“This is for the kids who went to school and never came back.”

Video capture by Josh Lane

Video capture by Josh Lane

(Story by Gail Snyder / Video captures by Josh Lane)

In this monthly series, Local Flavor tracks the extraordinary events unfolding during these Epic Times by spotlighting our fellow New Mexico activists who step forward to spearhead ingenious responses. Albuquerque rap artist Wake Self, aka Andrew Isaac Martinez, was first featured here as one such example in November 2017. Born and raised in New Mexico, of Mexican and Mescalero descent, Wake Self, in his mid-20s, offers a wise and inspiring, lyrical and beautifully fierce alternative to mainstream rap’s obsessions with violence, greed and misogyny. He dedicated his song “Malala,” from the album he released last October of the same name, to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani high school student who stood up to the Taliban by demanding education for all girls. Malala was shot in retaliation and in courageously continuing to speak out, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wake Self’s “Malala” is a loving tribute to women and girls by a man who proudly stands up for them and all of their potential.

On March 14—the day designated for national student walkouts commemorating those slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—Wake Self released his latest single, “It Won’t Go Away.”

“This is for the kids who went to school and never came back,” Wake Self writes on the song’s YouTube site. “For the kids who aren’t old enough to vote but old enough to get shot. We’re not asking, we’re demanding, Stop gun violence.” As a self-proclaimed “defender of the voiceless,” Wake Self says: “Nowadays, if you’re a regular human with morals, you should be fired up.” And unabashedly, he takes that dictum as his credo. In the song’s video, shot in a high school just outside Albuquerque, every component was done by students, from vocals and engineering to editing and production. “It Won’t Go Away” features student Rhiannon Jewel singing the haunting refrain, “Every one prays, everyone forgets/Laws never change, it’s Russian roulette/(oh, yeah) It won’t go away (oh, yeah, oh, yeah).” As Wake Self delivers the lyrics throughout the video, from various locations—the outdoor bleachers, the dark hallways, a plaza at the school’s front entrance—he’s always in the middle of a crowd of silent students staring solemnly into the camera, holding signs (“While you argue, we get shot”; “Take no sides, Take action”; “Stop blocking gun violence research”).

In April, the Pew Research Center released its findings that 57 percent of American students live in fear of a similar shooting at their school. Wake Self is an urgent and well-informed voice for these kids who fear they aren’t being heard—he’s both disquieting to the complacent and comforting to the afraid. Acting much like a protective, quietly outraged older brother, Wake Self lists in his lyrics all the rhetoric around the issue of guns and school shootings, at one point dancing up and down in frustration, weaving statements of truth throughout the verses: “They want to build a wall but the killers are on the inside”; “Gun control can coexist with the second amendment”; “We need to see some changes or we need to see your resignation.” He ends the song with a firm promise to the students, repeated four times: “We gon make ’em listen.”

Unlike some rappers, Wake Self is neither a yeller nor a seether. Whatever his subject matter, his tone of delivery walks a fine line between emotion and calm. This is entirely deliberate. “I study people like Malcolm X,” he says, “who get their point across by striking a balance, so there’s a lot of depth in what they say. Malcolm X is really well-spoken. He expresses a wide spectrum of feeling while he stays in his pocket of being, so he doesn’t get out of character.”

For Wake Self, following this example gives his voice an authority, a sense of sanity sadly lacking elsewhere. “I want to counterbalance the nightmarish aggression of glorified gun culture that’s pretty prevalent in hip-hop.” In his music, he speaks “a lot about nonviolence, not having to use aggressive force—that’s one of my main mantras.” His aim is to produce art “that’s catchy but also digestible by as many people as possible, that’s skillfully done so as not to alienate anybody. I want to reach people on the fence, the ones not knowing what to believe, not just preach to the choir.”

Wake Self sees many people who’ve lost their way. He acknowledges that it can be easy to lose hope. But as these issues “get injected with more youth,” he says, “there’s new life firing unrelenting passion.” Change “is always inevitable. And truth is expandable,” as we include more and more of us. “I stand with open arms for anyone who may see things differently. This revolution, or evolution, or movement—whatever you want to call it—is for everyone, or we’re not really doing it. If anyone’s left out, it’s not complete, it’s not full or whole.”

