Harvey Milk’s lasting influence in the labor history of queer America

In this blog entry, Miriam Frank, author of Out in the Union, explores Harvey Milk’s political vision of union involvement and LGBT progress.

article-stamp-0404Two months ago the United States Postal Service issued a new “Forever” postage stamp to honor Harvey Milk. I remember when Harvey Milk won his seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was California’s first openly gay elected official.

A year later Milk was still campaigning, but not for himself. A new amendment to California’s state constitution was on the ballot for the November election. If Proposition 6 passed, it would require local boards of education to fire school employees for public or private declarations of their queer identities, as well as any school worker, straight or gay, who affirmed or advocated gay existence.

In June 1978, Milk spoke out against the menace of Proposition 6 to hundreds of thousands of gay people at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day rally. He challenged supporters to defy the threat by making their gayness more open than ever. “Come out to your friends, if they indeed are your friends,” he said. “Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop.”

Milk organized hard against the amendment. Throughout the summer, he was on TV for interviews, or for debates with state Senator John Briggs, Proposition 6’s author. Milk’s prominence and charisma kept the battle in the news, but central to the fight were California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens: city dwellers, suburbanites, rural folks. Many so feared how the amendment would affect their lives that they did come out. Sons, daughters, friends and co-workers told the people in their lives the truth about what the amendment would mean for their futures. One by one they asked their families and neighbors to vote “no on 6.” And one by one, they broke through the secrecy and fear that had held them back from living open, authentic lives as equals in civil society.

The decision to come out had to be an individual one, but LGBT people who were fighting Proposition 6 were not alone. Harvey Milk was not only dedicated to the gay community of the Castro but had also supported the municipal workers’ unions and a successful Teamster-led boycott of Coors beer in the neighborhood’s gay bars. Unionists were familiar with Senator Briggs’ record of hostility to labor’s issues and opposed the amendment because it would undermine collective bargaining and legalize workplace discrimination. Three days after the Gay Freedom Day rally, the San Francisco’s Labor Council announced its unanimous opposition to Proposition 6.

Out in the Union_smUnion endorsements and donations enabled wide canvassing and publicity. By mid-summer, liberal religious groups and civil liberties organizations were also involved in the expanding grassroots campaign. Squads of queer activists knocked on doors in city and suburban neighborhoods and visited community meetings at union halls and country churches. In September, an endorsement of “No on 6” by former Governor Ronald Reagan, a right-wing rival of Senator Briggs, swung many more voters. Unions released the power of their political machine in late October with phone banks, a front- page editorial in the AFL-CIO newsletter and 2.3 million palm cards at the polls. On election day, Proposition 6 was rejected by 58 percent of California voters.

California’s successful defeat of Proposition 6 in 1978 was the first major political coalition to connect the fresh and angry power of gay liberation with labor’s long-haul commitment to fairness and equality. Many other great LGBT labor collaborations have flowed forth since then.

In my book, Out in the Union, I interviewed people who participated in those coalitions. My research began in 1995 and my search for stories continued for another several years. To explore the lives and achievements of primary activists, I conducted interviews in New York City, Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many places in between.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender union members who have told me their stories have been newspaper workers, nurses and health technicians, bus drivers, telephone installers, construction tradespeople, store clerks, hotel and restaurant employees, factory workers, social service workers and employees of AIDS clinics. Their queer lives have taken them through extraordinary adventures and long phases of everyday routine; and their everyday jobs are as various and their unions as diverse as the labor movement itself. Some have founded new union locals; others have negotiated innovative contracts; and still others have fought to save jobs when their plants were being closed. They are the people of Out in the Union.

Harvey Milk did not live to see the great changes that his activism started.  But  I like to think that he would have been proud of all that the labor and LGBT movements have accomplished.

 

Do you want an American nurse?

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with  Catheters, Slurs, and Pickup Lines  author Lisa Ruchti  from Al-Jazeera America‘s July 3rd morning news program. [She appears at the 2:00 minute mark in the video link].

 

In addition, we repost Elijah Wolfson’s July 3 article from Al-Jazeera America‘s website that features Lisa Ruchti.

The doctor won’t see you now

Patients in American hospitals often get away with asking for caregivers based on race

Tonya Battle had been working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, for 24 years. Her employment record was spotless — by all accounts she was one of the most knowledgeable and capable care providers on the NICU floor. Even so, it wasn’t so surprising when, in the fall of 2012, one infant’s father asked to speak to Battle’s supervisor: Health is extremely personal, and no matter how skilled a health care provider, there will be times when communication with a patient breaks down. It’s common for a patient to ask for another doctor or another nurse.

