“This is what Democracy Looks Like!” Thousands Join Women’s March for a Third Year in New York City

“Women belong in the House [and Senate]!” 

by Diara J. Townes

Chants of “My body, my choice! My country, my voice!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” were heard as a wave of pink pussyhats and protest signs marched down Central Park West just before noon on a chilly Saturday morning in January.

The Women’s March has now become an annual worldwide event, sparked after the election of President Donald J. Trump in 2016.

“We need more women at the table,” said Dr. Lori Gersham, 48, of Fairfield Connecticut. Holding a sign with her friend Huge Gervais, 45, beside her, Gersham shared why she was marching for a third year. “We need to make sure that there are women in the room where [the decisions] happen.”

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Lori Gersham and Hugo Gervais of Fairfield, CT share their support of the Freshmen class in Congress with their posters during the NYC Women’s March. Jan 19, 2019. Credit: Diara J. Townes.

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RefuseFascism.org sharing posters and papers with their message of revolution during the Women’s March in NYC. Jan 19, 2019. Credit: Diara J. Townes.

Despite setbacks in policy and equal rights under the Trump Administration, women gathered in the thousands to rally in support of reform. Several groups lined the route, asking people if they were registered to vote in next month’s special election for New York City Public Advocate where nearly two dozen candidates are in the race. The Refuse Fascism protest group passed out newspapers, pushing for revolution.

“I stand for everyone’s rights,” said Samantha Maurice of Bayville, Long Island. The 25 year-old marched in Washington in 2017, the day after the president’s inauguration. “The country felt so divided. But seeing everyone out there really made me feel like we were actually united in this. It was the most incredible experience.”

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Long Island natives Ariel Solomon (L) and Samantha Maurice (R) proudly carry their signs during the Women’s March. Jan 19, 2019. Credit: Diara J. Townes.

Francesca D’agostino, a student at Fordham University, was marching for the first time this year. “It’s emotional, but also empowering,” said the 19 year-old Ohio native. “It’s empowering to see so many kids here with signs.”

Her friend, Isabela Apodaca, shared similar sentiments, who added that she marched in Los Angeles last year. “It’s really important for us to support women and women’s rights.”

In the midst of the government shutdown, immigrant rights’ violations, loss of protections for the LGBTQ community and the environment, protestors had a lot to rally for.

Democratic Darling of the Left, Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined both New York City rallies, sharing strong messages of support and empowerment.

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Freshman Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at the Women’s March in New York City. Jan 19, 2019. Source: Reuters.

“Last year we took the power to the polls, and this year we’re taking power to the policy because we’ve taken back the House of Representatives. And that’s just step one! ”

Ocasio-Cortez and two dozen other new faces won elections across the nation this past November, bringing optimism, transparency and diversity to Washington. Her constituents live in the Bronx and Queens, two of the most diverse boroughs in New York City.

“It is so incredibly important to uplift all of our voices,” she said to the crowds gathered along Central Park West. “Justice is not a concept we read about in a book. Justice is about the water we drink, justice is about the air we breathe, justice about how easy it is to vote, justice is about how much ladies get paid!”

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Mary Staudt, 54 of Connecticut, with her original poster of Rosie the Riveter. Jan 19, 2019. Credit: Diara J. Townes.

“I’m out here because of, well, everything,” said Kristen Buckley, 28, of Long Island. Buckley decided to dress as one of the principal characters from The Handmaid’s Tale, a story about a dystopian future where women are treated as second-class citizens (and worse), to emphasize her protest. “It’s about everyone’s rights.”

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Kristen Buckley of Nassau County stands defiantly in support of equal rights as a Handmaid during the Women’s March in New York City. Jan 19, 2019. Credit: Diara J. Townes.

While controversy nipped at the heels of the founders of the Women’s March, the  enthusiasm and dedication in support of equal rights were still prominent.

“It’s really important for us to keep going,” shared Minerva Ranjeet, 28, of Brooklyn, who marched last year as well. “We can’t let our momentum slow down.”

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Minerva Ranjeet holds up the powerful fist as she poses for photos with her original sign on Central Park West. Credit: Diara J. Townes

 

More Photos from the Women’s March in NYC. Credit: Diara J. Townes (and her iPhone 7).

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Lucy Loveless, 31, poses with a sign her mother made in support of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bade Ginsberg. Jan 19, 2019.

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Francesca D’agostino, 19, of Ohio (L) holds up her pro-feminist poster alongside her friend, Isabela Apodaca, 19, of California (R). Jan 19, 2019.

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Brenda Koller, 53, of Michigan, marches down Central Park West with hundreds of other women. Jan 19, 2019.

