Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Your Voice Counts


International Human Rights Day:
Ways to Take Action


International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted, was celebrated on Monday, December 10th. The UDHR sets out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled without bias or segregation. It has been accepted by almost every government and has become the foundation on which protection and advocacy of human rights is based.

Despite officially adopting the universal declaration in 1948, the Cuban regime has continuously and systematically violated the human rights, freedoms, and dignity of its population. Human Rights Watch has consistently accused the island’s government of torture, arbitrary detention, corrupt trial procedures, and extrajudicial execution, in addition to calling out the limits Cuban law imposes on freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and press. For more details on human rights in Cuba, visit Human Rights Watch or Amensty International.

Below are a handful of ways that you can take action this week (and always) to help defend the rights of the Cuban people!

Be a Loudspeaker for Cuban Voices
Get involved in translating the dozens of blogs coming from Cuba. Cuban bloggers are yearning or their ideas to be expressed outside of their borders and to breed dialogue inside and outside of the island. Check out TranslatingCuba.com and read this interview with its founder, Mary Jo Porter, to understand the value and promise that translating blogs holds.

Support Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
Donate cell phones or USBs for Roots of Hope to refurbish and send to Cuba. These devices are the primary way that information spreads like wildfire among young Cubans, including artists, students, bloggers, and nascent entrepreneurs. Hear how technology helps.

Use social media to make your #VoiceCount
Follow @RootsofHope on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and share your ideas for supporting youth in Cuba and promoting their freedoms and rights.

Draw Attention to Jailed Activists in Cuba
Email or tweet Amnesty International to draw attention to the dozens of political prisoners in Cuba and ask for their inclusion in their letter writing and awareness campaigns. For examples, read about activists who are still jailed such as Calixto Ramon of Hablemos Press, and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz, or those who have been freed in recent years, such as Ricardo GonzálezIf you would like to write letters or organize a letter writing campaign for jailed activists in Cuba, email us at comms@rootsofhope.org



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Crackdown on Music in Cuba



Raices de Esperanza strongly objects to The Cuban Ministry of Culture's announcement that it is banning the production and distribution of reggaeton music as part of a larger crackdown on “vulgar, banal, and mediocre” musical expression. Citing a desire to retain the authenticity and quality of Cuban music, the president of the Cuban Institute of Music (ICM) called out the elimination of sexual and explicit lyrics as the central motivation for these actions.

Given these erratic and disproportionate actions, we can only assume that the Cuban Ministry of Culture perceives the musicians’ success as subversive of their control. We call on the Cuban government to not censor Cuban artists and allow the Cuban people to exercise their inherent human right to freedom of expression.

Although reggaetton and hip-hop musicians are not a direct threat to the Cuban government, they have amassed a large following and audience across the island. Over recent years, the music scene in Cuba has become increasingly reflective of the diversity and interests of its population and has become an outlet for their observations and for communication among its citizenry. We hope that musicians in Cuba are not discouraged, but rather emboldened to continue making and sharing music that echoes their reality, reflects their aspirations, and shapes a new generation of Cuban artists.

For questions, please contact comms@rootsofhope.org



Saturday, November 24, 2012

Running: Our Community at its Best


Come January 2013, Run4Roots participants will be running the Miami Half Marathon at the same time as youth in Cuba run a parallel race. This historical occasion will build a bridge and connect two communities who yearn to know each other and innovate together. As the reality of our counterparts on the island continues to change, this is more important than ever. 

Here is the story of Chris, who ran the Miami Half Marathon with us last year and will be hitting the pavement again next January. Check out his reason for running and step up to join her by registering here! It's time to hit the ground running for something YOU believe in. 

Running: Our Community at its Best
By Chris G.

The reasons I run for my roots are simple.

In 27 years sprinkled with moments like winning a football championship and speaking to a crowd of 5,000, I’ve lived some cool experiences.  Few, if any, compare to Run 4 Roots. 

A year ago, Run 4 Roots gave me an opportunity to honor my grandfather’s legacy (my sister and I raised money in his memory) while running the ING Miami Half Marathon. This was personally significant, but I didn’t expect to experience something more powerful too – the essence of my community.

Leading up the race I wasn’t exactly in run-13-miles shape. I’m not sure I had ever run anywhere near 10 miles! And worse, since I had barely trained, I had real doubts I could finish the race.  (If you’re wondering, yes training properly for a half-marathon is advisable.) As I ambled to the starting line in the pre-dawn darkness, the sea of people who were about to take the same journey comforted me.

