Neil’s story: Why I got involved with A Wing and a Prayer

I’m a management consultant in the Internet Security field. I’ve been doing this since the 1990s, when I was doing arts management at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia University.

I wrote the world’s first distributed anti-spam software (which pretty much meant telling everybody to block an email address) and putting it up on a website.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of interesting, meaningful things, in great part due to my having co-founded the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE.org) back in the mid 1990s. I was one of the primary agents-provocateurs who advocated for the world’s toughest anti-spam law to be passed in Canada, and in the process I spoke to politicians and mandarins at the OECD, I’ve been on government task forces, and currently, I help some of the biggest companies, and law enforcement agencies  throughout the world fight the scourge of Internet abuse.  For all of this I was awarded the first-ever MAAWG.org Lifetime Achievement Award.

I’m cursed! I can’t just sit around and do nothing when a problem presets itself. Unfortunately, those problems that grab my attention tend to be pretty big. That stands to reason: A few years ago I sent my DNA in for genetic testing (the sample actually now resides in The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC), and it turned out that I am part Scottish, Clan Malcolm. The clan motto is “He aims at difficult things”.

A while back, as if ridding the world of spam was not quite difficult enough, I began to feel that I wanted a new challenge. My pondering lead me to a few conclusions: One, I wanted to deal with problems in the real, not virtual world. Secondly, I wanted to return to my first love, the arts. Third, I want whatever I do to contribute to our mutual betterment through community service.

One of my fundamental convictions is that people, everywhere, want little more than the basic necessities of life, a full belly, a roof over their heads, and safety and security for themselves and their loved ones.

I also believe that art is the very reason humans exist; it is art that endures from civilizations past.

But why this? Why A Wing and a Prayer? In Ardua Tendit.

We choose to […] do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win … – John F. Kennedy

I’ve lived in a place where hate was felt so passionately, and yet, when people are left to their own devices, the sparks of peace are inevitably struck, friendships flourish, love abounds. We have seen happen this in my home of Québec, Canada, where divisiveness and anger has given way to peaceful coexistence; So too in Ireland, in Rwanda, in South Africa. I’m not a pollyanna; while imperfect, such places are a proof-of-concept of what we hope to do at A Wing and a Prayer. Give peace a chance.

Last year, Elizabeth spear-headed a drive to bring a Syrian family, refugees, to Canada. I was honoured to participate financially. Last year, she, her husband David, and her 4-year old daughter walked from Toronto to Niagara Falls to raise money for the cause. Her Walk like a Refugee project was a stunning example of fortitude, one I found very inspiring. In the summer of 2017, Elizabeth and David were over for a BBQ, and I happened to mention my concept for AWAAP. Elizabeth’s first reaction was ‘I’m in’. I hadn’t yet even asked, but I knew then, that I had found the perfect collaborator to make this happen, and that this path was laid out before me. I had no choice,

During the peace that ever-so-fleetingly takes hold from time to time in Israel-Palestine, friendships quickly become established. A sense of community grows.

AWAAP hopes, I hope, to provide a protected, environment, where artists can create together, a place where peace, love and understanding can take root, against all odds.

سَلَام. שלום

Because, In Ardua Tendit.