What was shocking, however, was the note posted on the department assignment clipboard the next day: “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN NURSE TO TAKE CARE OF BABY.”

Here’s how the incident unfolded, according to allegations made by Battle in a lawsuit that followed: After she had finished her shift the day before, the father had come to the charge nurse (Battle’s supervisor) demanding that no black nurses attend to his (very sick) infant girl. To punctuate his point, he rolled up his sleeve to show off a swastika tattoo. The charge nurse, Deborah Herholz, then called her boss, the nurse manager Mary Osika, to ask what she should do. Osika said to reassign the baby to another nurse.

A staff meeting followed, in which the NICU nurses were told that Hurley Medical Center had decided not to allow any African-American employees to take care of this particular baby. The note was posted on the assignment clipboard for everyone to see.

The next day, Osika called Battle at home to inform her that the father’s request would be granted. Later that day, Battle reported to work, where one of her co-workers showed her a photo of the offensive note (which had since been removed).

Battle would go on to sue Hurley Medical Center for employment discrimination, settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, and with Hurley agreeing to hire an “employee advocate” whose role would be to forestall similar misadventures in the future.

It’s unclear how common these types of experiences are; there have been no major studies on the issue, so advocates and policymakers have had to rely on anecdotal evidence, the few isolated stories that leak out of the hospital wing and into the press. But many believe Hurley represents the norm and not the exception — that discrimination of this kind is endemic to the health care system.

The ‘open secret’

“I think it happens a lot,” said Julie Gafkay, Battle’s attorney. “I have 20 plaintiffs in the last year who have been subjected to this type of discrimination.” According to Gafkay, after Battle’s case was made public, dozens of other health care workers (nurses, social workers, home health aides, etc.) reached out to her with similar complaints.

Some situations were even more outrageous than Battle’s. In one case, the plaintiff is a human resources employee who says she has direct knowledge that an African-American nurse was fired under false pretenses; the real reason for the firing, she alleges, is that a patient had made the request that no African-Americans care for him.

It’s an “open secret” that “patients routinely refuse or demand medical treatment based on the assigned physician’s racial identity, and hospitals typically yield to patients’ racial preferences,” wrote Kimani Paul-Emile, a professor of law and biomedical ethics at Fordham University, in a 2012 study published in the UCLA Law Review.

So why aren’t more people outraged? Racism in health care settings tends to be much more insidious than the type of racism that would, say, make it onto the nightly news. Patients aren’t screaming racial slurs in the ER or spray-painting derogatory signs on the sides of hospital buildings. They often won’t even say outright that they don’t want a black doctor.

“Patients know it’s not PC” to directly request a white doctor, said Paul-Emile. “They come up with different ways to do it. I talked to this one doctor who said there are these older ladies who will say, ‘You know, I want a Jewish doctor, I just think a Jewish doctor is better.’”

Lisa Ruchti, a professor of sociology at West Chester University and the author of the book “Catheters, Slurs, and Pick Up Lines,” agreed. “Patients who want to fire their nurses based on race say things like ‘I want an American nurse,’” she said.

And hospitals comply. Health care providers are trained to be so patient-focused that even when they feel a request is amiss, many ignore their qualms — whatever the patient wants, the patient gets. In another of Gafkay’s current cases, two plaintiffs allege that an elderly white woman was being treated in the rehabilitation facility of a nursing home when she began to express fears that an African-American man was coming into her bedroom at night to “touch” her. The facility decided that, for the good of the patient, no African-Americans — male or female — would be assigned to her care, and it issued a directive to its staff saying as much. One female African-American nurse was even questioned for coming into the patient’s room at night, and suspended during the questioning.

“[The organizations] are so patient-focused,” said Gafkay, “that they ignore the civil rights of their own employees.”

Not just nurses

At particular risk is the nurse-patient relationship, which Ruchti believes is regularly informed by racism. In providing what Ruchti called “professional intimate care,” nurses are already at risk of being seen more as hired help than as health care professionals. And racist beliefs can exacerbate that misconception. “There are lots of examples of nurses of color being mislabeled as housekeepers by patients even when they are obviously doing nurse work — symbolically demoting them, if you will.”

