Raquib Abdal Khabir, Spirit Guide, 18×24″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Dear Neighbor,

We take a moment to hold space in memory of George Floyd. Today marks one year since his death by Minneapolis police. As we have told you, the idea for Epicenter-NYC was conceived of before his death.

Raquib Abdal Khabir, Youth, 24×36″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

That we launched after the global protests pervades our mission. Others might debate the place of perspective in a news outlet; we are clear on ours: Black Lives Matter. We do not have a view from nowhere. We live here. We love it here. We stick up for our neighbors.

You might already be in Memorial Day weekend mode and welcoming summer (not just any summer, but “the summer of New York City,” according to Mayor Bill de Blasio). It’s the perfect time to introduce you to Radha Vatsal, a critically acclaimed author who will keep your book shelves stocked with recommended reads, the popcorn bucket full with streaming service and movie picks and help that will help you travel and expand your horizons, even if you’re not quite ready to jump on a flight.

At your leisure … 
As summer rolls around the corner, it’s time, or so we’re told, to escape into some light reading.  There’s nothing I’d like to do more, but the past 15 months have been so challenging and unprecedented that I can’t completely turn off my brain and lose myself in the types of breezy novels I might have previously picked to while away the season. I find it hard to read escapist literature in the same way as I did in the past because I can’t look at life or the world in the same way after what we’ve all been through.  And yet, I do need a break from all the heaviness. So, to kick off the summer of 2021, I’m recommending three books and a film that do more than just entertain—they’re easy to read and will transport you to different times and places, and are also thoughtful and beautifully crafted.

Go ahead and make yourself your favorite drink, put your feet up, and consider getting swept away in a book like:

Golden Gate by Vikram Seth is a classic novel in verse from the 1980s. It follows a group of yuppies (remember that term?) and their adventures in San Francisco. And don’t worry about the verse bit, once you slip into the novel’s hypnotic cadence, it’s difficult to put down. Here’s an excerpt:

To make a start more swift than weighty, 

Hail Muse.  Once upon 

A Time, say, circa 1980,

There lived a man.  His name was John.

One evening as he walked across 

Golden Gate Park, the ill-judged toss

Of a red frisbee almost brained him.

Or Garden by the Sea by my new favorite author, the Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda. Told from the perspective of a laconic gardener who takes care of a seaside villa, the novel chronicles the visits of the villa’s owners and their friends over six idyllic summers. It’s hard not to be drawn in by Rodoreda’s spare and inimitable use of language, and what feels like the gardener’s equal interest in people, flowers and plants.

Photo: Bookshop.org

If you want something you can digest in bites, try Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu. Each of the beautifully illustrated mini biographies presents the life and accomplishments of women from different parts of the world and from different eras.  My favorites include The Mirabal sisters who opposed the dictator Rafael Trujillo; Wu Zetian—empress of China; Sonita Alizadeh—Afghan rapper; Katia Krafft—a volcanologist, and Frances Glessner Lee—who designed intricate crime scenes in miniature. Added bonus: the book is so visually enticing, if you leave your copy lying around, you just might find your teens and tweens picking it up and reading a few of the biographies for fun.

And after a hard day of relaxation, how about easing into the evening and watching Gosford Park? Written by Julian Fellowes (yes, the creator of Downton Abbey), and directed by Robert Altman, this old-style murder mystery set in a grand house in the 1930s, features much of the upstairs-downstairs drama that fans of Downton love. In fact, I think of it as a precursor to Downton, in which Fellowes works out many of the themes that he puts to use in the series—including a feisty aristocrat played by Maggie Smith.

We need more arms for shots so we’re throwing a summer-long party called VaxFest

By Elena Tate

For months, Epicenter-NYC faced the challenge of demand for Covid-19 vaccines far exceeding supply. Hundreds of people per day were signing up for help and volunteers scrambled to find them appointments.

Seemingly overnight, things changed; appointments are plenty. Now the challenge is reaching the people who are still in need, and bringing the vaccines to them, or bringing them to the vaccines, or even simply providing information on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Most recently, Epicenter-NYC has begun collaborating with other communities around the country to overcome obstacles in getting people vaccinated. One idea that emerged (thanks to Las Caza Vacunas/Vaccine Hunters of Maryland) is VaxFest2021, a nationwide effort to make the vaccines more accessible and fun (think lotteries, giveaways, balloons and pupusas!).

Upcoming VaxFest2021 events in NYC:

  • The Circle Basketball Court, Ravenswood Houses, Astoria Queens: May 29 at 12 p.m.
  • St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, with music for healing by Percussia: June 12 at 9 a.m.
  • Keur Djembe drum shop in Gowanus, Brooklyn, at the Community Drum Circle: June 21 at 5 p.m.
  • Ascend Charter Schools in Brooklyn, helping to vaccinate thousands of students and staff before school ends: Date TBD

To get involved or to organize your own VaxFest2021 event, drop us an email vaccine@epicenter-nyc.com or hello@epicenter-nyc.com.

And while we are at it, please allow us to plug our podcast! You can listen here. Make sure you’re subscribed on your favorite platform and stay tuned for episode three, which premiers tomorrow and asks how and why Covid-19 hit Queens so hard.