The race was every bit as challenging as I imagined, but it exposed me to a side of my hometown I had never experienced.  It was pure, unbridled human spirit coming together to create the most potent and tangible feeling of community I can remember.  It was Miami, the United States, or even humanity, at its finest.

I chose to Run 4 Roots again this year because now I have a unique opportunity to share that face of my community with some (soon to be) friends from Cuba. If all works out, young people from Cuba will either be racing alongside me or figuratively tracing the same route in Cuba. Either way, I’m going to tell them all about the perfect strangers who wildly cheered me on last year.

I’ll share that it wasn’t just a couple points in the race, but throughout. And when I was ready to give up, a random smiling face would shout encouragement. Then it was my running mates pushing me to fight on.  Later it was the live bands providing a distraction down the home stretch of the race that kept me going.

The combination of overcoming a grueling challenge, overwhelming support from the community, and personal fulfillment in crossing the finish line combined to make it an incredible, uplifting experience.

It was a snapshot of what life and my community can have to offer.
  
Those are things I want Cubans to experience too. 

Register to run with us and start the year by making a tangible impact in the lives of youth just 90 miles from our shores! If you still need some convincing, check out photos from last year's race on our Facebook page.



Running for Empowerment

Come January 2013, Run4Roots participants will be running the Miami Half Marathon at the same time as youth in Cuba run a parallel race. This historical occasion will build a bridge and connect two communities who yearn to know each other and innovate together. As the reality of our counterparts on the island continues to change, this is more important than ever. 

Below is the story of Hanny, a first time Run4Roots participant. Check out her reason for running and step up to join her by registering here! It's time to hit the ground running for something YOU believe in. 

Running for Empowerment
By Hanny R.


I used to hate running, and I do mean hate. Growing up in sunny Miami – where most Physical Education classes are, for some absurd reason, held around midday – doing laps around the school field was my worse nightmare. The heat, the panting, the desperate thirst, in summary, an overall awful experience for me. I did, however, love to dance, and started on my first dance team at around age 10.

I left sunny South Florida for college and migrated North, to Boston, MA. I joined my college dance team and was absolutely loving the experience, until a few months into my freshman year, my knees started having serious issues. After lots of visits to doctors and lengthy medical-jargon-filled explanations, I had to stop dancing and let my body heal. I, unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - am not one to sit still. Instead, I decided to start running. I am not completely sure why. Perhaps, it was the sight of all the happy joggers cruising through the scenic routes around the Charles River, or maybe it was the challenge of trying to tackle an activity for which I had always held such apprehension and disinterest.

I know you’re probably thinking that running sounds like a terrible idea for someone with knee problems, right? Well, most doctors would agree, and my own doctor was rather appalled when I mentioned it. Surprisingly, running actually helped me recover a lot quicker than expected; but perhaps more importantly, I discovered I actually liked running, maybe even love running. During a time in my life, when I felt completely powerless and unable to do what I loved most – dance – running, helped me find a way to take back some control. When I was out there was no one to disappoint, no one to impress, except myself. I came to realize that I had the ability to keep going and surpass my expectations, to push through when I started feeling tired, and to keep moving.

There are tons of overused clichés about having confidence in oneself, or the power of believing you can do something, but behind the platitudes there is a lot of truth. I will run on behalf of Run for Roots in January because I believe that running is a very effective vehicle for self-empowerment. The Roots of Hope mission is to empower youth in Cuba to be the authors of their own future. There are million ways to do this, but empowering them with a belief in themselves first, at the most basic level, that of their bodies and spirit, is the essential starting point. I am immensely excited and proud that we will have parallel runners on the island.

Register to run with us and start the year by making a tangible impact in the lives of youth just 90 miles from our shores! If you still need some convincing, check out photos from last year's race on our Facebook page.


Running for Hope

Come January 2013, Run4Roots participants will be running the Miami Half Marathon at the same time as youth in Cuba run a parallel race. This historical occasion will build a bridge and connect two communities who yearn to know each other and innovate together. As the reality of our counterparts on the island continues to change, this is more important than ever. 

Here is the story of Maritza, who ran with Run4Roots in 2012 and will be hitting the pavement again in 2013. Check out her reason for running and step up to join her by registering here! It's time to hit the ground running for something YOU believe in. 

I Run Because I Hope
By Maritza A.


It's about the rarity of one action occurring at the same time in two very close but distant countries. The politics, frustration, anger, and dejection on both sides come to a halt for a moment where we stand in parallel side by side armored in unity and love. Miami and Cuba running in parallel...doing anything in parallel is symbolic of the deeply seeded emotional and heartfelt roots that we carry for the youth in Cuba. There's this unspeakable bond where you know the heart of what's on either side longs for each other. The youth in Cuba face a world of unknowns and hardship. While they 'live it up' just like us, it's a vastly different world behind closed doors. I get to face hope everyday in its eyes. We stare each other down and see where my next big step is going to take me. Reminds me of Emily Dickinson's "Hope" below.

