Photo by Tom Pich, courtesy of Sidiki Conde

Dear Neighbor,

Exciting news: We’re launching a podcast! Our first episode drops tomorrow. Every week, we will share sound and interviews related to one of our top stories, followed by things happening in our city.

Our first episode features Sidiki Conde, who was 14 years old when he lost the use of his legs to polio. In his home country of Guinea in West Africa, a physical disability like that can be thought to bring shame and bad luck to a community. Now at age 59, Conde lives in a fifth-floor walkup in the East Village and is internationally recognized as a dancer and musician. Give it a listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts and tell us what you think!

More exciting news: We’re hosting a candidate forum! At least four candidates vying to represent Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Elmhurst in New York City Council will gather for an in-person (yay!) forum on Saturday, May 15, hosted by TBN24 and us. Keep reading this newsletter for details and how you can submit questions. As with all things Epicenter, we are committed to connecting diverse discussions and audiences.

Photo by Alexander Simonsen on Unsplash

What it will take to get more of us vaccinated
By S. Mitra Kalita, Elena Tate and Hella Winston

The race is on. By July 4, President Biden wants 160 million American adults to be fully vaccinated.

Epicenter has spent the last four months booking our neighbors for their shots, and it feels like the time is right to pivot from observations to more overt recommendations. Most of what we’ve written on vaccines (in FebruaryMarchearly April and then late April) still rings true, even as eligibility expands and changes. These ideas originated in New York City, but can really apply anywhere:

Eliminate residency and documentation requirements. 

The disdainful treatment of certain populations in the early days of the vaccine rollout remains an obstacle. Many sites and pharmacies asked for extensive documentation and turned away people for lack of ID or insurance. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants to offer jabs to tourists outside popular attractions, which the state has approved. It’s a great idea, but the same warm and welcoming language should be used for the city’s migrant and undocumented populations, who do just as much to make our economy run. There’s some damage to undo.

Language matters: With the recent change eliminating New York State residency, the vaccine is now officially available to any “U.S. resident.” However, this can be confusing as it could imply being a legal permanent resident (i.e. a “greencard” holder) is necessary, when in fact people can get vaccinated regardless of immigration status. Continue reading.

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Safe haven
Cherry Grove on Fire Island has always welcomed the gay community with open arms. It was an escape from an everyday life where sexual orientation was stigmatized, even criminalized. To this day, it remains a place where sexual exploration and self-expression are practiced freely. On Friday, May 14, the New York Historical Society debuts a free outdoor photography exhibit on the gay and lesbian community that flourished during the 1950s in Cherry Grove. Reserve your timed-entry ticket here.

Eat gourmet on a budget
Michelin Bib Gourmand just released its 2021 list of qualifying restaurants and there are 118 in New York City alone. While these restaurants didn’t earn a Michelin Star, they are recognized for serving consistently great food and being affordable; Michelin inspectors select restaurants where diners can order two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for under $40. Check out the list here.

This aptly named pop-up exhibition with work by local artists Serena Chang and Rose Wong examines “the comforts and loneliness of our homes, our limited access to the outside world, and the amplitude of our experiences in spite of and owing to their repetitiveness.” The exhibit runs through June 6 at From Here to Sunday in Brooklyn. Learn more here.

Eat cake
And help out your neighbors — it’s a win-win.  Huney Cake is a social initiative that donates 50% of its profits to a different cause every month; this month, its South Brooklyn Mutual Aid.  The handmade mini vegan olive oil cakes are crowd-pleasers. Browse the offerings and place your order here. Bonus: The cakes can be delivered right to your door, so you really have no excuse… The next delivery goes out this Saturday, May 15, and orders must be placed before 4 p.m. on Friday.

Cook with the creator of #TheStew
Former New York Times food writer (who has been laying low since her Chrissy Teigen/Marie Kondo debacle) and queen of viral recipes (and controversy), Alison Roman, is joining nonprofit girls’ leadership organization Girl Be Heard for a virtual cooking class on Thursday, May 20, at 6 p.m. Registration is free, but donations are encouraged. All proceeds go to Girl Be Heard’s youth and activism programs. Learn more and register here.

Harlem jazz
Craig Harris and the Harlem Nightsongs are blessing the Greater Calvary Baptist Church with four live performances. You may recognize Harris’s trombone from the Judas and the Black Messiah soundtrack. Shows will be each Friday starting this week on May 14 with the last performance on June 4. Tickets are $20; reserve yours here.


About Epicenter’s City Council forum
We’ll be joined by Yi (Andy) Chen, Shekar Krishnan, Alfonso Quiroz and Carolyn Tran. To watch the forum, tune into any of the following at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 15:






Organizers are also offering LIMITED seats for the forum, which will be taking place at Saint Mark’s Church in Jackson Heights. Only people who have been vaccinated, are registered to vote and pre-register for the forum will be admitted. Masks, social distancing, temperature checks and decorum in the hall will be strictly enforced.

If you wish to join, please fill out this form. You’d need to show up at 10 a.m. SHARP to be seated and checked in.

Any questions, please email or call 917-818-2690.

Photo courtesy of the Asian American Federation

Help for restaurants (and food carts/trucks!)
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund application is now open. The government has set aside more than $28 billion to help the food and beverage industry recover from Covid-19. Unlike other grant opportunities, this is open to food trucks, stands and carts. Businesses that are more than 51% owned by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals will be given priority for review in the first 21 days of applications until May 24. Learn more and apply here.

