From servanthood to a self-made man

Amador_Capoeira-22He grew up as a servant child in the home of a rich, white family in Rio de Janeiro. He cleaned, served and swept, receiving nothing more for his services than room and board and the clothes he wore. Those clothes were removed from time to time beginning when he was nine, he says, when the father of the family who employed him raped him.
“It was awful,” he said. “But on one hand, I wouldn’t take back [my time with them] because I learned things, like how to live formally and behave like the higher classes.”
José Geraldo Santos Souza is now a 60-year-old self-made philanthropist with plans to open a community center for underprivileged children. He’s a part-time capoeira instructor and a respected craftsman. And he got to where he is now in life by following a simple life philosophy.
I try to bring with me every good thing and leave the bad memories behind, Santos said.
As soon as he turned 18, Santos left the rich family’s home and set out to make his own living.
Soon he was able to study in a technical school, where he was trained in making hammers. After that, he expanded his skills to saddles, bags, shoes, hats, sculptures, and furniture. He also maintained a lively interest in capoeira, Brazil’s traditional game and a mixture of martial arts and dance, which he discovered at age 18 in Rio.
“I started doing it just for exercise, but then I learned who I really was, and that I was actually black,” Santos said.
In a nation whose inhabitants cherish European influence and tend toward racial whitening,admitting an African heritage is not often a popular act. Santos, though, said he found it liberating. He eagerly learned more about his great-grandfather, who was a slave, and his grandfather, who was born a freeman.
In this, capoeira helped. Santos said the activity is about bringing people together and fosters
relationships between living people and their ancestors. He uses the “she” pronoun to refer to the
game, emphasizing the spiritual change it can work in the people who play it.
“Capoeira is one whole story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Her song expresses gratitude for everyone,” Santos said. “It’s about looking to the past to understand the present and the future.
These days, Santos’ present consists of plenty of preparation for his future. He spends less time
playing capoeira and more time landscaping and building a plot of land that he used his lifesavings to purchase. On it, he said he plans to open a community center in Coita, the eastern-SaoPaolo neighborhood where he resides.
Despite battles fought to keep nature  including deer and amarillos  on the land and encroaching favela residents off of it, Santos is full of enthusiasm. He said he wants to offer hope to children who might be in difficult situations like he was when he was young. Lessons in capoeira, craftsmanship, and more will be offered at the center.
“Many poor kids just need a hug,” Santos said. “They need attention.”
Victoria Ison is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Ind., to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, andfacebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.
Authors:
Victoria Ison

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