Top left: Kristen & Brendan Hughes, Top right: Brendan Hughes, Bottom left: Rising Star Award winner Sunithi Krishnan, Bottom right: Top individual fundraiser Saadia Ali, Marianne Hughes, Brendan Hughes.
Hairpin has a deep connection to Project Bread and Boston’s Walk for Hunger. Our own Kristen and Brendan’s dad, Patrick Hughes, founded both over 50 years ago. He was an original: a world-changer, do-gooder and hell-raiser. We have the deepest gratitude for the commitment and generosity of the Project Bread staff and the thousands of Walk for Hunger participants who have raised millions to fight for food justice.
Below is the transcript for Brendan’s keynote speech at the Walk for Hunger kick-off on March 26, 2019.
About ten years ago, I was rooting through some old boxes in my mom’s basement and I found a mysterious, handwritten document that seemed to be an account—in outline form—of my dad’s first few years at the Paulist Center…a time during which, for a lack of a better word for a priest at a church, he kind of raised hell.
When Patrick Hughes arrived at the Paulist Center a freshly ordained priest in February of 1969, he had big ideas in his head and a song in his heart. The brass assigned him the dusty basement and told him to start an education center down there for conversion classes and Pre-Cana. But he always found that the conversion classes were a little tedious because the converts were…a little zealous.
So instead—inspired by the controversial Worker-Priest movement in post-war France—he started a supper club on Wednesday nights, and updated the Holy Mass to include guitars, interpretive dance and puppet shows. And when he was faced with a budget shortfall to supply his new ad hoc restaurant with food, he started a pledge walk called Feet for Wheat, and asked his 200 young and diverse weekly communicants to lend a hand, raise money and get hoofing.
And when NBC heard about this young priest that was doing very interesting things with media outreach for his ‘fundraising pledge walk concoction,’ they asked him to create a presentation to broadcast during the Apollo 11 lunar mission—because they needed content to play while the astronauts were sleeping—to contextualize the moon landing for Christians back home. So, he gladly accepted the challenge, and he created a slideshow called “From Genesis to the Moon and Back,” and he drove it down to Rockefeller Center, to show the NBC executives there.
And again, back to me rooting around in my mother’s basement ten years ago. I found a box of old reel to reels, and one of them had what I believe to be a version of the audio he used for Genesis to the Moon and Back. So, for tonight, I thought I’d share an attempted reconstruction with you.
The visuals he used have been lost, but having restored some of his other slideshows in the past, I took the liberty of imagining what the visuals could have been in 1969, and put something together that I’ll play for you now.
From Genesis to the Moon and Back by Patrick Hughes
And when it was over, he looked at the NBC executives and said, “…eh?” And the NBC executives looked at each other and said, “We can’t play that!” So, he drove back home from Rockefeller Center, and the following Sunday night, played it in lieu of a homily for the 200 Sunday faithful in the Paulist Center basement. And the next week, 600 people showed up to his little guitar liturgy. And the following year, a hell of a lot more walked in the Walk.
In about three weeks, my son will be the exact age to the day that I was when Patrick died in his sleep in 1980, at 41 years old. The loss of him on a personal level was of course devastating, but the loss of his imagination for the world was equally tragic. When I consider my son’s adulthood, it is a world without imagination like Patrick’s that scares me most.
He looked at the starving Nicaraguans on the crust of the planet the Apollo missions were leaving and thought, “this makes no sense.” This lethal scarcity near the equator of a world with so much plenty.
Hunger, he knew, was not a failure of resources. It wasn’t a failure of infrastructure. Hunger was a failure of imagination.
If we could somehow get out a ouija board and tell him that the Walk and has grown in size and scope exponentially, he would slap his bald forehead and demand to know why in the hell it isn’t obsolete by now?
He would have had the imagination to know how to respond when UN climate scientists tell us we have 11 years left to figure everything out. He would have had the imagination to know how to respond to gerrymandering, to rigged economies, to powerful men finding each other’s mischief not quite prosecutable enough, to plutocracy, to kakistocracy and to the fact that world hunger could be ended completely at a cost of roughly what the United States wastes on its redundant, unneeded military bases, which are only kept open to protect congressional incumbents, and yet is not.
He would look around and say, “We have some serious dreaming to do.”
He would be so proud to know that Project Bread works not only to feed the line but to shorten the line. He would be so proud to know that so many of you yearly walkers can imagine a world without hungry kids. And move your feet to prove it.
We need imagination more than anything right now, and in that vein, I have the distinct honor of announcing the Patrick Hughes Award for Social Justice.
“His activism and advocacy were anchored in optimism and stemmed from his belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. This award will recognize an individual with an unyielding commitment to driving meaningful change by addressing the root causes of hunger, thus carrying forward the spirit of Patrick’s legacy.”
Nominations will begin in June and the first award will be announced in the beginning of October.
Thank you for being here tonight, and speaking for my family, thank you for keeping alive Patrick’s spirit and imagination.
See you at the Walk!
Hairpin is participating in the Walk For Hunger on May 5th in Patrick’s memory. We are asking for donations to support programs across Massachusetts that help people access and afford healthy food. Support our team here!