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Mary Doff, 50, of NYC joins the Women’s March with her original poster. Jan 19, 2019.

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Beverly Wells, of New York City, uses a historical image of women marching as her protest poster during the Women’s March. Jan 19, 2019.

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Could Social Journalism End Climate Change?

Source: Google images

Sept 5, 2018

by Diara J. Townes

Ok, so perhaps ending climate change is a bit of a jump, but I think social journalism is a different animal that can truly take on the beast of a rapidly changing climate. To start, I am a nerd. From astronomy to zoology, from Bill Nye to Marty McFly, I’ve been a pretty big science geek for nearly my entire life.

As a child, I thought it was normal to like Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. I believed kids liked movies like Short Circuit and Batteries Not Included because of the science and technology. Apparently, it was the intergalactic laser fights, time-flying cars and giant dinosaurs that hooked ’em. I was so close.

As an undergrad at Hampton University, a historically black college in southeast Virginia, I spent a lot my junior and senior years and all of my summers interning at various science institutions and aquariums promoting education and communication on wildlife and marine life conservation.

Hands-on animal interactions with reptiles, insects and mammals was both educational and entertaining for aquarium visitors. It was fantastic to see kids light up at the sight of the fist-sized Algerian hedgehogs (aka little poop machines) or parents jump three-feet back when their eyes caught the spindly frames of the male Malaysian Stick Insect, all while learning about how avoiding plastic straws and eating less Atlantic Cod could help protect the ecosystems those featured creatures originated from.

A few years later (thirty came so quick, guys, I don’t know how this happened), I am finally using my degree for more than just random research binges and fact-checking my friends and family. This week marks my first time as a graduate student in the social journalism program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

Moving beyond my love of blockbuster films that depict a world swallowed by water, invaded by aliens or destroyed by giant Kaijus, I can finally say that I’ve fallen back in love with science education and communication.

I’ve maintained many of my connections with colleagues who are working on research projects within government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or are working on Ph.Ds that are funded by private and public foundations. One common thread of concern I hear is how the science they research, the results they produce, makes it into the public eye.

Science tends to exist in a bubble; the research and theories revolve in one- dimensional communities of experts, geeks and nerds, with museums, aquariums and science institutions sharing a handful of memorable results as temporary exhibits and presentations.

Great start, yes, but science is more than geologic time scales, fossils and giant particle colliders. There are people directly affected by the research surrounding the sustainability of the northeast fisheries industry, for example, that may not receive, fully appreciate or even believe those results to make informed decisions.

These are the communities I want to focus on as a social journalist. People who live in areas where science can make a difference in their lives, and people who question the validity of the science they encounter.

The issue I’m seeing from a journalistic perspective is the accuracy and access the public has to actual science. How many people, kids and adults, find reliable sources to answer their curiosities after watching or reading science fiction? How many other people believe false information from misleading sources over peer-reviewed articles? Why is that?

Knowledge is power, and I am entering a field where it’s my responsibility to speak truth to power. How can we arm citizens with facts so they can make knowledgeable, conscious decisions that would have a positive impact in their local communities (like being selective with the fish they consume to lessen the damage on fishery populations)?

I believe there is a real opportunity to take popular and even unpopular topics in science and garner real discussion between the public and scientists.

Social journalism focuses on listening in order to understand where the information gaps are, where the need is, and so forth, through the application of design thinking. If scientists and researchers in a specific residential area were able to share their data so citizens could make informed decisions about how their water is treated, for example, then I believe social journalism can and will have a monumental impact on the future of the news media industry.

So while it’s only my first week in the program, I’m optimistic about the ability to change the way science is leveraged in local communities. This will give our greater human community, in my opinion, a real chance at bringing an end to climate change.

Standing Out: The Struggle to Fit In

Source: https://onefamily.ie/how-to-support-your-child-when-they-struggle-to-fit-in/

So it’s been two weeks since my raw as hell, super-personal, I-swear-I-don’t-regret-it post on asexuality.

And after spending some serious, perhaps over-analyzing, time on it, I’ve realized a few things.

While everything I said was from a sincere place, I believe my post took a position of blame, something that I had not intended when composing it over the last four or so years.

So, until proven otherwise, I’ll continue to identify as a hetero-romantic asexual (say that five times fast). However, that doesn’t mean my lack of what is considered ‘healthy growth’ in a hyper-sexualized world is strictly due to my orientation.

Society doesn’t always take kindly to people who are different, at least not at first. Being the awkward black girl who likes playing video games, watching anime and reading fantasy books seems cool now (right??) but that was not the case growing up.

