Bernardo Palombo – A Great Light

BERNARDO PALOMBO: A GREAT LIGHT

By Elena Greco

Bernardo Palombo (middle) 2014
(with Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese)

Typical reading time: 4 minutes

February 27, 2024

A bright light has left the earth. Bernardo Palombo, you will be missed by so many.

Bernardo was a brilliant musician, poet, songwriter, artist, activist and innovative language teacher with unique vision. Most of all he touched people and changed their lives. I believe that’s what we’ll all remember most about Bernardo. And creativity just happened around him!

He helped me re-connect with my creative self about 18 years ago after a long stretch of dormancy, when I had given up on my life and probably would have ended it. I would not be who and where I am today without his special connection. And that is a statement you will hear over and over from the people he touched throughout his life.

When you had a conversation with Bernardo, he had a special way of making you feel that you were all he could see or hear at that moment in time, that you had value to him, that he respected you. He saw deeply into people and with so many of us, helped us to see the potential within ourselves. What I remember most about my conversations with him is the deep respect he showed me, something I’d never experienced before, and I’d be willing to bet that everyone he connected with would say the same. That was his nature; it almost seemed like a mission.

Bernardo wrote for and worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, yet you would never have guessed that. He was completely humble and didn’t promote himself.

A few years after I met Bernardo at El Taller, and subsequently did volunteer work there, I suffered an enormous trauma at the hands of the NYPD. One night as I lay in bed, they had tried to break down the door of my studio apartment repeatedly (for no reason at all), causing massive noise as they wailed against my metal door with a ram, screaming at me, with me believing all the while that an insane person was trying to come into my apartment to harm me, since the police did not identify themselves. I had suffered a home invasion that almost ended my life a few years earlier. I had finally almost overcome massive PTSD symptoms that resulted, but after this egregious attack by the NYPD I had a major relapse. I needed to be able to speak to my Puerto Rican building super in Spanish to determine what he was going to say to the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board) pursuant to my complaint, and I didn’t have the Spanish language skills to do that.

When Bernardo learned what had happened to me, he immediately offered a friend of his who was a translator to come to my apartment to speak to the super. The friend did so and was able to let me know what the super’s position was, which was essential to my case (the CCRB did not help me, but at least I had the satisfaction of putting a complaint in the rogue cop’s file). And Bernardo was the only one who truly seemed to understand the psychological effect this had had on me, doubtless due to countless friends and acquaintances of his who had experienced something similar (because the police knew they could get away with it and liked to harass immigrants). I will be eternally grateful for his support in that instance, as well.

You often hear people say that they want to make a difference. Bernardo made a difference every day of his life. I will never forget him.

Reflecting on Bernardo’s life gave me much to think about. He positively affected, even transformed, the lives of literally hundreds of people through his simple encounters with them. How does my life stack up next to his? Do I make it a point to connect deeply with people in my life so that they feel seen and safe and respected and encouraged to use their gifts? These are questions I’ve been with all of this month.

Bernardo’s great light, which affected the lives of so many, contrasts starkly with a different sort of experience I had this month with a man who came onto my Substack bringing darkness. I had just posted my weekly article on my Substack page when he used the Comment feature below my article to showcase five paragraphs(!) of his own writing pointing out (mansplaining) how wrong I was, acting as if I had written about a topic other than the one which I had, beginning his condescending post with, “thanks for opening this up for debate,” which I most certainly had not done.

Because bullying, name calling and gaslighting are stifling of vitality and creativity, and also sometimes a signal of potential danger, I deleted his remarks and blocked him anywhere he could access me online. Picture me dusting my hands.

That would usually be the end of that scene in my mind, but somehow it kept coming back to me as a contrast to the life that Bernardo led, which was much on my mind. How can humans choose such two diametrically opposed ways of being on this earth?

I have a hard time understanding how people at this point in time in our particular culture have not learned the basics of good communication, and how they are seemingly unaware of—or don’t care about—the effect we have on each other, which effect can be used positively or negatively. Why would anyone choose the negative path?

I don’t tolerate harmful behavior in my own life. But some people have no choice but to be at the effect of such negative intention—people in certain other countries and cultures, for example, or those who are under duress in some way in our country. I wish I did not have to say this, fifty years after I witnessed the beginning of women’s rights here in the US, but women, even in our country, are still very much at the receiving end of this sort of behavior on a daily basis, personally and publicly. And many people around the world are brutally killed on a daily basis simply for being who they are or where they are.

This makes me horribly sad. Why do people behave this way? Do they not understand what they’re doing, just reacting automatically and remaining unaware without contemplating their actions? Or are they actually choosing the negative path?

I think again of the article I posted on my blog and Substack last month, Triumph Over Evil (click to read). To have the healthy world that is absolutely possible now, we really must triumph over evil of all sorts at this point in time, and that includes not only blatant atrocities committed globally, but bullying, gaslighting, name calling, denigrating and other harmful behavior. We should have evolved by this point, both nationally and globally, beyond subjugating, harming or minimizing other humans. We have not. How can we change this?

And I’m reminded again of Bernardo. His life was not an easy one. Yet he chose not to complain or retaliate, but instead to offer a safe space to anyone from any walk of life who came his way, with a smile and a joke (he had a wicked sense of humor!), a little music, and warm acceptance.

May we all become more like Bernardo in his incredible ability to hold the space for others to feel safe and to grow and shine and express themselves.


Here are two charming and inspiring videos of Bernardo performing with a local children’s choir at a Lincoln Center Memorial concert presented in honor of Pete Seeger, a long-time friend and supporter of Bernardo. (I recommend Theater Mode.) 
Bernardo is doing here what he did best: bringing people together through music.

Pete Seeger 2014 Memorial-Guantanamera-Bernardo Palombo and Castle Bridge choir

Pete Seeger 2014 Memorial-Ana Ocarina-Bernardo Palombo and Castle Bridge choir
(starts with commentary by Pete Seeger; Bernardo wrote the lyrics to Ana Ocarina, a children’s song)

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much, Judy!

  2. Thank you for posting your heartfelt message. I wish I had met Bernardo Palombo. I appreciated your providing the link to the concert at Lincoln Center. It was wonderful. Those kids are adorable.

    By the way, anyone who posts a negative thought on your blog is in my opinion jealous of the positivity you bring to the community, perhaps reminding them of something painful in their own life.

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