"Hope" by Emily Dickinson

That perches in the soul, 

And sings the tune--without the words, 
And never stops at all,
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm.
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
I've heard it in the chillest land, 

Those of us who have freedom of speech take some small chances at life sometimes because we take opportunity for granted. The idea of what you can accomplish tomorrow and your 'next steps' in your career is nearly a vanished thought in the daily life of a Cuban youth. We get to envision a future colored with travel, exploration, education...whatever we want. I get to dream BIG, because those dreams can come true. But if you knew they couldn't ever become true under a government that's eradicated any tolerance for freedom of speech and economic willpower, would you keep hoping? This idea of "hope" and "change" for the youth of Cuba is truncated by a volatile economic and political state. I run for the Cuban youth, and we run together because they CAN be the authors of their own futures. It's demonstrated in this half marathon. We run in parallel on one day because we stand for hope, change, and freedom of choice. This is change. This is hope staring us in the face.

Register to run with us and start the year by making a tangible impact in the lives of youth just 90 miles from our shores! If you still need some convincing, check out photos from last year's race on our Facebook page.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cuban Government Announces Travel Reform



We at Roots of Hope recognize the potential that the recently announced travel reform could have on the people of Cuba. Reclaiming the ability to travel freely is one of the many changes that our counterparts on the island have advocated for, and these reforms represent a small step in the right directions. Cubans have unjustly been denied the right to travel for too long, as generations have gone and gone without a freedom that many of us take for granted. This new policy could open the world to many young Cubans, and expose them to new possibilities, perspectives, and contexts.


Roots of Hope welcomes these actions, but remains cautious about their full impact because they do not guarantee freedom of travel for all Cubans. The new migratory policy continues discriminating against many professionals and those Cubans who bravely express independent opinions. The true scope and reach of these changes will be seen come January 2013. We call on the government of Cuba to ensure that the issuance of passports will not be governed by political opinion, economic discrimination, or public reception, but instead is open to all Cubans.

We hope that this moment is one small step in ensuring that youth in Cuba have the opportunities to become authors of their own futures. We realize that this goal has not yet been achieved, but remain optimistic that the voices of Cubans on the island will continue to be heard throughout the world. 

For questions, please contact comms@raicesdeesperanza.org 

Monday, September 24, 2012

We Hunger For Change

Hunger strike participants

After observing a hunger strike for over a week, Cuban opposition leaders secured the release of Jorge Vázquez Chaviano. Jorge had been incarcerated for the alleged crime of "illegal economic activity" and was due to be released on September 9, 2012. As often is the case, Cuban authorities extended his detention without any explanation.

Roots of Hope stands in solidarity with these leaders who placed their lives and well being on the line to secure Jorge's release. Through their selfless acts, these Cubans brought international scrutiny to Jorge's situation. We also recognize and thank all those around the world who promoted Jorge's cause. Every Facebook post, Tweet, or email sent helped spread the word about the Cuban reality and increase pressure on authorities to release Jorge.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Remembering Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero - friends, leaders, inspirations

Sean with Harold.
This morning, Raíces de Esperanza (Roots of Hope) deeply mourns the loss of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero, Cuban civil rights leaders who passed away on Sunday, July 22, 2012. These courageous and patriotic men never gave up on building a Cuba that is free from oppression, inspiring many around the world to believe the same. We at Roots of Hope join their families and friends in remembering them as men, as well as their commitment to building a civil society in Cuba. Their work will continue to inspire generations of young Cubans.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who received the Sakharov Prize in 2002 and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, created the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba in 1998. Together with other members of the movement, he founded the Varela Project and collected tens of thousands of signatures across Cuba as part of a national referendum to ask for legislative changes regarding freedom of expression, fair elections, and amnesty for political prisoners in Cuba. Payá’s hard work and dedication to his homeland inspired young leaders on and off the island. He died defending the rights of every Cuban to be free, and will continued to be remembered as the hero that inspired a generation.

