An Understanding of Basic Finance Born From a Global Pandemic

By Gyasi N. Barber

After thinking about the racial wealth disparity in the United States between Black people and White people, I knew I couldn’t just keep this knowledge for myself. After all, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the median household wealth for White people is $134,230, compared to $11,030 for Black people. 

I’m sure some of you have taken the “opportunity” since we’ve been working from home to pick up a hobby, do some leisure reading or something else to make up your time. If we took all of the people who picked up a COVID hobby, we could make a pretty large club. 

In the first few months of the pandemic, I definitely watched a lot of movies, read some books and spent a lot of quality time with my partner, Maddie and our dog, Champ. I also decided to gain a better understanding of and control over my finances. Before the pandemic, I always found different opportunities to spend money as a young adult with very few responsibilities living in the greatest city in the world (<3 NYC). 

However, when things closed up, so did my spending. I missed the flexibility, but I grew to appreciate the time to evaluate what I was spending and what I was actually getting out of it. I came to realize that I wasn’t getting much. Nice clothes, electronic goodies, falling for Instagram sponsored content. Not a good look for your boy. The reason why I wasn’t getting much is because of how I defined “much”. I was getting goods, yes, but those goods wouldn’t appreciate or help me in the future. 

So I reevaluated. I didn’t stop completely, but I made a conscious effort to think about what I was consuming. If I saw a nice candle on Instagram, I still bought it. However, it was nice to have a little extra money to pay down my credit card bills, student loans and actually start saving. I do want to take this time and say that, during the pandemic, I was able to keep my job and I already make a decent amount of money. For that, I am truly blessed.

I started reading more about basic finance, investing and anything related to it. I took a few classes on Udemy that were really insightful and got me thinking about how I could continue to help myself and the people around me to gain some control of their financial future. 

It took a few months to really understand everything that I needed to do to get my financial education on track. I figured out the best way for me to set a budget, I made a short-term plan to pay down my high interest debts and I started putting money away for an emergency fund. Then George Floyd was murdered at the end of May, and everything changed. 

It was a pivotal moment–especially for me, a Black man in the United States of America. It took me a while to come to terms with what everything meant and how I felt about it. I decided to enlighten and educate White people so they could understand how this all came to be, but to be honest, I felt angry, tired and I really wanted to give up a lot of the things I had taken on during the last few months. 

While I did donate a lot of my extra money over the following few months to various charities, bail bonds funds and really anything I deemed worthy, I decided that my long-term financial goals should not change. After thinking about the racial wealth disparity in the United States between Black people and White people, I knew I couldn’t just keep this knowledge for myself. After all, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the median household wealth for White people is $134,230, compared to $11,030 for Black people. 

Just as I did during the immediate months following the murder of George Floyd, I’m now choosing to help enlighten and educate people on their understanding of personal finance. I believe that there are people out there who were just like me last year. At the beginning of last year, I did not have a handle on my high interest debt, I was spending more than I was making and I was thinking too emotionally and not financially enough about my non-essential purchases. So I am starting a blog that will uncover my current journey as well as the journey of others. It will also break down why we as Black people are in situations like I was in last year to begin with.

I hope to help some people, but I hope you will enlighten me in return. I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and that you’ll use this space to connect, ask questions, and empower yourselves along with me. You can look forward to a conversation about the psychology of money and how our backgrounds affect how we consume as well as an honest conversation about the difficulties of setting budgets (but hopefully how to set one anyway).

The Artist’s Power & Joy

By Leah S. Abrams

If you are an art enthusiast or a casual fan of the visual arts of any kind, this is the time to be in NYC. This is unlikely what you’d think in the midst of a pandemic that has been unbearably destructive to the arts and cultural organizations around the world, not just here in the home of Broadway and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Right now, at the city’s New Museum in the Bowery, there is a 4-floor exhibit accomplishing exactly what some of us insist art can do – it illustrates with an immediacy our individual and collective stories, impacting the viewer on a visceral level that opens the door wide for taking in different perspectives.

The exhibit – “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America” was originally conceived by Okwui Enwezor who, in 2018, offered: “The crystallization of black grief in the face of a politically orchestrated white grievance represents the fulcrum of this exhibition. The exhibition is devoted to examining modes of representation in different media where artists have addressed the concept of mourning, commemoration, and loss as a direct response to the national emergency of black grief. With the media’s normalization of white nationalism, the last two years have made clear that there is a new urgency to assess the role that artists, through works of art, have played to illuminate the searing contours of the American body politic.”