But it’s not just nurses. Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall treats cardiovascular patients in the surgical care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“All of the things that are taught in medicine about being a care provider are to really not think about yourself or your characteristics,” Lane-Fall said. “Your gender and ethnicity are, in theory, erased when you walk through the doors of the hospital.”

But in reality, as an African-American woman, Lane-Fall is often subjected to racially based judgments.

“I can be walking the hallway wearing a white coat,” she said, “and someone will think I’m the janitor, and I’ll think, ‘Is that because I’m black?’”

Lane-Fall recently wrote about an experience caring for a coma patient. On the third day during which the man was under her care, she happened to be in a room when the nurses were changing his gown. Spread across his chest was a tattoo: 3- to 4-inch-high lettering spelling out the words “White Power.”

At that moment, Lane-Fall recalled how she had felt nothing but coldness from the tattooed man’s family; until now, she had thought nothing of it. Now it seemed sinister.

She thought: “Oh, you’re not just this nameless, faceless person taking care of a patient; you’re a black woman who has all these other characteristics that affect the way patients see you.”

Race concordance

On the flip side, Ruchti said nurses of color she spoke with told her that patients of color sought them out on purpose. And in fact, research suggests that your health outcomes can improve if you and your physician have what’s called in the literature “race concordance.”

A Johns Hopkins study published in 2002, for example, found that, when given the choice, patients would choose doctors of their own race. And, when treated by same-race physicians, the patients reported higher satisfaction. The results cut across all races and ethnicities. The study, led by Thomas LaVeist, was one of the first of its kind.

But others soon followed. A 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that many African-Americans and Latinos believed strongly that the health care system was racist — and that they preferred to have same-race doctors as a result.

And more recently, a 2010 study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association confirmed the previous findings: Black patients were more likely to feel that white doctors were giving them subpar care compared with black doctors and, therefore, preferred same-race health care providers.

Some will even argue that choosing a doctor of the same skin color is no different from choosing a doctor of the same gender. Many women don’t feel comfortable talking to a man about gynecological issues; is it that much of a stretch to imagine an African-American man feeling he can be more open and honest about his lifestyle and behavior with an African-American doctor?

All things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that.

Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall

Preferences like these aren’t driven by ignorance. Lane-Fall got her undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, her master’s in health policy from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.D. from Yale. She’s about as well educated as a human being could ever be. And yet, “all things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that,” she said, adding that she’d assume someone from a similar background would know more about her.

Because of these complexities, the legal issues here are legion. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religion in public accommodations and in any place that receives public funding. On the face of it, this would appear to mean that a patient could not make race-based requests for nurses and doctors. After all, pretty much every health care institution receives some federal funding, whether directly or in the form of public health insurance reimbursements.

But, as Paul-Emile argues, those provisions of the Civil Rights Act are actually meant to preclude institutions from “prohibiting individuals from enjoying the benefits that the institution provides” — and by accommodating a patient’s preference, “you are actually allowing that patient to enjoy the benefits” provided by a federally funded hospital.

And, in fact, that is what is happening in the real world. A 2010 study, for example, showed that patients across the board will often make race-based requests with regard to their health care provider — and that providers will often accede to these preferences. In that same study, Dr. Herbert Rakatansky, the former chair of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, is quoted as saying, “In a life-threatening situation, you would have to abide by a patient’s request.” In other words, there may be both a legal and an ethical imperative to accommodate racial preference in the hospital.

The positive preference

None of this, however, is meant to justify racism.

Paul-Emile has highlighted an important legal distinction between doctors, who can usually decide themselves whether to treat a given patient or not, and nurses and other health care support staff, who are assigned their charges. She argues that hospitals run afoul of the law when they reassign African-American nurses at a patient’s request, no matter the potential health benefits.

Gafkay, the attorney in Michigan, pointed out that all her cases involve an “organization validating the discriminatory request” — a much different situation, since it puts nurses in the precarious position of being unable to express themselves for fear of organization retribution.

Second, while it may be both legally and ethically acceptable for a patient of color to seek out a doctor of color, what about a white patient who seeks out a white doctor?

The legacy of years of racial discrimination has led to a disproportionately low number of African-American doctors. A 2009 Health System Change report, for example, found that the physician workforce was about 74 percent white and 4 percent black, while the U.S. population as a whole was 69 percent white and 12 percent black during the same year.

