Nothing prepared us for the unexpected historic moment that we find ourselves in today. Social distancing precautions for the coronavirus, Covid-19, has sent so many of us to our homes to shelter in place, care for our children and do our best to continue their education, while also attempting to continue our own work. It takes real dedication to each other and a deep love for all members of our society to make this work. Radical love is the force that drives us home and inward.
Yet not all of us have the luxury of a home. Thousands in the city of New York, the epicenter of the virus, are without homes, living in shelters, forced to remain there without resources or the means to get them. Muhammed Ali famously said “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” In New York City, a woman named Deborah Koenigsberger runs a charity organization I have served on the board of called Hearts of Gold, which serves homeless women and children in a myriad of ways. Throughout the pandemic, Deb has been busy “paying her rent” in service to those in need.
Today, Deb delivered her one-thousandth care package to mothers and children living in the shelter system. She has been on the front lines in her mask and gloves, collecting items that are so desperately needed by the homeless moms and their kids. She brings items that are normally taken for granted yet so vital to everyday function like soap, toilet paper, masks, fresh and canned foods that can be prepared in shelters. She has even brought Chromebooks for kids who need them so they can continue remote schooling. Amidst incredible fear and uncertainty, Deb’s dedication to the homeless mothers and children remains remarkable and unwavering.
Another inspiring woman is my friend Yen Ha’s mother. To address the severe shortage of face masks for front line medical personnel and support staff, Nhan Ha assembled her Vietnamese cabal of women. She reached out to NY and NJ hospitals seeking requests for face masks. Then she got thirty-two volunteers between the ages of fifty and eighty years old to sew. They were able to create 1,533 masks and had 550 masks donated by local business and temple friends and received another 2,000 from a local nail salon owner. Then she and her husband, Cu Ha delivered the masks to local hospitals who needed them. It was their only trip outside of sheltering in place in the month. Nhan is putting to practice another famous quote of Muhammed Ali’s; “Don’t count the days; make the days count.” Nhan certainly has done this.
Both Deb and Nhan’s stories exemplify courage within this pandemic and these extraordinary women serve not only as examples but as beacons of hope in the human spirit with their dedication, hard work and giving. Radical love is persevering amidst it all. May we all see brighter days ahead, but in the meantime find the little ways to stay positive.
2018 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awardee for Gender Equality