Albany Interfaith Party Triumphs Over Christmas Fire, Struggle, and Blues

Albany Interfaith Party Triumphs Over Christmas Fire, Struggle, and Blues

ALBANY —The devout Muslim, nurse and gourmet cook Tyhisha Ghaffar-Adjei is known as the “Queen” in the Albany neighborhoods she helps. For the past 14 years, he has celebrated his birthday in March and the religious holidays in December by hosting large lunches in one of Albany’s low-income apartment towers.

This year, she was drawn to the 23-story Capitol Green Apartments at 400 Central Ave. In Google reviews, residents praised the maintenance staff, modest rents, and security staff. But they worry about nearby drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes. When Ghaffar-Adjei spoke with residents, she learned how hard financially impacted by the pandemic. Many were concerned because they were behind on their rent.

All of her talents and friendship ties came in handy one recent day when chaos and danger hit the apartment complex. The memorable party was a triumph over a fire and a fight.

Building ties

It is a tribute to Ghaffar-Adjei’s reputation as an activist and his networking power that when he flashes his bat signal in the sky, the heroes volunteer to help, including a volunteer whose nickname is Batman. Volunteers for their December 18 festival are multiracial and interfaith activists, including Kristin Hernandez of GROW (who helped raise money for $ 10 gift cards for each apartment) to David Pena of the Kids Club Discovery Center who delivered meals, AND there’s former SUNY chef Keith McGee.

In 2007, Ghaffar-Adjei founded his charity, Guardians of Al-Fitrah, named for the state of purity Muslims believe humans possess when they are born. She chose not to apply for 501 (c) 3 status in order to have more freedom to make decisions. For example, when Capitol Green management didn’t return his calls, they decided that meant they wouldn’t mind if he set the venue for the Dec. 18 party on the 23rd floor.

Thanks to McGee, the food was ready. Raised as a Christian, he met Ghaffar-Adjei in 2010 when he was seeking a religious belief that would connect him to a higher purpose. Ghaffar-Adjei told him how his mother revered Malcolm X when he preached in Harlem before and after his break with the Nation of Islam. She embraced the Quran’s mandate to rescue the elderly from loneliness and help the poor, mixing activism with the Muslim faith.

“I was up all night with my mom and aunt cooking chicken curry and fried chicken when Keith rescued me, “he said.

McGee is a busy man, the educational director of the Black Elks of New York, where he is organizing the annual student speech contest (which Martin Luther King Jr. won as a teenager in Georgia). McGee also has his own company, International Comfort B Enterprise, to run.

McGee is working on launching a food hall in Albany for black and minority cooks who can’t afford their own restaurants or food trucks. You want to buy an old Key Bank building near the Armory for its location. He expects Mayor Kathy Sheehan to allocate a fraction of Albany’s $ 85.2 million in federal aid funds for his plan.

But when Ghaffar-Adjei called, he put everything else aside momentarily.

“I thought, God willing, I would, I would make it delicious, I would put down the lunch boxes and still make my own deadlines,” McGee said.

Miraculously, the boxed lunches were ready and Troy’s food insecurity activist Steven Figueroa donated enough artisan bread to power the skyscraper.

And then … chaos

At 1pm, the volunteers were busy loading lunch boxes onto carts when they smelled smoke.
Law student Gianabou Diallo helped deliver lunches and gift bags to the apartments.

“There were a lot of disabled people, older people,” Diallo recalls. “Some couldn’t believe we were giving away free meals, free $ 10 gift cards. They kept asking if they had to do something to win one. “

Then a six-alarm fire interrupted the party. “Someone threw burning garbage down the garbage dump,” recalls Ghaffar-Adjei, exasperated.

Volunteer Paul Collins-Hackett, known as “Batman” by the Albany children he mentors, wears a gray hoodie emblazoned with the words “Save the City” instead of a black cape. Typically, you distribute free books to children or help them learn a skill like movie making. At the party, he helped evacuate the upper floors of the apartment building. When sprinklers soaked the hallways and the elevator closed, it helped residents down the stairs.

Albany Fire Chief Joseph Gregory said firefighters responded within three minutes. The fire is still under investigation.
“The sprinklers worked as they should, thanks to the building maintenance team,” Gregory said.

Young children who were baffled by the alarms were soon enchanted by the huge red trucks. Some firefighters stopped to talk to the children. Soon the kids were chatting about fire trucks as a highlight of the party, like a pony ride or a balloon drop.

“We get a lot of recruits that way, (adults) who saw firefighters in action as kids in their homes and decided to do it when they grow up,” Gregory said fondly. then quickly added: “Of course, we prefer to get recruits through a presentation.”

Once the fire was contained, the elevators had to be closed periodically. Teen volunteers went up and down the stairs to deliver meals.

Then a bloody man came screaming out of his apartment. He told the volunteers that an angry woman tried to kill him. Volunteers helped him reach the doctors who came with the firefighters.

The spirit remains

Ghaffar-Adjei calls its annual December holidays “interfaith celebrations,” not Christmas parties. He wants to nurture attendees both spiritually and nutritionally. He invited Albany County Legislator Sam Fein to speak to residents about Judaism. She stayed to help pack gift bags with personal care items donated by the mayor’s office.

She invited Bishop Avery Comithier of Elijah Missionary Church, who is famous for his Pastoral Patrols that aim to quell nighttime street violence, to speak about the meaning of Christmas.

“Frosty and Rudolph were all over that building; I did not see the decorations of the Child Jesus, ”he joked dryly. “Look, I understand it’s a commercial party … Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus command his followers to celebrate his birthday. But if we’re going to have this holiday, people might behave more like they’re honoring the way Jesus lived. “

Although he is encouraged by charitable endeavors like those of Ghaffar-Adjei, he has been discouraged by the greed and bad temper he has observed in the Capital Region. He helps with Toys for Tots and found that some families go to various toy distributions in search of the best “Bluey” action figures or games. You’ve seen people strive to be first in line at the free Christmas parties and get multiple servings.

Comithier had to leave early in the event. I would have assured him that the Christmas spirit is still thriving if he had met the winners of the “golden ticket” from Ghaffar-Adjei.

The tickets were decorated with gold foil to look like Willy Wonka passes that took the winners to his magical chocolate factory. Ghaffar-Adjei’s secret surprise was that he stuck a $ 100 bill under the gold foil.

The first randomly chosen winner was an older woman raising two preteen boys. He came to the door with a metal walker. The boy and the girl ran after her to greet their visitors.

The woman received a brightly colored tin box. The children clapped and the woman warmly thanked the volunteers. Ghaffar-Adjei gently explained that the award was inside the box. The winner opened it and looked at the golden ticket.

The children clapped, exclaiming at how beautiful the ticket was. Ghaffar-Adjei later described the children as an example of fitrah, so innocently disinterested that they were enchanted by a fragment made to look like an imaginary prize in a children’s book.

“Look below,” he urged.

They saw the $ 100 bill. The children and their caregiver gasped and then hugged, thanking the volunteers. At this interfaith Christmas party, the generosity and sweetness were easy to see.

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