And one major study a few years back had patients go to doctors presenting with the exact same symptoms (which suggested cardiovascular disease), identical in every way except race and gender. Across the board, African-American women received substandard treatment and poor diagnoses.

Studies like this suggest that it’s entirely rational for an African-American patient to feel wary of the medical system. And that, Paul-Emile believes, is what should drive a physician’s decision whether or not to accommodate a racial preference.

In other words, though it may be difficult to discern a patient’s motivations, the goal of health care professionals should be to distinguish between a positive preference, in which patients are seeking better care, and discrimination, in which patients are just expressing racist beliefs.

And even then, Paul-Emile said, accommodating these positive preferences is far from ideal.

“I don’t think this is a solution,” she said. “I think it’s a stopgap measure until we get to the more fundamental issues that are driving this. The medical profession must instead increase diversity among providers to encourage tolerance and understanding of other cultures, and expand cultural awareness at all levels of practice and training to enable providers to interact more effectively with their diverse patient populations.”

Announcing the publication of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the publication of
Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Kalfou

Kalfou is the Haitian Kreyòl word for “crossroads.” It is a scholarly journal focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. Editor George Lipsitz explained, “The publication of Kalfou ushers in a new era in engaged scholarship. This first issue blends contributions from the leading scholars in ethnic studies with compelling writings from artists and activists. This journal constitutes a new public square for addressing the most important issues of our time.”

The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

Kalfou is published by Temple University Press on behalf of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Spring 2014, Volume 1, Issue 1

Introduction: A New Beginning • George Lipsitz

Feature Articles
Martin Luther King Encounters Post-racialism • Kimberlé Crenshaw
Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and the “Illegible” Politics of (Inter)personal Justice • Tricia Rose
The Ideological Alchemy of Contemporary Nativism: Revisiting the Origins of California’s Proposition 187 • Daniel Martinez HoSang
Beyond Conflict and Competition: How Color-Blind Ideology Affects African Americans’ and Latinos’ Understanding of Their Relationships • Chrisshonna Grant Nieva and Laura Pulido, with Nathan J. Sessoms
From College Readiness to Ready for Revolution! Third World Student Activism at a Northern California Community College, 1965–1969 • Jason Ferreira

Talkative Ancestors
Chris Iijima on Asian American Identity

Keywords
Critical Ethnic Studies • Chandan Reddy

La Mesa Popular
The Alchemy of Race and Affect: “White Innocence” and Public Secrets in the Post–Civil Rights Era • Paula Ioanide

Art and Social Action
Music and Mobilization: Kombit Pou Haiti 2010 • Chuck D and Gaye Theresa Johnson

Mobilized 4 Movement
Race, Municipal Underbounding, and Coalitional Politics in Modesto, California, and Moore County, North Carolina • Emily Tumpson Molina

Teaching and Truth
The Bigger Scandal • Pauline Lipman

In Memoriam
Afro-Asian People’s Warrior: Richard Aoki, 1938–2009 • Diane C. Fujino

Book Reviews
The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory, by Catherine S. Ramírez • Reviewed by María Angela Díaz
From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International since the Age of Revolution, edited by Michael O. West, William G. Martin, and Fanon Che Wilkins • Reviewed by Michael E. Brandon

 

KALFOU EDITORIAL BOARD

Senior Editor: George Lipsitz, University of California, Santa Barbara

Associate Editors:
Enrique Bonus, University of Washington, Seattle
Maria Herrera-Sobek, University of California, Santa Barbara
Roberta Hill, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tricia Rose, Brown University

Book Review Editor:
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida, Gainesville

Founding Editors:
Claudine Michel, University of California, Santa Barbara
Melvin Oliver, University of California, Santa Barbara

Managing Editor:
Rose Elfman, University of California, Santa Barbara

 

Remembering Maya Angelou

This week in North Philly Notes, Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director at Temple University Press, remembers her experience working with the late, great poet Maya Angelou, who wrote the preface for Hope and Dignity, by Emily Herring Wilson and Susan Mullally Clark.

When I first arrived in Philadelphia, and was discovering the city culturally, I attended an event on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus featuring poet, teacher, author, and activist Maya Angelou. There, I heard for the first time her read her unforgettable poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”—“I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”

Well, I was mesmerized by her words and voice. A picture of her I got from somewhere that I no longer recall and had with me at the event, was later signed by her “Joy! Maya Angelou 12/4/85.” It remains on my bulletin board today, as does her ’93 Clinton inauguration poem “On the Pulse of the Morning.” She was my hero.