Much praise and gratitude should go to artist Glenn Ligon and curators Naomi Beckwith, Massimiliano Gioni, and Mark Nash for bringing Enwezor’s vision to fruition after his 2019 passing and the show’s COVID-related postponement that prevented its intended opening prior to the 2020 election. The notion of mourning as action rather than a state of being is empowering as the idea of freedom as a verb rather than a noun expressed in another artistic medium via a Daniel Kahn lyric. Every work featured in “Grief and Grievance” suggests movement over stasis, processing over stewing.

Without taking the reader on a tour of the nearly forty contemporary artists included, there is one piece in particular that exemplified for me what visual artists can uniquely express. Imagine, if you will, that I share with you a statistic – I tell you that, in 2018, 14,719 individuals were shot and killed in the U.S. How can you possibly conceive of such a number? How can you connect with it, feel what it means rather than trying to intellectually process it?

Now, imagine instead that you come upon a narrow flight of stairs and draped down above them, from a ceiling you cannot see, are dark blue banners with countless white stars in neat rows, military like precision in their placement, reminiscent of the U.S. flag. They are striking and you can’t get them out of your head as you move from room to room, floor to floor, taking in Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin set to classical music as you read along on massive canvasses, photographs illustrating lives of families in America’s stripped industrial cities that are not the families you typically see in such stories, installations that gob smack you at first sight, until you come to the top floor, turn a final corner, and find yourself at the top of that staircase.

You stop now to read that you’re looking at Hank Willis ThomasTitle 14 719, commemorating the number of individuals shot and killed in the U.S. in 2018; that the most likely way for a young African-American to die is by gun violence; that the artist remembers joking with his cousin, at age 21, that being that age and Black, they’d “made it” before losing that cousin to gun violence just a couple of years later; that this artist is just a few years younger than you.

And then you descend those stairs, staring upward, taking in how you, who likes to count everything, couldn’t fathom counting all those little stars, so many you can’t even seem them all, realizing now just how high up they stretch, how you feel as though you’re in a funeral procession.

That means something a statistic will never convey, that, frankly, as someone whose primary artistic proclivities are in the theatre and written word, cannot be accomplished there either. It is only the visual arts and music, all ingeniously on display at The New Museum, that can accomplish the immediacy of the situation facing us.

Over in Chelsea, you don’t want to miss actor and visual artist Tricia Paoluccio’s pressed flower exhibit, featuring a centerpiece canvas that is a Steinway piano, at the HIGH LINE NINE, currently hosting artists who would, in pre-pandemic days, have been unlikely to show there. Tricia found herself, like everyone in our theatrical and film/TV industry, facing an uncertain future last year as projects were cancelling for months on end – a whole season of work disappearing.

With a husband also in the theatre, they quickly left to stay with family in Northern California where Tricia dove into what had been a lifelong passion of flower pressing. The result is the collection, “I’ll Meet You There” (inspired by a Rumi poem), on display through month’s end.

Ms. Paoluccio is donating 9% from gallery sales to the COVID 19 Emergency Relief Fund and 1% to the CA Native Plant Society, offering yet one more example of how artists contribute directly back into the health of our communities and the larger world around us.

While you’re in that neck of the woods, brave the kinda scary building at 547 West 27th Street to see Susan Grabel’s “Homeless in the Land of Plenty – Redux” at the Ceres Gallery. The striking sculptures of our homeless neighbors were originally displayed in 1989, but not knowing that when I wandered in, I’d assumed they were newer work. These pieces don’t tell the story you expect – Ms. Grabel said she was confronted with the burgeoning population of homeless people on the city’s streets while commuting in the 1980’s and set about creating a series aimed at bringing these folks’ plight to attention, focusing on their humanity.

She is quoted: “We usually ignore homeless people; we pass them by as if they were invisible. They represent the failures of our society and we don’t want to face them.” The craftsmanship, artistry, and humanity on display here are extraordinary. You’ve got ‘til the end of the month and Ms. Grabel is scheduled to be there on the 27th, 3 – 5pm.

Finally, while you’re on the 2nd floor of 547 West 27th, I leave you with an offering of pure visual delight, free of any of the societal commentary I’ve focused on or COVID associations: end your day at Blue Mountain Gallery for Kim Van Do’s “Light and Air of Summer.” If you have been to the Catskills or Northern California, you will be immediately whisked back there in what I can best describe as akin to a VR experience through painting. And if, like me, you’re a bit of a geek for old tools and untraditional canvases, the scenic saws will delight you.

The truth is, I’ve given you the tiniest sampling of all that is out there to soak in and now’s the time. Do you know how crowded art museum and even galleries can get? How many germs go flying about? Go now while double masks are all the rage, crowds are limited, and there is an embrace of so many artists whose work is not always given the prominence I’m sure you’ll agree is deserved.

