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Ski for Free, a Sneak Peek at Democracy, Hunter’s Ode to a Poet

Happy New Year, Neighbor,

The beginning of every year is ripe with opportunities for change. In 2021, we’re going to keep highlighting New Yorkers organizing to leave our city better than they found it.

“Without community, there is no liberation.”  – Audre Lorde

Hunter College students want to rename a building for poet, civil rights activist and feminist Audre Lorde. Her life and work are part of what defines New York City: creative, passionate, unapologetic. She also happens to be among the school’s most famous alumna, graduated in 1959. Now her fans are exerting pressure on CUNY administration to approve and start the process of dedicating the West building to Lorde.

The force behind the Audre Lorde Collective of Hunter College is Jacqueline Brown, associate professor of anthropology at Hunter. She spoke with Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney about the vision of the collective, the weight of Audre Lorde’s work and the power of symbolism as a vehicle for active reform within the CUNY system.

In September, Brown began a letter-writing campaign to gain traction for the idea. Soon after, she began hearing back from scholars, poets, writers and faculty members who were supportive.

“Audre’s work touches people in all of the humanities and most social sciences. Everyone knows her work,” Brown said. “When I raise this to a new set of faculty members the response is always positive.”

Last month, activist Angela Davis wrote a letter to CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez and other administrators urging them to uphold a commitment to anti-Black racism on campus and beyond. Brown hopes the letter will be circulated more widely. In it, Davis writes:

“I imagine that Lorde would find great significance in the naming of a building after her, not so much for how it honors her, but for how it furthers the critical work that she did over the course of her short life. Among the many reasons to name a building after Audre Lorde, perhaps the most compelling one is that it would affirm and inspire Hunter students, whose own identities and life experiences, in one way or another, resemble Lorde’s.”

And today, just minutes before we hit send on this newsletter, came the news that writer and scholar Roxane Gay has added her support to rename the building on Hunter’s campus. Gay released “The Selected Works of Audre Lorde” last year.

Hunter student response “has been amazing,” said Brown. “Some students at Hunter created an organization called CUNY for Abolition and Safety. One of the student leaders reached out to me and I told her about the initiative, and she added it to their list of demands.”

With an active social media presence (check out CUNY for Abolition and Safety on Instagram), the group has reached out to student government at Hunter and across other colleges to raise awareness for the Lorde initiative, and also to sign petitions and educate students about anti-Black racism and what investment in Black students looks like.

Dr. Jacqueline Brown

What if Lorde’s name is memorialized on the West building? What would that mean? While Brown says symbols are important, they aren’t everything.

“It’s not only about honoring Audre. It’s about forwarding her work and letting the students know that Audre is their legacy,” she said. “Hunter College should be so proud to name something huge after Audre Lorde. To say that Audre and Hunter College are connected, we should be screaming that from the rooftops!”

Renaming the West building after Lorde connects her work to that of her successors in art, literature, activism, and racial justice, says Brown. Part of those efforts including proving to Black students, current and future, that Hunter College and the CUNY system wants them there.

According to Brown, the Black American student population at Hunter has declined over the past few years. (The school’s data shows enrollment was 13% in 2016 and has fallen to about 12%.) Down the road, she hopes that hiring and recruitment efforts are strengthened to increase application and acceptance rates for Black students.

“We have to look at the structures that work against Black young people’s inclusion at the center of society as opposed to margins of it,” she said. “That includes going to whatever schools they want to go to and getting the education they deserve.”

She outlines the cultural impact the initiative will have on Hunter and CUNY students, faculty and staff, and New York City as a whole.

“Once you have to say the ‘Audre Lorde building,’ the next question is ‘who is Audre Lorde?’ And then it becomes exponential. The students at Hunter spread the word, and it becomes part of society.”

Brown’s petition to rename Hunter College’s West building is here.

The Audre Lorde Collective of Hunter College’s vision statement is here.

 

DEAR READERS, please help us start off the new year strong by hitting forward on this newsletter, spreading word about its existence in your networks and asking folks to subscribe. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We also seek donations to pay our vendors and freelancers. 

 

OUT & ABOUT:

photo: @ro.burgies

Would you like fries with that? The crew behind Roberta’s, the Bushwick joint famous for its wood-fired pizzas, recently opened a burger spot in East Williamsburg. The restaurant, aptly named Burgies, features a simple, no-nonsense menu — a classic burger, a veggie burger (the “Vurgie Burgie”) and fries, plus a bacon and blue cheese-laden wedge salad (healthy option?). Check its Instagram for more deets.

photo: @metmuseum

But make it fashion: Visit the Met Museum’s “About Time: Fashion and Duration” before it closes on February 7. The exhibit gives an overview of a century and a half of fashion, from 1870 to today, exploring how clothing generates associations that combine the past, present and future. The exhibit is “ghost narrated” by Virginia Woolf. “Fashion and Duration” requires special timed tickets; plan your visit.

