Joseph Avenue Christmas is the story of one man's journey to the true meaning of Christmas. Not just the birth of the babe, but the salvation of the soul. Set on the wintry streets of Rochester, NY it is a visit to the heart of that city and the hearts of some of its best and bravest people. From their good example, and the simple lessons of their own lives and faith, a troubled man finds on a dark Christmas Eve an escape from an increasingly failed life.
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Last Wednesday morning, a group of Edison Tech basketball players stood in front of S & S Grocery on Main Street near the intersection with Clinton Avenue.
They were waiting for a bus to take them to a scrimmage.
Though the sidewalk in this area is some 20-feet wide, the young men stood clustered in such a way that they blocked both free passage of the sidewalk and the entrance to the store.
The store owner came out and asked them to move, so that customers could get through.
The boys refused.
An employee of the store came out and asked the young men to move, so that customers could get through.
The boys refused.
Posted nearby was a Rochester police officer, controlling the intersection and as part of the department’s intensified focus on a stretch of Main Street plagued by disruptive behavior and violence associated with teens waiting for buses.
The police officer observed for some several minutes – between five and 10 – that pedestrians were having to walk around the boys, who were blocking the sidewalk, and that they were standing directly in the entranceway to S & S Grocery.
The police officer yelled over at the basketball players and asked them to move. One of the boys said something that was unintelligible to the officer, but they did not move.
Ultimately, the officer was able to leave his post and come over to the Edison Tech players and ask them to move out of the center of the sidewalk and out of the entrance to the store.
A policeman asked the high school boys to step out of the center of the sidewalk and to move away from the entrance of the grocery store.
And they said no.
Why? What possible harm could be done by moving a few feet one direction or the other? If they were waiting for a bus, why couldn’t the stand closer to curbside, where other bus passengers wait? Why the insolence and anger?
For whatever reason, the basketball players refused to comply with the requests of the store owner, the store employee or the police officer.
The team coach, a school district employee, was there. He did not direct the boys to move.
The players, for their part, said they were waiting for a bus and weren’t going to move.
Seeking to verify that statement, the Rochester Police Department contacted the Edison Tech athletic director and he verified that they were waiting for a bus.
A bus he said they were to meet at 9 a.m. at the corner of Main Street and South Avenue.
That is two blocks away from where they were standing.
The Rochester Police Department also contacted the school district’s director of transportation. The director of transportation said the bus was to pick the boys up at Main Street and St. Paul Street.
That is one block away from where they were standing.
The basketball coach on scene told police that he knew the boys were not waiting in the right location for the bus.
Instead of waiting at either of the two locations the bus was expected at, the boys were waiting at Main and Clinton, an area of historic difficulty, and they were standing in such a fashion as to block the sidewalk and obstruct the door of a business.
And they repeatedly and insistantly refused to move.
So the officer – Officer E. Rodriguez, badge No. 567 – called in a sergeant.
Who called in a lieutenant.
It was two command officers, Officer Rodriguez, and two nearby officers who also responded. And a group of high school boys who wouldn’t move a few feet out of the way.
So the decision was made to cite them.
Three of the athletes were charged with disorderly conduct.
And then the crap hit the fan.
On Facebook and with the help of the evening news, activist City Councilman Adam McFadden declared the episode an example of an “open season” on black youth. He called the officers involved “idiots” and demanded a “public apology” from the chief.
Across the community and across the country the matter was angrily depicted as an example of racist cops targeting black youth because they are black.
Even though on any given day several hundred black youth happily use that very stretch of Main Street completely undisturbed by the several police officers who patrol the area.
What brought these young men to the attention of the police was their conduct, not their color.
But that’s not how this is being spun.
All of a sudden, the paradigm is that the officer involved, his department, his chief and the city they serve are a bunch of racist brutes and that the Rochester Police Department is at war with “the community.”
Monday evening on the TV news, the police chief – a black man – said the officer was justified and the young men had done wrong.
Tuesday morning in a terse text, the district attorney – a white woman – said the charges would be dismissed.
And the Edison Tech basketball team, with its coach, played for the CNN cameras.
And speaking of cameras, there was one that captured this entire incident. Its recording was downloaded on a disc.
That disc was given to the property clerk.
Which side of this story do you think it supports?
