Jacob, relents and shows compassion and helps him find shelter and food,. Colonel Conrad enters to inform Ben that there are more dead soldiers to bury. Both men sing a gaunting number to honor the fallen men.

Tillie, a nurse at the hospital and ex-slave appears and sings a tender Night Dream Lullaby to ease the tension of the moment.

The final number War Cry is sung by a USCT (United States Colored Troops) Recruitment Officer, a rousing number to recruit soldiers for the USCT.

The 4 singers were deeply moving. Richard Smith, tenor, sang with a supple agile voice, effectively portraying the anxieties and relief of the young Jacob in finding freedom. Aaron Gooding has a pleasant deep bass tone, and made the most of his long, winding and deeply moving aria The Martyr.

Outstanding Philadelphia soprano Hazelita Fauntroy was an understated nurse Tillie, her clear bright tones melding perfectly with the beautiful Night Dream Lullaby, one of the most melodious pieces ever composed.

Tenor M. Barry Currington, who made his debut in 1979 at Carnegie Hall, led the effectively martial recruitment song, later joined by the other 3 artists for a highly rousing, yet pathos-filled conclusion.

The composer, Cynthia Lee provided strong musical support at the piano, never overwhelming the singers, but providing wonderful support, letting the beautiful, haunting poetry of the words be heard to great effect.

Cynthia Lee has written a highly melodious, haunting, energetic work.  While clearly a work-in-progress, it shows so much promise and sounds so beautiful that a full, completed opera will be fantastic.

This opera is an amazing story of an African-American family tracing and preserving their family roots. The performance  is dedicated to the memory of Cynthia and Hazel's mother, Grace Garner  Lee, and to their great-grandfather Sgt. Warren Garner, of the 4th Regiment Infantry, USCT, Maryland Volunteers, Company I. Sgt. Garner enlisted on Aug. 11, 1863 and mustered out on May 4, 1866.

Also, the history of African-Americans and opera, nationally and in Philly, is a story in progress, a story that must be preserved, told and celebrated.
I have had the recent honor of talking with Soprano Supreme Hazelita Fauntroy about that history.  Trained at AVA (Academy of Vocal Arts), she and her late husband Terry Hayes co-founded the Philmont Opera Company, which presented one of the most outstanding Aida's I have ever heard in 1990 at the Arch St. United Methodist Church on north Broad St. Both Mrs Fauntroy and Mr. Currington were part of that very memorable evening.

Much praise to all for these exciting excerpts of this beautiful new opera.

Partway to Freedom shines brightly for the future of Opera, good music in general, as a essential part of Black History, honoring our ancestors and just simply, adding angelic peaceful harmonies to the universe.


written by Erik Michael Younge/Jaguar Enterprises/Feb. 2013.
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Friday, June 22, 2012

To Feed or Not to Feed: Advocates Protest Against Philadelphia Public Feeding Ban

The signs are there along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They are stark, cold. They warn against public feeding of more than three people at any one time on any and all Philadelphia park and recreation areas: “Repeat violators will be subject to $150 fine”.

Jackson Walters, 44, homeless for 11 months, occasionally sleeps at Logan Circle, spends most of the weekday inside the Central Library, and relies on the daily public feedings to survive. To him, the signs bring to mind other park signs.
“It’s almost like, ‘Don’t feed the animals! Don’t feed the pigeons!’” Jackson laughs. “The city doesn’t see what a blessing it is for those of us down and out. I’m trying to get my life together. Need some help. I gotta eat, keep strong. The church people who come out here with food are doing a great service. And it ain’t right for the city to stop what they are doing. It’s not right!” he exclaimed.

