Posts tagged with "jeanette lenoir"

Thanks Trump! The Global Shaming Of America

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

America is being shamed by the world. And it’s all thanks to President Donald J. Trump and his clan. It’s clear, we have an unusual leader at the helm. Unfortunately, the helm is leader of the free world and that’s terrifying af. It’s rare when the world speaks with one voice. And right now it’s chanting loud and clear across Europe, “We hate you Donald Trump, Go Away!” Even the State Department is cautioning Americans abroad to keep a low profile. And, believe it or not, the word Trump actually means Big Fat Problem Baby in Na’vi! That’s why they made a huge baby Trump float to “welcome” him. It’s true.

But, in all seriousness, the take away from this stance is positive and negative. It’s uplifting to know that most people, world-wide, don’t want to blur the lines that separate right and wrong for greed’s sake. This collective stance against Trump and all he represents—arguably, the worst of mankind—makes the negative response to his visit even more poignant, especially on the heels of countless terror attacks in the region and a wave of anti-immigration moves from the top down. I mean for God’s sake, Brexit happened!

On the other hand, it’s deeply disappointing to see the man who represents us as Americans not only behave badly in all social situations but is pushing to advance policies that divide and weaken us here and abroad. Rather than move us forward as a world that stands as one and beholden to goals rooted in humanity and prosperity, Trump is trashing his opportunity to make the world a better place for all of us. And that includes taking care of planet earth, allowing future generations to experience the miracle of life, nature and the universe.

With a decreased status as the world’s super power, thanks to China’s hot dragon breath behind our neck, America is perceptibly floating on “the Nile” River tap dancing away like Fred Astaire because the show must go on despite what’s at stake; nuclear war. President Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit in Europe didn’t go any better than his current visit across the pond. Remember the iconic photo of the G7 leaders looking down at the petulant child-man with all the power? I’m still embarrassed.

But seriously, is he that clueless and unprofessional?! Leaving the queen waiting? … Walking in front of her and just embarrassing himself and by default, the rest of us decent and good Americans? The. Queen. Of. England. Had. To. Stop. And. Go. Around. Him. While. He. Was. Puffing. His. Chest. And. Chin. Out. I cringed watching him walk with his chest inflated, chin up in the air and that ever present stupid, and spoiled, jerky brat look on his face. Keep in mind, Trump goes out of his way to treat women poorly. His lack of respect of the queen is right in line with what he embodies; misogyny. From refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel, throwing skittles at her, insulting and rating women’s looks and boasting that he can get away with sexual assault. When it comes to modern social norms, Trump is revealing that manners and respect for others didn’t matter in his household when he was growing up. Only he did; shame on his parents.

And considering his hostile policies targeting immigration, you’d think his family never migrated here from one of the countries protesting his European visit; Scotland. His mother migrated to the U.S. from Scotland, paving the way for the life he now lives. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy that keeps him afloat is astounding. His current and third wife, First Lady Melania Trump is accused of lying on her own visa application… It’s hard to think back to her appearance on Larry King Live to support the birther movement to discredit Obama’s birth certificate. She clearly hiked Mount Audacity in Pandora…

The blatant racism, bad behavior, hypocrisy, bold-faced lying and shameful unprofessionalism from this family and the entire administration is astounding and dangerous because it sets the tone of normalcy and precedent for our nation, the world and future leaders.

From Britain to Scotland, people have taken to the streets to voice their disdain for Trump. And yet he doesn’t care that the world hates him and all he represents; American greed and culture. The world can literally see Trump … chosen “democratically”… grabbing America and the rest of the world “by the pussy” and we can’t move his little hand away.

Our democracy is hanging in balance and Trump, propped up by his supporters and enablers couldn’t care less. Why? Because they want to win; even though the prize is debasing American values.

The press plays a crucial role inflating the Trump blimp. Being their bread and butter makes coverage of him and his family increasingly disheartening. And, at times even laughable if there wasn’t so much at stake, making the laughter morph into instant pain and concern. World renowned expert on culture, Edgar H. Schein says culture is very hard if not impossible to change. But in the age of Trump one can argue that American culture is rapidly changing right in front of our eyes. Thanks Trump!

Partisanship is part of the fabric that formed our country. As a nation, we will never see eye-to-eye on how to govern ourselves or lead the world. But that’s what makes us innovative and progressive people. That’s why we have three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure our cooperation and coexistence with one another; a diverse people working to overcome a painful past and striving for racial, civil and economic equality. Unfortunately, the hive that accompanies Trump are like biblical locusts dead set on destroying everything in front of them. Who knew Roe v. Wade would be in jeopardy after all this time?! Don’t be surprised when bible thumping conservative lawmakers call for segregation across the land as they work to weaken the working class.