So when a few years later, I had the incredible opportunity to work “near” the infamous Maya Angelou, it felt like I had died and gone to heaven. She had written the preface to a book we were publishing entitled Hope and Dignity.

Hope and Dignity is a collection of interviews with and photographs of a variety of older black women living in North Carolina. It celebrated the women’s triumphant spirits, having overcome many of life’s obstacles. Back when newspapers had book review sections, the book was favorably reviewed in a number of them, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and the Winston-Salem Journal, among others.

The best part of the book’s promotion was a weekend-long series of events that were held in North Carolina to celebrate the book’s publication. As the Press’ promotion and sales manager at the time, it required my involvement. And…Maya Angelou lived in North Carolina!

I couldn’t believe my good fortune as I boarded a plane headed for Winston-Salem, a city I’d never been to nor knew anything about until then.

That weekend, I met a host of my literary giants, black women like Paule Marshall and Eleanor Traylor, and sold a lot of copies of Hope and Dignity. But the most incredible event was a dinner at Maya Angelou’s house, prepared and served by none other than the grand lady herself. She sang while she cooked, and danced throughout the house to music, some of it live from a duo of gospel singers she’d also invited. The meal was spaghetti and meatballs with salad and, needless to say, it was delicious. Maya Angelou was a “phenomenal woman.” I will miss her.

Is gender stifling our scientific imaginations?

This week, we showcase Conceiving Masculinity author Liberty Walther Barnes’ recent TEDx talk at Cambridge University. 

Is Gender a Liquid or a Solid?

In sociology we like to say that gender is “flexible and fluid,” because gender norms change over time and across cultures.  Men and women can choose to enact, perform, and express masculinity and femininity in a variety of ways regardless of their sex chromosomes or anatomy.  Just as liquids take the shape of their containers, we can shape our gender identities to fit us.

While personal gender identities and expressions are malleable, the gender system that structures our social world has proven able to withstand some pretty impressive seismic shifts. As sociologists Cecilia Ridgeway and Shelley Correll explain, the gender system is a large apparatus that determines who gets access to resources and opportunities. The gender system – invisible yet ubiquitous – is solidly grounded in very traditional gender beliefs, which prevent the system from being toppled. Because gender beliefs are pervasive and durable, we might say gender is a solid.

Conceiving MasculinityMost of us agree that gender stereotypes are silly. We laugh when people break the “rules” of gender in TV sit-coms and films. In our everyday lives we feel free to break the rules of gender to accommodate our personal preferences and life goals. In other words, we appreciate the fluidity of gender.

While researching male infertility for my book, Conceiving Masculinity, I discovered that gender is a more powerful social category than most of us realize. Just how solid is gender? As I explain in my TEDx talk, when gender and science come crashing together, something’s gotta give. And it’s not gender.

Gender, it turns out, is a stronger, more solid, and more powerful social category than science. Whodathunkit? Science is rigorous and robust, defined by hard facts and well researched, evidence-based truths, right? If we had to categorize science as a liquid or a solid, we would certainly call it a solid.

However, gender beliefs shape science. How we think about men and women, masculinity and femininity, channels the direction of scientific thought and shapes medical practices. Sometimes society has a hard time accepting scientific truths when they are glaring us in the face, because we cling to gender ideology. Rather than reconsider our gender beliefs, we bend science to accommodate our timeworn gender beliefs.

Appreciating Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30

In this blog entry, David Updike, co-editor of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30, offers his thoughts on the book and what he learned about Mural Arts along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that over the last thirty years, Philadelphia has become a city of murals. As you crisscross the city, you find them in just about every neighborhood, often where you’d least expect them. They’ve become a part of our landscape, and something that people here and elsewhere associate with Philadelphia. A lot of the credit for that goes to Jane Golden, because it wouldn’t have happened without her energy and her vision, but it also wouldn’t have been possible if the city itself hadn’t embraced the idea that public art matters. And it matters, not just because it improves our aesthetic environment, but more importantly, because it has a lasting impact on the people who participate in the process.