The issue began when the city of Philadelphia announced in March that a ban on outdoor feeding in city parks will go into effect. Mayor Nutter stated that the hope was to encourage more indoor meals, which would be safer, healthier and would be able to provide additional resources and services to the homeless population, including physical and mental health care. Deputy Mayor Donald F. Schwartz also stated that the move indoors would help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses and ensure proper food safety.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health along with the Parks and Recreation Department held two public hearings in March and heard testimony from over 120 people, most who objected the ban.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell testified against the proposal, “It’s just not realistic, this proposal. Yes, it’s great to be able to sit down inside and eat a meal. We do not need to further victimize people in so many ways. This is not the way to do it. It sets up a negative approach to the problem. We need to make an investment in people, a positive investment.”
Blackwell organized a city council hearing on May 31st. More than 50 people attended, including representatives from 14 community groups, many food providers, several homeless individuals and three representatives from One Step Away.

Students from the Mathematics Civics and Sciences Charter School also testified about their weekly feeding program at both Ridge Shelter and at Love Park. The students have been serving hundreds of homeless and hungry people for over 5 years, raising $500 to $1,000 weekly for the Homeless Initiative Program. Gregory Dooley, a MCSCS student leader stated, “It is clear to me that the reason the Mayor has implemented this new directive is that he does not like the way large groups of homeless people and the public looks to visitors and the more affluent residents.”

David Shively who has been on the streets handing out coffee and doughnuts to the homeless for years testified that he was “ready and willing to go to jail if need be” for feeding people. He called on city officials to work “with us, not against us” in feeding the people. “You need us. You may not know that, but you need us.”

In early April, Mayor Nutter agreed to assemble a mayoral task force to regulate outdoor feedings and find sufficient indoor spaces for the homeless. At the May 31st city council hearing, several members of the Task Force complained in frustration that there were not enough organized resources in place, especially viable indoor sites.
Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project H.O.M.E withdrew her earlier support of the mayoral task force until the city was able to provide a viable plan for moving the meals indoors and “appropriate quality dining centers are in place.”

Although the ban officially went into effect on June 1, Altressa Boatwright, Operations manager of Chosen 300 ministries encouraged “every church, every organization, every individual that has been serving on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to continue serving, despite this law…” Chosen 300 offered to pay the fines for anyone fined as long as funds were available.
The Saturday feedings along the Parkway went on as planned without incident. No warnings were given at any of the weekend feedings. No fines.
No city reaction at all.

On June 4, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Nutter and the city of Philadelphia on behalf of several religious groups to block the feeding ban, charging it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Chosen 300 Ministries, the Welcome Church, the King’s Jubilee and Philly Restart.

“Chosen 300 and many of the organizations attempted to work with the Health Department and Parks and Recreation Department to come up with a reasonable solution to a false claim that this was a health and dignity concern. We have attended four hearings, three meetings, and four appearances before City Council. The city has chosen not to sit at the table with those who serve outdoors to come up with a solution that is equitable and protects our rights as well as those we serve. As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ it is our responsibility to try to reconcile, but the city has left us with no option but to file for an injunction in federal court,” Boatwright said in a statement exclusively to One Step Away.

Attorney Paul Messing stated that the plaintiffs have been feeding the homeless and the hungry on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and other locations for over a decade and it was an essential part of their religious ministry and Pennsylvania law protects their right to participate in public feedings. “What they are doing is exercising their religious beliefs. A ban on the use of the entirety of Fairmount Park violates their first amendment rights,” Messing said.

On June 13, the city of Philadelphia released a brief press statement that “there will be no effort to enforce the new city policy and regulations until the Court makes a decision at the scheduled hearing.”
A hearing on the preliminary injunction in federal court is scheduled the second week in July.

Posted by Erik Younge & Paulina Malek

The Right to Feed: A National Struggle

The struggle against Philadelphia’s public feeding ban has highlighted this civic and religious issue across the nation. More than 50 cities have previously adopted anti-food sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The list includes Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas and Oklahoma City.  

Heather Johnson, a civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty center stated, “We’re seeing these types of laws being proposed and passed all over the country. We think that criminalization measures such as these are counterproductive. Rather than address the root causes of homelessness, they actually serve to perpetuate homelessness.”

City officials across the board argue that indoor feedings are better all around, providing a measure of dignity, expand services, ensure good public hygiene and safety. There is also the “obligation not only to the people in the parks and on the streets but to the wider community to prevent a public health problem,” says James Brooks of the National League of Cities.      