Harold Cepero was a friend, a brother who's love and solidarity only grew stronger with distance and time. We first learned of Harold after he risked it all to simply stand up for what he believed in and was kicked out of his university. His peer example, his sacrifice, his courage and his unfaltering commitment was what has inspired so many Roots to dedicate ourselves to our mission. He dedicated his entire life to spreading love, hope and peace. He inspired young people to take ownership of their lives, and he was a dreamer. Though Harold has left this earth, his brilliant soul continues to shine on all the lives that he has touched. He taught so many of us that serving those in need is not just our duty, but rather it is what gives us the greatest sense of happiness. Harold dreamed of a day when young people could become the authors of their own futures and labored with unending love to realize it. Now its up to us to ensure his memory doesn't die and to make his dream a reality.

Roots of Hope would like to extend its heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá. We have lost two heroes. Their actions and faith will be reflected in their legacy and their hopes for Cuba will forever be remembered.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cóctel Benéfico en Madrid!

Estimados amigos,

Queremos hacer partícipes a todos ustedes de la buena noticia. Hemos constituido la Asociación "Raíces de Esperanza en España." A partir de ahora, de manera oficial, queremos profundizar el trabajo que ya veníamos haciendo de manera informal, apoyando a la juventud cubana en la Isla. Para ello, idearemos y apoyaremos cualquier iniciativa en ese sentido tanto en la Isla como en España e invitamos a todos los jóvenes cubanos y españoles, así como a instituciones privadas o públicas a que se unan a nuestros esfuerzos.

Nuestras últimas iniciativas están centradas en la recaudación de USBs para enviar a la Isla y continuamos con la campaña de envíos de teléfonos móviles. Asimismo, desde ya anunciamos que a fines de junio organizaremos un Cóctel Benéfico en el Restaurante “La Cesta", con el objetivo de recaudar fondos para apoyar el Proyecto Ágora, este proyecto ayuda a jóvenes en Cuba a crear sus propios negocios y organizar proyectos comunitarios. Ayudar a esta incipiente forma de libertad económica es una forma de apoyar a la juventud cubana a que sean autores de su propio futuro.

Para los que estén por Madrid por esas fechas, pueden comprar las entradas en este link y sino pueden participar pero quieren donar para esta causa, también pueden hacerlo.

Junta Directiva
Asociación Raíces de Esperanza en España

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Letter to Cuban Youth, Part 2

Roots of Hope recently has the opportunity to write a letter to thousands of youth gathered at a vigil in Santiago de Cuba. To read our message, see here. If you could write an open letter to our brothers and sisters on the island, what would YOU say? Here's what Kenny would tell his counterparts, but we want to hear from you too. Send us your open letter to Cuban youth at blog@raicesdeesperanza.org.

An ancient Chinese proverb says that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” While many representatives of the Cuban community abroad only had to journey 90 miles to be with you today, we come with humble hearts to ask that you join us for a new journey of a thousand miles. Today, we invite you to take the first step, just one step.

A thousand miles seems endless and the first step frightening. We Cubans are fortunate to have brave examples to follow who illuminated the long and winding path before us. Jose Marti told us it was a sin not to do what we are capable of and the Cuban people have proudly responded to his call to duty, service and honor. Our Cuban people, both here and abroad, have risen to exceed Marti’s wildest dreams.

Cubans have traveled millions of miles the world over as doctors, musicians, statesmen, gold medal Olympians, poets, bloggers, neighbors, friends and humanitarians. Our nation, the Cuban nation, has brought smiles to the world through our service, joy through our humor and creativity through our genius. A thousand miles does not seem so far anymore, but who are we, citizens of Cuba and Cuban citizens of the world, to contribute the first step to our own journey together?

We are the compassionate ones who seek the truth in understanding

We are the dignified ones who uphold the truth in the face of evil

We are the passionate ones who yearn for love, hope and friendship

We are the hopeful ones who inspire and bring out the best in our communities

We are the humble ones who listen first and speak second

We are the ones, who beginning today, will work together to uphold and promote these values so that we can march on our thousand mile journey until the global Cuban community is recognized for its compassion, dignity, smart passion, hope and humility.

The Cuban community abroad is eager to open itself up to you and sincerely hopes that that the Cuban community on the island is willing to open itself up to us. A thousand miles is very far, but maybe one big step together, at the beginning, will help us complete the journey sooner.

Letter to Cuban Youth

This past week, Roots of Hope was honored to receive an invitation to reach out to our counterparts on the island through an open letter to thousands of young Cubans participating in a vigil in Santiago de Cuba on Sunday, March 25th. We hoped this letter would serve to remind our brothers and sisters that they are not alone, that 90 miles from Cuba they can find a community that constantly thinks about them, a family yearning to empower Cuban youth to become the authors of their own futures. We hoped this letter would convey a message of amor, amistad y esperanza, and hoped it would begin to pave the way for a more open dialogue with those in Cuba, for the reunification of the Cuban family.