The Mural Arts offices are a buzzing hive of activity. In the hallways you pass a steady stream of people coming and going, to and from mural sites, or classes, or canvassing neighborhoods. And these are people who, to borrow an old phrase from Bill Clinton, look like Philadelphia. They’re young and old, they’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic. And they all carry themselves with a sense of purpose. In the gallery downstairs you’ll see exhibitions of art—some of it quite remarkable—made by everyone from elementary school students to inmates serving life sentences at Graterford. And then there’s the room upstairs with the very skylight under which Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic. And I suspect that our city’s greatest painter, were he alive today, would approve of this populist endeavor, which seeks to embrace the city he loved in all of its aspects.

I’m very fortunate to work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of our city’s other great cultural institutions. And it occurred to me as I started working on this book that, in a way, the Art Museum and the Mural Arts Program have opposite but entirely complementary missions. At the Museum we work very hard to get people to come to us and experience great art. But Mural Arts brings art to the people in the places where they live and work. And what Mural Arts brings to these communities is not a particular product or aesthetic. Rather, it’s a process of engagement and dialogue and co-creation that takes place over months and years, and whose effects remain long after the paint on the walls has dried.

Phila Mural Arts 30_smThis book seeks, above all else, to document what takes place off the walls. And really, this gets to the heart and soul of what Mural Arts does. Yes, it’s about transforming places, but mostly it’s about transforming people. We wanted to look at that process and its effects through many lenses, so we brought together a diverse group of authors from different disciplines—social sciences, public health, art education, restorative justice—to paint as broad a picture as possible of what a socially engaged art practice looks like, and what it can do, especially when it works in tandem with other organizations to address big issues like homelessness, youth violence, or urban blight.

In the book, Jeremy Nowack aptly refers to what happens in the course of creating a mural as a kind of “social contract” that arises between all of the stakeholders involved in a project—neighbors, business owners, community leaders, schools, artists. And the key word here is “stakeholders.” People feel a sense of investment and ownership in the murals. They take pride in them. They show them off to visitors. New stories and rituals grow up around them. People now ride the Market-Frankford El in West Philly just to see Steve Powers’ 50 Love Letters unfold. Inspired by the murals, couples have gotten engaged and even married on that 20-block stretch along Market Street.

Other stories around the murals are more painful, more challenging, but also rewarding in ways that aren’t necessarily visible to someone looking only at the end result. A particularly poignant example is James Burns’s Finding the Light Within, which took on the issue of youth suicide, not just with a very powerful and personal mural, but also with community meetings, writing workshops, collage workshops, and a participatory blog, all of which provided safe, supportive spaces in which survivors could share their stories. More than 800 people participated in those activities, and hopefully found some measure of healing in the process.

Elizabeth Thomas begins her essay with a provocative question: “Who makes culture?” In other words, Who decides what messages we see and read and hear? Whose stories count? Every day we’re bombarded by images and messages that tell us what we should wear, eat, drink, watch, listen to. But how often do we see our own struggles and achievements reflected in our environment, or our own stories projected into the public discourse? Socially engaged art practice has begun to address this problem of who gets represented—and who does the representing—in public culture. It’s happening in different ways in different cities around the country, but in Philadelphia its most visible proponent is the Mural Arts Program.

Much of the work that Mural Arts has done in recent years has sought to expand the definition of what a mural is and what it can do. For the mural project called Peace Is a Haiku Song, the poet Sonia Sanchez initiated what became, in essence, a citywide collaborative poem cycle. She began with a mental image of haiku by children hanging like cherry blossoms from the trees in Philadelphia. This evolved into an invitation to people of all ages to contribute poems in a series of community workshops and through a dedicated website. The poems didn’t end up hanging from the trees, but many of them ended up on posters around the city that were created by youth working with graphic designer Tony Smyrski.

The experience of seeing your own words and your own images projected into the world is an empowering one, especially for young people. As Cynthia Weiss points out, kids participating in mural projects often gain practical, real-world skills, like photography and graphic design. But they also gain a sense of agency that may be hard to come by elsewhere in their lives. And that type of experience can have a lasting impact on a person’s life in ways that we’re really only beginning to understand.

This is the essence of what Mural Arts does. It’s about creating situations in which people are drawn out of their everyday selves and both challenged and empowered to reach for something more. So while this book marks a milestone in the history of the Mural Arts Program, our hope is that it also points the way forward for others who want to use the power of art to change things for the better.

To listen to a podcast of David Updike and Jane Golden’s presentation at the Free Library of Philadelphia from March 26, click here: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/authorevents/podcast.cfm?podcastID=1216

What the “Writers Matter” Approach is all About

In this blog entry, Deborah Yost, Robert Vogel, and Kimberly Lewinski, co-authors of Empowering Young Writers discuss their successful program that helps improve students’ skills in the context of personal growth.