Father Leo Hetzler is a World War II veteran and talks with Bob Lonsberry about his military career and life since. Listen below...
Photo Courtesy: www.military.com
My dearest Austin,
As you prepare to go to war, I would like, as your father-in-law, to give you some advice. I do so out of my love for you, but with no confidence that I can give you any insights into what you will face and feel over the coming months.
You are going where I have never gone.
I have known long separation from home and family, but my service was religious and in peace. I faced no mortal enemy, and I knew nothing of danger. You, on the other hand, will leave your country and your bride behind, and spend most of the next year in very difficult conditions amongst a people who want to kill you.
You will do this in a situation of uncertainty, for a nation only blindly finding its way forward, and under rules and commanders who sometimes may make no sense at all. As you wrestle with the what of your deployment, you may also question the why.
All of this, from the boredom to the danger, will play out in the context of an alien world thousands of miles from your home and culture, and in the shadow of the hard separation from your wife and her love.
You are right to be nervous and apprehensive. You are even justified to be afraid.
You are a teen-ager, and our country has asked you to be a man, a giant among men, an infantryman and a paratrooper, a defender of liberty on distant shores.
I do not know what you will face, but I do know some principles of life, and I would like to recommend them to you. I have faced hardships, and I would like to tell you how I have endured them. I believe I know what you must do to return from your combat tour better for the experience.
The first is to stay true to your faith.
Be a Christian soldier.
Say your prayers, every day. In moments of joy, sorrow, uncertainty or fear, cry out in your heart for God’s comfort and guidance. Ask him to lead you, let him be your friend and companion when you feel totally alone.
Don’t be sanctimonious, and you needn’t be perfect, but you need to remember who you are, and what you have been called to do. You are to be a light of the world, an example to your friends and a comforter to those around you.
Say your prayers, every day. And read the scriptures on a regular basis. Ask God to make himself known to you, and to send you his spirit through his word.
Do that, and you will never march alone.
Do that, and in even the darkest of moments you will have hope and help.
Be helpful to the soldiers around you. Set a good example for them, as a soldier and as a man. Take care of them and protect them, so that together you all may come home to your families when your duty is done.
When you are tired and afraid, when the burden grows heavy, know that it is heavy for them as well, and when you feel the worst, they will need you the most. In helping them with their problems, you will find comfort and relief for your own problems.
Remember that your service is noble. You are an American soldier, the representative of a free people and an inspired Constitution. You are in the United States Army and that is a big deal. You are standing on a foundation built from the honor and achievements of more than 200 years of soldiering. Live up to that heritage and don’t let it down.
Be brave, and know that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, it is the absence of inaction. A brave man acts when others can’t. He follows his training, he upholds his ethics, he lifts high the flag of freedom. He does what needs to be done. You are as capable of doing your duty as any American who has ever worn the uniform.
Remember that honor is found not in what you are asked to do, but in how you do what you are asked to do. No task is minor or insignificant, if you do it to the best of your ability.
Stay close to your wife back home. Write her and Skype her and keep her picture and her memory close to your heart. She is why you fight. She is proud of you. She is part of you. You are defending her, and your folks back at home and the children you will one day father.
Stay close to your nation. Be open to the love of country and patriotism that will become clearer and more central to your service as you look back on the duty you are about to do.
You are going to war in order to serve God, family and country. You are the defender of all three.
Keep a journal and take lots of pictures, take care of your gun and your feet, and don’t trust anybody who doesn’t have US ARMY embroidered over his heart. Be hyper vigilant and continually assess every situation you’re in. Always have a play in mind, a defensive and offensive move, in case something bad comes down. Don’t turn your back on anybody, and if you have to fight, fight like hell.
And know that God has your back.
And so do I.
I will pray for you every day, as will many who know your name, and countless other Americans who will pray for all who, like you, are in harm’s way.
I love you, I believe in you, I respect you.
I am honored to have you in my family, I am proud to be your father-in-law.
Now God bless you, and do good.
And come home when your duty is done, to live out your long life in peace.
With my love, your father-in-law,
Police Chief John Colella talks with Bob Lonsberry about Friday's police chase that left an officer in a car wreck. Listen below...
Ryan Chalmers from Churchville, NY started in Los Angeles as he travelled across America to New York City in his wheelchair. Listen to him recollect his story with Bob Lonsberry below...