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Durante muchos años ha sido nuestro sueño poder hablar con ustedes, dirigirnos a nuestros hermanos en la isla, y juntos reconstruir los puentes de amistad que a través de los años han decaído. Nuestro sueño ha sido poder decirles que, aunque la distancia nos separa, nos une algo más profundo – el amor a la patria. Nos define una misma identidad, la identidad cubana. Entre los mas de 5,000 jóvenes que forman Raíces de Esperanza hay muchos que nacimos en la isla y otros que hemos tenido la oportunidad de visitar la patria de nuestros padres. De una forma u otra, Cuba ha estado presente cada día de nuestras vidas, en cada reunión familiar, en cada fin de año, y en cada Noche Buena. Nosotros representamos a los cubanos en cada rincón del mundo, quienes – separados de su país – viven enlazados por un amor a la patria, a sus hermanos. Ustedes representan esa parte de nosotros que siempre ha vivido y vivirá en Cuba.

La visita del Santo Padre a nuestra isla nos da la oportunidad de hacer estos sueños realidad, nos da la oportunidad de unirnos a ustedes en espíritu para presenciar uno de los momentos más históricos en la historia de nuestra patria. Desde el otro lado del mar Caribe le damos la bienvenida al Santo Padre y nos unimos juntos en oración, rezando por la paz y la prosperidad de nuestro pueblo y alentados por la esperanza de que los lazos que formamos hoy serán verdaderos y duraderos. Hoy, mientras ustedes se reúnen en oración en Santiago, cientos de jóvenes cubanos en el extranjero rezan con ustedes. Jóvenes en Miami, Nueva York y cada rincón del mundo donde se encuentre un cubano, se unen a ustedes, así dando el primer paso hacia la formación de una familia cubana más unida.

Nada nos haría mas feliz que poder sentarnos cara a cara y entablar una conversación, conocernos, y hablar sobre un futuro conjunto. Durante los últimos años, los miembros de Raíces de Esperanza han intentado conectarse con la juventud cubana para establecer un diálogo y compartir con ustedes. Hoy lo hacemos mediante una carta, pero anhelamos el día en que podamos asistir juntos a una misa en la iglesia del Cobre o en la Catedral de la Habana. Añoramos el día en que se deje de hablar de la juventud cubana “de aquí” y la “de allá,” el día en que ambas se conviertan en una sola juventud cubana. Así, crearemos una luz que no solo brillará en nuestra isla querida, sino que también le demuestrará al mundo el poder infinito del amor, la amistad, y la esperanza. Mientras tanto, juntos podemos reflejar las palabras de Jesús Cristo al mundo:

"Hagan brillar su luz delante de todos, para que ellos puedan ver las buenas obras de ustedes y alaben al Padre que está en el cielo"

Con Amor, Amistad y Esperanza,

Los Jóvenes de Raíces de Esperanza

Friday, February 3, 2012

Avenida Cuba off to an Amazing Start!!


The Avenida Cuba Campus Tour is off to a great start!! Check out photos and videos from the first week of travel and inspiration!

Georgia Tech
For photos, click here.
Reflection video by Georgia Tech students!

University of Florida
For photos, click here.
Reflection video by UF students!
Article in The Alligator about our participation in the Cuba Conference!

University of South Florida
For photos, click here.
Reflection video by USF students!

Miami Dade College

For photos, click here.
Reflection video by Miami Dade students!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Run for Roots? Part 9



Run for Roots is a new initiative that embodies the Roots of Hope mission by seeking to draw attention and collect funds in support of Cuban youth. The participants who will be running the Miami Half Marathon in January 2012 are motivated to do so by the desire to be agents of change and help empower youth on the island through innovative programs such Roots of Hope as Cells 4 Cuba and our Family Reunification Program. To learn more about Run for Roots, visit our website. To donate, visit our Crowdrise page.

Why do we run?

By Elena Castañeda

I won’t tell a lie, running is hard. Physically, running long distances takes its toll on your feet, legs and muscles. It’s hard to get yourself to run – whether it’s for a short jog, or a full marathon. Running in the heat, or the extreme cold, or rain, makes it even more tiresome.

Yet, why do runners run? Because running strengthens the soul. Running gives individuals a sense of resolve and determination that is nearly impossible to replicate. Working towards a finish line, a goal, empowers the mind, let alone the body.

The transformation that the Run for Roots athletes are undergoing through running echoes the transformation we seek to achieve in Cuba. Among our generation, a transformation is imminent…change is slow, but it is coming.