Lovely readers, please help us grow our community:


Run the world
What do young women need to succeed in the ever-changing workforce? Join a discussion hosted by The Unmuted and URL Media, and moderated by Epicenter-NYC’s founder and publisher, S. Mitra Kalita. Panelists include Lisette Martinez, executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Jefferson Health and Thomas Jefferson University; and Vanessa Stair, social impact, at Facebook, among others. Register for the free event, which takes place this Wednesday, May 26, from 5 to 6 p.m. EST here.

Food for thought
Albania’s rich gastronomic history and traditions — not surprising given its location between Italy and Greece — suffered greatly during the country’s communist dictatorship and the subsequent transitional years. In response, Albanian Chefs from around the globe created RRNO, a group that aims to preserve, develop and promote Albanian cuisine throughout the world. This Thursday, May 27, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. RRNO will be hosting an event along with the Museum of Food and Beverage, Albanian Gastronomy: From Identity Dilemma to Rural Renaissance, which features Albanian writers, chefs and more. Purchase tickets ($20) here.

Photo courtesy of the Queens Street Photo Collective

Cameras and community
Join the Queens Street Photo Collective this Saturday, May 29, from 3 to 5 p.m. to explore and take photos in Astoria. All photography levels are welcome. No camera, no problem. An iPhone will do. Register here.

Become a baker in 30 days
Some people realized they were naturally skilled bakers during the early days of quarantine. For the rest of us, Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar, is offering a creative baking class. The monthlong virtual course requires about five to 10 hours per week, and is broken down into three parts: cookies, pies and cakes. Students will learn baking fundamentals and science, measuring and controlling flavor, texture and shape, advanced techniques and more. The course costs $249, and the deadline to register is Friday, May 28. Learn more and sign up here.

J’Nai Bridges (L) and Daniel Bernard Roumain (R). Photo courtesy of City Parks Foundation.

Art institutions across the country will premier a short film, “They Still Want To Kill Us,” this evening from 8 to 9 p.m. “They Still Want To Kill Us” is an aria that honors the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. It is composed by activist Daniel Bernard Roumain, performed by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and directed by filmmaker Yoram Savion. A discussion will follow the premier. Learn more about the film and watch it here.


Raquib Abdal Khabir, Unity Now, 24×36″. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hate crimes forum
Queens borough president Donovan Richards and Queens district attorney Melinda Katz join experts in a virtual event tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss the rise in hate crimes. Watch the livestream.

Kids and the vax
Last week Epicenter-NYC hosted a livestream with pediatricians about kids and the Covid-19 vaccine. Missed it? No worries, watch the discussion in full on our YouTube page.

Treats & toys
The East Harlem location of the city shelter, Animal Care and Control, is in desperate need of dog treats and toys — especially tennis balls and things that squeak. Unopened, unexpired treats and toys can be purchased online or dropped off directly to the care center at 326 East 110th Street, New York, NY 10029.

Sign up for our weekly education-focused newsletter, The Unmuted, here

Schools fully reopen this fall
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that there will be no option for remote learning come fall. Teachers and students will also be back in classrooms, masks required. If current social distancing guidelines remain through September, 100% of students returning would be an issue. But, Michael Mulgrew, president of New York City’s largest teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), maintains that the Department of Education should create “remote academies” in each borough, giving a limited number of students who found success with distance learning the option to continue.

2021 Chancellor’s spring forums
Schools chancellor Meisha Porter will hold an online discussion with families in each borough on the school reopening plan. Sign up here. You can watch Staten Island’s forum from Monday, May 17, and Manhattan’s forum from yesterday, May 23, here.

Revised Regents exams
There will only be four subjects on Regents exams this summer. High school students have the chance to test in both June and August 2021. Exams are in-person. Students can speak with their counselors about fee waiver eligibility.


Little Island is New York City’s newest, and possibly most photogenic public space. Located in Hudson River park between 13th and 14th Streets, the 2.4-acre “floating park” aims to provide a unique relationship between nature and art, and a respite from the urban bustle.

There will be a weekly recurring artist series starting with live music, dance and more starting June 14. Check out the lineup here. If you are entering the park after noon, you must book a free timed-entry ticket (we recommend planning ahead, it’s a popular park). The good news? There’s no limit on how long you can stay once you’re inside.

Food, beer and wine will be available for purchase. Little Island will also be hosting Savory Talks & Performances, a free series exploring food sustainability and trends. It will kick off on June 21 with Sustainable Meat & Seafood, presented by Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Company and The Meat Hook.

Dogs, bikes, scooters and skateboards are not permitted. Learn more.


We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.  If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

Raquib Abdal Khabir, Fatima’s Wedding, 18×24″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This week we welcome visual artist Raquib Abdal Khabir. Khabir, who is in his early 50s, hails from New Haven, Conn. In his youth, he was active in the graffiti scene, creating burners and tags. He cites this early experience as the reason he chose to pursue art.

Raquib Abdal Khabir, Father and Son, 24×36″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

He attended UMASS, Amherst, earning a scholarship to study abroad in Florence, Italy, where he focused on woodcut printmaking. Ultimately, collage became his ideal medium for expression, allowing him to combine his earlier analog techniques with current tools and technologies.

Raquib Abdal Khabir, The Band, 24×36″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In Khabir’s practice, collage becomes a powerful vehicle for social commentary combined with a striking palette and compositions. His work has been shown locally as well as a recent solo exhibition with Design Festa Gallery in Tokyo.

To view more of Khabir’s work check out his Instagram account.

This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams, Jade Stepeney, Elena Tate and Radha Vatsal. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by Robin Cabana. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar.

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