Bread and Roses

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A couple of weeks ago while doing some research regarding International Women’s Day I came across the term Bread and Roses. The phrase immediately took me back to my childhood and a concert series that my parents took me to a few times at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. I had been told that the concerts were to benefit an organization that put on performances for people who were incarcerated. The concerts were amazing. We would put out our blankets and sit on the wide concrete steps. We would then be enthralled by listening to performers like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Peter Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, Graham Nash, the Smothers Brothers and the MC talents of manic comedian Robin Williams.

As I was drawn back into such memories I began to wonder if these concerts were still happening. I found a web site for the organization. You can visit it by clicking here.

The Mission Statement for this inspirational program is as follows:

Bread & Roses is dedicated to uplifting the human spirit by providing free, live, quality entertainment to people who live in institutions or are otherwise isolated from society. Our performances: enrich the soul and promote wellness through the healing power of the performing arts; create a sense of community for our professional performers, in a non-commercial setting in which they can donate their talents to inspire and be inspired; provide an opportunity for non-performing volunteers to contribute a variety of skills and resources that support our humanitarian services and increase the impact of donor contributions. In carrying out this mission, Bread & Roses seeks to create a social awareness of people who are isolated from society, and to encourage the development of similar organizations in other communities.

The story about how Bread and Roses came into being is very inspirational. It begins with a vision of a woman name Mimi Farina. Here is the excerpt from the web site:
“Every successful organization starts with a visionary founder. Ours was Mimi Fariña. She was the energetic, goal-oriented, passionate person who had the idea, was willing to take the risk, and was able to sell the vision of Bread & Roses to others.

Mimi was a petite ball of fire, a meticulous writer, an inspiring speaker, a fine songwriter, and a fabulous performer. As a child, she was an excellent dancer, and played the violin. As a teenager, she mastered the guitar. With her late husband, Richard Fariña, she entertained and inspired audiences in the 1960´s with original folk music until Richard´s untimely death in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Mimi continued to perform professionally for many years – both solo and with others.

In 1972, she attended a live concert with B.B. King at Sing-Sing Prison in New York, and she was deeply moved. She had seen the healing exchange that occurs between performer and audience at least once before at a performance for patients in a mental hospital. Not long after the B.B. King concert, her cousin invited her to perform at the halfway house that he managed. This time, the seed for Bread & Roses was planted. Mimi began to think seriously about creating opportunities for performing artists to bring the joy of live entertainment to people shut away from society. She said it was like writing a song.

Mimi started Bread & Roses in Mill Valley, California in 1974, working out of her home. She recruited fellow performers and matched them with facilities serving the sick, homeless, disabled and imprisoned. Eventually she rented a tiny office, hired a staff and really put the show on the road. From the beginning, she established a few fundamental principles that still guide the organization:
  • Recruit high quality professional and amateur artists who (a) have a natural rapport with their audiences, and (b) will volunteer their time.
  • Provide all performances free of charge to client facilities.
  • Garner other volunteer resources, sound and light technicians, photographers, and the like, to reduce production costs.
  • Treat volunteers, donors, and clients with grace and gratitude.
Not everybody can do what Mimi did; take a powerful idea, keep the principles simple, and execute with heart and soul. Mimi created a successful, nonprofit organization that serves other nonprofits and uplifts tens of thousands of people every year. Her accomplishments were recognized by many organizations over the years, including The Easter Seal Society (1989), National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (1993), League of Women Voters (1998), and the National Association of Women Business Owners (2000).

Although Mimi had planned to retire in 2000, she suspended participation in the daily affairs of Bread & Roses in November 1999 when she was diagnosed with cancer. However, she continued to assist the organization in many ways. In March 2000, she served as the beautiful and eloquent hostess for our 25th Anniversary Celebration. She continued to inspire and uplift the staff and board with her ideas and her humor. She illuminated our path, set an example of excellence and kindness, and reminded us how important our work is to our audiences and to our volunteers.

Mimi died on July 18, 2001, at her home on Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley, California, surrounded by her family and close friends.

We remember Mimi Fariña – our founder and the light of Bread & Roses. We thank her for more than 25 years of devotion to our mission, to our audiences, and to those who traveled with her. We hold her banner high, promise that the love that she gave to others through Bread & Roses will be multiplied many times over in the years to come.
A public memorial and celebration of Mimi’s life was held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on August 7.”
I was also touched by the beautiful eulogy that was presented by Joan Baez, Mimi Farina’s sister, at Grace Cathedral San Francisco, CA–August 7, 2001.

Thank you for being here. I want to acknowledge some people.

I’d like to acknowledge my mother, who tackled Mimi’s illness in an extraordinary way by reading the right books – Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, Rachel Naomi Remen, Stephen Levine, and Elizabeth Kubler Ross – and by practicing meditation.
I’d like to acknowledge my father, who prayed constantly and who spoke in Quaker Meeting to keep Mimi in the light.

I’d like to acknowledge my sister Pauline, who had made a point of staying out of the public eye for her whole life, but who somehow through the events with Mimi, became bolder and became much more of a sister to me. I thank her for that. Bold enough that one day, when I was dashing across the room with Bonnie Raitt, Pauline stepped forward and put her hand out and said, “Hi, I’m the other one.” And Bonnie knew exactly what that meant.

I’d like to acknowledge my son Gabriel, my niece Pearl, my nephew Nicholas, for being nearby and ready at the call for the last few weeks of Mimi’s life. They were lovely and they taught us about youth, about bravery, and about some kinds of wisdom.