The struggle to find friends, let alone characters in fictional stories, that I could identify with became a huge hurdle starting in fourth grade. My family moved from a diverse area on Long Island, to a near vanilla-white community further east. And what I took as bad jokes and poor attempts at friendliness at the time, turned out to be (mostly) subtle hate and racism.

I’ll never forget how one student said my skin was the color of dirt during recess, or when a friend said I couldn’t be vanilla in the ice cream game because I was chocolate, even though the point of the game was to choose your favorite flavor, and mine happened to be vanilla. Or when my teacher told me to choose any country in Africa for a family heritage project when I explained my ancestors were enslaved and no records currently existed. That was all in fifth grade, mind you, and my 11 year-old self didn’t really attribute the comments as racist. I was too busy being excited for the next  Scholastic book fair.

As a child, I was cheerful and pleasant with most people, but I kept to myself save a few friends. I only ventured forward in large group activities. I performed in school plays and played percussion in band. I was in chorus and I helped write and participate in a few public service announcements with my school.

(A single video of one of my PSAs still exists. We were 12. It’s pretty rough. But Facebook won’t let me embed it here and the person who shared it has tough privacy settings :-/ )

I found my closest friends were other “outcasts;” goths, geeks, punks and the like. They didn’t judge me for what I liked; in fact they introduced to me music, tv shows and other things that I never would’ve discovered on my own. One of those friends got me a job when I was having zero luck out of college, and another gave me a place to stay for nearly two years when I moved to Orlando. I couldn’t have asked for better friends in high school or in adulthood.

So I took that awareness of not fitting in from grade school to college and into my twenties, always conscious of how different I was. I didn’t see it as a hindrance; but I learned to understand that people would keep me at arms length because of it, unsure of how to see me, read me or talk to me.

While I’m not blaming my interests or personality for how I’ve experienced social and romantic relationships as a young adult, it does provide me another perspective into how I’ve arrived at this place in my head and heart.

I think I will continue to periodically post on this topic of asexuality and romanticism. It grants me the opportunity to bear witness to my own growth over the last ten years or so. It also allows me to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is my life, socially, romantically, and professionally (seeing as I’m a learning to become a journalist and all that).

Thank you again, if you’ve elected to read yet another personal post of mine. It’s not meant to showcase anything other than my headspace going into 2019, and beyond. I hope it helps, for your sake and mine.

 

Activists Push for Carbon Emissions Bill to Curb Climate Change Inequality in New York City

Environmentalists and Community Organizers Lobby City Council Members for a Green New Deal

January 3, 2019

By Diara J. Townes

Environmental and community activists are pushing for a new bill that addresses the city’s largest source of CO2 emissions: buildings.

“It’s simple,” said Rachel Rivera. “Unless the world radically slashes climate pollution, New York City will cook while slowly slipping underwater and drowning.”

The dangers associated with climate change for millions of people in the Big Apple range from extreme flooding to intense heat waves, according to a 2016 report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I can tell you the consequences first hand,” shared Rivera in a statement read by a colleague during a hearing at the Committee on Environmental Protection on December 4.

“I was in my apartment with my little daughter during Sandy. She was sleeping when I heard a loud crack from the roof. I grabbed her just before the roof collapsed on to her bed. We ran into the night with nothing.”

Rivera is a board member for New York Communities for Change (NYCC), a membership organization committed to helping low and moderate-income families by promoting economic, racial and climate justice. The East New York mother has worked with NYCC for three years, sharing her personal experiences on the real impacts of climate change for people like her in low to moderate-income New York City neighborhoods.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing city leaders to approve a proposal that seriously addresses the existential threats of climate change.  According to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, nearly two-thirds of the city’s greenhouse gas pollution is due to electricity and heating in buildings.

The bill, nicknamed the GreenNewDeal4NYC, aims to cut the city’s carbon pollution by 40 percent by 2030 and over 80 percent by 2050. The bill mandates the first round of energy efficiency to be met by 2022 for buildings between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet, by far the boldest move of any city in the world.

The proposal addresses the city’s impact on a warming planet by eliminating building energy waste, reducing emissions, and creating cost-effective energy infrastructure.

Additionally, the bill would keep building owners from offsetting expensive retrofits, such as repairing windows or replacing boilers, on tenants via rent hikes, a condition that protects New Yorkers who reside in the city’s 990,000 rent-regulated units.

“This bill protects our most vulnerable from paying the costs of the crisis,” said Patrick Houston, 25, of the Bronx in an email. As the climate and inequality campaign organizer for NYCC who read Rivera’s testimony on the Dec 4 hearing, Houston is dedicated to helping council members understand the benefits of passing the bill. He’s been organizing community members and addressing city council during public hearings for over a year.