In two striking cases, the Federal Courts have ruled against the ordinances to restrict public feedings. In 2008, Orlando Federal Judge Gregory A. Presnell stated that the ordinance violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiff, the First Vagabonds Church of God, and struck down the city’s ban. In 2010, the Nevada ACLU also successfully challenged a Las Vegas homeless feeding ban and reached a settlement that required the police to halt ticketing violators unless there was clear evidence of unlawful activity.
In cities, such as Philadelphia, which saw about 38 million visitors in 2011, city officials may believe that long lines of the homeless and the hungry along the Parkway will keep visitors away from the city.

Debate on this issue is widespread and growing. More than a dozen petitions online have enlisted thousands of signatures nationally and internationally in support of public feedings. One of the commentators on Alex Jones’ Infowars, a news show website, added this comment to her signed petition: “Sometimes a well-timed sandwich or a cup of hot soup can make a world of difference for a homeless person.”

One of the most surprising statements came from national pundit Glenn Beck who introduced One Step Away as “a Philadelphia-area newspaper which is a voice for the city’s homeless,” quoted me from my testimony at the May 31st city council hearing, “Feeding people and serving the needs of the people is a fundamental right. Erik is correct. Feeding people is a fundamental right because it’s a natural moral impulse. When you see someone in need, you want to help. You do your part. Not because someone tells you, but because you know it is the right thing to do…We have the right to feed. The right to care. And we must exercise it.

posted by Erik Younge & Paulina Malek

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

























No one knows exactly where she came from or when exactly she first appeared. She just was there one evening, small, afraid, alone sitting in the sideyard tent at Kailo Haven shelter. Some think a former resident brought her there and left her seeking shelter from the storm.

She is black and white, has green eyes and a pretty face that warms your heart. She is absolutely beautiful, affectionate and a survivor.

She is our princess. I call her Princess Kaila. Other residents and staff have their own pet names for her. She is about 2 years old now. And we share the same birthdate.
The Princess is a formerly stray street cat who has graciously allowed us to adopt her. We brush her fur, feed her, tickle her chin, feed her again, stroke her hair, and feed and water her when she needs it.
We also have a long-time house cat called Muff, who looks like Kaila’s mom but they all say she is no relation.
At first Kaila stayed mostly in the tent, content to come inside every so often, but she liked her freedom.

Last year she had her first litter of 4 cute kittens. One died within a week but the others survived and eventually grew strong enough to be adopted by loving staff members. We see pictures of one – Blue- who has apparently just taken over the home of a Kailo Haven staff member with a style that would make his mother proud.

This past March, the Princess decided to do it again. She had another litter. Five little breast-feeders this time. 3 females and 2 males.
We brought the whole family temporarily inside because of outside predators where they could be watched. A love affair began. The growth of the Kailo Five became a major project.
Within 10 days their eyes opened. They began tenative walk movements, often stumbling around, feeling for their legs. They were washed by mom, soon learning to wash each other. They play-fighted with one another and soon found their way outside the box they were in and explored the wide world outside the little nest.
Princess was provided soft blankets, a steady diet of nutritous food and water and much love and care.
And their effect on many of us was remarkable. Sometimes, petty arguements and spats stopped just to take care of the Kaila family.
The sophmore mom was a pro, nursing and raising the litter without a hitch.

All have been adopted by staff members now. One staff member, Mrs V. took two – the twins of the litter. One was mainly black with a tuff of white hair on the left paw and the other one the exact opposite, with white on the right. We know they all are in good hands.
Meanwhile, Queen Muff was not too happy at this intrusion, but she worked out an uneasy truce.

Its remarkable how life plays out sometimes.
In a homeless shelter, where people are sometimes depressed, frustrated, confronted and challenged with bad news and even illness and death, in the middle of all this tragedy – the miracle of new life can begin and flourish and bring out moments of kindness and love.
Its a little sad now that they are all gone from Kailo Haven. Princess is back outside in the tent and she has moments of longing for her crew, but she seems aware that all is well and nature has taken care of them all.