Emergency broadband benefits
Beginning tomorrow, eligible households will be able to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, an FCC program designed to help households that have been struggling to pay for internet services during Covid-19. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households. Learn more.

Aids walk benefit show
Astoria Music Collective has partnered with Show N’ Tell and QED Astoria to host a benefit show this Saturday, May 15, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Featured artists include They Them, Ian Bamberger, Jo Malbec and Bad Lesbian. DM Astoria Music Collective’s Instagram page to reserve tickets; $25.


Epicenter-NYC partners with Queens Memory, a community archiving program supported by Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library, to share its Covid-19 project. For the past year, Queens Memory has been collecting personal stories about life during the pandemic.

The stories gathered will become a testament to the struggles and resiliency of the World’s Borough. Submissions will become part of the Queens Memory digital collections at Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library and will be shared through the Urban Archive platform.

Do you have a connection to the borough and a story to share? We want to hear it. Submit yours here.

Photo courtesy of Queens Memory Project


I’ve been working from home for more than 110 days because of the pandemic. have been called back to work  — this is my first day back.. And I’m a little nervous, especially because I have to take the New York City subway, and that is, in my opinion, one of the places where the virus was allowed to get most out of control. That and in schools, unfortunately, so that is why I believe, at some point, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. Thankfully, we flattened the curve, that’s why more companies are opening up and recalling people back to work. So, this is my first day back, and the picture you’re looking at here is the subway station entrance that I take every morning to work. This is very surprising because, normally, this is rush hour in New York City. I do live in Queens, however, it’s still very crowded. It’s about 6:30 am, and I’ve never seen it so deserted. Usually, there would be dozens and dozens of people rushing into the subway. So, it’s surprising that it’s so empty.  I’m a little nervous, about to walk down the stairs.

—Cherise David

Sign up for our education-focused newsletter here

Zoom misconduct
Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering teacher Amanda K. Fletcher engaged in an “inappropriate sexual act” over Zoom, where she was caught “sucking the nipple” of an unknown shirtless man. Several students recorded the September incident, aiding investigators. The Department of Education (DOE) has reassigned her classes, although she remains on the payroll at the prestigious school. She drew a salary of $105,588 last year.

Bye-bye snow days
We can’t believe it either. The 2021-22 school year calendar warns parents and students that closed buildings yield a remote learning schedule, even on Election Day. Some parents were upset. A teacher took no issue. How’d your kids handle the news?

15th annual NYC school survey
If there was ever a school year to give the DOE feedback, the 2020-21 school year is it. All parents, teachers and students in grades 6 through 12 can fill out the survey here until June 11; it is available in 10 languages.


Just shy of a two-hour drive from New York City is the Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston. Explore its 24 animal exhibits and gardens, complete with a petting zoo. Visitors cite the family-friendly park as relaxing, informative and welcoming. A picnic area is open to visitors who want to take a load off. Want a sneak peek of the experience? Listen to an audio tour here. The grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

You have two options for post-nature walk dining. Brought your kids? Diego’s Taqueria is less than five minutes away and is ranked among the best Hudson Valley tacos, with classic (Al Pastor) and modern (Buffalo Wing) styles alike. More importantly, they have street corn. Call ahead to make a reservation. Help keep Diego’s open by donating to a GoFundMe created by the owners’ family here.

Adults only? Try Kingston Standard Brewing Co. Just under 10 minutes away, the nano brewery has a selection of craft beers on draft. Also available are select wines. Fan favorite bites include the Maine-style lobster roll and oysters. Indoor and outdoor dining is available from Thursday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. You can also order for pickup here.


Field of Light, 21.75”x21.75″, oil, Venetian plaster, 23k gold on yupo. Photo courtesy of Karen Fitzgerald.

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.

Some Light, 15″ x 15″, oil paint with mica, Venetian Plaster, 23k gold on yupo. Photo courtesy of Karen Fitzgerald.

This week we welcome Karen Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald was born and raised on a dairy farm in the Midwest. It is this early, close relationship with the natural world that informs her work. Her work has been exhibited widely, including the Queens Museum of Art, Islip Art Museum, Rahr-West Museum, Madison Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, the United Nations in NYC, and many others. She has received grants from the Queens Community Arts Fund, the Greenwall Foundation and the Women’s Studio Workshop. Her work is in numerous private and public collections.

Roundness is indispensable to my visual thinking. It is the right container for what I am saying. Energies within our physical world are interconnected. I make them visible through references to phenomena in the natural world. I thin oil paint until it is fluid, building up layers to produce a luminous, subtle, surface. Gilding is included. This provides a distinctly other-worldly space.

Fog Light, Remembering Gay, 20″ diameter, mica, Venetian plaster with 12k gold on yupo, mounted on panel. Photo courtesy of Karen Fitzgerald.

I intend that the precious metals indicate something beyond our physical world, something metaphysical. Matter and spirit. These two entities have a long history of being deeply intertwined, and for good reason. As we engage with the world around us, we also sense something more than what our eyes can see. What that other dimension is has been the subject of many explorations in verbal language — poetry, philosophy, metaphysics — as well as in the visual language of art. That other dimension is rarely visible. Finding a way to translate that into visual language has been an essential commitment in my work as an artist. My recent work is a tribute to the restless shifting of light and energy. The other dimensions, other understanding present in this work are strengthened through the poetic connection, and the imagination it calls us to. This work embodies that aspect which carries us to the delineation, and unification between matter and spirit.

View more of Fitzgerald’s work on her website and follow her Instagram.
This newsletter was written by S. Mitra Kalita, Danielle Hyams and Jade Stepeney. 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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