Wake Self says he sees a general sense of people waking up nowadays. His main concern is that “whenever there’s a victory of some sort of magnitude, we might tend to rest, to chill out. There’s a whole spectrum of issues, but the root of them all is collective. It’s like cleaning one room in your house. Now it’s all clean. But we want to clean the whole house!”

To read or share our coverage of Wake Self from the November 2017 issue of Local Flavor, go to localflavormagazine.com/hip-hop-now.

To view and share the video of It Wont Go Away go to youtu.be/zwnIhp3vCvg.

In Their Own Words

 Image by Joseph Gruber


Image by Joseph Gruber

Editor’s note: Inspired by the passionate response from the young teens of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we wanted to give our own local high-school students the opportunity to voice their thoughts and feelings about the safety of their schools. We hope you read it, share it with others, and like us, come away feeling fiercely proud of this generation of New Mexicans.

I’ve never been afraid to attend school, but the morning my mother received a robo-call saying there was a possibility that my school was not going to be safe, I felt sheer terror. The thought of it happening to my school shook me to my core, more than the Florida shooting itself because it became real to me, not another headline that broke the hearts of readers but rather a real threat to me and my safety.

This morning I woke up shocked and frightened from a nightmare about being in an active shooting at a supercenter. Ever since I found out about the Columbine shooting, being a victim of a school shooting is one of my biggest fears.

Nothing could possibly make me feel completely safe, both amongst my peers and anywhere else. In this country, I will always have something to fear. The only thing we can do is protect ourselves as best we can, and protect each other.

I do not want to be a target anymore.

Even though I did not know a soul at these school shootings, I feel as if I lost my own brother or sister. I demand for us to make sure this does not happen at a school ever again.

Politicians argue about gun laws but we, the students and teachers, are the ones who are faced with the reality that every day we leave the house to go to school could potentially be our last. I should not have to fear for my life when I am trying to receive an education. I cannot vote so I implore those who can to do their research and to get involved with these political issues.

Student safety should be one of this country’s top priorities.

We have been put down too much because we are “too young” or “don’t know the real world.” The truth is we know more than our administration. We know the fear of sitting in class and hearing a fire alarm go off, the fear of going to school, a place that once felt safe, and what it’s like to be raised in a world that is being decided for us and we don’t have a say. Despite our years we are wise.

Every time I hear of a new school shooting, my stomach drops and I feel an immense amount of sadness and empathy for the families and friends who are affected for years afterward. I don’t understand how anyone can stand by and do nothing after a shooting in a school.

I should not have to fear for my life when I am trying to receive an education. I have never really had to analyze my own mortality before. Students should be thinking about succeeding in their school work and having fun with their friends, not what their last words that day might be. Since it is the students who are dying, everyone should listen to and take seriously the words that the younger generation say.

We are the ones with the targets on our backs. Our teachers and peers walk around school with fear in the back of our minds. We are speaking up and giving the government a piece of our minds and we all, adults too, need to come together and stand as a united front.

 

What really needs to happen is that parents need to be a part of their children’s lives more. I’m not saying that it’s the parents’ faults for these tragedies, but they definitely are a part of it. Not all of the students are going to be the shooter, but many of them will be what caused the shooter. Gun violence isn’t what we need to be discussing with our fellow peers. Our main focus should be bullying. Our world is very judgmental and we need to bring that to awareness because that is the real reason why there are school shootings. I see this disease being spread in our own school, which no one else seems to notice, but it definitely is a major problem. This is the heartbreaking truth.

We have to be kind to one another. We have to throw away our stereotypes of people and stop putting  labels on them. Maybe something as small as smiling can help us create unity.

The violent behavior of a child cannot be predicted and banning guns will not make a difference. If they can’t shoot up a place, they will find another weapon. What then? Will we ban everything that can be used to harm others? What we need is for our society to realize that we are the issue. We consistently shame one another without realizing the damage we are causing.

To stop school shootings, we have to treat everyone equally and with care. School systems, the way they are right now, do not help because they promote competition. Maybe schools could start promoting cooperation….

Adults can help by trusting the kids who are starting the movement to enforce gun control laws; they can show support and put on some good listening ears.

I cannot vote so I implore those who can to do their research and to get involved with these political issues.

[B]anning all assault weapons is the first step in this long marathon… As a newly legal voter…  I can guarantee you that when I go to the polls in November, I will be voting for the representatives willing to change our current gun laws.