Why do many students lack motivation to write or perfect their writing in school? Could it be that school-based writing tasks are boring, unrelated to young adolescents’ personal experiences, and focused on the five-paragraph structure learned over and over in school from elementary to high school? We know that kids write all of the time through blogs, twitter, and texts. How can we captivate their motivation to learn how to write and write well in school?

MAP_WM_AT_KINGThe Writers Matter approach provides a unique and innovative opportunity for elementary, middle, and lower high school students to learn critical writing skills using journal writing as a vehicle for self-expression. Through writing about their lives, the students find an effective emotional outlet at a time in their lives when personal expression and having their voices heard is so important. Writers Matter is a motivational strategy that encourages students to share personal stories with each other, listen to other voices, and develop effective personal relationships with peers to provide more tolerance and appreciation of diversity. The approach, integrated into existing content areas of the curriculum, helps teachers meet the Common Core Standards for literacy.

Empowering Young Writers_smThe Empowering Young Writers book recently published by Temple University Press provides the reader with practical ways to implement Writers Matter beginning with major themes such as “I am From…” “Teen Challenges…”“Family Matters…” connect to an adolescent desire to express who they are, as they search for identity. As students begin to learn about themselves and others we further explore other themes such as “Living Life…” and “Dreams, Aspirations, and the Future….” to help the students move into a more global perspective of who they are in this world and what they can do to change it.  We have found that using intriguing, adolescent-based themes leads to a strong interest in writing as students typically want to voice their opinions and explore their and others’ identities.

Our research has shown that when students become authors and share their work with peers, a more trusting classroom climate emerges, which enhances peer-peer and teacher-student relationships. When relationships among teachers and students in a classroom setting increase, positive classroom management and greater achievement among students occurs. Integrating writing into content areas based on themes, helps students to see how their lives connect to the curriculum as they engage in multiple perspective taking that breaks down cultural barriers and “cliques” that are part of the adolescent experience. Research focused on writing skill development using the PA System of School Assessment Writing Rubric has also demonstrated writing achievement gains over time. This is likely due to increased motivation to write focused on personal experiences, and focus on process writing techniques.

A major focus of this approach is the use of “Writers Workshops” to improve writing skills through multiple drafts, conferences, and mini-lessons designed to individualize instruction to meet the needs of students based on individual progress. Students are empowered to improve writing since the focus is on becoming authentic writers based on personal topics connected to their daily lives. As authors, students write for a purpose in much the same way as authors typically by sharing their work in a public forum or writing for a school or class publication.

Monthly teacher interactive professional development sessions are held at La Salle University throughout the school year to support teachers’ use of this approach and to allow opportunities for sharing.

Publications – Empowering Young Writers recently published by Temple University Press  and Voices of Teens: Writers Matter (2008), with Michael Galbraith that was published by the National Middle School Association.  Since 2005, over 7000 students have participated from over 20 schools in the Philadelphia region. This year (2013-2014) over 1100 students, 16 teachers, and 9 schools are involved.  Additionally, we are piloting an after-school Writers Matter Program at Wagner Middle School utilizing university mentors to provide additional writing support.

Website – www.lasalle.edu/writersmatter 

We would like to hear your views on motivating students to write and improve their writing skills.

The NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work — Non-Fiction

Temple University Press congratulates Envisioning Emancipation authors Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer for being named Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction at the NAACP Image Awards February 21.

Envisioning Emancipation_smBarbara Krauthamer, who attended the ceremony, gave the following acceptance speech:

Thank you to the NAACP and to everybody. It is wonderful to be here.  My co-author Dr. Deborah Willis could not be here, but I know that she joins me in thanking all of you. We’d like to thank our editor Janet Francendese and everybody at Temple University Press; all of the librarians and archivists who helped us.  When we dreamed of this book ten years ago we wanted to create a collective family album of photographs that showed African American survival, dignity and beauty, even through the most trying times of slavery and the triumph of emancipation and freedom.  Thank you, and we wanted to dedicate this to our mothers and to those who made a way when there was no way so we could be here today.  Thank you.
And here are some images from the NAACP Image Awards ceremony:

BK screen BK statue photo 2 BK with award

 

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

Riot Grrrl’s Second Act

In this blog entry, Kate Eichhorn, author of The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order, writes about the renewed interest in Riot Grrrl music, celebrities, and histories over the past year and asks: Is it about more than nostalgia?