What’s everyone watching? The show (Netflix, natch) of the moment seems to be “Bridgerton,” a romantic period drama series produced by the great Shonda Rimes. On Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m., the 92nd Street Y will be live streaming a conversation between the show’s stars and entertainment journalist Meghan O’Keefe. Learn more.

photo: @ji_eun_lim

At last, the new Penn Station: Penn Station got a dose of modernity with the new Moynihan Train Hall, which opened on Jan. 1. Named after former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the $1.6 billion expansion project features a 92-foot-tall ceiling and glass skylight atrium with site-specific art pieces commissioned in part by the Public Art Fund.

Thin Mints vs. Samoas: Tis the season for debate over best Girl Scout cookie flavor. But why must we choose? Order one of each! Eat your feelings in Thin Mints. Due to Covid, the girls won’t be able to set up shop like in normal times, instead relying on online orders. Find your local troop of cookie dealers here.

SMALL BIZ SPOTLIGHT:

Every week we will be partnering with New York University’s Studio 20 graduate program to produce a community reporting project highlighting small business owners in Jackson Heights, Queens, and how they are managing through the pandemic. Each business owner profiled will then refer another small business owner in the area. This week we highlight Hamro Bhim’s Cafe.

What Hamro Bhim’s Cafe does: Bhim’s cafe serves traditional Nepali food, with a strong focus on Nepali dumplings (momo) and noodles (chow mein).

How it survived: The restaurant was closed from March 22 until August 16. During that time, owner Prem Padudez partly depended on the monthly $1,000 sent by his son Bismant, who serves in the U.S. Army in Virginia, to help cover his expenses. Since the restaurant reopened, Prem has been struggling to keep it profitable. He’s now on the verge of shutting Bhim’s doors.

What Prem Padudez wants you to know: Prem, now 50, came a long way to get to the U.S. After cycling the world with a friend for three years (he visited 62 countries!), he ended up in New York in 2005, where he learned to cook in a Pakistani restaurant before opening Hamro Bhim’s Cafe in 2010. He basically runs the place himself, helped solely by his cousin Saru. Prem understands that people are struggling and can’t afford to dine out as much as they once did, but it’s been hard to pay the bills without his usual patronage. “I don’t have a penny now,” he said. “I’m supposed to close in the next two weeks because I can’t afford it.”

Why you should visit: Prem says he spent a lot of time perfecting the art of making momo. You can try it with several different fillings –– and help avoid closure.

Location: 74-10 37th Rd, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

Nomination for the next business: You & Me Wireless

 

Our sister newsletter about schools, The Unmuted, is still on winter break. Any questions you want our education reporter extraordinaire to answer in the meantime? Let us know!

Schools are shutting their doors: The city’s Department of Education is planning to close 128 buildings because of the recent rise in Covid-19 cases. The closures mostly affect children in younger grades and daycares. Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t have any plans for another city-wide shut down, yet, but is keeping an eye on the threshold of a 9% seven-day positivity rate. The city hit the 9% threshold on Monday, but currently stands at a 6.24% seven-day rolling average compared to the entire state.

Cuomo eyes testing over positivity rates: Despite alarm from City Hall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that districts approaching, or even exceeding, the 9% positive rate threshold is no problem for schools’ operating status. The catch: testing needs to prove that an individual school’s positivity rate doesn’t exceed the district’s entire community.

Vaccines for teachers (who don’t want to be in school): De Blasio wants to open more paths to in-person learning, but state officials have been slow to distribute the vaccine across the city. The Solidarity Caucus, a group of teachers from the United Federation of Teachers, wants de Blasio to shut schools down until the curve flattens out. Teachers are not yet eligible for vaccinations according to the state of New York.

Where to get vaccinated: There are 125 vaccination clinics across the city, with ten more opening on Jan. 10. Find the list of locations here. Don’t know if you’re eligible? The NYC Health has a list for that too, as well as who will be able to get the vaccine further down the line.


GIVE & GET HELP

Commute with caution: Multiple women report being attacked in the last week at the Morgan L subway station in Bushwick. If traveling in the evening, try to do so with a partner. @StreetridersNYC is also offering escorts, direct message them if you are in need.