We must insist that automatic weapons have no place beyond the battlefield—not in our schools, not in our movie theaters, not in our places of worship, not in our streets and communities, especially not in homes.

Gun owners should be required to regularly refresh their training and renew their permits, with requirements at least as stringent as those governing renewal of your driver’s license.

I wish adults knew the impact of local elections so that we can change the political landscape from our local towns all the way to Congress.

The power of money is far too strong in this country.

Teenagers are powerful. We are often painted as egocentric and social media-obsessed, but we are also driven, resourceful and well-informed. Most importantly, we are not yet cynical, and that makes us a force to contend with. We are motivated, tenacious and more connected than ever before—and that should scare any politicians in the NRA’s pocket.

I would say to adults, “Know that by standing by and doing nothing, you allow and encourage these events to progress.” The NRA pays for guns to remain unrestricted, and for pro-gun media to be fed to the population. We need to challenge gun culture. We see guns in a glorified light and separate them from their ability to cause so much pain, physical and emotional.

Adults can help by trusting the kids who are starting the movement to enforce gun control laws; they can show support and put on some good listening ears.

We are prepared to fight to change our futures. We are scared but we are angry, and nothing can be done to stop us. We need adults to side with us, we need their voices to shout alongside ours. No matter how hopeless it feels, we will not be silenced, and we will not let the seventeen victims’ deaths be in vain.

We are done with a system that has allowed students to have the ability to bring a semi-automatic to school.

The people who survived this recent massacre in Florida are the bravest people we’ve seen in a long time. Instead of letting their tragedy become an unfortunate memory, they have become activists. In just a few short weeks, these kids with their tenacity have done more to end gun violence than Congress had done in years. It is up to us [students]. We are the future and our time to rise is now.

It seems that us kids are starting a new revolution and the adults need to stand behind us.

I believe that Santa Fe as well as the entire United States is on the forefront of a truly momentous occasion that will lead to a future where children do not to be afraid of coming to school, where children are not wounded are injured by a gunmann, where parents have fear about whether or not their child will be around by the end of the school day.

Every generation of children will eventually move society forward, creating new aspects of culture, making discoveries in different areas of study, and helping knit our widely spread community together. They have the potential to expand their thinking in ways adults no longer can, due to the way they’ve been conditioned to think by the generations before them. Student safety should be one of this country’s top priorities. Students are the future. School shootings aren’t something we should just accept. This is me taking a personal stand, voicing what I fear and what I believe—that if we come together and say “enough,” we will be able to change things for the better, creating a world in which children and teens can go to school without fear. We will change the world.

We are the future that other generations have been waiting for and I believe this could be the change that everyone has been praying for. The time of “thoughts and prayers” is over. Now it’s time for action.

New Mexico Wild

Photo by Mark Allison

Photo by Mark Allison

(Story by Gail Snyder / Photos by Mark Allison and Stephen Lang)
The summer I was 11, my parents, my four brothers and I drove up the spine of California to Sequoia National Park for a week. Evidence of otherworldly giant trees was everywhere; even the air was palpably clean, crisp, redwood-scented. That week stands out for my brothers and me as an odd, magical reprieve from our usual bickering. We were still rowdy but it was a happy, calm and sated rowdiness. Keeping company with the Sequoias undeniably inspired in us this desire to be better, kinder. It would’ve seemed wrong somehow, offensive to the trees, to do otherwise. It turns out our experience wasn’t an anomaly; scientific studies confirm that being in the presence of trees improves our mental and physical health, in large part because the wood emits its essential oils into the air. Called “forest bathing,” it’s been added to Japan’s national health program, and it’s just one among an enormous array of gifts bestowed on us by wilderness.

Ironically, as appreciation for wilderness benefits has risen, the areas have become especially vulnerable. Mark Allison, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, says, “We’re facing one of the most hostile environments for public lands” in recent memory. His organization is gearing up “to play a lot of defense.” Rather than getting depressed or helpless as we watch TV news, Mark says, don’t abandon hope; “get involved in something bigger than yourself!”

The original founders of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, or New Mexico Wild, as it is popularly referred to now, in response to threats, came from all over the state, says Mark, beginning in the ’70s, “especially from the labs, bringing a background of scientific training, as well as folks doing battle with the oil and gas companies and other organizations with deep pockets.” In 1997, New Mexico Wild formally established itself as the  statewide grassroots voice for our wildlands, kicking off what became their first victory in the mid-2000s: the protection of the Ojito Wilderness Area, in a collaborative effort with Zia Pueblo, New Mexico Governor Bruce King and other statewide elected government officials. Their bill was unanimously passed through both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate; George W. Bush signed the Ojito Wilderness Act into law in 2005. It was an impressive debut.

