This song was the third song written for this album. After taking some time to work on grant applications and working out the logistics of this community album, I began making more connections in the community and exploring conversations happening in the media. One person I spoke to was Aleksandra Petrovic Graonic , Executive Director of the Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region. She reached out to me at a community dinner and asked if I would consider writing a song about the affordable housing crisis in the Region of Waterloo.
The crisis has been featured in the news as of late. Even in my own neighbourhood, near downtown Kitchener, there have been concerns about high rise developments and gentrification displacing affordable units and housing as well as shelters.
The Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region collaborated with the University of Waterloo to produce Life Stories of Displacement, a series of podcasts where local residents who live on low incomes and have experienced marginalization in its many forms spoke about their stories.
These interviews highlighted many things; the challenges such as the limitations with systems and resources, the stigma of being a homeless person in our community. But they also featured uplifting stories of grassroots community circles of support. When Aleksandra told me about the initiative, I decided to take a weekend and immerse myself in all of the material available. I listened to the podcasts available online (there were six at the time). I read the transcripts from all the interviews. I reviewed the thematic analysis done by the researchers.
And I got angry.
I got angry at how the system is failing. I got angry at how people could be treated like dirt. I got angry about unfair stereotypes and unjust circumstances.
I gravitated toward one particular story: Wayne’s story. The way Wayne spoke about his frustration with society’s labels and how life sometimes “just takes wheels off your wagon” inspired me to start jotting down lyrics. Wayne suffered from mental health and personal issues that basically stripped him of his entire livelihood.
Here’s an extended clip from Wayne’s interview for this song:
Listen to Wayne’s Full Interview: We seem to be a society of labels
Wayne’s Poetry: Don’t Laugh At Me
It took three days for me to finish the lyrics with the ear of my bandmate, Len McCarthy. For three days, I was steeped in anger for what Wayne and the 14 other interviewees has had to deal with in their lives and how we, as a society, have decided to respond to people in these circumstances. Their stories inspired the song, For the Weary.
I met Wayne and worked with him on this song to make sure it reflected his narrative in sound and lyrics. Near the end of process, I shared our rough recording of the song with Wayne at Queen Street Commons Café over tea. He got teary eyed and told me that we had captured his sentiments perfectly.
With Wayne’s full endorsement, we officially had a song from community, for community!
Len McCarthy, Jeff Cowell and I headed into the recording studio for a couple of hours.
Wayne noted that the heartbeat rhythm in this song reflected how he continued to persevere, fight, and survive despite all his hardships.
Having a safe place to rest our head should be a universal right.
This song was used as the theme song for the Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region’s podcast, Homes 4 All, featured on CKMS Radio Waterloo 102.7, providing listeners with recommendations for meaningful grassroots solutions.
The Unsheltered Campaign spearheaded by the Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region is a campaign led by community advocates to provide 24/7 alternatives to shelter for all unsheltered people in Waterloo Region. Learn more about the advocacy work happening in our community and how you can help by visiting: www.civichubwr.org/unsheltered-campaign
Moved into your ‘hood
You didn’t think I should
Want to keep me hidden
Too close for your good
Pushed me out of there
The only thing you care
Is for your housing value
Not a second glare
I’m fighting for my right
To rest my head tonight
The ends barely meet
I’m nearly on the street
I’m fighting for my right
To rest my head tonight
The labels put on me
are ‘what’ you want to see
To you, it may not seem
That I have hopes and dreams
Sometimes life just happens
Tears one from the seams
What is it you see
When you look at me
Artist, worker, sibling
As you cross the street?
Will I pass on with respect and with grace?
Or will my life be forever erased?
All our journeys end in the same place.
Some are remembered while others displaced
Lyrics By: Mary Abdel-Malek Neil
Music By: Mary Abdel-Malek Neil and Len McCarthy
Performers: Mary Abdel-Malek Neil (vocals), Len McCarthy (guitar and cajón)
Co-Produced By: Jeff Cowell, Mary Abdel-Malek Neil, Len McCarthy
Photo from a A Better Tent City Waterloo Region provided by the Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region