The election of President Obama revealed a dormant racist underbelly anxious to rear its ugly head; an attempt to reverse racial progress. And everything was Obama’s fault. Even rain couldn’t escape being blamed on the man. The trend, “Thanks Obama!” became fodder. Lawmakers at the highest levels of government were more interested in seeing him fail than move the country forward together. It’s those race-obscured blinders that has us waste deep in Russian election meddling today. A serious national security threat. Trump deflecting his involvement with Russia in swaying the election by pointing fingers at Obama is not only par for the course, it’s telling of the continued partisanship that has crippled our democracy.

Trump shames us at home and he shames us abroad. And his party remains silently complicit while feverishly turning the wheel of progress backward to fit a country and world that only values those with golden toilets. The wealthy, the ignorant and the racists among us are the only ones benefiting from Trump. And, the indictment of 12 Russians accused of tampering with the 2016 presidential election won’t phase him or his supporters. This, despite publicly being asked by Trump to hack our security system. Sadly, their “Make America Great Again” slogan touting patriotism as their rationale for standing behind the antithesis of what a great American actually looks like, lives on. Josiah Gilbert Holland once said, “The soul, like the body, lives by what it feeds on.” Perhaps it’s Trump’s glutinous soul diet that needs an overhaul for him to become the human being this world needs. But, I won’t hold my breath while I cringe.  Thanks Trump!

 

Heraldry Blankets The Cradle Of Mankind’s Identity And Culture

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Ceremony, rank, pedigree, membership of a noble family, values and culture are the statements behind family crest’s, tribal totems, coat of arms and all forms of heraldry. Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and wife of Prince Harry had the distinct privilege to design her own crest or coat of arms when she became a member of the British royal family. This is significant. Here’s why: The practice of this tribal symbolism and identity dates back to the cradle of mankind. A crest is the emblem of a clan or tribe. Although Markle being biracial, a divorcee from America or any other ridiculous disqualifier one may add, shows significant progress as it pertains to tolerance and acceptance at the highest level of society’s totem pole. Creating her own emblem highlights the personal but also our collective legacy as black people. Royalty is not new in African culture but Markle joining the British Royals as a member of their family is progress we can all support, unless you’re a racist witch like Princess Michael of Kent who wore that awful racist brooch to have lunch with Markle. Her statement, using a brooch like First Lady Melania using a jacket, spoke loud and clear.

Although history points us to the medieval times when knights personalized their shields with a  coat of arms, the practice actually goes even further. Europeans aren’t the only ones who personalized their clan, family, unit, position or tribe. These kinds of symbolic statements can be traced back to ancient times before the fall of Rome and the birth of the middle ages. Symbolism has always played a vital role in society. There would be no society without symbolism. Human beings and their respective clans have used flags, totems and other forms of tribal and religious heraldry to distinguish themselves from each other since recorded history.

Markle’s crest had me thinking about my own family’s crest or heraldry. Luckily, after going through some family photos I found one. The image is of my great uncle and Paramount Chief of the Pamaka people of Suriname, Grangmang Forster. Pamaka people live on several islands within the country but our main island is Langetabetje. My grandfather, Nikolaas Forster, served as Captain alongside his older brother Grangmang Forster who is holding our tribes symbol or crest in each hand. In one hand he holds a pineapple and in the other a fire breathing dragon. These two symbols are the Pamaka people’s crest. It essentially says; we can either get along, or we can get it on. It represents who we are as a people just like Markle’s crest identifies her family and what she values.

When explorers were sent out during Europe’s great age of discovery they were slow to understand the customs and institutions of the people they came across, explained author Marvin Harris in his book; Cannibals and Kings. He writes, “Although the Europeans exaggerated their “savagery,” the majority of these village communities collected enemy heads as trophies, roasted their prisoners of war alive, and consumed human flesh in ritual feasts. The fact that the “civilized” Europeans also tortured people—in witchcraft trials, for example—and that they were not against exterminating the populations of whole cities should be kept in mind (even if they were squeamish about eating one another). Harris goes on to write, “Explorers encountered fully developed states and empires, headed by despots and ruling classes, and defended by standing armies. It was these great empires, with their cities, monuments, palaces, temples and treasures that had lured all the Marco Polos and Columbuses across the oceans and deserts in the first place.” It’s not hard to surmise what influenced knights to create their own coat of arms. In our modern times this practice would be called cultural appropriation.