Bernard Tibbetts, Mark Allison, and Zack Bumgarner / Photo by Stephen Lang

Bernard Tibbetts, Mark Allison, and Zack Bumgarner / Photo by Stephen Lang

In the 21 years since it formed, the nonprofit has never stopped working for New Mexico’s wildlands, helping to establish the Sabinoso Wilderness Act in 2008; the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009; followed by the establishment of our two recent National Monuments, the Rio Grande del Norte in 2013, and the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks in 2014, both monuments designated by Obama. Just last June, in tandem with Wild Earth Guardians, New Mexico Wild won their case in federal court challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s policy stating anyone killing animals on the Endangered Species Act list were only prosecuted if it were proven that the killer knew the exact biological identity of the species harmed.  (DOJ has appealed this case.)

With offices spanning the state, New Mexico Wild is connected to the pulse of our diverse population, including ranchers, sports enthusiasts, land grant heirs, acequia communities, tribal and religious leaders, scientists, elementary school students, youth and community leaders. “We are the largest, independent, homegrown, grassroots advocacy organization focused exclusively on land conservation and wilderness in New Mexico,” Mark says. Bringing so many disparate people together “couldn’t be done but for groups like us.” With the issue of public lands becoming more and more politicized, he says, the current atmosphere is one of high polarization. “But communities are so often ahead of our elected leaders—most people care about our public lands.”

Passing legislation is the main part of New Mexico Wild’s job. “And in order to do that, we have to listen, persuade and find common ground. All the richness of New Mexico’s people—we want everyone at the table. We’re the organizers, the mediators in all and any difficult conversations, including opposition. We want people to feel heard. Sure, we have setbacks all the time! We have to take the long view. We don’t quit, we just keep coming back! If it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years.” Also, “it makes our job much easier having such champions as [Sen. Tom] Udall and [Sen. Martin] Heinrich in our corner. We’re very fortunate in that respect.” And, he acknowledges, “we’re standing on the shoulders of significant tribal leaders. To have them out front, it’s very moving, an honor to be working at their sides.” Last year, at  All Pueblo Council of Governor’s Meeting  of the 19 New Mexico Pueblos, the president and vice president of the Navajo Nation joined in for the first time; New Mexico Wild was also there. The driving force behind this historic summit was the need to protect the greater Chaco Canyon area from effects of fracking by gas and oil corporations and the attendant health problems of Native communities close by. “It was very humbling,” Mark says, “to be a part of that discussion.” Everything New Mexico Wild does is with partners.

Photo by Mark Allison

Photo by Mark Allison

Also last year, partnering with the Wilderness Land Trust, New Mexico Wild helped unlock public access to the landlocked Sabinoso Wilderness Area. The Land Trust bought adjacent property, offering to donate it to the Bureau of Land Management; last November, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited the area, and accepted the gift. New Mexico Wild contributed nearly 1,000 hours of volunteer fieldwork to the effort.

One of the most gratifying—and fun—parts of New Mexico Wild’s efforts is bringing people together and helping them discover that, although their reasons for valuing public lands may differ, they all share a passion to save it from being destroyed. Encouraging kids to come into the wilderness—“That’s the best!” Mark says. He describes groups of elementary school kids visiting for the first time. “You ask, ‘Do you know who owns all this?’ They shake their heads. ‘You do!” we tell them. And they start to really get it—‘This is my heritage! This is my birthright!’” New Mexico Wild staff members take high school groups, often paired with BLM or Forest Service agency staff, on wilderness field trips.  They recently brought retired combat vets, working on fire crews with the  Southwest Conservation Corps, together with students to share time together, hike, and help clear brush. “Ultimately, this is how we cultivate the next generations of wilderness stewards.” And it works. A New Mexico Wild member, retired U.S. Navy SEAL Brett Myrick, hiked through the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument with Secretary Zinke, himself an avid outdoorsman and former military leader, during the Secretary’s visit here in August. To further drive the point home about where he and 37 other active and retired Navy SEALS stand on Zinke’s decision to remove protections for national monuments, Brett gave Sec. Zinke a letter, signed by all, reminding him the military has a strong culture of natural resources stewardship and that public lands get military families out into wilderness, an invaluable healing experience for combat vets.