My (unpopular) opinion of Valentine’s Day

By Gabbi Traub

I have a very complicated relationship with modern-day Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, I think it’s beautiful to designate one day to celebrate your loved ones. I grew up “celebrating” Valentine’s Day with my parents and family. However, as I got older, it became (or perhaps I was just starting to become more aware of) this insanely over-commercialized romantic holiday where you were required to shower your significant other (if you happen to have one) with gifts, activities, and a crowded overpriced dinner with 200 of your closest friends. 

The origins of Valentine’s Day fascinates me.  Like any now over-commercialized Hallmark holiday – it has pagan origins and is based on a Roman tradition of men getting drunk at the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. The women welcomed it because it was thought to bring fertility.  Later in history, it became about honoring a saint in the Catholic tradition.  In this case- Saint Valentine.  No one can agree who was the actual Valentine. According to the History Channel, it was (probably) one of three men.  All of whom were executed by the Emperor for various crimes including performing secret marriages or helping Catholic prisoners escape Roman torture. Super romantic. 

I’ve never really understood the appeal of a modern-day Valentine’s day.  Maybe I’ve never understood the need to shower your significant other with gifts and flowers and candy and spend exorbitant amounts of money on a mediocre 3-course prix-fixe meal, especially when one could do this any other time of the year or even spread it out over the course of the year – for significantly less money.  Why do we feel the need to shower each other only once a year? 

Perhaps that’s my naivité, perhaps it’s how I grew up, and perhaps it’s the fact that I was single for the majority of my life and was (still am?) bitter about it only being marketed to couples. I certainly celebrated many “singles awareness days”, or “SAD” (pun unfortunately intended). Perhaps it’s all three.  Who knows.  Regardless – I’ve spoken about my feelings before and been met with overt frustration.  How could I not want to be showered with gifts and told I’m loved? How could I not want to celebrate love? And while I certainly understand the appeal of having one designated day a year to vomit up as much “love” as we can muster, why not expect that always? Why does it have to be one day and one day only?  

Now I’m not saying that one should expect to give/receive flowers, gifts, and candy (or your gift of choice) every day of the year.  That’s a bit much.  But why can’t we celebrate love in our own way, every day?  Why does it have to be romantic love? Why can’t it be platonic, familial, or god forbid, self-love? 

All I’m saying is – I don’t appreciate over-commercialized Hallmark stamped proof of love being shoved down my throat every year.  It (in my humble opinion) has no other purpose than for us to feel guilted into buying things and professing our love in a way that could be uncomfortable, for no other reason than it’s what we’re told to do.

Now, if you love taking one day a year to just go nuts for your loved ones, by all means, go for it.  And one perk of this crazy holiday? Severely discounted heart-shaped candy at every major store the following day.  Honestly, I’m all about that life.  Just some food for thought. 

Ed Jackson’s Lifelong Civics Lessons

By Leah S. Abrams

My friend, Ed Jackson, offered me one of the wisest life lessons I’ve learned anew many times: “Sometimes, in life, a twig is just a twig.” He shared this nugget with me when I was in high school, when he was Dr. J., my history teacher. It was profound to me that this notion should come from someone who was always teaching us to dig down further into the story.

A few weeks before this past November’s election, I asked Dr. Jackson – now Ed – why the way I’d been taught seems so vastly different from how I’ve recently found myself learning is not how most folks appear to have been educated, particularly in high school. How was it, I wondered, that so many people learned what seems a very one-sided, glossed-over version of U.S. History. What were these text books responsible for people’s knowledge base?

You see, I learned history and government through teachers, beginning in junior high and fully blooming with Dr. Jackson in high school, who offered us a variety of books, essays, lectures, and facilitated discussions. As a rather direct result of Dr. J.’s sophomore year class where I spent weekends with my classmates in our city’s then very intimate library, tracing the routes followed by Native American tribes as they were continually pushed off their land, I ended up on a cross-country trip.

My sister and I were the only students on that summer’s teen bus /camping tour who most relished the history and geography of the trek. My sister had inherited our father’s passion for local history. We were from Boston, he’d enthused, steeped in our Nation’s long narrative for all the pride that comes with it, along with the responsibility for the many accompanying ails. My sister, upon moving with her mother to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn two years before that summer journey, was steeped in pursuit of becoming the local fountain of historical knowledge that my dad was on our home state and, like him, she soaked in tales of any place she visited.

As for me, geography had long eluded me, until Dr. Jackson brought it to life, connected it to stories of progress and of all the tribulations, suffering, injustice, loss that is the ongoing price paid for those bits of advancement. To see the country I’d finally understood on a map, to physically attach landmarks and rivers and mountain ranges to all I’d been studying was thrilling.