More than 30 climate and equality groups have joined NYCC since the bills’ introduction by Queens City Councilman and Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee Costa Constantinides in September. This united coalition called Climate Works for Life have held rallies, lobbying events and made phones calls to residents of impacted communities in the outer boroughs and to council members advocating the benefits of the bill.

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Climate activists Dana Affleck (L) and David Mahler (R) speak with Brooklyn Council Member Mathieu Eugene outside city council offices on Broadway across from City Hall. December 11, 2018. Diara J. Townes.

“New York’s various stakeholders generally agreed this bill is a bold, necessary target to make real change,” said Council Member Constantinides. “While I’m open to how New York City hits that mandate, we cannot miss hitting this threshold of 40 percent by 2030.”

The bill, similar to freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, still faces a few political hurdles.

The Real Estate Board of New York is the largest lobbying organization for the biggest landlords in the city. In conjunction with the international environmental advocacy group Natural Resource Defense Council and the building workers union SEIU 32BJ, the three groups released a statement criticizing aspects of the legislation, stating it was unfair to apply such stringent rules to buildings that may consume and release emissions at different rates.

The statement also points out that there wasn’t a feasible way for building owners to comply with the 2022 and 2024 energy efficiency goals, indicating that the retrofits would need, at a minimum, two years to be “planned, financed, implemented and assessed.”

The NRDC’s statement took many environmental and climate activists by surprise. The organization is generally supportive of policies that promote the curbing of carbon pollution. Considering the actions of President Donald Trump that are negatively impacting the environment and rollbacks the progress of the Obama Administration, activists are worried about the impression the NRDC’s joint statement with the real estate lobby could have on the remaining 19 council members who have yet to support the proposal.

“[Their position] undermines the bill by attaching credibility to the real estate industry’s position,” shared Pete Sikora, the director of climate and inequality campaigns, in an email. “It sends a message to elected officials that if they come with a bold plan to address climate change and inequality, the NRDC, a big, deep-pocketed blue-chip environmental group, will undercut them.” 

Donna DeConstanzo, the director of the NRDC’s climate and clean energy program for the eastern region, said the real estate and labor communities “provide key perspectives” for energy efficiency methods.

“The NRDC does not oppose this bill,” stated Fabiola Nunez, the organization’s strategic communications manager when asked for comment. “ This bill is a landmark building energy efficiency framework that can put New York at the forefront of fighting the biggest environmental challenge of our time, and we are supportive of it.”

As the co-sponsor of the bill, Council Member Constantinides acknowledged the importance of hearing various opinions on the issue, given the broad and centuries’ long impact this law could have across the low-income communities, the country and the world. 

“If New Yorkers were not awoken to the realities of climate change when Sandy decimated the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Staten Island, they certainly were by the recent IPCC report and National Climate Assessment. This City Council recognizes we have to do something now, because there is no more ‘down the road.’”

The first city council meeting of 2019 is slated for Wednesday, Jan 9. It is unclear if the bill will receive a vote.

Nickelodeon Proved You Can Do That On Television

A clip from "You Can't Do That On Television." Source: Gifer.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, this is the story of how the first kids network rose from chaotic underdog to creative heavyweight

By Diara J. Townes November 17, 2018

In its 39 years of existence, the story of the first cable network for kids has never been told. Directors Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney accepted the challenge, presenting their broad scope at the DOC NYC premiere of The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story on Thursday, November 15.

“We had no idea Nickelodeon was the beginning of a revolution,” said the network’s first executive producer of animation Vanessa Coffey during the film.

The 98-minute movie traces the history of the first cable channel created in the void of television programs for kids in the 1980s. From inside looks into shows like Double DareLegends of the Hidden Temple and Salute Your Shorts, to Nickelodeon Studios in Florida, the film does its best to capture the childhood visuals of a generation.

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Nickelodeon Studios in 2002 Credit: Mikerajchel/Wikipedia Commons

“Man, it was the best trip down memory lane,” said Brooklyn-resident Meredith Mende, 31, after the film. “I teared up several times!”

“It was so interesting to watch,” added her friend, Kasey Hicks, 33, also from Brooklyn. “I definitely got chills; I forgot about so many things!” Hicks shared that her favorite show as a kid was Doug; for Mende it was Rocko’s Modern Life.

At 13 hours a day and seven days a week, Nickelodeon began as an off-beat, MTV-esque laboratory of creator-driven content. The small team was led by visionary founder and first president Geraldine Laybourne, whose goal was to never talk down to kids.

“We were competitive, we were loving, we were supportive,” she shared during the panel at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in Chelsea. “And we wanted kids to feel good about themselves.”

In the 1980s, GI Joe and My Little Pony became cartoons because of toys. However, Laybourne didn’t want animation that needed merchandise to be a hit. Coffey was determined to find content that kids could relate to.