As we head into 2018, New Mexico Wild’s agenda is full, and includes legislation in the Senate to designate the Gila River as a Wild and Scenic River. One of  the biggest challenge just came to light: to combat a proposal that would seriously jeopardize all of their work in the greater Gila Wilderness area. Holloman Air Force Base plans to begin conducting military training exercises on a scale that would make “the entire Gila National Forest look and sound like a war zone.” These approximately 30 overflights a day, will be low altitude jets “screaming only 500 feet above the National Forest and 2,000 feet above Wilderness, while dropping 30,000 magnesium flares and ‘defensive chaff’ a year.” The U.S. Air Force is obligated to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act’s process requiring public involvement, but “had it not been for a vigilant supporter bringing this to our attention, this preposterous plan might have gone unchallenged.” New Mexico Wild immediately wrote to Holloman AFB asking that the since-expired public scoping period be extended. They contacted partner organizations and businesses affected, securing endorsements from dozens of groups. “We also reached out to other groups that are typically hostile to our efforts. We think there is common cause on this issue.” New Mexico Wild is demanding answers to disturbing questions associated with this proposal. “I’ve never seen a community so outraged,” Mark says. “They’re rising up, letting their voices be heard. People feel desperate, like they can’t make a difference, they’re powerless, but that’s just not true. When we stand together, we have all the power in the world.”

The Gila is America’s first designated wilderness area. Mark says, “There’s no guarantee we’ll be successful, but if we don’t try, the guarantee is that we won’t be. If we do the job right, we’ll scare them off and they’ll go somewhere else.” New Mexico Wild submitted technical scoping comments, demanded that the Air Force hold public meetings in Silver City; organized a community rally and encouraged individual citizens to sign petitions, and write letters to our senators, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces.

“The 1964 Wilderness Act is the gold standard for our public lands, keeping them free from development, roads and mechanized activities,” Mark says. “It’s a place where people can get away from industry’s sights, smells and sounds, a space of solace. You can snowshoe, hike, backpack there; you can still practice traditional uses like hunting and fishing. People do sacred ceremonies, collect herbs or traditional plants.” He pauses. “And, above all, wilderness is important as an idea. Even if you never go there. We need places that are untrammeled by humans, that exist in their natural state, for wildlife, for water. The wilderness is a spiritual place. I think, for me, at its most basic, it’s where we came from. It reconnects us. When we go out and stand around a fire, we’re back to the times before cell phones, cars, jets. It’s profound to allow that space and quiet, that dark sky affect us, bring us clarity.”

New Mexico Wild will never give up this mission of protection. “Legislation protects places in perpetuity, for our children and our grandchildren. It’s a pretty heady thing!” Mark laughs. In the Winter 2017 issue of New Mexico Wild!, Mark writes of 2018 being the time in which “the sleeping bear wakes.” He imagines in an editorial “what our world could look like 10 years from now.” What follows is a joyous list of victories, laced with humor, that we—New Mexico Wild and all of us who care about wilderness—will have accomplished by 2027. In his usual never-say-die fashion, he concludes, “You’ll no doubt recall that 2017 was a particularly tough year, but instead of despairing, we rolled up our sleeves and redoubled our efforts. And, while there were certainly setbacks and heartache these last 10 years, and many challenges remain, I couldn’t be prouder to have worked with you, shoulder to shoulder.”

 

 

 

Music Drives Out the Darkness

GMarks-PerformanceSF-01On a recent October school day, one of Performance Santa Fe’s 2017-18 scheduled artists, Julie Fowlis, renowned Scottish Gaelic singer and multi-instrumentalist, gave a large group of third and fourth grade public school students their own private concert. “We bussed them in,” says Cav Cavanaugh, PSF’s operations and education coordinator. “She’s singing to them in a strange language, telling them the fairy tales behind the songs and what they mean, with accompanying instruments; she performs the song she sang as Merida in Disney Pixar’s movie Brave—the kids lost their minds!”

That firsthand experience of music’s power to evoke passion is exactly what Cav and fellow collaborator Leanne DeVane, music education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, work very hard to ignite through an impressive collection of PSF education programs. The nonprofit’s motto, “Changing lives through the power of performing arts,” applies not only to Santa Fe’s adult population but also to over 2,800 students enrolled in elective music courses in 24 public schools. Having a partnership with PSF, says Leanne of the collaborative music programs, “brings the whole thing to life.”

