Posts made in February 2017

Fashion Lives In A Burning Room

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

For just a moment, I’d like to take you on a journey; a fashion journey in the middle of a burning room. Don’t be frightened. The colors are beautiful. The people are simply magnificent. And, if you disregard the flames around you, you will be captivated by magic, music and the beauty of our world.  Fashion is that one thing that grabs us—even for just a brief moment on a chaotic planet—and allows us to imagine a world we’d all love to live in. Fashion lives, even when the outside world seems to be crumbling at our feet.

The lines, angles, symmetries, the walks—each a unique display of self-worth from the strutter—will embrace you with the possibilities of what the world can be; beautiful like a dancing bird of paradise. Those on the outside looking in walk away with this burning question; what do they know that the rest of us don’t? Nevertheless, the fashion world isn’t untouched by scandals or the perils of the world around it. Photographers are responsible for bringing many aspects of our daily lives to life. They capture tragedies, wars, and sufferings of all kinds, not just beauty, although it serves as a soul nurturing distraction from the “real world” that’s left unchanged and unmoved outside the protected walls of an incredibly influential fashion industry.

Images are powerful. They tell stories of our lives, our hopes, fears and dreams. Fashion is part of who we are and Fashion Week New York never seems to disappoint, despite the glitches and strange designs coming out of this unique world full of beautiful and iconic characters, and creative figures. When the world is quiet—which fashion week seems to grant for just a short window of time—it allows us to feel and look our best, which never goes out of style. Even in a burning room.

Although he’s not a fashion photographer, Steve McCurry, a world-renowned photographer responsible for his iconic photograph, Afghan Girl, said, “Fashion is always a part of culture, whether any part of the world, culture is important. You can live in the most remote parts of Tibet or China, or Russia and fashion is always…we always want to adorn ourselves and look good and have the right hair, or clothes or whatever it happens to be, it’s something I think that, we always want to look our best to present ourselves in the best possible way.”

Art imitates life, and despite some turning their noses at the mere mention of politics or anything other than fashion during Fashion Week, the old adage remains. The incredibly talented and prominent author and public speaker, Fran Lebowitz, a fellow panelist during the FWNY reveal of the 2017 Pirelli Calendar didn’t hold back when asked by moderator Derek Blasberg about President Trump’s impact on the fashion world. “He’s worse than Mussolini,” she quipped.

Peter Lindbergh, one of the most influential contemporary photographers and film director, is responsible for this year’s Pirelli Calendar. He seems to put it all in perspective when he said, “Fashion is foremost, dangerous because it allows people to pretend things that they are not. And, it’s easier for people who have money, than for those who have no money.” Although he goes on to explain that that is not the point of fashion, he seems to honor the fact that fashion is a much needed distraction from the metaphorical flames of this burning room we call; the world.

What does the future look like for the fashion world? According to Lindbergh, “the future is t-shirts and tennis shoes.”

 

 

I Am Not Your Negro Challenges White Americans To Confront An Ugly Truth; Racism

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

James Baldwin spoke from the grave in this searing and poignant piece of storytelling of our American culture and shameful racist history.

This film is not merely an entertainment piece to add to our collection of artful imagery to fill our heads and occupy empty and bored pockets of the mind. No, this piece is to wake our collective conscience that is rooted in a basic understanding of humanity. The difference this time is that the “our” Baldwin and the creators of this powerful piece of historical and cultural storytelling is directly aimed at is white people; American white people to be exact.

I Am Not Your Negro is a soul shaking and profound message. It forces viewers, especially American whites, to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. It forces them to address the largest elephant in the middle of the cultural room we call our United States. Keep in mind, there are other elephants to content with, like immigration, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and indigenous people’s rights; however, the biggest one—institutionalized racism—is threatening to release a level of aggression like Musth across the country. The film’s aim seems to push white Americans, yet again, through more modern and powerful means, to face the truth of life in America for black people, or “Negros” as this film appoints as another searing and thought-provoking label of brown-skinned Americans.