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The end of the opening sequence for Rugrats. Source: Google

“You never saw a show like Rugrats,” she said. The animation was originally pitched as a show about babies that could talk when the adults left the room. “And Doug wasn’t cool or a loser, he was just in the middle, where a lot of kids are.” This series, created by Jim Jinkins, was fashioned after his own childhood of common pre-adolescent issues in Richmond, Virginia, such as asking out the girl he likes and getting a bad haircut.  

The final of Coffey’s first three Nicktoons was by far the weirdest animation the network produced: Ren and Stimpy.

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Character Stimpy. Source: giphy.com

“I don’t think anyone at Nick ever saw our storyboards,” Coffey laughed. “They took a huge risk with that one.” Marked as a turning point for the kids channel, the abusive story-telling of Ren and Stimpy’s edgy, visually disruptive style of animation brought in a broader audience: the MTV crowd.

With that new, unanticipated audience growth, the network shifted gears to create content for the pre-teen and junior high kids.

In The Secret World of Alex Macka junior high student develops special abilities like telekinesis and liquefaction, following a chemical truck accident, elements of a live-action drama never used for a teen female protagonist.

“To take the lens back a little bit and see what we were really a part of is incredibly special,” shared Larisa Oleynik, the show’s lead, during the panel.

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Right to left: Danny Tamberelli, Larisa Oleynik and Geraldine Laybourne, appear with the creators of The Orange Years during the DOC NYC film premiere on November 15, 2018.

Danny Tamberelli, 36, the younger star of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, started the show when he was seven years old, and finished at age twelve. “Little Pete was definitely me in a lot of ways. I was the weird, antihero cool kid. Looking back,” he said, referring to the film, “it’s really amazing to see how this network created all of these [shows] that were a little left of the dial, you know? We weren’t cookie-cutter kids.”

The network soon launched Nick Jr, engaging programming for the 2 – 5 year-old preschool viewer. Born from the idea of a game show, Blue Clues transformed the way parents viewed kids television, mostly due to how excited their children became, screaming at the sight of a blue paw print.

Nickelodeon managed to capture a strong viewership on Saturday nights as well, a dead zone for television. SNICK (Saturday Nick) aimed programming such as All That, Kenan and Kel and Are You Afraid of the Dark? at kids who were too young to date and too old to go to bed. Nick produced some of their most iconic shows in the two-hour, 8p -10p block.

“What am I proudest of?” reflected Laybourne during the post-film panel. “Nobody helped us. It was all just us. We were determined to make something great for kids, and nobody ever let us down.”

While not a complete video anthology of the network, The Orange Years captures decades of meaningful and impactful television for a generation of kids who just wanted to be kids.

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Source: Tumblr.

Coming Out: Being Asexual in a Hyper-sexualized World

An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. 

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source: bitchmedia.org

by Diara J. Townes

Originally written in the summer of 2014; edited and completed winter of 2018.

I couldn’t comfortably copy the romantic cues that I’d seen on sit coms, but I never considered myself an asexual.

I didn’t even come across the term until June of 2013. I figured I was a “late bloomer,” and that I would soon find “the one.” I had no idea how desperate I was to feel normal. I never mentioned my concern in my lack of relationship development to my friends, and I said very little to my family. I focused on working and paying bills, being social, and ignored the needs of my heart, assuming that the guy I’d end up with would “find me” somehow.

I’ve had crushes on guys. I know what I like and don’t like; and I know what’s cool with me and what’s not. But I couldn’t figure out how to convey my feelings to another person in a physical manner.

It wasn’t until I watched a Netflix documentary called (A)sexuality that I finally gained some insight into my troubling non-existent romantic situation. I thought that being a virgin at my age was something to be concerned about. I thought for the longest that something was terribly wrong with me. How could I be in my 20s and not have “been laid” yet??

This documentary (supposedly on Hulu) stilled the ocean of confusion in my head and delivered me to the shores of relative truth.

I know I want a relationship. One that is focused on our being together, not lying together. Being in love and being loved are the demands of my heart. Making love is a totally foreign concept for me, and not something I can readily commit to, not because I am afraid but because my body doesn’t react the way a sexually-charged person’s would.

I’ve been to the doctor. They never said my hormones were imbalanced, so there’s nothing to suggest that there is a medical explanation for my lifestyle.

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Asexuality colors. Source: Google

But what I want is hard to explain, let alone get, in a hyper-sexualized world. Most men have one thing on their minds, as explained in books, magazines, tv shows, movies, and by friends and family.

