Poem: “Interview with Susan Blake”

Interview with Susan Blake
June 22, 2007

Third Grade, Lutheran school’s
only African-American child just enrolled.
Betty Blake, Susan’s mother, hears on the phone,
“We want your daughter to make her comfortable.”
Susan shepherds Debbie for first days at school.

Truly, Betty Blake’s daughter.
“Got a lot of my social conscience from my mother.”
Betty fixed on Nixon hearings. “We shared these.”

“What is Sunday school telling us?
Wicked to tell kids to be afraid of doing wrong thing
and telling us we will be found out.
At five I rejected concept of sin.”

At eight left the church.
“I am interested in all cultures.”

Later–
“Jesus, great revolutionary.
Luther had guts to nail those theses on door.”

High school:
coordinator for activism,
“not just politics,
but to allow learning in the community,
get credit for music,
apply knowledge to real life.”

“Almost leading the teachers.
They knew we were the smart kids. . .
We were breaking cultural barriers down.
Mother’s hanging with us.”

University of Rochester (1971-75).
“Knew exactly what I wanted.”
Designs her major,
Performing Arts in Education and Social Change.
“Lots of spontaneous theatre actions that had a message.”

First year lived in dormitory.
Down the hall Black students.
“They played music loud.”
Comes ’round petition “telling them to be quiet.
I wouldn’t sign. Let them get it out. . . their rage.
Clear moment for me.”

“My proudest moment!
Psychology 101.
Professor shows film explaining electric shock treatment.
I stood up. . .
How can you show this?”

Back on Long Island:
drama and music for Rotary summer camp,
recreation therapist, Brunswick Hospital, 1975-77.
“Got people not just playing banjo and games.
Challenged them, demanded more.
Fired for too good a job.”

Shoreham — Organizes first anti-nuclear demonstration,
beginning full-effort activism–everything else second.

“I made mistakes with relationships,” she says at 54.
“I regret not having focused on finding a partner
to have a child with.”

“I was trying desperately to keep PeaceSmiths going.”

PeaceSmiths, founded 1972.
Office later, 90 Pennsylvania Avenue, Massapequa,
home of near 100-year old activist Katharine Smith.
“Katharine loved what I was doing.”

Coffee house idea
sprung from South Shore visit of Pete Seeger’s “Clearwater.”
Monthly in Katharine Smith’s living room,
hearth, old comfortable chairs . . .
1985 in Margie’s basement, then George Ciproni’s home,
thirteen locations.
Finally, First United Methodist Church, Amityville,
Topical, A-Typical, Folk Music, Poetry and Whatever Coffeehouse.

“Definitely a Pacifist!” she said of herself.
1978 started using term.
“You have to be what you are.
not push against other people,
Don’t use words like ‘anti-imperialist.’
But do not let them repress your energy.”

Stage 4 breast cancer:
“I’m supposedly in terminal stage. . .
tumor has eaten away my breast.
I’ve done my own breast mastectomy.
Now trick is to downgrade it to stage 3. . .
or maybe live healthfully with it. . .
Nothing is really terminal. . . . . .
I’m still able to be a full person.

“I want PeaceSmiths to be a stable organization.
I fear I will not live long enough.”

Susan Blake’s life–song for peace and justice and love!

Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr. ©

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