Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Countdown To The 40th Marine Corps Marathon And Celebrating The Warrior Spirit

In just a few days, Jamie and I will join with thousands of men and women from all over the world to run the 40th Marine Corps Marathon. While our training this year has not been as rigorous and regimented as it was in years past (challenges with travel, etc.), we are starting to feel ready for what is ahead.

While the training was not ideal (it almost never is), Jamie and I both feel stronger than we have felt for either of our two previous marathons, and we are ecstatic to be able to finally meet some of the folks from around the country who have chosen to run this year's Marine Corps Marathon for Team Nuru International. Over the last three years, nearly 100 individuals have signed on with Team Nuru, laced up their shoes, and committed themselves to running a marathon as their unique contribution to seeing the end of extreme poverty in our lifetimes. And for many, this is their first marathon. Each of us are actually working to raise money for Nuru to continue to change the lives of farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia; want to help with financial support?

When I think ahead to the race on Sunday, I think about three types of warriors, and how this event celebrates the warrior spirit. The most obvious type is the man or woman who is serving in the US or another country's armed forces. Marines line the entire course and coordinate the entire event. Each year, it seems like our timing at the metro stop is perfectly synced with the Royal Netherlands Navy marathon team as well.

The second type of warrior celebrated (at least for team Nuru) is the farmer who is working to see his or her family out of extreme poverty. This warrior gets up each morning before the call of the rooster to begin working the field, caring for children, and preparing for the day that will end after the setting of the sun. Want to learn more about this kind of warrior? Check out the video below.

The third type of warrior is seen all along the course, and if you are not paying attention you might miss him or her. If you are running, they are likely running next to you, behind you, or in front of you. This warrior is the one who exerted self-discipline for at least six months in an effort to prepare for the marathon. She sacrificed, in an effort to achieve a goal that may have seemed only a slight possibility at the beginning of her training. He may be running to honor a fallen family member or in an effort to show himself victorious in a fight against a disease. This runner may have started down this path to overcome obesity, or to prove that he/she has what it takes. And at the end of the race, they will receive an honor and recognition for their efforts.

The first year we ran the Marine Corps Marathon, I saw my wife demonstrate this tenacious warrior mentality in an incredibly powerful way. Thursday before the race, she left work sick. She came home with a 102˚ F temperature. Friday morning, she was feeling "better", and we made the trip from Morgantown to Washington DC. Friday night, she went to sleep and slept for fourteen hours. All along this three day stretch she was coughing. She had resolved in her mind that she did not train to sit out of the race, and so she came race day, and willed herself to the finish line.

I learned a lot from running alongside Jamie that day. I'd like to think that I would have gotten out of bed to run with the kind of resolve she had if our situation was reversed. She refused to quit and refused to let the bus pick her up. She gave her all to complete the race and was awarded with a medal at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

But I think she came away with something more. She tapped into her warrior mindset, tested her mettle, and walked away with a deeper peace and confidence that has only grown stronger since that race. She is one of the most mentally strong and resilient individuals I have ever met, and I am privileged that I not only get to run 26.2 miles with her this Sunday, but I get to spend almost every day running through life together with her!

And as Jamie and I countdown to the event, we look forward to journeying through our nation's capital with thousands of warriors who have trained, prepared, and are mission ready. We also take time to remind ourselves of our brothers and sisters around the world who are choosing to give their utmost every day to push through to create a better world for their family, their community, and themselves.

May each of us fight tenaciously forward and never quit until our day comes to give up the ghost. As my friend and teammate at Nuru Alex Martin is fond of quoting, "All it takes is all you've got!"

Friday, October 16, 2015

World Food Day 2015: Why I Am Celebrating Farmers

Today is World Food Day, and for many that means writing and thinking about global hunger and nutrition. Those are important topics, but to me, it is important to celebrate the people who grow the food that the world eats. And who does that? Farmers!

I've written at other times about growing up eating food from our family garden, and even written about the reminders and celebrations of tradition that have come from having a small plot near our home dedicated to planting and growing food for our table. But today, I want to write in celebration of farmers around the world, starting locally.