This one thing is what makes relationships healthy and strong, leads to babies, and keeps people interested in one another. So how can I connect with a man and form a loving, intimate relationship with him without the physical demands of what’s (supposedly) always on their mind pressuring me?

Being asexual is not a difficult thing. I still have feelings for men, however rare they are. I still experience the need to have romantic attention from a single person.  It’s the uncertainty around acceptance for who I am by potential suitors, friends and even family that is the most complex and challenging aspect for me.

My mother accepts me but I know she still thinks I’m a “late bloomer.” My siblings “get me” but I don’t know if they “get it.” And only three of my closest friends knows this part about my life because I purposely chose not to share my lifestyle with them.

Explaining asexuality is not easy, nor is it something I like to do. It feels like being exposed, my existence laid bare for ridicule. The thought of being rejected by anyone close is overwhelming, at the least.

I find joy in my friendships and I would hate to lose one because of their perception of my orientation. I hate to compare my situation to being “in the closet,” but it really is the best way to describe it.

And while I am technically coming out in this post, it feels less personal. It’s me and the white screen and the words staring back at me. I’m prepared to answer questions here. But the idea of telling my friends and the rest of my family seems both daunting and complicated.

There’s so much sex in today’s society its nigh impossible for people to not think that sex is a necessary part of romantic life. Anyone that’s not having sex of any kind is only considered normal if they’re particularly religious. Many mistake asexuality with celibacy, which is understandable, at first. It’s when they choose not to see asexuality as another valid orientation, as the A in LGBTQIA+.

Just to be clear, I do not experience sexual attraction. I am not attracted sexually to guys or gals. But that doesn’t mean that won’t change. Sexuality is fluid, just like gender. We are an evolving species.

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Source: Google

Additionally, romantic attraction is different. I know that I like guys, and I want to get married one day. I know I want our relationship to be a friendship first, which isn’t unheard of or outlandish. But given the demands and built-up expectations of our hyper-sexualized world, I don’t know what sort of relationship lies ahead of me.

For the longest while there was a wall between myself and my future; a barrier that stopped me from moving from a life of solitary into a world of love and appreciation.

I wrote this post in the summer of 2014.

I was in several uncomfortable romantic and awkward situations, over the two+ years I lived in Orlando, and in the following two years or so when I moved back to New York City. I thought I could sort it out on my own, explain who and what I was, and the person would at least be patient with me.

Unfortunately, none of those “potentials” ever panned out. Some were the fault of others, some were my own. But it (mostly) always ended the same way; as friendships. Great yes, but not what I wanted.

And so now its 2018, I’m 31 years old, and I’ve come to several conclusions. Following my second experience at Burning Man this past summer, I learned to make a few adjustments to my approach to love and relationships. None of them are monumental conclusions but it helps in reiterating my journey thus far.

  1. Its on me to love me. It’s no one’s responsibility to love me enough so that I feel like I’m valued. That’ll come naturally when I love and respect myself at the level first.
  2.  Do or Do Not. There is No Try. I’m making moves in my life that serve me and what I want to do with my life. Traveling to Iceland, Japan, Austria and France. Leaving my job. Going to graduate school. I’m no longer trying to make my life the best it can be on my own; I’m making it the best it can be, period.
  3. Trust the Universe. The last 13 months have been an incomparable expression of manifestation.  I trust that the decisions I’ve made, the plans I’ve laid out and the moments of joy I’ve received, however big or small, are blessed by powers greater than myself.

This post, I must admit, is more for myself than those reading. But I thank you for reading because I hope it serves you in some fashion. Asexuality is an invisible orientation; missing, unaccounted for, and ineffable. I hope little (or long) stories like mine will help others understand what it means to “do you.”

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Credit: Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. Source: theasexual.com

 

 

The Black Comic Book Festival: Re-empowering the African Diaspora In a Racially Uncertain Era

January 12, 2018

by Diara J. Townes

What does it mean to be a powerful black person?

Is it being an athlete? A police officer? The President of the United States?

For thousands of fans in New York City, the answer includes a secret identity and the desire to share untold stories.

Black cosplayers, actors and academics pose with Black Panther actress Florence Kasumba after the headlined panel concluded. Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. CuriousScout Media.

The 6th annual Black Comic Book Festival was held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem this past weekend, with crowds queuing for nearly an hour to gain access.

The free, two-day event featured dozens of independent comic book creators, enthusiasts and academics of color. Panels included discussions about kickstarters, Afrofuturism and how diversity is impacting nerd social media.

The queue on Saturday, January 13th wrapped around the corner of 135th street and Malcolm X Blvd in Harlem, New York. Jan 13, 2018. CuriousScout Media.

 

Present-day racial attitudes and tensions from various sectors of America and Europe are having a resonating impact across the world.