In another of Dr. Jackson’s classes, I wrote a paper comparing three U.S. cities, looking at subjects that included education and economics. That is the first time I remember encountering a dismay that would come to continually pang me as it did my grandmother with whom I discussed it years later when she visited me in Oakland and noticed it herself. Namely, the condition of places named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

While I no longer recall all three cities I researched in Dr. J.’s class, I remember vividly the fury and heartbreak of reading about East St. Louis, Illinois. It was in Jonathan Kozol’s then just-published “Savage Inequalities” that I first ran across this passage quoting a 14-year old girl:

“Every year in February we are told to read the same old speech of Martin Luther King. We read it every year. ‘I have a dream…’ It does begin to seem – what is the word?… Perfunctory… We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr. King. The school is full of sewer water and the doors are locked with chains. Every student in that school is black. It’s like a terrible joke on history.”

There is a review from the Chicago Tribune at the front of that book that strikes me now, nearly thirty years later, with a heavy blow: “One wonders, though, whether a sequel to Savage Inequalities – written, say, twenty-five years from now – will document a country that decided to embrace and educate all its children.”

If one is to tune into any reputable news outlet, it is abundantly clear that we would have to answer Thomas Cottle of The Tribune with the response he clearly feared: no. Inequities reign. Our schools are still largely segregated and not at all equal. And, at 2020’s Martin Luther King Day commemoration in East St. Louis, The Rev. J. Kevin James Jr. called on the community:

“to not wait for the one time a year when King’s dream is celebrated… This should not be the only time we push for justice… Imagine an East St. Louis with black-owned businesses, black-owned grocery stores, a Walmart with a black general manager, a city where our schools are thriving not because of test scores but because of content… I wrestle today with this idea of this beloved community. Dr. King’s dream spoke of hope. He wanted us to continue in this dream and make it become a reality. But, in the world we’re living in today, it almost seems like we’re going backwards… All around this country we call the land of the free, we find there’s a continual joy in allowing other people to suffer and be persecuted.”

My pre-election conversation with Dr. Jackson – now Ed – shed a good deal of light on how we’ve gotten here and why it is that my history education was unique. In the 1980’s, Ed explained, states began pushing for more standardized tests – tests designed by outside consultants rather than by teachers, and those tests would be used to grade schools. One result? A nationwide slashing of civics courses – no more education around voting, the Constitution, city and state government workings.

I was fortunate. I grew up in a Boston suburb that my mother could not afford because my great-uncle had built my grandparents a house there long before and we moved in with them before she met my dad in the same town. And so, because of good luck relating not at all to anything I did or accomplished, I went to a high school where Ed Jackson, along with another of our teachers, had responded to those educational system changes by creating a “Government & Politics” course that proved so popular it was expanded to include 10th graders.

That move away from an in-depth understanding of how our country has evolved, of the way our Democracy works, of the ways in which systems perpetuate inequity if they remain unchallenged leads directly to where we find ourselves in this moment in history. We must do better. We must not turn to yet another generation and demand they continue fighting the same battle for simple human decency in a country more than capable of providing for all its inhabitants. We must not continue paying attention to what we call Black History only in February.

I want my nephew to come of age in an era where Black History is fully absorbed into all U.S. History courses, in classrooms that are truly representative of all of us. I want him to know a society that finally woke up, once and for all, to all its faults and realized it had the power to change – to actually embody the principles upon which it proclaims to be based. When he hears from a student at that East St. Louis school named for Dr. King, I want him to hear of an education like the one I got from Ed Jackson, in a building as safe and overflowing with resources as the one where I got that education. And when he drives down Martin Luther King Blvd. in any city in this country, I want him to see those thriving Black-owned business described by Reverend James, being frequented by people of every race and ethnicity and gender identity and religion as makes up our species.

Ed was right – there are too many very real, very big things in this world for us to work toward repairing to spend time on those small, personal things we make into so much more than they are – the twigs that are just that. The complicated part – the part that needs our attention – is the tree as a whole, its expansive root system, the communication system that runs among the forest as a whole. Let us turn our attention there – let us tackle it once and for all so that today’s young people are not, thirty years on, shaking their heads at books they studied long ago under a misguided faith that, ugly truth exposed, we would choose a different path once and for all.

The Language of Pause

By Leah S. Abrams

To hit PAUSE forces a certain stillness, reflection. A pause is different than a STOP – it suggests a natural un-pause – continued movement, eventually…

Oh, how I mocked the language when it all began. We weren’t going into quarantine or lockdown – oh, no – we were, the governor insisted, going to PAUSE. As a state, as a community, we weren’t, New Yorkers that we are, going to STOP – just… PAUSE. Together. Language, Mr. Cuomo averred, mattered, and words can carry positive or negative connotations. And, while my industry may remain largely decimated, I now believe wholeheartedly in Cuomo’s choice of terminology.