For the last three years, Jamie and I have enjoyed being part of a local community supported agriculture program with Mountain Harvest Farm LLC. Each week we receive a share of what our farmer friends Mary and Chico have been able to produce from a plot of land just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia. As the weather changes and the seasons progress, we are able to enjoy a wide array of vegetables, according to the time tables of what can be grown and when in our climate. We also supplement this panoply of vegetables with occasional stops to the Morgantown Farmers Market, or with purchases from Working H Farms. Our support of local agriculture helps keep us rooted in the reality of where our food comes from. It comes from the ground. It comes from hard work. And it doesn't just magically appear in supermarkets. Somewhere there is a farmer working hard so that many can enjoy the fruit of his or her labor.

And farming is not just a local phenomenon. Today I also want to take a moment to celebrate the men and women around the world who are reliant on the bounty of their small farms to provide for their families and the needs of their communities. Wherever farmers are working, they are addressing the challenges of hunger and nutrition. They are working in concert with the cycles of weather, and they are growing in their understanding of the land, its care, and their relationship to it. Through the work I've been part of at Nuru International, I have met hard-working farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia whose work-ethic and care for their family and community would shame those of many in the West.

Today I celebrate farmers because they are the producers of the food we eat, and without food, none of us are able to bring our contributions to the world!

Thank you, farmers, on World Food Day and every day. Every step forward for humanity comes from the strong foundation you build. Farmers are the providers not only for their own families, but also for many others in their community. If you can, reach out to a farmer and thank them for their example, their work ethic, and their provision. And if you have a small space of land, I encourage you to plant some crops, and learn both the joy and the challenges of being a producer!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus Day And/Or Native American Day

Today many people took time off from work to celebrate Columbus Day and/or Native American Day, and most of us give very little thought to celebrating Columbus' "discovery" of America. I can remember learning in first grade that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But outside of some family stories around our own Shawnee tribal traditions, I learned very little about native people in school other than some very simple stories about  "The First Thanksgiving" and possibly a story about Pocahontas.

It wasn't until I was in college that I began learning more about the systemic destruction of native peoples, lands, and culture that Columbus ushered in when he landed in the New World. I remember reading some of the writings of Bartolomé De Las Casas in an English class and learning about his first-hand witness of atrocities committed against the Taino and others in the New World in the late 1400s and early 1500s. Bartolomé De Las Casas was a Dominican friar, and while he was once a participant in this exploitation and destruction, he began to be strong opponent to the injustices of which he participated and witnessed. Historians estimate that there were between 1-8 million Taino on Hispaniola in 1492, and that this number was reduced to about 60,000 in less than 30 years. In 30 years, hundreds of thousands were directly murdered, enslaved, or succumbed to diseases brought by their new neighbors.

The irony of this kind of exploitation is that Columbus wrote this of these new neighbors, "there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy." How in the world could these words be shared at the onset of one of the greatest combined genocide, land grab, and enslavement of a group of peoples that the world has seen?

Greed is the simple answer. An unquenchable desire for more is what led to this horrid beginning for the New World and the bringing together of cultures. 2% of the population of the US is now comprised of various Native people, and probably the reason why Columbus Day has not been replaced with a day for honoring Native people is because 98% of the US population is an immigrant population. Now that is a strange thing to consider, especially given the debates happening in our country regarding immigration and a potential influx of refugees from other countries seeking some safe haven, and maybe it is greed that keeps the door closed for a new wave of immigrants now.

It is all too easy to look back from the vantage of the present and see the sins of commission and omission of past generations, but what can we do to help prevent future generations from indicting us on similar charges long after we have breathed our last on this earth?

I wish there were simple answers, but when I think about it, there are so many different steps we can take, it is hard to know where to start. But, I believe there needs to be a starting point. If greed was the sin that led to thousands of tribes being wiped out, what can you and I do to curtail our own greed?

I think the key is to live a more simple life and to strive to do more with less. What does it look like? I think there are a number of simple activities that we can begin to build into our daily and weekly rhythm that can help us to let go of greed.