I’d like to acknowledge Skipper as well. Skipper Henderson, my cousin, was there at the very beginning of Bread & Roses, and was here at the end of Mimi’s life for her during her whole illness.
Melita Figueroa cooked for us the last week, otherwise we probably all would have been dead. Thank you, Melita.

Gail Zermeno, a close friend of mine for many, many years, happens to be a nurse, and because of her, we never had to have an outside nurse come in, we never had to have anybody Mimi didn’t know touch her, be with her, and nurse her. Thank you, Gail.
Paul Liberatore, whose unconditional love for Mimi before, throughout, and after her illness and death humbled us all.
I’d like to acknowledge Final Passages, an organization which led us to many things including home funeral, which I think everybody should know about. It allowed us to, in fact, do everything ourselves. We did everything ourselves, from caring for Mimi, washing Mimi, clothing Mimi afterwards, doing all the things that she had asked us to do, and delivering her body to the mortuary ourselves in Paul’s truck.

I’d like to thank the prisoners and the people who are listening to this service live and remind you how much Mimi loved you and how much you meant to her, all of the people in the institutions who are listening today. Thank you.

And of course, I thank the staff of Grace Cathedral and Bread & Roses for today’s service.Just some words on Mimi’s death and dying process, and the gifts and lessons that I received.

My greatest lesson from Mimi, who has been in my psyche for 56 years: I had never seen her the way other people saw her. I’d seen her always as my little sister, and I discovered she was so much more. She was everything more. And I got a chance, through, I think it was the photos, seeing her looking like an Italian movie star, looking like a dancer, looking like an extremely strong woman and all of these things she was. It was the scale of Mimi’s stature and her greatness that I had never seen. It was a gift that Mimi gave us that she was around long enough for me to tell her, “Mimi, I didn’t get it, and I do now.” And sometimes I was thankful that Mimi couldn’t even answer back or she would have told me to be quiet, because I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how much people loved her, how many people would grieve her death. She really didn’t like displays of emotion, and so we tried to keep ours down in her presence. One day I was on the telephone with her and I was looking over some of Jim Marshall’s early photographs, and I’d called Mimi and said “These are so beautiful, would you like to see any of them?” She said, “No, not really.” I burst into tears, and she asked me what I was crying about. I said I was crying because I loved her so much and because she was in pain and I couldn’t stand it. And she said, “You know, I think you’re really much more involved in this than I am.” I’m sure it was true.

I don’t know if you know the definition of a co-dependent… it’s somebody who at the moment of death, sees somebody else’s life pass before their eyes.

Lesson: I learned that Mimi needed her independence from me in order to love me, and I attempted to give her that. Mimi could and did handle her death and the rest of her life perfectly well by herself.

Gift: One day Mimi was very weak, she patted the bed for me to get in next to her. I crawled in and we put our arms around each other. And I sang, “I’m the luckiest sister….” She said, “…in the world.” And then she said, “Reality.” And I said “Yes.” She said, “There’s another reality, you know.” And I said, “Really? Have you seen it?” She said, “No. It’s a kind of an awareness, it’s a kind of intelligence.” And I said, “Is that where you’re going?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Do you need any help getting there?” She said, “No.” A little later, she said, “I want to go, I want to go now.” And I said, “Mimi, if it’s any help to you, I’m ready to let you go.” And she said, “No, you’re not.”

But I was, in fact, as ready as a woman brought up in the western world could be. I had done a vision quest in Colorado and I had spent two weeks in silent meditation at Spirit Rock, trying to let Mimi go. Trying to let Mimi go. I walked her trails on Mt. Tam and I would say out loud, “Let her go.” And I had a little prayer. I would turn to the mountains and the ocean and that fog which some days was blasting at me, and I would breathe in Mimi’s intimate companions, the hawk and the deer and the crow and the eucalyptus trees and the bay trees and the little brown birds, the lizards, the chipmunks, all of that beauty, and then I would turn and face Mimi’s house, and I would breathe out, “Mimi, I send you my warmth, I send you my strength, I send you all of my love, and may your passage be like a shadow crossing the moon when the time comes.”

Gifts: The coming together of the family in a way we really had never done before. Members of the family I didn’t know very well, I came to know. In members of the family I knew quite well, I discovered layers of wealth. The widening of the family circle to encompass Paul.

And I’ll leave you with a poem that I wrote after Mimi had died. It was the last poem I wrote.
If at storms end
the sun prances through your heart
as it does mine,
then all the catastrophic moments
of this life
will fade
past the here and now
to the trails of Tamalpais
where we walked
and where we will again find
the hearts calm,
the silent glade,
and a meeting place
for you and for me,
who came to know each other,
finally.

Thank you.

About Michelle Fairchild

Michelle Fairchild is a writer and artist who at heart is a soulful and sensitive intuitive, a courageous creator, a resilient visionary, a self-esteem fluffer, a marvelous music mixer and one who offers up bridges of connections to her fellow travelers. She believes We Are All Meant to Shine! You can read more of her writing at her web site: We Are All Meant to Shine. (https://weareallmeanttoshine.com/) She is happily married to a middle school science teacher and is the adoring mama to identical twin daughters, who are very active 7-year-olds who keep her dancing. She has a small creative business called Red Boa Productions and also works for a non-profit foster-adoption agency in Northern California.

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