(As an aside, you may want to make a note of this moment because I am far more often found chiding the governor, even more than I do the mayor which is really saying something.)

To hit PAUSE forces a certain stillness, reflection. A pause is different than a STOP – it suggests a natural un-pause – continued movement, eventually, but forcing you to, say, get up for that computer-alert stretch break you typically dismiss.

Last January obviously looked very different for me than the month we’re now wrapping. I rang in 2020 with college friends and their families, as I do nearly every year – something the pandemic would steal from the group at large for the first time in nearly thirty years of gathering. A week later, I celebrated Rona’s birthday at her 54 Below concert, with my mother and Norm who’d made a special trip down for it, and surrounded by this most generous artistic community that continually inspires me. I signed a theatre contract to produce a playwright whose extraordinary gift with language is the very definition of what our society needs in this moment.

In those early 2020 months leading up to the long PAUSE, I saw more than sixteen shows, including “Come from Away” for the third time and “Mazz & Bricks” whose writer/performer I just watched in Origin Theater’s First Irish Festival gone virtual for 2021. I’d made my inaugural outing to the Cooper Hewitt Museum with one of my newest friends who, the week before the pause officially began, would take my bride’s maid’s dress to alter for a wedding that has been twice postponed, before I headed to my final in-person play – Simon Stone’s “Medea” at BAM.

In that time, I’d also attended a protest march when this country’s failed leadership refused to hold its egomaniacal leader accountable for his first called-out impeachable offense, and a concert commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with my mother and Norm in what would be our last visit for what is now over a year and where I spent the evening well aware of where each security guard was stationed and where were the children in my section who are always first priority in protecting under life-threatening circumstances. And I went to see Hilary Bettis’ “72 Miles To Go,” about a family living in Arizona, 72 miles from their deported mother in Nogales, Mexico.

And, then, PAUSE. Fast forward – a worsening pandemic that much of the country ignores or, worse, calls a hoax; the country watches, on video, police officers deliberately and slowly kill an innocent man, surrounded by civilians; peaceful protestors of that violence are met with kettling and tear gas and clubs and mass arrests; an armed mob breaks into the Nation’s Capital, calling for legislators’ deaths, and is met with no violent resistance.

And people, in every one of these instances, are shocked. I am not. I simply wonder how any of it is news to anyone. Has everyone gone ignorant of U.S. history? Of humankind’s history? I could easily continue down this road, as I often do. Or, I can use the PAUSE – regroup, shift.

One week after that insurrection, the country swore in its 46th President, a man who has spent his life in service to this country and who chose, as our Vice President, the first woman, first person of color, first Indian-American to hold the position – all in one. For the first time, a President’s inaugural address called out our cancer of systemic racism. In their first week in office, both rhetoric and action shifted to pro-immigrant which, as a reminder, is actually the single identity each of us shares unless one is Native American and just now finally being represented in the federal cabinet of the country that was stolen from them in the first place.

And, a week after white supremacists proudly sported “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts while waving confederate flags in an attempt to overthrow our Democracy’s fair elections, a worldwide community of Jews and non-Jews alike gathered together online to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the camp’s liberation with readings from children’s, from young people’s diaries of the time, after days before having celebrated the 40th anniversary of both the Yiddish Book Center and Klezmer Conservatory Band – two organizations each launched by a college student’s dogged enthusiasm for a culture and language on the brink of extinction.

Like everyone, I miss my pre-pandemic life. But I don’t miss the pace of it – the societal pressure to always be working, doing, striving. I fear the desperation in people to return to “normal” when so much is ailing us will result in lessons having not been learned, a return to complacency.

But then I see so many little glimmers of hope – the friend of privilege who has had an awakening on the subject this past year, the community refrigerators neighbors are stocking for one another, organizers keeping people engaged in political activism and volunteer efforts to care for one another, storytellers and artists of all kinds calling out our truths and continuing to entertain us. And, like so many others report, I no longer wake up in a state of a panic because my government is being led by a madman on a social media platform originally designed to help folks navigate conferences and which has, in this writer’s humble opinion, yielded the worst bastardization of language we’ve ever seen.

The governor was right – language matters. We have a long road ahead, full of work I fear never ends, but to turn on the news for White House press briefings where eloquence and decency are back in fashion, where the people in charge take science and our health seriously, leading by example? That is reason enough to hold onto a bit of faith that starting up again may actually yield improvement rather than simply a neglectful return to pre-PAUSE status quo.