From China to India and South America, explorers found a diverse people with their empires and worlds unto themselves, each with distinctive arts, religions and yes, even heraldry. To believe that heraldry, crests or coat of arms are solely a European invention started during the medieval times, is to deny the mere existence of the people they discovered across the oceans, deserts and jungles of the world. Markle’s crest, in many ways, is the return of the rightful royals of the world. A family crest is more than a pretty design, it’s a deep rooted cultural connection to our past and the cradle of mankind’s identity.

 

America’s Journey To The Promise Land

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

May Day Speech

 

Thank you for having me. I’m honored to stand here before you this evening, a member of the Resistance to the many injustices that are unfolding right in front of our eyes all across the country.

But make no mistake…racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, police brutality that largely impact people of color, and all other forms of discrimination isn’t necessarily getting worse.

It‘s getting filmed. It’s not hard to surmise that our humanity is at stake. We are living through an all-out war on decency, truth and reason. But, we must remain hopeful.

Let me take you back for a moment…

African Americans, free and enslaved, have been part of U.S. history from the start of European settlement. Their forced labor under bondage, pain and suffering, created an economic boom that propelled us to become the most powerful nation in the world. Slaves drove this country’s economy. From the tobacco, rice and cotton fields… black people built this country under the cracks of whips, and enduring some of the most brutal conditions inflicted by white people. Slaves even built the White House that now stands as a symbol of our Unity, Strength, and a Beacon of Hope for the rest of the world.

And yet, here we are, almost 400 hundred years later, still struggling to bring about racial justice and equality for all Americans. The recent opening of the Lynching Memorial is a stark reminder of the collective pain and harsh existence of black people in America. But, like those in the struggle before us, we must remain hopeful.  I share this historical account with you because for us as Americans,  a diverse people, to truly come together and overcome like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, we must first recognize the pain and suffering of black people in this country. Other minority and disenfranchised groups have suffered as well, but none have borne the brunt of this country’s brutality than African Americans.

America has to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. And racism isn’t a Waffle House problem. It’s not a Starbucks problem. It’s not a Cracker Barrel problem. It’s an American problem.   Dr. King said, “Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.” In the midst of all the media uproar surrounding the White House Press Secretary’s hurt feelings about her eye shadow made of lies, I want to tell you about iconic Journalist Simeon Booker who brought the 1955 murder of Emmett Till to the forefront of national news. He was born during segregation.

The year before his birth in 1918, thousands of African Americans marched in silence down New York’s Fifth Avenue to protest lynching and racial oppression. The group was met with counter protests and riots by white people. These riots, attacking innocent black people, swept across the country and lasted until 1921. These are historical facts. Simeon Booker was born into a hostile world.  And yet he grew up to become a pioneering journalist, author and chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement. His life is a testament to the strength and resolve we must all hold on to, as we continue the work toward creating a more just country and world for all of us. Especially now, when those in power want us to believe that; wrong is right, lies are alternative facts, war is peace and slavery is freedom.

The media plays a big role in our collective culture and humanity. The media has a responsibility to project the real Man in the mirror.

Because Truth Matters. Chronicling the truth like Anne Frank and speaking truth to power matters. James Baldwin said, “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 demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor.

So, we have to show up and truthfully capture the story of our struggle like Simeon Booker did.

We have to show up and be counted in this struggle, forever securing a place in history like Dr. King did.

We have to show up and demand change like Malcom X did.

We have to show up and use the power of love like Ghandi did.

We have to show up and fight for each other, despite our differences, like JFK and Bobby Kennedy did.

We have to show up like the South Koreans did, united on common goals, when they took to the streets in mass numbers to demand change.

And, we have to show up like Comedian Michelle Wolf did at the White House Correspondence Dinner when she spoke the truth about all the lies coming from this administration and shining a light on the Media that benefits from it all.

It’s going to take all of us. Good people from all walks of life, all over the country, to bring about the change we’ve been after for too many years; racial and economic justice.

We can no longer afford to find comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. When the Speaker of the House callously fires the House Chaplain for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, reminding those in power of the benefits of social and economic equality and looking after those less fortunate, as they cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans … Folks, you know we’re in trouble.

James Baldwin said, “Ignorance allied with Power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

So, we have to show up like Baldwin did.

Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and McCarthyism are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare.

