Not all of the kids or senior citizens who gathered in the auditorium of West New York Middle School knew the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” when it played prior to the opening of Tai-Chi and Chi Kung Day festivities last month. But many of the students at least hummed along with a song that has become emblematic for peace and tolerance, despite the fact that for most who attended the event, English was not their native language.
Dressed in sneakers and clothing suited for exercise, seniors joined students dressed in marital arts’ gi uniforms for a celebration of Tai-Chi and Chi Kung Day (sometimes referred to Qigong Day) which is a worldwide event to exhibit and promote personal, social, and world health.
The April celebration generally starts in the earliest time zone in remote Samoa and ends in celebrations in Hawaii. It usually involves some kind of exercise and demonstration, as it did in West New York.
Although begun in Kansas City in 1998, West New York began to celebrate the day in 2001. Pedro J Delgado, who has been chief organizer of the event in West New York since its inception, led a team of about two dozen kids through martial arts routines during one portion of the ceremonies.
But for WNY Commissioner FiorD'Aliza Frias, the event became a means to promote health and to highlight some of the sports programs available, especially for girls.
“The idea,” according to Nelly Delgado, is to get people to hold the event at the same time of the day, while promoting the benefits of movement and meditation.
“We’ve been doing this since 2001,” she said.
Petro Delgado said he has been doing this since it started in WNY.
“We do it because we believe tai chi is good.”-- Pedro J Delgado
Nelly works for the WNY school district, which is one of the reasons why the event was held at the Middle School.
Frias moved through the auditorium prior to the event, greeting each senior with a handshake and a few words of encouragement, nearly always in Spanish, wishing them good morning, asking how they felt, and doing her best to make sure each person felt welcome.
Then, seniors and kids made their way outside, walking first along the track, and then settling onto the football field where they stretched and took deep breaths of the still-cool spring air.
Frias said she had come to walk with the seniors and the students, and while she did, she talked to them and to reporters about some of the programs she felt kids needed – especially the girls. This included organized sports such as softball and soccer that would fill the gap she felt they had in healthy activities.
“When I first came to the schools boys got to play baseball, but there was nothing for the girls,” she said. “The girls need sports for health as well as the boys. It’s about self-esteem, too.”
She said she envisioned a time when girls will get involved in sports like hockey and lacrosse.
When first elected as commissioner, Frias said she got involved in some of the town’s cultural events, but gradually noticed lack of opportunity for girls.
“I decided to get involved,” she said, and started with helping to establish the girls’ softball league.
Although a staunch advocate for women – she also helped establish the town’s International Women’s Day event – on this day, in the bright sunlight, she said she was there to help inspire seniors and kids. She breathed deeply as they did, doing her best to show the path to healthy living. They all breathed the clean air filled with the scene of apple and cherry blossoms and the brisk salt air of the nearby Hudson River.
Back inside, seniors sat on folding chairs arranged in a semi circle near the center of the gym, while Delgado and the kids put on a demonstration of tai chi, so powerful in movement that it resembled a sophisticated dance. Indeed, the whole routine was done to recorded hip hop music.
If the seniors thought they would escape, Delgado soon told them differently.
“It’s your turn,” he told them.
But theirs was going to be something gentler, and he had them move their folding chairs into the space previously occupied by his tai chi students, where they – to oriental mediation music – slowly learn to stretch in a much less stressful routine.
All laughed as they went through their portion, sharing a common goal of improved health.
“This is about being healthy,” Frias said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.