  • Give things away (time, money, resources). Most of us have way more than we need--why not share?
  • Walk or ride a bike when we can (traveling less than 1-2 miles) instead of driving a car. Not only is it good for the planet, but it is a reminder that for most of the world's history, people did not travel by using fossil fuels--they used their legs, or rode horses.
  • Use less energy. Turn off lights when you are not using them. Power down appliances. We've come to accept that it is normal to constantly use energy. It's not all.
  • Turn off the TV. Read a book. Talk to a friend or family member. Make a new friend.
When was the last time you did one or more of these things? I feel like activities like these help to cultivate simplicity and generosity in our life. When we cultivate simplicity and generosity, we are less likely to be consumed by greed. Saul of Tarsus once wrote that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil," but I would say that the love of things could lead us away from loving people

So as you celebrate or observe this holiday, I think the best way you could celebrate it is to cultivate some habits that reduce greed. And, rather than celebrating Columbus' discovery today or brooding on the injustices of the last five hundred years, set your mind toward simplicity, and cultivate a heart of generosity. There is always a place in this world for more of both. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Downtown Black Bear Burritos Benefit For Nuru International Monday October 5 2015 530PM-Close

I'm so excited! Two of my favorite things are coming together to smash extreme poverty in the face! Black Bear Burritos, one of my favorite Morgantown restaurants is hosting a benefit night for Nuru International October, 5, 2015 from 530PM to close at the downtown restaurant location! There will be live music AND proceeds from the sale of the special "Bowl Lotta Love" will benefit Nuru!!!

It means a lot to have a local business championing Nuru, but it has even greater meaning because one of the owners of Black Bear, Jason Coffman, has been my friend since high school, and, while I always get super-amped when people join Nuru's efforts to fight extreme poverty, it is extra special when good friends and folks from our state get involved! Nuru's CEO, Jake Harriman, hails from Preston County, West Virginia and many of Nuru's earliest staff and board members are either native West Virginians or WVU alums (and sometimes both!). People from our state love to celebrate good things that West Virginians are doing and Black Bear and Nuru are two entities as a West Virginian that I love celebrating!

And Black Bear, aside from being a business launched by a good friend and high school classmate (senior class president I might add!), is a business that in my opinion champions good things in and from our state. For starters, the black bear is West Virginia's state animal! The artwork featured in the restaurants comes from West Virginia artists and many of the musicians who setup on the stage are either West Virginians or they hail from Appalachia. Not only that, Black Bear strives to host an assortment of West Virginia crafted beverages along with maintaining an array of ingredients for their food sourced locally. This benefit follows closely on the heels of Nuru getting recognition by official resolution from both the WV State Senate and House of Delegates for its work fighting extreme poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia.

In addition to these amazing West Virginia connections, I'm also proud to say that almost every one of our early staff at Nuru has eaten at Black Bear at least once, so Black Bear Burritos has become something of a legendary dining establishment among those early Nuru alums. And as Jamie and I have increased our travel to share Nuru's story with other people and invite them to join our efforts, Black Bear Burritos is one of the 'tastes of Morgantown' we look forward to enjoying when we return.

On a more personal note, I'm incredibly proud of what Jason and Matt have done in creating Black Bear Burritos. Jason, Matt, and their team have created what I consider a restaurant atmosphere that provides a common ground and a community space for people from a variety of backgrounds and tastes. A kid friendly space with frequent live music and local art, and a delicious menu with something for just about anyone is kind of a tall order for a college town (or any town for that matter). When friends visit from outside Morgantown, Black Bear is one of the first restaurants I want to introduce them to. And when friends visit who used to live in town, it's usually at the top of their list of places to dine upon their return.

I'm really excited about seeing some old friends at the event tomorrow, and possibly making some new friends too! If you are unable to join us for the event, will you stop by our event page and donate online? Every contribution helps!

Hope to see you there! And remember, together, we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime! Let's never stop believing we can change the world, because to not believe it would be downright silly!

Go Black Bear! Go Nuru! And let's goooooooo Mountaineers!