We have to collectively combat all forms of hate.

That’s why we protest like Colin Kaepernick.

The journey has been long and hard, but we must remain hopeful and inspired because there’s no turning back to the “Make America Great Again” days this administration is aiming for. Instead, let’s aim for the America Langston Hughes talks about in his poem; Let America Be America Again, “The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”

It’s time to break through.

We cannot overlook the urgency of this moment because our country needs healing. We need fairness and, we need justice. How ironic and perhaps spiritual, that to overcome our struggles, is to reach back to the days of Sitting Bull, guided by the 12 Lakota Virtues:

  • Humility
  • Perseverance
  • Respect
  • Honor
  • Love
  • Sacrifice
  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • Bravery
  • Fortitude
  • Generosity and Wisdom

…To finally bring about lasting peace to all corners of America. From the Valleys, Mountain tops and all across the Plains of our beautiful country. Dr. King said, “Let Freedom Ring … For There will be neither rest or tranquility in America until that happens.”

 

 

 

 

The Kneady Baker Bakes His Bread As Fast As He Can

 

By JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Once upon a time, not too long ago, there were bread makers hard at work in the wee hours of the morning mixing, pounding, then shaping and waiting for the right moment to send their perfectly raised dough to the oven for their turn to transform into an important food staple; fresh baked bread using four simple ingredients; flour, water, salt and yeast.

“It’s about 18-hours worth of work. From the time that I start to mix the sour dough starter, mix the dough, let the dough ferment to rise, shape the dough and then bake it. The baking part is the fastest and the easiest; it’s in and out of the oven in about 30-minutes… It’s the 16, 17 hours ahead of that time when it’s fermenting. That’s where the flavor comes from and that’s where most of the work is,” said The Kneady Baker, (Joe Silberlicht) one of the last remaining American bread makers still true to using simple wholesome ingredients with roots firmly planted in the food culture of farm to table eating. For many, that starts with fresh baked bread, which is increasingly becoming harder and harder to come by. It’s no secret that mass-produced foods, especially breads, in the age of profit over people is pushing us further and further away from healthier options.

Even so, if you’re lucky enough to live near the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate, New York you can get your hands on this backsliding food choice. In addition to his 30 delivery customers, Silberlicht sells his fresh baked breads every other Saturday in Utica. The pop-up shop where you can also get your hands on imported cheeses from Italy and humanely raised meats from Bach Farms in Mohawk is held at a unique gathering spot called, The Other Side; a small trendy place on Genesee Street where many events ranging from Jazz performances, speaking engagements, community group meetings to little pop-up shops take place.

Most people in America have become accustomed to commercial bread void of the simplicity of days long gone and packed with a long list of complex preservatives for a longer shelf life. Even the simple taste of bread has changed drastically along the way. Bread may have lost some appreciation and value in our modern-day society but luckily there’s still a man hard at work keeping the fairy tale of the community bread maker alive. “The dough is always talking to you, the trick is learning to understand what the dough is saying,” Silberlicht says explaining the importance of bread. “I think bread is very important and you can certainly find that in great literature, that bread being the staff of life and all of that, but I think that the bread you buy in the supermarkets today has enormous number of ingredients in it that don’t need to be in bread.”

Other than the four core ingredients, Silberlicht only uses simple flavorings like ground coffee for color and flavor for his European black bread or sesame seeds to create his signature sourdough master pieces. He says his bread is simply better for you. “The bread that I bake is going to be wonderful for four days to about a week. But it’s not going to be in a bag on the counter still soft for 3 or 4 weeks like a lot of commercial bread might be. And, it’s all those additives that they put in there that I just don’t think are necessary. It’s much better to have a good loaf of bread, eat it while it’s fresh and get another good loaf of bread.”

In the era of heightened food sensitivities especially to gluten, Silberlicht says choosing fresh baked bread with simple ingredients is the way to go. “As long as they’re not diagnosed with Celiac disease, I like to ask my customers to try the sourdough bread because a lot of people who feel bloated from having a lot of the supermarket bread, when they eat my sourdough bread they find that it’s much easier for them to digest and they can enjoy bread again.”

Silberlicht says although his freshly baked breads may not hold a long shelf life like store bought breads do, the benefits of eating healthier breads are positively impactful. “You can even make other recipes like bread pudding or Fattoush,” a Middle Eastern salad calling for toasted bread.

