Posted by on December 19, 2019

Last night, Leanne and I were at a dinner featuring a veteran human rights activist, Magdaleno Rose-Avila. Our host made three pots of soup and asked his guests to bring the sides. There were cookies all around, bread, asparagus, desserts and lots of wine. About 50 people attended this dinner, including three dogs and at least three teenagers. Our host got chocked up when he started to talk about why he hosts monthly soup nights. He invites people to gather, share a meal and connect as a way to address loneliness that he observed in his community. I truly felt connected as I knitted in a corner and listened to the speaker.

This morning, I checked my front door out of habit and found a small Ziplock bag of cookies from a neighbor down the street with a card of holiday well wishes. I am sure I have never met her. I felt seen and went back indoors and quelled that urge to go buy a gift (Me bake? Never!) for my thoughtful neighbor. I live in Clarkston, the most diverse one square mile in America, and my neighbor’s rock! (Thanks, Maria!)

My heart was further warmed when I scrolled on Facebook and saw people I know show up in court. Backstory: Diana Elliot, a single mother of 4 was living in a hotel and one of her children, a 14-year-old boy named Sheldon, is non-verbal and has Down Syndrome. Overwhelm caused her to drop her developmentally disabled child off at Grady Hospital where she felt he would be cared for appropriately. Of course, the cameras caught her face and tracked her down. Although she has no criminal record and has never been arrested, she was arrested and charged with 1st degree child cruelty. Bond is rarely granted for such cases.

An attorney showed up at her bond hearing today to represent Diana pro bono. His name is Brian Jarrad and he drove an hour and a half from Macon to Atlanta to represent her. Another woman, Carla Griffin, also showed up. Over 10 years ago, Carla made the same exact decision to leave her 17-year-old son who has Down Syndrome in the emergency room of a hospital. She has since reunited with her son and came out today to support Diana.

The news reports that the Assistant District Attorney asked where Diana would live if she was released, Carla raised her hand and said “She will live with me. We are family now.” The court room was packed with support. The group who founded Black Mama’s Bail Out were ready to pay any sum to get her released and a group of mothers of children who have Down Syndrome sat together in the courtroom with tissues and cried.

The Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta is supporting Diana and they feel a need to give her all the support she needs over the long haul.

So, Diana got a signature bail and left the court today. She has a long road ahead as she gets the mental health support she needs, financial, employment and living stability, the fight to get her kids out of the foster care system and the criminal court case she faces as a result of her actions.

Who could have imagined that she would find support and community in the court room?

This is not supposed to be a feel-good newsletter with all the warm fuzzies about the Christmas holidays. Nope. Let me burst your bubble. All of this is to show what the actions of one person can do to create change right here, right where we live.

Whether it is cooking soup and opening up your home to complete strangers (including the pretend extrovert who is in the corner knitting) or it is leaving cookies for neighbors or showing up in court to contribute $20 as an act of protest of a legal system that criminalizes poverty, you can make a difference.

It starts by practicing self-compassion: Being mindful of yourself. Being mindful of others. Showing gratitude. Practicing selfcare. Looking out for others and taking the time to see what you do not normally see.

What does a soup night look like in your kitchen?

Wishing you holidays filled peace and joy!

Iyabo Onipede
Compassion Cultivator/Co-Director
Compassionate Atlanta

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