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City Year Founding Story: It's in Your Hands

Art by Eduard Catalino

There once lived a wise elderly woman. She had lived in the same house her entire life. Everyday when she woke, she would say “Good morning” to her beautiful parakeet, Agape. The woman would put Agape in the window so she could enjoy the sun and the fresh air, and the elderly woman would then go about her daily chores. All of the people who lived in the neighborhood knew about the elderly woman and her bird, Agape. One day, two young men decided that they were going to break into the elderly woman’s house while she was away and steal her bird. They decided that when she returned they would approach her and say, “Old woman, we have your bird. Is it dead or alive?” If the old woman replied “dead,” the young men decided that they would open their hands and let Agape fly away. If the old woman replied “alive,” they would crush Agape dead and drop her at the feet of the elderly woman.”

Just as they had planned, the two boys waited for the elderly woman to leave her house to do her daily chores. When the elderly woman left, they broke into the house and stole Agape. When she returned, she found that her house had been broken into and Agape’s empty cage was on the floor.

Just as the two boys had planned, they approached the elderly woman and said, “Old woman, we have your bird. Is it dead or alive?” The wise, elderly woman paused a moment and looked at the ground. Then, with caring in her eyes, she looked at the boys and slowly answered, “I don’t know… it’s in your hands.”

— Popularized by Toni Morrison, who used it in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, often quoted as an indigenous tale

Agape (ä-gä pay) is a Greek word for selfless, spiritual love for humanity. We hold in our hands not only the consequences of our own decisions, but also the effect we can have on the actions of others—and even on the state of the world as we find it.

When we make good choices, and take responsibility for the poor choices we have made—and regain power over our own actions—we ennoble ourselves by directly enhancing humanity.

When we offer others the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and to make good choices, we offer pathways to empowerment and dignity. Similarly, when we realize that the problems of our day, perhaps through no direct fault of our own, are in our hands, we realize that knowledge of pain, suffering or injustice equals responsibility to act.

About the Artist: Eduard Catalino was a third grader at the Guilmetter Elementary School in Lawrence, MA when he drew this piece. He was inspired to illustrate the story of Agape: "My artwork shows Agape flying away and being free from the bullies."