A trip to the bi-weekly fresh food pop-up shop invokes impressions of a very different time. Imagine turning the pages to sections of American history and immersing your senses in a simpler life when food wasn’t too complicated, or over processed and cheapened with additives like pink slime, lye, sodium nitrite and nitrate, or other hard to pronounce synthetically created additives like butylated hydroxyanisole and hydroxytoluene. With this in mind, it isn’t hard to imagine the nostalgia the fresh bread, cheeses and meats inspire. This pop-up shop is undoubtedly special.

Add to that experience the imported cheeses and other Italian delicacies from Mike Formaggio who operates “The Cheese Island” or Isle De Formaggio. His import business brings him back to his roots in Utica every two weeks from his Westchester home. Formaggio started the pop-up shop two years ago selling his cheeses and Italian delicacies like olives, sardines, olive oils and pastas. Soon after, he was joined by The Kneady Baker and later Judy Bach with Bach Farms, offering pasture raised pork, grass fed beef and lamb. Bach says she’s proud of her farming methods. “The way we raise our animals…we’re bringing something fresh to your table that was humanely raised.”

Making bread and other healthier food options a good staple of the diet again may be a far reaching goal for many but not an impossible one if good fortune provides you access to a dedicated bread baker like The Kneady Baker, and his fellow shop keepers Mike and Judy, still upholding this aspect of our healthy food culture.

 

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Wrestlemania Represents A Symbolic Trait Of Many American Men

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Tough, massive, strapping, powerful men, (and some women) ready to rip your head off…that’s essentially what Wrestlemania is in a nut shell. All of these characteristics are wrapped up in the WWE world despite it being a highly choreographed and strategic performance complete with moves like the Pile Driver, The Peoples Elbow, Leg Drops and Rock Bottoms. The wrestlers and the folks running the show already know the outcome before the frenzied fans do. Nonetheless, many people, particularly men, just about foam at the mouth trying to be a part of the action that is Wrestlemania.

American men, and perhaps men around the world who have come to love this unique part of American culture, identify with this symbol of strength and might. The image of the strapping man making his way towards the ring is the epitome of might and American men eat it up like candy because that’s what many of them see themselves as. Nothing else seems to matter except the display of strength and all that is perceived as manliness in the wrestling world. Wrestlemania fulfills the dreams of millions around the world but especially American men whose identity is wrapped up in that symbol of might.

Wrestlemania 33 took place at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida this year with record number crowds, and the wrestlers didn’t disappoint. Even John Cena decided to propose to his long-time girlfriend, one of the Bella twins also of the wrestling world, during the hyped event. Manhattan bar and restaurant Legends is known for hosting monthly viewings of wrestling shows and today’s crowd surpassed the 700 reservations they received. A group called, YEP! I Like Wrestling (YEPILW), are the organizers behind the monthly events. Sir Wilkins is a member of the organization and was in full Randy Savage costume corralling wrestling fans to their seats in the packed establishment. Justifying its significance as part of American culture, he says, “Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of wrestling; it’s pop culture, it’s been around for over 20 years. It’s on ESPN, it’s on MTV, it’s on everything, even sneakers.”

The line outside the establishment was a long one full of cheering men and women ready for the showdown. They chanted and cheered whenever another reveler showed up in a costume or some other artifact of the thing they love the most; wrestling. To many, Wrestlemania is part of what it means to be a tough and strong American man, keeping its popularity high and steadily growing. It was certainly pandemonium across the country as folks ushered in one of America’s favorite pastime. Wrestlemania is here to stay.

 

 

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”

The Irish Did More Than March Down 5th Avenue In NYC On St. Patrick’s Day

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City went like the others before it, except it came with a powerful message about immigration and the art of humanity directed at the new administration of President Donald J. Trump.

After presenting Trump with a bowl of Shamrocks, Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny delivered a powerful speech that was a clear and unwavering stance at odds with the Shamrock receiver. Noting the start of a new era between Ireland and the United States following Trump’s election, Edna reminded the president of the long standing, strong bond and mutual respect between the two countries. He then pivots to deliver the central theme of his message on this St. Patrick’s Day saying, “It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s and his legacy. He too, of course, was an immigrant. And though he’s of course the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe, he’s also a symbol of, indeed the patron of immigrants.” This statement was a clear message to the new administration that has brought about a type of divisiveness this nation hasn’t seen in modern times. The Muslim ban, the wall separating the US and Mexico, anti-immigration, and anti-refugee sentiments taking shape are just a few examples of Trump’s vision for a new American era.

