Bringing Light Where There’s Darkness – A Mother’s Day Story

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” – Margaret Mead

I actually learned that from my mom, Jane Hanley.

When I was around eight years old, I joined my mom and a group of other concerned mothers and their kids to march in a circle around what was becoming a busy neighborhood intersection, loudly requesting a traffic light. This was a street in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, one that many of the kids crossed heading to elementary school each day. I remember holding up the posterboard sign with a cartoonish drawing of a traffic light, with lots of red, green, and yellow colors. My mom and I marched in a large circle and although we were polite enough to keep the intersection clear for the traffic, we were seen and heard. That light did go up at some point, and I remember the feeling of power and pride that went through the community at the small group of concerned parents and their kids creating a little peaceful ruckus for a good cause.

Years later, my mom noticed that in another part of the neighborhood, a bus stop was eerily dark past sundown. This was a bus line that brought commuters and students home from all parts of Brooklyn, from shopping at the A & S or Macy’s, what we called “downtown,” or from school, or the subway station at Nostrand Avenue. Not only did her own kids get off at this stop at night, but many of the neighbors, the young and the elderly. I know she wrote to various offices who had the power to install a streetlight, and sure enough, it was eventually installed. Another victory for a concerned citizen who decided to take action to get the right thing done. 

MJ Hanley-Goff at the rally for Happy

That memory came flooding back as I stood at the Bronx Zoo’s Asia Gate holding up a sign with a picture of Happy, one of two elephants being kept in small quarters for over 40 years. This was the Free Happy Rally coordinated by the Non-Human Rights Project, a story which has been reported here on WAT (  It was exhilarating to be holding up the sign, putting my money where my mouth was, walking the walk, not just talking the talk. There must’ve been about 50 to 60 of us, of all ages, from toddlers to seniors, holding up signs provided by the NHRP, or holding their homemade ones. The Asia Gate location was a symbolic choice as just over the stone walls, Happy was standing, stoically enduring another day in small quarters, in solitude, living as unnatural a life as any elephant could.  

NhRP attorney Elizabeth Stein and NhRP Director of Government Relations and Campaigns Courtney Fern speak at the Rally.

In an announcement by the NHRP, there is an exciting day coming up. On May 18, 2022, the New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the “free Happy” case. The argument challenges the “archaic” legal status that animals are “things,” and that quarters the elephants live in is “too small to meet the needs of Happy or any elephant.”  In just a few weeks, the NY Courts have the chance to right the tremendous wrong of Happy’s 45-year imprisonment and bringing her legal status “into the 21st century by recognizing her legal personhood and right to liberty.” 

Now, while this may be much bigger than a traffic light, or illuminating a darkened bus stop corner, this desire to be a part of a worthy cause was instilled in me by a quiet Brooklyn mother, gone now eleven years, but remembered every day, not just on the first Sunday of May. 

Here’s to all the mothers who inspire their children and their families with their quiet acts of courage that continue to inspire the generations to come. 

Top photo: Jane M. Hanley with her beloved Tippy. (Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff)

About MJ Hanley-Goff (123 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and college essay writing help to students. MJ is thrilled and honored to write for WAT for the amazing adventures it offers, like reviewing concerts, people, authors, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I enjoy drawing attention to the off-the-beaten path kinds of stories,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”