Letter to the President and V.P. of the U.S.A.

By Rona Siddiqui

Arts & Culture generates at least $1 billion in every state. We account for 4.5% of U.S. GDP (more than Agriculture and Mining combined, and bigger than Transportation or Tourism).

Dear Mr. President and Madam Vice President,

Artists are in peril and we need your help. We all know we could not get through the pandemic without our frontline workers, those in critical retail and trades, food production, transportation, and child care, but imagine getting through the pandemic without music, film, television, books, photography, art. Historically, Arts & Culture have been considered just as essential to the human experience as the air we breathe and here is why:

-Artists remind us of our humanity.

-Artists tell the stories of our past that have fallen from our collective consciousness, but live in our bones. Our gravest mistakes are forgotten within a generation unless we continue to remind ourselves of the dire consequences when our actions are motivated by lies.

-Artists are the harbingers of danger, the speakers of truth, the connectors of generations and cultures, the voices of the marginalized and forgotten. We are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. We are here to remind you.

-Artists reach to the heart of the human experience to make people feel. When people feel, the pathways to empathy open and beliefs can change, and right now, we need a whole lot of change!

-Artists are powerful. They are often the first to be silenced under governments who lie, cheat, and attempt to bend reality to serve their own selfish ends. Remember when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and outlawed music? Or when Hitler banned abstract art?

Beauty is essential to remind us that we’re good. Music is essential to remind us that we vibrate at the same frequencies, theatre is essential because it causes our hearts to beat together and our minds to expand. We are reminded that we share one common experience of life on earth. Each one of us has equal value.

We need artists more than ever to tell the truth, draw us out, and give us all the strength to face our demons together.

We need the government to help us do our jobs so we can help you do yours: Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for every American.

Artists are in peril. 2.7 million Arts & Culture workers are unemployed. 41% of Arts & Culture institutions report they will not survive the pandemic. Arts & Culture generates at least $1 billion in every state. We account for 4.5% of U.S. GDP (more than Agriculture and Mining combined, and bigger than Transportation or Tourism). With its undeniable impact on our lives, how do we not have a national department of Arts & Culture like so many other countries do?

I know that you understand what is at stake. I implore you to be bold and take action to lift up Arts & Culture, make sure this community is taken care of now and beyond the pandemic, and give Arts Workers their place at the table. It is essential to our emotional and spiritual well-being as well as our economic health.

With your action, you will allow artists to continue to give us hope, drive us to be better and to understand the world around us, frame difficult conversations and dream of new possibilities for a brighter future.

Thank you for your service to our country during this troubled time. Your bravery and integrity will not be forgotten. We will tell the story.

Sincerely,

Rona Siddiqui

Right of Way

By Jamie Rosler

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, over fifty years since his assassination, and American politicians are making excuses for white supremacist rioters’ invasion of our government buildings.

There’s a general rule (laws, actually, all over the United States and in several other countries around the world) that pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections and crosswalks (marked or unmarked). As a pedestrian, though, one knows how rarely that rule is adhered to by drivers.

Regardless of legal standing, the responsibility ultimately rests with the person most likely to sustain a life-threatening injury, assuming they care to keep living. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

Also not fair but true, as with many other statistics in the USA, people of color are more likely to be injured or killed in a vehicle-pedestrian accident. This is the result of various factors, all of which could themselves be written about at length (and indeed have been and should be). Those factors are not inevitable facts of human existence. They are entirely within our control if only we (white people, those in power anywhere, you who are reading this essay) would stand up every day and speak these truths out loud.

___________________________________________________

As I sat in a Jayco-brand camper in a Dallas wood lot less than a ten-minute drive from where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I wondered why messengers of peace are murdered but messengers of murder aren’t.

Not wanting to be a messenger of murder myself, I have to acknowledge the innate hypocrisy of having little to no objection to someone assassinating the 45th President of the United States. For people who care about humanity, and have been paying any attention to American politics, it seems hard to argue against the idea that innumerable lives would be better, if not outright saved, had he been disposed of a few years ago.

Of course there’s no knowing what his most rabid supporters might have done in reaction, just as there’s no reason for progressive liberals to think a Pence presidency would have been kinder (the modern Republican party has been heading down this road for decades, after all), but the mob that stormed the Capitol earlier this month would certainly have been fed less fuel by their narcissistic dear leader.

As I was writing this, an historic second presidential impeachment came to pass, and of a one-term president no less. The likelihood of a conviction in the Senate is sadly not guaranteed. We’re looking at the very real possibility of a second American Civil War, fought over much of the same ideologies (hint: it has nothing to do with federalism or states’ rights). 

