After we published a handful of memories and celebrations about outgoing BMC director Harriet Barlow in December, more tributes to her work and her spirit came our way. Feel free to add your own to the comments section below.
Essential Barlovian Questions
Thank you for this stunning set of tributes. Each is different yet clearly about the very same beloved person who, as one person wrote, “keeps the flame going.” Harriet brings out the connectedness we have to each other and “the work” we share. Onward with our search for answers to all those Barlovian questions. Bravo, Harriet!
—Arlie Hochschild, author & sociologist
Political Dimension of Love
It is from BMC and Harriet that my sense of love became political. If you love your country, you vote, volunteer, TRY to get on jury duty, don’t engage in “othering”, and read a real newspaper. Without BMC I surely would have had less courage for the work I do—and certainly less hope.
—Beth Thielen, an artist working with marginalized and incarcerated populations.
To Breathe Life Into
I had no idea what to expect that balmy summer evening when I pulled up to BMC. It was my first residency ever and I was arriving one week late. I walked up to the house, all lit up at dinnertime. Inside the long table was abuzz with folks absorbed in conversation. I approached hesitantly, wondering how to introduce myself. “Hellooo,” I heard suddenly. Harriet flashed a big smile. Instantly, I knew I was home.
Others have written eloquently about Harriet’s vision and stewardship; I’d like to speak to the daily delights of our encounters. Some people have a knack for putting others at ease and making them feel welcome. We think of them as good hostesses or hosts. Not only do they connect with everyone separately, but they can take a group of individuals and turn them into a community. Maybe a better way to say it is that good hosts inspire a group into becoming a community.
I think of Harriet as the Olympic champion of good hosting. This goes beyond social graces. In a profound and concrete way, Harriet is the consummate Inspirer, from the Latin “inspirare” — to breathe into, animate, enliven. Whether she impels you to give your best, connect with others, explore an idea, or just get playful, Harriet infuses us with a shot of extra life every time we cross her path.
—Denise Iris, filmmaker
Grateful, Energized, Enlightened
All of this lovely love pouring out to Harriet—mine included—is just a drop in the huge lake of love she gave to all of us. Reading these tributes filled me with such longing for BMC and to be back in the warm circle of Harriet’s light. Thank you dear Harriet, and thanks to those who articulated so beautifully what all of us feel— grateful, nostalgic, energized, deepened, enlightened, seen and heard.
—Anne Makepeace, filmmaker
…A Lake I Know…
Since 1983, every step I’ve taken in this world has been lifted and enlivened by Harriet’s friendship. I sing heartily in this chorus of commoners.
Let me have the love it takes
to live inside this dream where you
and you and you and you are walking
a road. It leads down to a lake
I know, banked by granite boulders
and pine, and I am also with you
and you and you and you walking
one by one and together, as if
we had all, always, been friends
who loved one another
in the same place, at the same time.
—Jane Creighton, poet, writer & teacher
Court and Spark
From my years working in Mexico, I noticed how people sometimes described someone they admire as having the “poder de convocatoria”—roughly translated as “convening power.” This quality is more than “turning people out,” as US organizers say, though that is part of it. This poder is also part charisma and part inspiration, part spiritual and part intellectual. If this person invites you to a meeting or to meal or to a conversation—you want to be there. You find your whole self saying “yes.”
Harriet is someone I want to be connected with. If she suggests a book, I am reading it. If she has a question or curiosity, it becomes my question too. If she wants to play poker, deal me in.
Harriet is a convener of discussions and games and adventures. Conversations around the dinner table at Blue Mountain Center. Weekend convenings with a thoughtfully recruited group of activists in the room. Gatherings of people to think about the “commons” and how to advance this galvanizing framework. These are vibrant discussions, full of life and imagination. You want to be there, in part because of the spark emanating from Harriet.
Harriet finds activists and social movements to court and spark (borrowing a phrase from Joni Mitchell). She is a movement yenta, a matchmaker of the first order. Maybe it is her Quaker sensibilities, as she brings people together so they can see and feel the light in one another.
As a facilitator, she is the weaver of conversation, the asker of the artful question. As a comrade, she is loyal, strategic, the embodiment of “in solidarity.” As a human, she is welcoming, accepting, a raconteur with a point. As a friend, she is attentive to the ways of the heart, of the precarious path to healing, to warm embrace and laughing out loud.
Harriet reminds us of just how precious each moment is—and how precious each one of us is. She will continue to bring these gifts to the world. The Blue Mountain Center has been blessed with her spark along side Eagle Lake.
—Chuck Collins, an activist, author & BMC board member.
Finding Joy in Darkness
Harriet is such a deep and gentle soul. She has a profound way of finding joy in darkness, and we will always find light and inspiration in her kindness and endless determination.
—Ryder Cooley, artist
Ms. Harriet Did That
What news is this to digest, Harriet starting new things. It is so wonderful for her to be so youthful and full of ideas, so I am all aquiver to read this.
My experience through the WINDCALL program landed me at the Blue Mountain Center where I met Ms. Harriet, et al. For those that didn’t already know, it changed me forever. I was indeed tired, stressed, full of anger, and needing a respite to collect myself if I was to continue in my work of organizing.
I arrived on August 31st, 2012 and was taken to the 3rd floor where my bed was. It took me three days to finally get to sleep, kept awake by something called “silence” that I was not used to experiencing. Ms. Harriet did that.
I learned the morning call of the Loon that was first to rise and call out to the others a warm, “Good Morning.” Ms.Harriet did that.
The lounge chairs were at the foot of the walkway down to the water where I was free to drink my cranberry juice and just THINK as I watched the water go by. Ms. Harriet did that.
I saw Ben taking the tiniest steps day after day to make certain we were all comfortable just before he jumped into a canoe and paddled across to the other side to pick his kids up from school!! He was terrific. Ms.Harriet did that.
The highlight of each day was our collective dinners together where we were able to talk about things that occurred throughout the day over food that was just too good to describe. I met folks there… Rachel, Priscilla, Boris, Jonathan, George, Bob and others. I talked Bob into coming to Detroit for a series of artistic shows and managed to have Detroit crown him our AMBASSADOR of GOOD WILL, a title he accepted. I flew Rachel to Detroit to participate in a three day “Water Is A Human Right” forum. I send New York Welfare Rights members to see Jonathan’s (Allen) Exhibitions always and I try to tie my travels to NY when he is in town so we can spend time together. I try to make myself available for any Windcall resident coming to Detroit that I can share time with or help get set up while they are here as I did with someone Boris sent my way. Ms. Harriet did these things.
She (and everyone at BMC) sent me back home on Monday, Sept. 23 a new woman—calm, re-energized and focused. I was named one of 11 most influential people in Michigan since Windcall. Was invited by the Pope to come to Rome and discuss the water crisis situation and he paid for the flight and housing for 6 days since Windcall. I have helped to lead the struggle against water shutoffs in the City of Detroit and across the nation because of Windcall. Ms. Harriet helped make these things happen and so many more events that have been visited on me. So as far as I am concerned, she can do no wrong! Safe travels, my dear Ms. Harriet, ’til we meet again.
—Maureen Taylor, Chairperson Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (who came to BMC in a partnership with the Windcall Institute, which sustains labor and community organizers).