On April 10, 2011, the capstone event of the “Malden Reads…one city, one Book” project was held at Malden High School Jenkins Auditorium. Entitled “A Community Performance,” the event celebrated the themes from the Malden Reads book selections for the project’s inaugural year. The main book section, “The Soloist,” is a story about talent, destiny, compassion and humanity, and the Malden Reads project, as a whole, encompassed all of these qualities.
Maldonians not only read and discussed the book and watched the movie, they tried to understand the problems of the troubled soul of Nathaniel Ayers, his devotedness to music despite the obstacles, and the thin barrier between genius and madness. They also tried to “follow” Lopez in his attempts to help Ayers improve his life. Discussions about the book led to more discussion—about homeless people living in Malden, who also need help, shelter, and food—and then to action, thus, “Friendship Soup” (or “Stone Soup”) at St. Paul’s Church was organized, and other events and activities helped raise awareness and support Housing Families and the Bread of Life in Malden.
The Community Performance showed Maldonians’ artistic understanding of themes from “The Soloist,” and the themes of the related books chosen for a younger audience. Country music and jazz, dances and readings, poems and life stories—all of this became the canvas on which the community painted its understanding of the stories. Performers were enthusiastic and sincere, inspired and joyful, serious and tragic. All of them were united by compassion, kindness, and the desire to help others and to share what they have. They expressed this through their songs, dances, and theatrical sketches.
It was important that all of the participants, especially the young ones, understand the necessity to help those who are less fortunate, and to do it every day, not just occasionally. The famous phrase of Greek fabulist Aesop, “United we stand, divided we fall,” still sounds true and not only for the tough times. Together we can help each other in our everyday struggle for the better life—the struggle that is so typical for humankind. Even Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
The April 10 performance showed Malden’s community soul, the compassion of its citizens, how they are able to hear and to listen, and to understand and to share. Also, we learned how many talented people live in Malden: The Araiza family band with teenage daughter Crystal as an outstanding vocalist, young “Sylfides” from the Paula Terenzi Dance Complex who elegantly flied on the stage like violet butterflies, energetic tap dancers with their beautifully performed dancing joke, “To Be or Not To Bee”, young poets, actors and musicians, chorus singers and readers, and much more. Among the participants was the Perkins Trio from the Perkins School for the Blind: Andy Park, John Castillo, and Maldonian Anton Sviridenko. These three young musicians who, like Mr. Ayers from “The Soloist”, had to battle with destiny, showed all of us how talent can overcome the obstacles.
The sad story of Cheryl B. from the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers bureau, who bravely shared her story with the audience, was difficult to listen to, but was ultimately redemptive in its narrative. It is easy to speak about one’s own achievements, and so hard about failures. A 62-year-old woman, who most of her life was in the chains of drug addiction and prostitution, eventually freed herself with the help of others. The trembling voice of the speaker, together with the poetic verses of AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer Porsha Olayiwola, touched the deepest strings in people’s hearts.
Hannah Calderone’s singing of John Lennon’s powerful song “Imagine” that expresses her life philosophy and her beliefs, became the beautiful ending of the Malden Reads performance that united many Maldonians of different ages, racial, ethnic, and social groups.
It is good to see that so many people do not postpone good deeds for tomorrow, because, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
For a long period Malden used to be the cultural center of Middlesex county, with its own theater, art gallery, historical society and more. Perhaps the “Malden Reads” project will help spur Malden’s cultural revival. The Malden Public Library, Malden Access TV, and the Oak Grove Improvement Association played leading roles in the project’s organization, but the project also enjoyed the support, involvement, and participation of many local residents, organizations, and businesses. Due to a tremendous community effort, “Malden Reads” was a uniquely interesting and successful project.
It is especially important that young Maldonians so enthusiastically participated in it. “Malden Reads” helped them to understand the significant role of community life and network connections. As George Bernard Shaw told “…my life belongs to the whole community and …it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
Inna Babitskaya is an ESL Assistant teacher at the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden and a freelance writer. She can be reached at Innaab@yahoo.com. For more information about the Malden Reads project, please visit www.maldenreads.org.