People are posting on social media to help their community prepare for the worst possible scenario. I changed my travel plans (don’t @ me, I’m being Covid-safe) from driving from Texas to New York right now, to waiting until after Inauguration Day to avoid a potential spike in nationwide violence. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, over fifty years since his assassination, and American politicians are making excuses for white supremacist rioters’ invasion of our government buildings.

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Walking my dog in west Dallas the other day, a pedestrian in a city of drivers, I stood on a corner across the street from a park and at the entrance to an interstate on-ramp. There was no traffic light to wait for or obey. Cars from two different directions were taking their turns, as they saw it, disregarding the person standing and waiting to cross, until one driver stopped. Instead of making a left turn onto the highway when traffic stopped coming from the other direction, they stopped and waited for me to cross the street.

This simple act resonated so deeply, in a way it might not have in a different time or place.

We all have the power to change patterns of behavior that seem otherwise ingrained in our society. We have the power to see, to decide, to act for change. We have this power every day in everything we do. We can be the government official supporting sedition, or we can actively stand against it and protect our fellow humans.

Which do you want to be?

Encouraging an Essential Read

In response to the past week’s events, the culmination of all that is broken in our shared home, we offer you something different for this week’s community blog: a strongly suggested read.

Please consider setting aside the time to read, in full, Lawrence Wright’s recent New Yorker article, “The Plague Year: The mistakes and struggles behind an American Tragedy,” excerpted below.

“You need to do something,” [Glen] Hubbard warned. “We’ve been having a debate for decades now about the size of government. The more interesting debate is the scope of government… If Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, had the idea of using government as a battering ram for opportunity, why can’t we do that today? Instead of focusing on how big government is, think about what you want it to do.”

[Dr. Ebony Hilton] became the first Black female anesthesiologist to be hired by the Medical University in South Carolina, which opened in 1824. U.Va. hired her in 2018. “If you look at white women with my same level of degrees, my child is five to seven times more likely to die before his first birthday than theirs. It’s been that way historically for Black women. Our numbers haven’t really changed, as far as health outcomes, since slavery times.”

The country, it turned out, was experiencing wildly different pandemics. For every ten thousand Americans, there were thirty-eight coronavirus cases. But, for whites, the number was twenty-three; for Blacks, it was sixty-two; for Hispanics, it was seventy-three… People of color are more likely to be exposed because so many are essential workers. “Only one in five African-Americans can work remotely,” she [Hilton] said. “Only one in six Hispanics can.”

Hilton, on the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests: ” For black men, one in every thousand is at risk of dying in his lifetime from an encounter with a police officers. If you think about that number, that’s what leads Black people to say it’s worth me dying and going to this protest and saying enough is enough. Police brutality is almost like a pandemic… It’s a feeling – I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well risk this virus that I can’t see, to speak about the virus of systemic racism that I can see.”

Such doctors knew how to click into emergency mode. Before COVID, that might last thirty or forty minutes – say, with a heart-attack patient. After a bus wreck or a mass casualty event, emergency mode could last a full day. With COVID, it lasted weeks on end.

Lorna Breen, a forty-nine-year-old doctor, was admitted to the psych unit… Lorna had been living in Manhattan, overseeing the E.R. at New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital. When COVID inundated New York, she worked twelve-hour shifts that often blurred into eighteen. She barely slept. Within a week, Breen caught COVID herself. She sweated it out in her apartment while managing her department remotely. After her fever broke, she returned to work… So many doctors in New York fell ill that, at one point, Breen supervised the E.R.’s in two hospitals simultaneously. It became too much… During the eleven days she spent in U.Va.’s hospital, she was terrified that her career was over. Licensing boards, she knew, might flag evidence of mental illness. Before COVID, Breen had never had a trace of instability… Breen seemed to improve… Feist took Breen home with her on the last Saturday in April. The next day, Breen killed herself.”

“I’m not buying a fucking mask,” Ricard Rose, a thirty-seven-year-old Army veteran from Ohio, posted on Facebook. “I’ve made it this far by not buying into that damn hype.” He tested positive on July 1st and died three days later. There are many similar stories.

More than a thousand health-care workers have died while taking care of COVID patients. Nurses are the most likely to perish, as they spend the most time with patients.

“Across America, people waited in long lines to vote – despite the disease, despite attempts to discredit or invalidate their vote, despite postal delays, despite Russian or Iranian meddling, despite warning from the White House that the President would not go quietly if he lost. They voted as if their country depended on it.”

HOW TO BE A SUBURB-A-HOLE

By Reed Seifer

In this age of mass emigration from cities to the suburbs here are tips on how to become a “suburb-a-hole”…

Firstly, remember, there is no “us” in suburbia, only “I.”

