Thursday, December 22, 2016

New Mexican filmmakers remind us of Gandhi's message - and courage

New Mexican filmmakers Kell Kearns, Director and Co-Producer, and Cynthia Lukas, Co- Producer, have created a moving tribute to Mahatma Gandhi that documents his final years before his assassination on January 30, 1948. It screened at The Guild in Albuquerque in November 2016, and in 2017, this film will be broadcast by American Public Television on PBS . 

The film weaves together archival film, photos and commentary from several experts along with one of Gandhi’s grandson to tell the story of his final years. It is an excellent introduction to Gandhi’s sacrifice for those who know little about his life. By focusing on his final years, the film producers ask and answer the question: were Gandhi’s final years his finest? 

When Gandhi was released from prison by the British in 1944, it was done because British authorities did not want him to die a martyr while locked up. They believed Gandhi, weak and in his late 70s, was near death. They had no concerns that he would continue his nonviolent movement to remove British rule from India. 

Gandhi healed himself and then shifted his focus to the violence that was killing thousands upon thousands of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. For his remaining years, he practiced self-sacrifice by occasional fasting, he continually met with opposing forces, and and tried to bring people together in peaceful co-existence. 

One of his most brave and dangerous pilgrimages is called “The Miracle of Noakhali.” After the slaughter of countless Muslims and Hindus, Gandhi and others walked barefoot 165 miles from one village to another with a message of peace. He interacted with people from both sides, believing conflicts would resolve when he asked Hindus and Muslims to live together peacefully. 

In the end, Gandhi is assassinated by a fellow Hindu. Gandhi’s death so shocked his fellow Indians that genocide by both sides stopped. It is believed that the feeling of loss by all and his self-sacrifice is the reason why Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs co-existed from that point forward in India. Gandhi’s goal, “an end to the pain of the suffering ones,” was achieved to an extent. His message of nonviolent resistance has resonated throughout the decades following his death. 

“Gandhi’s Gift” is Director-Producer Kell Kearns’ 15th independent film. Previously, he directed two acclaimed PBS Biographies: one of Martin Luther King, Jr. - “In Remembrance of Martin,” (1987), the second about the great Sufi poet - "Rumi Returning" (2007).
"Gandhi’s final years are especially inspiring because he showed our world a way out of the descending spiral of violence and hatred,” Kearns said. 

He and Co-Producer Cynthia Lukas are fortunate to have interviewed witnesses who actually grew up in the Mahatma’s presence. “One fascinating aspect of making this film has been meeting those who are living and teaching Gandhian principles of nonviolence, equality, interfaith harmony and sustainability,” Lukas said.  The link below gives more information on the film. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Over a year ago I began planning a cycling event where I would ride my bike from Albuquerque to Baltimore to raise funds for and awareness of programs to help those released from prisons live successful lives.

In 2016, I spent the first few months training, then tending to a loved one's illness and then finally heading out on April 2nd.  I arrived in Baltimore on June 1st and if anyone wishes to read details about the journey, here's a link to that blog, one that I write separately in order to specifically focus on social justice issues.

I actually put just about 1400 miles on the bike on the trip, raised a bit over $4000 that was divided among 4 nonprofits that have good reentry programs, and proved to myself I could do it (despite at times bad roads, bad weather, the occasional chasing dog, an injury, and more bridges than I ever expected-we need major work on infrastructure in this country).  

Getting back into my daily routine was tough since I left so many of my personal projects on hold while I traveled.  

Photography takes a lot of time in and of itself, so I had to "catch up," if you will, with my work at the Albuquerque Photographers' Gallery,  adding some new imagery to freshen up my display.

My work with two prison ministries was also awaiting me upon return.  In one, we spent the fall reading and discussing Bryan Stephenson's "Just Mercy," his perspective on death row inmates, the difficulty of getting the innocent released (one out of nine), and the horrors of the lives of those facing this sentence.  We also got to hear a speaker tell his story at UNM - he had been wrongfully convicted of a murder and was on death row, much of it in solitary, for decades.

The other ministry with which I am involved spent two days recently in Las Cruces at a men's facility where we unite family members and especially the children with the inmates in a day of joy, thanks, music, craft-making and sharing.

There were high hopes that mass incarceration and the collateral damage to our society would finally be addressed since it was a topic of discussion among several politicians.  Bernie seemed to address it most honestly but a number of others pledged to deal with this issue.   Until we effectively handle the racial and class disparities regarding incarceration - and offer positive programming and social supports both in and out of prisons - we are failing as a society.  I'm not sure how this will end now that election results are in. I do not have high hopes.

I have been working on a number of writing projects, keeping in touch with family who have had to face health difficulties, and working with someone for whom I am a mentor of sorts to help him get his life on a good track, which it is.   

I'll try to keep this blog more active now that the gargantuan amount of work needed for last year's event has concluded.

I'll end with quotes by renowned writers:  
Dostoevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” 
Nelson Mandela:  "“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

As I get closer to my 3400 mile cycling (with perhaps a short train ride) fundraising trip from Albuquerque to Baltimore via Florida, I'm starting to get nervous.  Riding through dozens of uninhabited miles - at times on roads with simply shoulders - is scary. What am I thinking?

The goal of starting my own nonprofit to focus on re-entry of people from prison to society was an initial goal.  I had practiced law for 27 years (the last 5 as an assistant public defender). I continued  in the legal field for 7 more years (research, mediations).  Moving to Albuquerque, I was fortunate to find a job with a start-up nonprofit that focused on reading and graduation.  I met many wonderful people in Albuquerque working on the same issues.  I learned how hard it is to start your own nonprofit.  I also learned about people, nonprofits and community organizations throughout this country that already have fantastic programs to assist with re-entry.

Hope.  Promise.  Reduction of recidivism, homelessness and the crime rate.  More productive citizens.  Fewer crime victims.

Thus, New Beginnings Work is born.

Thanks to my sister Kathleen for helping with the design and planning.

Wings for Life, Crossroads for Women (both in Albuquerque), Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake and Volunteers of America Chesapeake (both in Baltimore) all offer excellent programs and services for those working to put prison life behind them.    These are the organizations for which I am raising money.

A car accident (where I collided with a person who ran a red light) put my training on hold and I still have lingering neck, shoulder and back issues but I'm moving toward healing.

I'm hopeful I can begin on March 5th!  More to come.  Peace out.