For Nina Jordan, there is a direct connection between her work with and NAACP and her spiritual journey as a Buddhist. Both are focused on relieving suffering. Both of these life-defining paths planted their seeds in Nina when she was a child. For Nina Jordan, there is a direct tie between her work in the NAACP and her Buddhist practice.
Nina's parents originated from Italy. Nina's mother, Angela Rose Pepe, was born in Waterbury Connecticut, where Nina, also, was born, in 1938. This side of Nina's family emigrated from Naples in the late 1800s; her grandfather manufactured Pepe tomato sauce and Pepe Macaroni products and imported large rounds of provolone cheese and salami from Italy. Nina's father, Peter (Pietro) Capra, emigrated from the North of Italy, coming through Ellis Island in 1909 when he was 10 years old. While in the service, a lieutenant saw Peter's leadership potential and gave him a letter of introduction to Phillips Andover. Peter lay awake the night before his first day at Phillips, wondering how he would do at a rich kid's school. Within three years, he won a scholarship to Yale and later became the executive director of the Boys' Club of New York, where he would facilitate the acquisition of higher education for other poor boys like himself.
Nina recalls living in New Rochelle, NY during the 1940s and 50s, and being influenced by her father's work with the Boys Club. Summers were spent on Long Island Sound at Camp Carey where boys from the Club came for two-week vacations. She recalls the many Negro campers she saw on the campus and the Negro cook, Henry, whose smile and lemon meringue pies she recalls with affection. Back home in New Rochelle, Nina saw no Negro children in her school or neighborhood. At age 9, Nina's fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Levin, showed the class a film of the life George Washington Carver. Seeing the baby Carver taken from his enslaved mother's arms at auction seared Nina's nine- year old heart. Also at this time, Nina was given the book, Bright April by Marguerite D'Angeli. April was a nine-year-old Negro girl, who, like Nina, was a Brownie Scout, working for her badges to become a Girl Scout. April's comments about girls not wanting to sit near her because of her color touched Nina's heart. Through conversations with her father and the books she read, Nina learned more about the suffering of Negroes and others who are different. When her family moved to Manhattan, Nina attended a convent school where she and her classmates were expected to perform social service to the community. Nina taught Catechism to a blind boy from Puerto Rico.
After her first year in Queen's College, Nina became a counselor at Camp Sea Breeze on Staten Island, a camp sponsored by CSS, Community Service Society of New York, where mothers and their children, nine months to nine years, spent three weeks during the summer. Educators from Howard University were hired as Director, Supervisor and counselors. For that summer and the next, Nina had the unique experience of living and working in an integrated community.
She and her husband became friends with a counselor from DC. Their families visited each other and continue to keep in touch. "I believe that more than the work place, picnics and social gatherings, visiting each other's homes illustrates our commonality more deeply than anything else," says Nina.
Nina's introduction to NAACP came in 1991, when she went to Portsmouth to hear Julian Bond - long time civil rights activist and the current chairman of the national NAACP. She recalls being surprised to see so many people of color. She had been living in Lee, NH since 1969 where there were only one or two black families. Becoming more concerned about the suffering in the world, Nina saw the NAACP as a way she would be able to initiate change. Then she heard the Buddhist Bodhicaravatara sutra, which is about suffering. This ancient text states that whatever strengths we have, they should be employed to relieve the suffering of others. Nina had found her spiritual home. She began her journey on a path that is not a religion, but a way of life. This path teaches that we must take responsibility for our thoughts, words and deeds. It teaches about the interconnectedness of all elements in the universe.
Nina became involved with Legal Redress in 1994. Then president, Sheila Findlay, reported that bi-racial children were being racially harassed at their school. At the time, she was a teacher at Moharimet Elementary School in Madbury, New Hampshire. Moharimet implemented the Verbal Abuse Policy to handle playground fights.... holding children responsible for their words as well as their actions. Addressing racial discrimination in schools, in particular, is an expression of my Buddhist commitment, Nina said. With the practice of compassion, as well as a degree in mediation and counseling, Nina uses negotiation, tentative language skills and active listening in Legal Redress issues. Sometimes, Nina finds she must set aside her official title and just sit quietly, as a Buddhist, with someone who needs support and understanding. Her political activism is also an expression of her Buddhist practice. Nina was arrested last May demonstrating for an exit strategy from Iraq with activists from Seacoast Peace Response & New Hampshire Peace Action, at congressional offices. "I had not been arrested before but the time had come for me to put my body where my spirit is" says Nina.
Of her two adult children, Nina says, "They are no longer my children. They are now, my friends!" Her son, Conrad, is an happily married attorney. Her daughter Michela works at San Diego Hospice with HIV/AIDS patients. An animal lover, Michela is "home" to her many critters". Nina proudly speaks about her grand-dogs, Mason and Maya, two grand-cats, Mica and 'Fredo, and a grand-parrot named Frankie (for St Francis). Nina describes herself as a "people person". As the NAACP's picnic chair, she says, I love the picnic! I love seeing the children connect so readily with balls and bubbles. I want us to do more gatherings than just one a year. Perhaps more gatherings in homes are what Nina would truly like to see.