Cuban youth today are growing up in an environment where no one has achieved their dreams. Education, hard work and hope has led to physicians driving taxis and lawyers serving as barbers. The biggest dream among Cubans of my generation is to escape, to leave Cuba, to where opportunities abound. We, by contrast, are extraordinarily lucky to live in a world where we are told, from the moment we walk into school, “Follow your dreams. The sky’s the limit.”

What can we do to help our counterparts in Cuba plant the seeds of empowerment? We can help grow a sense of community. Roots of Hope seeks to cultivate a community of Cubans who freely share information, build bonds, and support each other as they begin to tentatively share their plans for the future.

Slowly, by facilitating the creation of ties between individuals through technology such as cell phones, we can begin to capitalize on the small freedoms that are beginning to spring in Cuba. For example, it is now legal to hold a number of different entrepreneurial roles in Cuba.

Cuban entrepreneurs are the future of Cuba. And those entrepreneurs are my generation, the generation that hasn’t yet lost hope. Let’s help them connect with each other and transform themselves, their businesses, their communities. This is the key to real, lasting change – change we desperately need. And if running one mile can help them get one inch closer – then I’ll happily run 13 miles, and more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Run for Roots? Part 8



Run for Roots is a new initiative that embodies the Roots of Hope mission by seeking to draw attention and collect funds in support of Cuban youth. The participants who will be running the Miami Half Marathon in January 2012 are motivated to do so by the desire to be agents of change and help empower youth on the island through innovative programs such Roots of Hope as Cells 4 Cuba and our Family Reunification Program. To learn more about Run for Roots, visit our website. To donate, visit our Crowdrise page.

Because we can, we must

By Natalia Martinez

It is the last week before our race and each day that gets crossed off the calendar is an acute reminder of how much I am not ready for Sunday’s half-marathon. Allowing a moment for excuses: I had an insane couple of months of 12-hour days between work and finishing my graduate degree, and then I went traveling for a month.

Excuses aside, the bottom line is: I love running, I ran two half marathons last year, but I am nowhere near “ready” or “comfortable” for this one. And I don’t mean in the way that smart, or fast, or talented people always say they’re “not ready” as a pitiful euphemism designed to widen the gap between what their actual performance will be, thus leading to your surprise and admiration….I.am.actually.not.ready.

And yet, I plan to show up on Sunday and run my body into submission with the best weapons I have: commitment, pride, and friends. We are running as a group and – more importantly – we are running for something we deeply believe in: the right of youth in Cuba to determine and build their own future, as well as our obligation to fan the flames of their efforts in whatever way possible.

“[…] A runner runs against himself, against the best that’s in him […] Against all the rotten mess in the world.” – Bill Persons

In this context, to endure two hours of bodily pain (within reason) and two days of soreness seem entirely worth it when what is at stake is taking a stand for the freedoms and possibilities of people just like me 90 miles away. I was born in Cuba and have throughout the years reminded myself to be thankful for any difficulties because the challenges I was facing were almost certainly intertwined in precisely the kinds of opportunities I would not have had if my life had progressed differently. In the Jorge Luis Borges garden of bifurcating paths, all versions of our lives unfold simultaneously, and I have often closed my eyes and stared at the other possibilities to remind myself just how truly lucky and blessed I have been.

As a result of my life's trajectory, my motto has been "Because I can, I must." In this light, onwards and upwards with the race on Sunday!

Monday, January 23, 2012

BIG Weekend Ahead!!

This upcoming weekend will be a big one for Roots of Hope in Miami, with three great events launching our campus tour, a new collaboration, and our Run for Roots initiative. For more information, see the image below.

Special Note: Please click here to register for the Avenida Cuba event this Friday at Miami-Dade College.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Honoring Wilmar Villar

Roots of Hope sends our heartfelt condolences to the family, loved ones, and worldwide supporters of 31-year old Cuban dissident Wilmar Villar. Sentenced to four years in prison for demonstrating publicly, his life succombed yesterday to the effects of a 50-day hunger strike. We salute the dignity of a man who refused to wear the garb of a common prisoner & made the ultimate sacrifice to defend his rights.

At a time when the world freely demonstrates in support of internet freedom, this is a harsh reminder of where Cuba stands with regard to censorship & individual human rights.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Run for Roots? Part 7



Run for Roots is a new initiative that embodies the Roots of Hope mission by seeking to draw attention and collect funds in support of Cuban youth. The participants who will be running the Miami Half Marathon in January 2012 are motivated to do so by the desire to be agents of change and help empower youth on the island through innovative programs such Roots of Hope as Cells 4 Cuba and our Family Reunification Program. To learn more about Run for Roots, visit our website. To donate, visit our Crowdrise page.

