On Friday night I went to a club in Newark, NJ. I go there from time to time, to hang with old friends, to hear music that I love, to dance like a maniac. It’s a freaky alternative club that might scare some people, in the heart of a city that a lot of people have given up on. But I still enjoy going there, even after all these years because Newark is still my city, and as diseased and broken as it might be, it is still my heart.
We parked the car on a dark sleepy side street, about two blocks from the club. Other cars lined the street, but there were no people around. As we were walking I noticed a Poor King painted on a wall. So I had to cross the street to take a picture. Then I began to tell my friend about him, the Poor King.
I was on my way to teach one day, stopped at a red light when I saw this little face painted on a signal box. It was just a simple line drawing of a king. He looked a bit sad.
But I fell instantly in love.
The next few times I drove by, I hoped for a red light so I would have time to snap a picture. Three weeks in a row I ended up with blurry drive by shots (yeah, I get it). Finally one day the red light was mine again, and I was able to get a clear picture. Then a few weeks later, I saw another King! He was painted on a Health insurance billboard. I snapped another picture and this time I posted it on Facebook. A yogi friend of mine told me that she had seen him all over Newark. A police officer friend told me that he was working one night when they arrested the “artist”!
Arrested him. So, yeah. It’s illegal. It’s graffiti. It’s a nuisance to building owners.
I know all of that, but when I heard he was all over the city, I became obsessed with finding more. I couldn’t help it, because as I said, I had fallen in love. I was waiting to see him on every wall, searching for him on every signal box, anticipating him on every billboard and abandoned building. And once I started looking, I started to see him everywhere! I would take different routes every day in hopes of discovering another. And I would! And each one would make me smile.
It was like when I first encountered Ganesh and I started seeing elephants everywhere. My eyes had been opened, and my Poor King was everywhere. He was just like the Hidden Mickeys in DisneyWorld, only NOT AT ALL.
He became a symbol to me, of what exactly, I wasn’t sure?
Maybe he was a symbol of Oppression: “I should be a King, but here I am, living in poverty.”
Maybe he was a symbol of permanent Despair: “I am poor, and I will always be poor.
Maybe he was a symbol of Hope: “I know I’m poor, but I am still a king!”
Whatever he was intended to be, I adopted him as my own. He became the mascot of my city, a symbol of different things on different days, depending on what I was feeling, depending on what I was needing.
On Friday night, I was happy to be standing there taking that picture, because it had been a while since I had spotted a new one. A long while. My rides to teach had become more routine, and I hadn’t really been venturing to new places in the city.
Then, as we rounded the corner, I saw him again! My friend the King! On another wall! This one was much bigger, and he looked more like a knight than a king, but I knew it was him. So I snapped another picture!
Two in one night! I was very excited. Because, like I said, it had been a while since I had a seen a new one.
We went to the club. We danced. We had a great time. I smiled at my King as we walked back to the car at 2AM.
Today I decided to post the photos on Facebook. Someone asked me “What is a poor king?” I could have simply responded, “Street art”. But as I was about to write it I could feel a whole lot of emotion rising up. He wasn’t just street art, my King. He was much more than that. He meant something to me, and now, he had reappeared. Just when I needed him.
It has been a rough few weeks in our world. I’ve been trying to concentrate and focus my thoughts so I could write something about what has been happening in Baltimore. But I was drowning in TV news, articles and videos, and I could hardly breathe. One article I read incited me to “invest in the potential and promise of the people who live there”. But I’ve been so full of sadness and frustration and anger and understanding and loving-kindness and despair and hope I couldn’t invest in anything. I was left with a scattered-messy-over-the-top spoken word piece and half a dozen half-written blog posts. I just could not seem to wrap my brain around things tightly enough to zero in on what I wanted to say.
What I want to say has something to do with peace and love and the fact that there is no “US and THEM”. What I want to say has something to do with please would you all just shut the hell up, and get up off of your asses and go out and change this world, and make it better for our kids and their kids! What I want to say has something to do with loving kindness and human decency but it just seems to turn into a never ending cyclical rant about injustice and privilege and guilt and poverty and so many other things…
And I keep wondering, what is it that I can say? What is it that I can do? How can I help the situation? When I shut the hell up and get up off of my ass, how can I make things better?
Then this morning in my search for an answer to the seemingly simple question “What is a poor king?” I decided to go to Google. And this is what I found:
“Knowing and seeing the royalty in one’s self and everyone else”. That is what the Poor King is. That is what Poor Kingzz profess to be.
And that is also Namaste. Every time I teach a class for Newark Yoga Movement, we end by saying “I see the good in you. You see the good in me. We see the good in each other. Namaste.”
From now on the Poor King is my Street Art Namaste; a reminder that we are all the same; a reminder to see the goodness, the glory, the light and the royalty in every one. I won’t stop looking for him. I will continue to drive down side streets to find him. He makes me smile. He gives me Hope.
After months, maybe even a year, of not spotting a new Poor King, I was lucky enough to see two on Friday. Posting the photos, finding the Poor Kingzz Art Facebook page, reading this quote has reminded me, reassured me, and recharged me.
I am doing what I can do to make this world a better place. I may be poor at communicating my thoughts on important issues, but being out there, spreading the message that there is peace and goodness in every person, makes me a Poor King.
I may not be screaming and shouting in the streets about social justice. I may not be winning any arguments with other-minded people. I am, however, spreading a message of justice and decency and respect to one child at a time,
one breath at a time,
in my city,
in my heart.