Princess Kaila wanted me to write her story. She considers herself just as much a Kailo Haven resident as anyone else. And she is royalty, you know.

So through the miracle of birth by a stray cat, life at the Shelter was uplifted. And we all are much better for it.
We honor all mothers this Mother’s Day, including the Princess.

(I have just been informed that both Queen Muff and Princess Kaila want their biography titled : The Amazing Cats at the Shelter. And they want royalties)

posted by Erik M Younge.

This article was originally published in ONE STEP AWAY, Philadelphia's first and only street newspaper in May 2010 in honor of Mothers' Day 2010.

Thursday, May 24, 2012



“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

The recent Penn State scandal is a personal shot to the gut. As a father of 3, It packs a powerful punch.
Sexual abuse, in general, and sexual abuse of children is a disturbing epidemic in this country.
The 3 most alarming areas where sexual abuse is a cancer these days are in the schools, the sports arena and the church.

According to a recent major national study by the American Association of University Women, during the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced “some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media…..It’s reached a level where it’s almost a normal part of the school day….It’s somewhat of a vicious cycle. The kids who are harassers often have been harassed themselves.”
The survey asked 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools nationally whether they had experienced any of the various forms of sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual comments about/to them, being physically touched in an inappropriate sexual manner, being shown sexually explicit photos, being called gay or lesbian in a negative way as an insult, and having to deal with unwelcome sexual rumors and malicious gossip.

In the sports world, Penn State scandal is just the latest of several incidents of sexual abuse, harassment and improprity that have come to light.

A report by Edward Williams in The Grio online site highlighted the case of Ernest Lorch, a millionaire investment attorney and founder of the very successful Riverside Church Basketball program in Westchester County and Bob Oliva, head of Christ King Regional High School basketball program in Queens, NYC.
The Christ King program has won 5 city championships. Many of its players, like Lamar Odom of the Lakers and former Nets Jayson Williams, are known NBA ers. In 2009, Bob Oliva was “forced to resign in shame after accusations of child molestation and an investigation which led to him (Oliva) pleading guilty of all charges listing him as a sexual predator.”
Ernest Lorch also became the target of an investigation into sexual abuse charges when a former player came forward with the revelation that he had been sexually abused since the age of 12 by Lorch, who tried to buy his silence with large sums of money to keep silent.

In 2010, Bishop Eddie Long, a mega church Georgia minister was accused of several accounts of sexual abuse of young men, from their early teens until they turned 17. Long, at first, denied any wrongdoing, but soon settled financially all the accusers claims to stem the tide of growing sexual abuse complaints.
Added to the Catholic Church priests scandal, sexual abuse cases have involved religious denominations from Baptists to Jewish rabbis.
There is a common thread running through a majority of these cases: the victims are overwhelmingly from underprivileged backgrounds, so-called at-risk kids, throwaway children, neglected youth, nameless, faceless and voiceless who “were invited to play a sick, dangerous and twisted game, while many good men watched in silence, and did nothing.” (words of Ernest Williams).

Young African-American boys have been especially the victims of these predators. Perhaps it is because they are labelled “at-risk”, “underprivileged”. They have the least defense mechanisms and resources to fight back, and so are the most vulnerable.
The sports arena predators use the athletic dreams of Black boys to build their trust. such as Lorch, Oliva and Sandusky at Penn State did with their basketball programs and football youth academies.
When that trust is betrayed and the sexual abuses and rapes occur, these boys/victims are afraid to report the abuse. Who will believe them? Men can’t report such abuse. Especially by another man. That will show that they are a real man. Or the monsters of abuse will pay off the victims to maintain their silence.

As a father, a man, a basic human being, this evil compels me to work harder against such and any instances of sexual abuse. We all good people cannot be silent and allow it to continue. Like the Good Samaritan in the New Testament, we must ask ourselves, “If I don’t act, what will become of that abused soul?”.

posted by Erik Younge: comments at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012






Minister Peter Gomes smilingly points out that as a pastor of a church, he wonders why his congregation usually spends so much time worrying over church concerns and spends so little time on church celebrations.