Why do I run?

By Anthony Lopez

Why do I run? Roots' mission to aide youth in Cuba something I truly believe in. Participating in this half marathon gives me the opportunity to be able to help this great organization - Roots of Hope - fundraize.

How have I been getting through my runs? It takes a lot of mental determination and concentration. Running is a great way to regularly exercise, and since I need to commit to running with a group about once a week, I can't get out of it. I have no idea how I've made it past 3 miles... but I did! I look forward to the challenge of completing 13.1 miles during the half marathon!

-A-Lo (used to take the 6 train like J-Lo)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What can Raíces do with $5,000?

By Tony Jimenez, Raíces de Esperanza/Roots of Hope Co-Chairman

What can Raíces do with $5,000? Let me not get ahead of myself. First, you might consider voting HERE before you finish reading this post, but if it takes you some more nudging then please read on…

I was recently selected for the Modern Hispanic Gentlemen contest by Ketel One and Miami Magazine. Ketel One selected 4 individuals in Miami that are involved with charitable organizations and Raíces de Esperanza was selected as one of them. My role is to humbly represent Raíces. I am honored to be selected among such a prestigious group of men who I can also call friends: Diego Ojeda representing 12 Smiles, Andres Asion representing Amigos for Kids, and Jordi Vilasuso with Liga Contra el Cancer. My fellow colleagues are leading incredible organizations that do extraordinary work in our community and beyond. However, as much as I admire them and the work they’re doing, I don’t want to leave any doubt that I want Raíces to win, and put that money to work for Cuban youth.

Are you convinced? If so, VOTE HERE! Not yet? Keep reading...

So what can Raíces do for $5,000 (the prize for acquiring the most amount of votes)? With $5,000 we can purchase 250 cell phones to send to kids on the island and increase connectivity and access to information among Cuban youth. With $5000 we can send 1,000 USB flash drives to facilitate the flow and transfer of information among Cuban youth that is vital to fostering the exchange of ideas and educating themselves with tools and resources they would otherwise not be able to access. With $5,000 Raíces, will be able to extend stipends to almost 15 individuals, lowering the financial burden of flight costs for those that are trying to reconnect with their families after years of separation or visiting the Island for the first time. The bottom line is: with $5,000 Raíces will be able to advance its mission of empowering Cuban youth to be the authors of their own future.

With $0 and only a few clicks YOU can plant seeds of hope and help change the lives of 11 million Cubans struggling to find their own voice.

On behalf of Cuba’s youth and all of us at Raíces de Esperanza, we thank you for your support!

AND VOTE HERE !

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Run for Roots? Part 6



Run for Roots is a new initiative that embodies the Roots of Hope mission by seeking to draw attention and collect funds in support of Cuban youth. The participants who will be running the Miami Half Marathon in January 2012 are motivated to do so by the desire to be agents of change and help empower youth on the island through innovative programs such Roots of Hope as Cells 4 Cuba and our Family Reunification Program. To learn more about Run for Roots, visit our website. To donate, visit our Crowdrise page.

Why I'm running

By Ana Pelaez

It’s very easy when you’re training over several weeks to lose sight of the cause you’ve committed your time and effort to. When we started in October for the Miami half, January seemed far enough away. With the holidays wrecking our schedule, it’s been a challenge to keep logging in the miles and sending out the fundraising emails. Focusing on the whats and the have tos it gets harder to remember the whys. A couple of nights ago, I sent out a last minute appeal on Facebook not expecting much to happen – it was late and I assumed everyone was off-book for the night. Not 20 minutes had passed when I got an email from Crowdrise telling me that a donation had come through for me. That was usual enough but when I saw that my donor had written on my page – “For freedom. For my father”-I was surprised. I’d expect his message to be funny or smart not emotional but it was a great reminder of why I was doing this. I love the sense of freedom that I feel when I’m running – 10, 11, 12, 13.1 miles. I love setting out and feeling that opportunities are limitless. I love that when I decide to take on a cause that’s important to me I can get on my phone, get on my computer and shout it from the virtual rooftops. I want nothing more and nothing less for everyone-in whatever shape or form their marathon comes. So that’s why I’m running – for freedom, for all of us.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Run for Roots? Part 5



Run for Roots is a new initiative that embodies the Roots of Hope mission by seeking to draw attention and collect funds in support of Cuban youth. The participants who will be running the Miami Half Marathon in January 2012 are motivated to do so by the desire to be agents of change and help empower youth on the island through innovative programs such Roots of Hope as Cells 4 Cuba and our Family Reunification Program. To learn more about Run for Roots, visit our website. To donate, visit our Crowdrise page.