One can’t deny the uncomfortable truth staring, screaming, whaling, hanging, running, begging, pleading, fighting, marching and confronting them…right in front of their eyes. Closing your eyelids, seeking refuge in indifference, won’t change this stark truth. Black people, since the beginning of our country, have suffered tremendously at the hands of white people. Thankfully, not all white people. There are examples in this film of whites entrenched in the struggle for racial justice and equality too. This truth can’t be separated from the black American struggle. Even so, time has yet to heal these wounds as this film so justly brings to the forefront of a national dialogue. The images on the big screen aren’t new. Most of us have seen them before; either in a class room, a movie theater, books, pictures and essentially through all forms of media and communication. Bob Dylan singing of the callous murder of Medgar Evers stings, and moves a compassionate soul to tears. It seems that each new generation requires a different and more impactful way of forcing much needed societal change. That’s what this film represents in many ways too.

I Am Not Your Negro is the incomplete work of the most dynamic, clear, passionate and unapologetic orator of our young culture and democracy; James Baldwin. Baldwin expresses himself in ways that are still stirring in our current society. If America is to sustain its good fortune—if one can call it that—of not having to experience what has been laid out in Baldwin’s other writings in The Fire Next Time, a populous movement coming to a bloody and tragic head, underway even before the days of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which this powerful film draws upon, than the time for real change is upon us. Baldwin lays it at our feet. His words, and those of Samuel L. Jackson further tattoos it on our conscience, reminding us all of our responsibility and role in creating a new nation that honors its people, regardless of creed, color, or sex. What we do with this forewarning depends on each and every American that yearns for all that this country pretends to be. But first, we must face the ugly truth that despite the “perfect” images of American lives that has shaped our thinking and understanding of ourselves and fellow countrymen, the reality on the ground is completely detached from the true lives and experiences of black Americans.

Baldwin expresses this as clearly as any man can or could, especially when he states that the image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures…for white people. Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and despicably demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor. He makes it expressively clear that black people are not the big lipped, lazy sub-human buffoons as consistently portrayed in the old footage shown as a historical reference in I Am Not Your Negro.

This film diverts our attention back to the reality on the ground. And just when you think that the racial narrative of our country placed in front of us in this powerful film is unrepresentative of our current state of being, you’re hit with images of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Terence Crutcher… the list goes on and on, just like the struggle for equality and basic human rights for all Americans…not just for those who have benefited from oppression, slavery and brutality, to grab and maintain a grasp on the heavy crown called Power. Undoubtedly, as it comes across in this film, Power equates to might but real Power embraces the responsibility of humanity.

America, throughout its short history, has failed to reconcile its racist past adequately enough to settle these burning issues that keep us bound in a discombobulated ball of spaghetti. It’s not a coincidence that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture only came to fruition in September of 2016. That was 6-months ago… after years of black civil rights leaders and other activists working to persuade mostly white politicians that it’s the right thing to do. There are numerous examples of unjust treatment of blacks, and stark examples of our evolving police state in this film that has primarily impacted black people in America. For this to change, America must change. Specifically white Americans, according to Baldwin and many others like him who have paid the ultimate price pushing for this change to occur.

Throughout the film, this sentiment is expressed eloquently by Baldwin in this uncomfortable but crucial piece of cultural and racial perspective. Baldwin, from the grave, is targeting our collective conscience as Americans. “We’re in this together,” he seems to shout from an impenetrable divide. America is not a white country. America is a multicultural phenomenon brought about by all who built, fought for and shaped her. Black Americans have an equal stake and root in this land and its identity. If white Americans—especially those in powerful positions to shape and govern us as one nation—accept this unyielding truth, we will come together as one people. In our relatively short history, this has yet to happen, making I Am Not Your Negro a reflective piece of art that imitates our real lives. This film is a must see. But, prepare to be confronted with an uncomfortable truth.

The Challenges Of Scouting In CNY

BY JEANETTE LENOIR
The local Boy Scouts of America Troops need a few good volunteers. The local council, specifically Troop 21, was formed in 2008 by former BSA Council President, Ricardo Fernando “Rick” Rosero. They serve local at-risk youths, many of whom are new immigrants and refugees from war torn countries that now call Central New York home.