Be certain crossed arms, impatient foot taps, and dead stares will make any desired eventoccur more quickly. It’s especially effective at Starbucks or at any café. Stand as closely to the barista as social distancing allows. Or throw caution to the wind, get in close, get it faster! 

Might as well stick your nose out of your mask, too.

Don’t bother to take three minutes wait and send a text to a friend, cruise your social media, or even indulge in the serotonin boost of leaving a negative yelp review.  Everyone knows, texting is for doing while driving. 

Actually, what are you doing inside a café?! It’s more impersonal and ideal to use the drive-thru. If the drive-thru line of SUVs is long, don’t dare park elsewhere and walk over. That may burn a few calories, but you are privileged to own a Peloton.

The line of cars extends into the main street? No problem. Practice obliviousness. Forget people who are using the road. Maybe you can tie up traffic. Focus mentally on your skinny chai latte. With one. pump. of. sweetener. Yum! Beep Beep Honk Honk. You have surround sound audio. Crank it. 

Continuing on the topic of driving, never use a turn signal. Never! Why should people benefit from knowing what direction you are going in? Frankly it’s none of their business! A car may be a lethal weapon but it’s also a status symbol. 

Lastly, the best time to mow your lawn is 7 am Saturday or Sunday. There are these fabulous devices that blow cut grass off your lawn. They’re harnessed to one’s back, and require ear protection while using because they are so LOUD. Blow all the shards of cut grass off your lawn and into the street and your neighbor’s lawn. You know the ones who let the clover grow wild?They deserve it. Everyone knows weeds must be chemically executed. 

Following these steps you will find yourself well on your way to being a discourteous, incautious, self-centered suburb-a-hole. Congratulations! May you find your just deserts. 

2020: A Work in Progress

By Jamie Rosler

When I signed up for this blog slot, it was a choice made entirely absent of the realization that this is the last Undiscovered Works blog post of 2020. One might expect the writer of an essay published on December 27 to wax poetic about the year past and the possibilities that lie ahead, to reflect sagely on where they’ve been and where they hope to go, or at the very least to recognize the responsibility inherent in an end-of-year reflection.

I have no waxing and no sage reflections, with just the weight of an unmet deadline on my shoulders. There are people whose job it is to recap past events, report on present circumstances, or predict future possibilities (though that last group rarely does us any favors with their forecasts), and I am not one of those people. Sometimes I turn those events into trivia questions but my editorial expectations regarding the public good are confined to the small spaces and networks of people that make up my individual world. My dog tends to agree unconditionally which is good for the ego but bad for perspective.

It’s hard to write about the last year (or the outgoing presidential administration) without using the word unprecedented. Can we all agree to shelve that word for the next four years? In fact, let us just scrap the entire concept of unprecedented actions, instead leaning into choices that have been tried by other societies and proven positive for years. Things like universal healthcare regardless of individual wealth, financial reparations to those that our government has directly harmed through generational enslavement, taxing the absurdly rich and seating more women in places of power.

Appearances and content aside, this essay wants to be light and funny. It wants to bring you a moment of delight to help counter the weight and the worry that you’ve carried with yourself since March, or since you came out, or were born Black in America. Does that make me David against Goliath, but my slingshot is broken and the sun’s in my eyes?

I don’t have the skills, or perhaps just the distance from our present moment, to offer viewpoint-changing revelations that provide answers to all (or probably any) of your questions. What I do have is sympathy for your worries, a shared sense of confusion about humanity’s expression of both its best and worst traits, and a wish that any harm this year caused you can and will be reversed in the months to come.

The problems of our world can feel insurmountable in even our most plentiful of times, let alone in our current state of widespread half-truths, authoritarian power grabs, and white supremacy teeming all around the nation. Yet, in this same year that saw the ultimate politicization of public health, we saw innumerable protests across the country and the world decrying the ongoing violence against our Black brethren at the hands of the state. We saw record numbers of queer people and people of color running for public office and winning. We saw neighbors helping neighbors eat, vote, and stay healthy. Teachers, healthcare workers, and stay-at-home parents may soon finally receive the credit, respect, and pay that they deserve for raising our children, caring for the unwell, and educating the next generation. If your eyes were previously closed to these inequities, it is not too late to stand up for a better future.

One thing I believe we can all take away from this past year is that nothing, literally nothing, is guaranteed. We can view that through a lens of nihilism, or we can see the beauty and promise of a world that has yet to be created, but for which the seeds already exist in all our hands. When enough of us understand that we truly are Stronger Together, we will then be ready to Make America Great.