Why I Run

By Maritza B. Aldir

Raw emotion. Humility. Truth. Hope. Hopelessness. Courage. Fear. Desire. Dream. Change. Passion. Happiness. Laughter. Intelligence. Selflessness. Helpless. Powerless. Motivation. Creativity. Innovation. Love. Kindness. Acceptance. Brilliance. Human rights. All of these words stream through my mind when I parallel my reality to the reality of people who aren’t free.

My motivation to run isn’t based on any politics, nor is it to wish for Cuba’s government officials to die one day. I could care less. It’s based on a human’s right to live without persecution for acting on the freedom of expression, the right to having liberty, the right to hope for change, the right to dream. The right to dream big, and speak freely of one’s dreams. It’s based on empowering youth to become their own authors of their own futures. I am my own author.

Most young people don’t care about the politics in Cuba. I don’t either, to be honest. The situation in Cuba is tiring, the struggles, the lack of empowerment, the lack of change, the lack of hope, and the lack of any promise for a future – for many. Some contently live their lives, turn their heads away from the government, and make the most of it.  I think of others who take an open stance to disagree with the repressive government. I commend the courageous people who currently stand up to living their dreams, and dream to actualize living in a free Cuba. Still, even the general public hopes for some kind of ‘cambio’ (“change”) whether it is eventually living outside of Cuba or staying where they are and desiring some kind of change. This is truth. No one talks about it out of fear, but everyone thinks it.

I think of one guy I spoke with my age a few years ago. I was graduating at the time from Agnes Scott College, a premier liberal arts college I had chosen for undergrad whose mission is to “educate women to think deeply, live honorably and engage in the intellectual and social challenges of our times”. This young man lived in the outskirts of Cuba. I can still hear his voice, monotone at best. He sounded hopeless, as he explained his day-to-day of helping his dad care for their goats and chickens. That was his past, present and future. He explained he really didn’t think anyone outside of Cuba knew or cared about his existence, and was intrigued by my desire to know more about him. We ended the conversation laughing. I’ll never forget that call. After speaking to and hearing more youth echo this young man’s sentiment about their current situation and futures, I became broken inside. This is the country my parents were born and raised in, opted to flee from, and still carry a heavy burden inside that they’ve chosen never to speak of over 40 years later. Our worlds united for those singular moments chatting over the phone for that one moment through these insightful, silently tearful, funny and unforgettable conversations. But our realities were so opposite and poorly disconnected once we hung up the phones. They go back to their reality, and I go back to mine. I get to say what’s on my mind without wondering if I’m going to get in trouble with the government. I don’t need to go through a black market for things I need or want. I can live wherever I want, for the most part. I can discuss and disagree with my nation’s politics in an open forum. I can pick any career I want, and opt to work in what I study or not. I can make no income or a lot of income. I can listen to whatever music I want, anywhere and in public (for the most part). I can jump on a plane tomorrow. I can fabulously wine and dine. I can read anything my little heart desires. I don’t get hurt or get incarcerated when I think differently than others, or stand up for what I believe in. This is a human thing, not a Cuban thing. This is called human rights. Under the “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” as defined by the United Nations, Cuba has violated the articles defining a human's right to a basic, dignified life.
 
The above is why I’m running. I suddenly forget about the fact that my doctors have told me I “shouldn’t” run because of my severe asthma, and the fact that I’ve never really jogged more than a block in my lifetime prior to 2 months ago. Well, this girl who had several (embarrassing) ambulance visits during "P.E." (Physical Education) throughout middle school for attempting to run is now running, and I’m running for something that’s greater than me. It’s weird, but I’m a change maker in action. I defeated my own negative thoughts by struggling for my own freedom to own my health, and I've been able to tackle this challenge knowing that my “struggle to be free” is but a mere obstacle in comparison to the struggles of someone who lives in fear to speak their mind. 

I’m running for the youth, and in memory of the late Laura Pollan—a hero who fought for her husband’s unjust incarceration all for dreaming and desiring for a different Cuba. Laura Pollan was fired as a schoolteacher as a result, and became the spokesperson for the “Las Damas de Blanco” (Ladies in White). She courageously stood in solitude in the streets of Cuba demanding her husband’s freedom alongside many others who continue to fight for their families to be free. They stand in solitude with peace and humility. stand in solitude with peace and humility. They embody the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” as depicted in “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” as written by the UN. For them, I run.

Donate to my run: www.crowdrise.com/mbaldir