Following a two-year sabbatical after retiring as council president, Rosero said, “I came back and asked them to send me to a place where there were no troops. And they said Donovan Middle School needs a troop. So, I said fine and I went there.” Troop 21 started with just a few scouts but quickly grew to include more local students taking part in the after school meetings. “It started with three, and then six and ten, and as time went by another volunteer came out to assist me. That’s how it all started,” Rosero said.

Today the local BSA collectively serves about 50 scouts in Troop 21, 101 and 316 with many success stories from those who joined in 2008 that have gone on to lead successful lives. “Everybody graduates from high school. Those that are eligible can go to college or go into a training program. We really stress that as the young fellas get older. This is something we’re pushing all the time,” Rosero says. The idea of going to college after high school is not necessarily a good option or fit for some of the scouts and Rosero says that’s not a bad thing, especially when they have other options, such as training programs, that can help them lead successful lives. He says his message to the troop is, “When you graduate from high school you need further training, whether you go through the college route, or the crafts route. You can be a Plummer or Electrician, or whatever will help you because you definitely need training for the future.” In the 9-years of serving local at-risk youths, Rosero says that the program has been tremendously successful as he points out that not a single one of his scouts have had any dealings with law enforcement or have gotten themselves into trouble. “No problems whatsoever. I can categorically say that,” he adds.

And, he wants to keep it that way.  Rosero says BSA Troop 21 needs the community’s support in many ways but the most effective way is through volunteering. “The more young men we can help, the better. There are a lot of kids out there. When you start to look at statistics and demographics there are programs out there that actually work, but nothing works unless you have volunteers. If you don’t have people out there in the streets and helping and participating, it’s all rhetoric,” he said.

Although the program started at Donovan Middle School, Troop 21 serves young men from all parts of the city of Utica and beyond. “That’s why we do a lot of driving around,” he says. The small number of volunteers and BSA leaders are tasked with picking up and dropping off the scouts, which amounts to a lot of driving during the week. They also go on camping trips, swimming lessons and take part in a host of other BSA activities, making it more and more difficult to meet the needs of these at-risk youths. Troop 21 could also use a van to help with their transportation efforts; however, Rosero says although funding is important, the greatest need is volunteerism. He says, “Unfortunately, I find that a lot of adults…they read the papers, they see what’s going on around them and they’re assuming someone else is going to pick up the pace and volunteer, and they don’t have to. I rather people keep their money, and give us their time.”

There have been some significant changes taking place within the BSA in the last few years. In 2015, after coming under tremendous pressure and criticism, the organization moved to accept gay scout leaders and youths. And more recently an announcement from BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh effectively changed the organizations position on eligibility and participation for the transgender community. However, these momentous changes will not be applied across the board. The local BSA troop is funded by Utica’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and according to BSA policy; each sponsoring organization dictates the policy each troop must abide by. Rosero said, “I just read about it the other day and it wouldn’t be a problem in our troop because Our Lady of Lourdes Church dictates to us any policy. For example, their policy as a church would never allow homosexual leadership or members. I don’t make the decision our sponsoring organization makes the decision.” Rosero says he has not dealt with his troop members facing a similar LGBTQ issue.

Those interested in supporting BSA Troop 21, 101 and 316 can do so by visiting their website: www.leatherstockingcouncil.org or by calling (315) 735-4437. Despite all the politics and changes taking place within the BSA, it truly is inspiring to hear and witness what these young men are doing to improve their lives and the community they call home. These young people are not lost to video games, or other modern avenues that can lead to a less productive life. They’re learning and growing as organically as possible in an increasingly changing world thanks to what the BSA instills in them; character and leadership. But, without volunteers and the support from parents and their community, these fundamental and important goals will become increasingly harder to achieve. CNY, and especially Utica, can’t afford to lose another generation of young men to the perils of an impoverished community. There is hope. You can see it in the outcome and eyes of those directly impacted by BSA Troop 21. Scouting works, and research proves that.