While not the subject of any of the panels, the crude language directed at Caribbean and African nations by U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, January 11, reiterated the importance of supporting and expanding black perspectives.

Source: Google.

“If we don’t control our image, we can’t control our story,” explained Eric Velasquez, the author of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library. “We have to show people what the Afro-future looks like. It’s how the world will get to know us.”

Source: Amazon

When Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) was in grade school, he was told that black people had no history, no accomplishments, or even heroes.

The child of a free black mother and a German merchant father, the young student grew up into a historian, intellectual and activist who researched and amassed Afro-Latino, Afro-American and African literature, art and slave narratives.

Schomburg’s dedication to the history and culture of the African diaspora contributed to the growth of the Harlem Renaissance in New York and other African-American communities across the nation.

The New York Public Library purchased his collection in 1926 and appointed the activist as curator at the 135th street branch in Harlem, later renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

In a politically tense time where black identity, culture and history are still being questioned, the Schomburg continues to play a critical role in education, inspiration and community development.

@TheRealDaShen, a speculative writer in the Afro-futurism field, speaks with a sci-fi enthusiast during the Black Comic Book Festival. Jan 13, 2018. CuriousScout Media.

“We can jumpstart the conversation about what it means to be free. It’s our response to our colonial situation,” explained panelist Dawud Anyabwile to the audience of the Black Characters Matter discussion on Friday.

Anyabwile is an Emmy award winner and the co-creator and illustrator of the critically acclaimed Brotherman comics series. The story follows a valiant public attorney who taps into his innate moral power to right the wrongs in his hometown city as a masked crime-fighting hero.

“The role of the black character was to support the hero,” continued Anyabwile, reflecting on his experience with comics as a young man. “You didn’t see yourself as the one making the decisions. We’ve seen so much of this conditioning that we began believing it.”

“The characters you fall in love with are, and should be, human,” added Stacey Robinson, illustrator for I Am Alfonso Jones, the story of a 15 year-old black teenager wrongly shot by a security guard who then watches the effects his murder has on his community from the afterlife.

“These characters should have backgrounds and faults. I want to create stories where black kids are the heroes and not just the ‘Black best friend.’”

History, historical fiction and Afrofuturism are working in conjunction to motivate a community whose past and present consistently face hardship and misrepresentation.

Writers of color are becoming activists against social ills like police brutality and income inequality by including historical and current events in their stories.

Tony Medina, writer of I Am Alfonso Jones and teacher of creative writing at Howard University in Washington, DC, understands this concept well.

“Alfonso’s story bridges the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement of today. We didn’t get these [historical] stories in our youth. I want to show all aspects and levels of Black culture and ancestry in my work.”

With the success of Netflix’s production of Luke Cage, DC’s Black Lightning premiering on January 16 on the CW, the choice to feature Cyborg over Green Lantern’s Hal Jordan in The Justice League movie, and Marvel’s standalone production of Black Panther on the silver screen, the world of black comics is rapidly expanding to the mainstream.

What does this mean for black creators and the diverse fandom?

Dr. Jonathan Gayles, professor of African-American studies at Georgia State University and co-founder of the Black Comic Book Festival, expressed his concern about the future of black creatives. “I hope there isn’t a rush to produce black content for the sake of making money.”

 

Cultural profiteering is a serious concern for Gayles. “Our artists have been working on their projects for decades. It’s important that we support our black creators because after the expected phenomenal success of Panther, there’s going to be a rush for Black superheroes. We have to make sure that creators can stay true to their stories by supporting them.”

Dr. Kinitra Brooks, Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio and author of Searching for Sycorax: Black Women ‘s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, expressed another sentiment.

“I’m afraid the popularity is going to grow but then disappear, or fail to expand beyond Panther,” she said during the fully attended panel, Black Panther: A Hero and a Movement. “Panther is about unlocking the potential in our youth. What are we going to see ten and twenty years from now?”

Actress Florence Kasumba, who portrays Ayo, the head of the Wakandan King’s security force, the Dora Milaje, in the Marvel blockbuster, provided an optimistic perspective.

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Florence Kasumba converses with Schomburg Director Kevin Young at the conclusion of the Black Panther panel on Friday, Jan 12. CuriousScout Media.

“I hope I get to see more of this stuff,” said Kasumba. “The people [I worked with] knew they wanted to be a part of this movie, in some form, in any form. Panther meant that much to them, and it’s really a nice feeling to know that I can represent this.”

With decades of seeing Africa as impoverished, war-ravaged and riddled with famine and disease, it is critical that we change the story and image.”

African Americans have always had an exasperated understanding of the experience of Africans,” stated Associate Professor of history at Rollins College Julian Chambliss.

