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Mimi Farina brought music and community to the isolated

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SINCE I FIRST HEARD the news last week--a short, sad radio report announcing that activist and folksinger Mimi Farina had died of cancer at age 56--my mind has been drifting back, at odd moments, to the brief-but-unforgettable conversation I once had with the groundbreaking founder of Bread & Roses, the organization that brings music into the lives of prisoners and others cut off from the mainstream of society.

It was January 1996. I'd called the Bread & Roses offices in Mill Valley to invite Farina to see the film Dead Man Walking--a true story about Sister Helen Prejean and her controversial friendship with a convicted killer marked for execution. The invitation was part of my ongoing project, a collection of taped conversations with important individuals responding to the emotions and ideas within challenging movies. Farina graciously accepted.

After the film--through which she cried, openly--we took a walk along the streets of Mill Valley. Farina was determined to come up with an explanation for why people like Prejean--and herself--would turn their lives to the needs of others.

"When I look at the whole work of Bread & Roses--performing for convicts in prison, seniors who are isolated, children in kids' wards who may never come back out again--I realize it comes from my deep, deep need to try and make some sort of community for them. Sister Helen does it by bringing them a sense of God," she said. "I do it by bringing them music."

"But what do you get out of it?" I asked.

"It's not that tangible," she replied, with a sigh. "It's not the money, certainly. Bread & Roses is not driven by the bottom line." She continued walking, musing silently before adding, "I think it's just so I can rest within myself, within my soul. Also, sometimes, I know it's so I have a place to be, that I'm proud of. And literally a place to go during the day, a place that I've created and that is meaningful to me."

At that point she stopped. Smiling an enormous, face-brightening smile, Farina laughed. "Oh, I don't know why I do this. And I've just decided that it doesn't matter. Sister Helen says she didn't know why she was doing what she did--and neither do I.

"I'm just thankful, so thankful, that I get to do it at all."

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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