Perhaps closest to PSF’s heart, Cav says, is the Bravo! Kids program, bringing opportunities to children grades one through 12 to interact with performers of Julie Fowlis’ caliber. Along with school performances, Bravo! Kids also provides master classes taught by various PSF visiting artists, whose level of expertise—and inspiration—is far beyond most kids’ experience and expectations. Cav describes one master class, taught by another of this season’s performers, musical pioneer and cellist Matt Haimovitz. “He sat down onstage with five chosen students, one on one, at the Scottish Rite Center, where, by the way, the acoustics are amazing,” she says. “They each perform something for him, which is so nerve-racking—it feels like they’ll never get to his level—and he was showing one of them, Lila, a bowing technique. Then, using it, they played a version of a note together for the first time and, as it kind of hung in the air, they both registered it at the same time and, looking up above their heads, they said, ‘Did you hear that?!’” Continue reading

Hip Hop – Here and Now

WakeSelf-COVER01-DSC_1149Mescalero Apache and Mexican on his father’s side, Wake Self, a small-town kid from the Fort Wingate and Gallup areas, says that, growing up, the surrounding lakes, mountains and Native American reservations “had a profound impact on my outlook on life.”

Living in epic times is not for the feint of heart. Since Local Flavor began this series last November, the times have only gotten dizzyingly more confounding. “We’re on a hero’s journey—and it’s scary,” Native activist and artist Cannupa Hanska Luger said in our first installment of the series. He called this a time of “Here Be Monsters,” requiring passionate, dedicated monster-slayers stepping up to put their hearts on the line for what they believe. We can do this, Cannupa said, if we act collectively. And then, he added, “seven generations we’ll never meet could look back and tell tales of this mythical time.”

And in fact, even in the face of dauntingly overwhelming obstacles, stouthearted heroes are indeed emerging. Standing tall among these is born-and-bred New Mexican Andrew Isaac Martinez, better known as Wake Self. Now in his mid-20s, he’s been a performing hip-hop artist since he was 15; starting at 12, he began teaching himself to write poetry lyrics. “They were my own personal counseling sessions,” he says unabashedly. “I was having some depression, some growing pains.” Mescalero Apache and Mexican on his father’s side, Wake Self, a small-town kid from the Fort Wingate and Gallup areas, says that, growing up, the surrounding lakes, mountains and Native American reservations “had a profound impact on my outlook on life.” Early on, he honed his focus, mentioning without fanfare, for example, “I’m a rapper artist who’s proudly sober.” And as his DJ name makes clear, he’s committed to diverging from typical mainstream rapper obsessions—wealth, conspicuous consumption, male domination—to help us wake up from all that. The first few lines of a recent song “Fluteboxsesh,” filmed at Yellowstone with longtime DJ friend Def-i, express Wake Self’s priorities: “Ever felt so alive/Your brain stretched to wide open/no sense of ego, no swollen pride/Nothin’ is holdin’ you back/Wakin’ up outta the trap?”   Continue reading

Living in Epic Times – Coming Home

Humans do not thrive without a roof over our heads. We need the security of a home. Increasingly, this basic human need is out of reach for an ever-swelling segment of Americans. Beyond a few at busy intersections, holding signs that read: Will Work For Food, their ranks have been multiplying—their signs now saying, Please Help. It’s a simple request, but what’s the solution?

In 2009, then-Secretary Eric Shinseki of the Veterans Association, along with President Barack Obama, set an impossibly audacious challenge: to end veteran homelessness by 2015. In our national scandal that is homelessness, veterans are undeniably over-represented; why not start there? It’s an issue that everyone can support, Republican and Democrat alike. In mid-2014, as that goal loomed closer, First Lady Michelle Obama upped the ante with the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Despite it’s being such a daunting issue, dozens of states and communities doggedly pursued it. And what you need to know at this point is that New Mexico—the same state that forever comes in at the bottom of most national progress lists—is one of the leaders of this pack, with the mayors of three of its major cities having committed to the challenge: Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces, Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque and Mayor Javier Gonzales of Santa Fe. Las Cruces achieved the goal first; Albuquerque and Santa Fe are right on its heels.   Continue reading