Pointing to the large number of Americans that claim Irish heritage, Kenny goes on to say, “Ireland came to America because deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed… and four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teaming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans.”

Another poignant clap-back against the new administration came from the Irish Arts Center in NYC. The organization distributed free books by Mexican authors from 14 locations across all five boroughs on St. Patrick’s Day. Culture is truly a significant part of our collective humanity and the Irish took a stand on their special day to celebrate this notion. Perhaps it’s this welcoming and accepting characteristic that allows folks from all walks of life to become Irish for a day.

The powerful speech by Kenny was cloaked in culture and significance of a people who like today’s Muslim communities across America and Europe, were at one time labeled terrorists. This distressing reminder was delivered in an equally powerful rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigrant policy in an op-ed in New York Daily News by Irish Senate member, Senator Aodhán ó Riordáin who said, “The negative stereotypes now attached to other identities were once attached to us. We were the terrorists at one time as Irishmen and Irish Women embarked on murderous bombing campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, forcing every Irish immigrant in the UK to lower their voices in shame.” Although his words may not appease many who can’t overlook the recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in the U.S., France, Germany and even parts of Africa—just to name a few places indiscriminate bombs are going off, and killings are taking place—the desire to negatively stereotype and target an entire demographic of people solely based on their religion and or their place in the world is not only unwise, it is inhumane and wrong. And, history has shown us this time and time again.

Riordáin pointed to Trump’s own immigrant mother and wife as an example of the hypocrisy and heartless treatment of a people seeking refuge from war torn countries that has forced a large number of them to become displaced; many dying on their journey to maintain basic life. Their bodies, small and large, young and old, scattered across sea shores for all to see. And yet the unwavering rhetoric from anti-immigration and anti-refugee politicians in the U.S. and Europe, including the Middle East, shaped to dismiss the glaring and unforgiving truth of the matter, continues to deny them the basic human dignity all people deserve.

He goes on to say, “The Bannon worldview will undoubtedly attempt to use the St. Patrick’s Day events in the White House to promote the American success story of a white European Christian people. But they have forgotten themselves and their own history. They have forgotten the plight their own families went through as immigrants.” One can easily add to this sentiment that the current administration has also forgotten America’s unsavory past by essentially turning a blind uncaring eye to the many social woes that still permeate a rotting stench across our beautiful country—like police brutality that overwhelmingly impacts minorities, a judicial system that favors the powerful and wealthy, persistent attacks on long established basic human, civil, voting, workers and women’s rights by a new generation of alt-right republicans dead set on turning back the hands of time to an era most Americans wouldn’t want to relive, let alone revive. Riordáin is absolutely spot-on when he said, “When you make African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans feel lesser, it comes from a pit of racism.” The Make America Great Again theme of the Trump administration is a false battle cry that on this St. Patrick’s Day the Irish people weren’t afraid to challenge.

Hip-Hop Artist iFreshH Is Cultivating Creative Growth In The Music World

iFreshH performing at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ

iFreshH performing at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

The Northeast may be digging itself out from under Winter Storm Stella but that’s not putting a freeze on artists flocking to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. That roster includes up and coming Hip-Hop artist iFreshH who is starting to make waves in the New Jersey music scene.

SXSW, a global music industry event happens every year during the month of March. It’s an opportunity for new, well-established and up and coming musicians to perform and for some, hopefully walk away with contracts from record labels and other industry folks that attend these events like scouts looking for their next big stars.

The new comer at the global music festival, iFreshH, is a solid and talented performer to look out for this year. The tall, quiet and unassuming figure spitting hip-hop rhymes hails from Trinidad and Tobago but calls Newark, NJ home. iFreshH performs locally, has released several music videos, and is steadily gaining traction, as he debuts his talents for a larger and more influential crowd at SXSW.

iFreshH’s music has a solid foundation in the Hip-Hop genre but his style also includes a hint of versatile soul rhythm, especially with No Love For Me, a song that carries a catchy tune even your mom can appreciate and swing to.

His recent performance opening up for Rich The Kid in Teaneck, NJ at Mexicali Live, as part of a collaboration with other talented and eager performers like Murdah Baby, one would be inclined to think he also represents part of the world of underground music and gangster rap. Nonetheless, iFreshH maintains a humble outlook on life outside of his beats and rhymes. And although he dropped out of a promising college career majoring in Criminal Justice with a 4.0 GPA, his views and perspectives on life comes across as solid and goal oriented. He’s definitely a rising star and promising artist to keep an eye on.

 

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 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.