Ranked Choice Voting: This year, New York City will be using Ranked Choice Voting in primary and special elections for local offices, allowing voters to rank five candidates in order of preference. South Queens Women’s March is holding a Ranked Choice Voting info session this Thursday, Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m., register here.

photo: Courtesy Ali Najmi

On that note… WE WANNA TRY A THING: In coming weeks, we’ll try to keep you posted on a special election for City Council in District 24, which includes Kew Gardens Hills, Briarwood, Jamaica and Fresh Meadows. Do you live in that district or know people who do? Please ping us at hello@epicenter-nyc.com or mitra@epicenter-nyc.com to tell us what you want to know.

This election matters for a few reasons. It’s the first time NYC voters will rank their choices. There are four (!) Bangladeshis running. There are six (!) desis running. And one candidate is a returning incumbent after term limits forced his departure in 2013. Stay tuned–but also let us know what you care about.

Recycle your Christmas tree: Or keep it up until Valentine’s Day. We’re not here to judge! If you are ready to part ways, join NYC Parks for its annual Mulchfest and dispose of your tree in an environmentally friendly manner through Saturday, Jan. 9. See locations here. NYC Parks is also seeking volunteers to help spread the subsequent mulch around the city’s trees to insulate them from the cold weather. Register to participate.

PPP loan updates: The Queens Chamber of Commerce is holding an info session about the Paycheck Protection Program Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 11 a.m. led by Man-Li Lin, economic development specialist at U.S. Small Business Administration. Register here.

photo: @tbhcwic

Your closet meets Marie: Spring cleaning? Winter cleaning? Does it matter? We all have plenty of time on our hands. To achieve a sense of accomplishment during these days of winter isolation, we recommend Marie Kondo-ing the contents of your closet and donating the items of clothing that don’t bring you joy (as long as they’re clean and new or gently used) to the Brooklyn Hospital Center’s clothing drive. See details above.

Stimulus check: Don’t feel like you necessarily need yours? Consider donating the amount — or a portion of it — to your local mutual aid organization.

Work for the street vendor project: The initiative, which is part of the Urban Justice Center, is dedicated to helping New York City’s more than 10,000 street vendors — typically immigrants and people of color — know their rights and be heard. Learn more and apply. They are currently hiring for the following positions:

  • Latinx/Spanish-speaking member organizer
  • Middle Eastern and North African member organizer
  • Bangladeshi member organizer

photo: @mountpeter

DAY-TRIPPING

Mount Peter: Got the winter blues? You may want to consider the perfect pandemic winter sport: skiing. A good day trip and place for beginners and families is Mount Peter in Warwick. A small mountain with just a few lifts, Mount Peter has free beginner lessons for kids and adults (think of it as Skiing for Dummies). To really learn, consider a private lesson. They don’t come cheap ($110 for 50 minutes) but will likely get you on the ski lift. Family and small group lessons are also available.

Expect to bundle up as everything is outside due to Covid-19. Masks are required and most dining is outdoors, thanks to food trucks though there is limited seating inside the lodge. Lift tickets and rentals must be purchased online and usually sell out in advance so plan ahead. And beware, the lines to get equipment and tickets are quite cumbersome and lengthy so budget at least an hour to 90 minutes to get through that. (Just think of the fun that awaits…)

Have a third or fourth grader? SKI NY offers free skiing Learn more here.

Maya Ciarrocchi, Judith, 2020, Graphite on Paper, 50 x 44 inches

LAST WORD

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.

This week, we welcome artist Maya Ciarrocchi, a New York-based interdisciplinary artist working across media in drawing, printmaking, performance, video, installation and social practice. Through personal narrative, storytelling and embodied mapmaking, her projects excavate disappeared histories as in “Site: Yizkor,” where architectural renderings of destroyed buildings, maps of vanished places, historical Yizkor books and audience contributed writings become sources for exploring the physical and emotional documentation of loss.

Maya Ciarrocchi, Yael, 2019, Graphite on Paper, 48 x 42 inches

In addition to her studio practice, Ciarrocchi has created award-winning projection design for dance and theater including the Tony award-winning Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit.” Ciarrocchi is the recipient of a 2021 grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding and 2020 BRIO Award winner from the Bronx Council on the Arts. For more of Ciarrocchi’s work, check out her Instagram page and website.

The biblical story of Yael is one of survival and vengeance and she has been represented in art across many centuries. By superimposing her body over a meticulously drawn map, the artist reframes this power and harnesses it to explode boundaries that have been arbitrarily delineated by conflict and war. Ciarrocchi created “Yael” in the summer of 2019 when the Trump administration issued a new round of policies that allowed it to indefinitely detain migrant families who crossed the US/Mexico border illegally.

 

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