Carrie Brownstein, riot grrrl musician turned sketch comedian (most recently, of Portlandia fame), frequently finds herself fielding interviewer’s questions about a Sleater Kinney reunion. Over the years, Brownstein has carefully evaded the question, neither ruling it out nor confirming rumors of her former band—arguably the most successful act to come out of the West Coast Riot Grrrl music scene in the 1990s—reuniting. Brownstein’s evasion of the reunion question is not surprising. In the temporally-sensitive world of popular music, any band that “comes back” is a band who has already gone away.

Whether or not Brownstein and her former bandmates reunite in 2014, the timing couldn’t be better. Over the past twelve months, Riot Grrrl music, celebrities and histories have received a lot of airplay, screen time and ink. In March, filmmaker Sini Anderson released The Punk Singer, a biopic about Kathleen Hanna featuring new and archival footage of Hanna and her former bandmates, friends and allies. A few months later, Lisa Darms, Senior Archivist at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections, published The Riot Grrrl Collection. A museum-catalog-style volume focused on NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, the book offers fans and researchers a glimpse into some of the ‘zines, posters and printed ephemera that helped to define the Riot Grrrl movement. Then, in September, Hanna released Run Fast with her new band sporting an old name, The Julie Ruin (the band’s name references one of Hanna’s earlier solo projects).

Eichorn.inddBut why Riot Grrrl again and why now? Is it, as some critics have suggested, simply about nostalgia?

Nostalgia has a bad reputation. Nostalgia is apparently not only a clever attempt to sell back to us the cultural detritus of past eras but a desire for something that never existed. And as it turns out, nostalgia is equally reviled by cultural critics (see Fredric Jameson for starters) and musicians. On the sixth track of Sleater Kinney’s final album, The Woods (released in 2005), the band belts out the following cynical lyrics,

You come around looking 1984
You’re such a bore, 1984
Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore
It’s better than before

So has Riot Grrrl simply come around again looking, in this case, 1994?

When recently asked if she ever feels nostalgic for the 1990s, Brownstein explained, “Nostalgia is a very tricky thing. I always find that nostalgia is sort of like memory without the pain. And that’s why it feels so good to kind of bask in that, and I think it can be deceptively comforting” (Stereogum, January 6, 2014). When asked a similar question in a interview about her new album, however, Hanna was somewhat more optimistic: “If nostalgia is how people find things, that’s fine… And if people want to think it was an awesome time and they want to thank me and want to say how great I am, I’ll take it because there weren’t a lot of people thanking me and telling me how great I am at the time in a public forum” (Self-titled, December 2, 2013). What Brownstein’s and Hanna’s comments bring into relief is the complex ways in which nostalgia operates, especially when both music and politics are on the table.

When Riot Grrrl emerged in the early 1990s, many bands were still peddling their own audio cassettes off the end of the stage. The sound and style was raw and often inflected by a DIY philosophy. By the time Sleater Kinney released their final album in 2005, however, the sound and style of the bands associated with the Riot Grrrl scene had changed drastically, and many of the movement’s musicians were gaining increased recognition from mainstream music critics. If there is a demand for at least some of these musicians and bands to get back in stage, it is not necessarily driven by nostalgia for what Riot Grrrl was but rather for the music scene it eventually became.

Similarly, while interest in Anderson’s biopic or the Riot Grrrl Collection may be at least partially driven by nostalgia, there is no reason to conclude that enthusiasm for these projects is purely about a longing for another place and time. Sifting through files in the Riot Grrrl Collection, one quickly realizes that riot grrrls were not only creating a new sound and style, they were actively mining second wave feminist archives for inspiration, ideas, tactics and imagery. From clip art taken directly out of 1970s radical feminist newspapers and newsletters to song lyrics pilfered from earlier women-fronted bands, Riot Grrrl was also a savvy, sometimes ironic but respectful recycling and rethinking of past forms of feminist activism and women’s cultural production.

For all these reasons, as fans, both old and new, line up to watch The Punk Singer and dream up excuses to visit the Riot Grrrl Collection, rather than assume they are merely nostalgic for something they miss—or simply missed–perhaps we should hold open the possibility of that Riot Grrrl’s “second act” will serve as a stage for the next feminist cultural revolution.

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