I think this applies to all of us. We like to highlight negative or the troubling events in our lives and downplay the positive or ‘bland’ feel-good events.
I’m guilty of rolling in juicy gossip at times as most people. So I like to use this particular feature to point out Just ORDINARY PEOPLE doing extraordinary things.

One of my favorites is Rasheedah Phillips and her daughter Iyonna.

I still remember the May 2005 Phila. Inquirer story by reporter Susan Snyder that introduced me to this ORDINARY WOMAN.
Rasheedah was an A student at Lincoln High School in Northeast Philly. She became pregnant at age 14. The expectant teen mother lost 6 months of the 9th grade, saw her A’s drop to C & D & F’s, followed by severe depression until she was briefly hospitalized.
Despite negative advice from negative people, Rasheedah never considered abortion or adoption. She was determined to make a better life for herself and her child. She would not let the stereotype, the image of the lost teen mothers trapped in a viscous cycle halt her dreams and goals.

ORDINARY PEOPLE find strength in adversity and fight against all odds.
Her story continued in a 2008 follow-up piece by reporter Snyder:
Rasheedah graduated from Lincoln with several awards and $9000 in scholarships for her outstanding achievements.
She decide to attend Temple University, while working a job and raising her daughter Iyonna.
She became a criminal-justice major, a research assistant, data transcriber and office manager, and also blossoming into a “terrific writer” as one Temple professor remarked.
Her story inspired many folks who wrote to Rasheedah, donated money, marvelling at her courage and determination.
On May 22, 2008, Rasheedah graduated with highest honors from Temple’s Beasly School of law. Her daughter Iyonna, then 9, proudly joined her mother walking across that stage in triumph.

It gets even better!
A recent posting on the Community Legal ervices (CLS) website highlights her post-graduate career. She worked in the CLS Family Advocacy Unit, conducted “Know Your Rights” community education sessions for teen mothers, eventually becoming a fulltime CLS public interest attorney. She speaks to countless groups of teen parents and social workers about her life and offers sound advice to help others achieve their goals.
Rasheedah serves on the board of directors for agencies that provide nedded care and services for chldren. She has contributed insightful articles to a number of books and publications . She has taking the time to provide helpful sisterly advice to younger African-American girls on the importance of using the inner power within us all to serve the community . She drafted a stinging petition calling for radio stations to “Implement measures to screen and minimize disrespectful lyrics” that denigrate and abuse people, especially women and children.

And her daughter Iyonna, now 11, is a mirror image of her mother, a bright, intelligent, positive pre-teen described as an avid reader and eager learner.

I had the opportunity to personally meet Rasheedah after placing a call to her office at CLS to discuss this article. She was flattered by the iea and she graciously agreed to meet with me the following week.
It is rare that one you admire from afar exceeds your expectations. Rasheedah was humble, gracious, intelligent, exuding a warmth and a strong serving commitment.
We conversed for a while. I introduced her to this paper 1 Step Away and talked about its purpose and the community it serves. We then shared stories about our children and i wished her much success in the future.

I like to end with this quote from an article Rasheedah wrote for the Drum Major, a publication of the Pennslvania Legal Aid Network in 2007:
"I am often asked why I chose to embark on this particular journey of serving the community when a law degree gives me nearly infinite possibillities, many of which could net me a comfortable income. Unfortunately, from the perception of many, a lawyer’s job is synonymous with a large income, television-like courtroom drama, and the defense of the supposedly immoral and depraved. Why , then, did I choose to do public interest work? There may be infinite possibillities for this degree, but for me, in my proverbial heart, mind, body and soul, there quite simply is no choice among those possibillities. …………………..
It is my humanity, my human experiences, and my interconnectedness to other humans whom I most identify with that forces me to attempt to improve our lot. Some people allow such experiences to jade them, or perhaps they become consumed by them, while others let their experiences drive them and give them purpose.
I have captalized on one of my many purposes this summer, and I plan to continue to do so in my future career as a public interest attorney.”

dedicated to rasheedah and Iyonna and all teen parents. Peace.

posted by Erik Michael Younge. @JAGUAR ENT./2010

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