“African superheroes can help change this image propagated by society of what Africa looks like,” added Grace Gipson, professor at UC Berkeley. “T’challa gives us the opportunity to see African royalty that isn’t portrayed as poor or unintelligent.”

William Jones agreed. “I would like to see a better representation of modern-day Africa that isn’t fictional and doesn’t involve apartheid. We are dealing with this idea that there is an African country that wasn’t colonized by Europe, and what that country would look like if it was allowed to flourish.”

“[Wakanda] is the most technologically advanced country on the planet,” continued Jones, the founder of the Afrofuturism Network, a multi-media cultural genre that wields elements of science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy to address real-world issues facing black people in the present day, and re-examines our opportunities in the future, both in fiction and in reality. “There’s almost a fear of the unchecked African potential [in the movie],” he stated.

This fear and misrepresentation has re-emerged in recent years, considering the continued racist language and denigration of immigrants of color by President Donald Trump.

Despite the tension in current events, there is a lot to look forward to.

“My primary thought now is sitting next to my daughters, watching them watch the Black Panther,” shared Dr. Gayles. “There’s power in having the right to imagine who you want to be, who you aspire to be.”

With Black Lightning and Panther just days and weeks away, respectively, and with the popularity of the Black Comic Book Festival growing, we are witnessing hope and change in our communities in the face of political and racial uncertainty.

“A lot of us have a tendency to look outside of ourselves for help, for some superhero to save us. But nothing is going to change until we do something about it,” continued Brotherman writer Anyabwile. “As a creative people we can change the way people think about us, and we can shape society around us. That is our superpower.”

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Courtesy of @BlackComicsChat on Twitter.

New York’s Free College: Promising at First Glance

May 1, 2017

By Diara J. Townes

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Jan 3, 2017—Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (L) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (R) unveil the first proposal of the governor’s 2017 agenda: making college tuition-free for New York’s middle-class families at all SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges. (Photo credit— Kevin P. Coughlin, governor’s office)

New Yorkers in the Class of 2021 could be the first college graduates to leave school debt-free, thanks to a new law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Excelsior Scholarship program, passed by state legislators on April 10, allows families earning less than $100,000 a year to send their kids to state and city universities tuition-free, beginning this fall.

That limit will increase to $110,000 in 2018, and capping at $125,000 in 2019. And while New York is the first state to allow free tuition at public four-year institutions, the scholarship is facing some criticism.

This first-in-the nation program was supported by Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders, who appeared with Cuomo at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on January 3rd.

Enthusiasm for the proposed legislation spread throughout the auditorium that day, as reported by the Huffington Post. And three months later, on April 10, the excitement reverberated on social media when the proposal became law.

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Twitter users Stevie Wong (L), a New York film journalist, and John Sassone, a teacher in New York City, both express their appreciation of the Excelsior Scholarship program. Source: Twitter.

“Eighty percent of the households in this state will qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship,” stated Cuomo in his address to the state assembly.
“You want to talk about a difference government can make? Every child will have the opportunity that an education provides. It’s time to think about the student first, and that’s what this is going to do.”

The cost of higher education in the United States has risen to worrisome levels. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported student loan debt at $1.3 trillion, compared to just over $400 billion in 2006.

Income plays a large role in determining the affordability of higher education. The largest percentage of New York state families that made between $10,000 and $100,000 in 2015 was 60%, with New York City families within this income range at 62%.

Meanwhile, a four-year degree from a city or state university can cost between $17,200 and $26,000. To rise above these costs, Cuomo introduced the Excelsior Scholarship program, with hopes of free tuition for New Yorkers.

The law was not passed without challenges from state legislators, however, who adjusted the terms of the program. Students must attend school full-time, earning 30 credits in a year (for bachelor’s degrees), and maintain a certain GPA (still to be determined) to remain qualified.

The program doesn’t cover room and board, or books and fees from the university. The student is unable to seek a second degree either, associate’s or bachelor’s.

Additionally, students will be required to stay in New York for the same amount of time they are covered by the scholarship. If they choose to relocate they will have to repay the amount rewarded as a loan. These caveats could still make attending college in the Empire State a hurdle for many. But it wasn’t always a huge ordeal. Graduates like Dadriane Davis, 53, remembered a time when school wasn’t a big drain on the finances.

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Table 1 (L): The median income for New York families was estimated around $72,000 in 2015. Table 2 (R): The median income for New York City families in 2015 was estimated at less than $62,000. Source:Â U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey.

“I started as a design graphics major at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in September, 1982. I got to live off campus in a student housing apartment in Freeport, [Long Island] for pretty cheap. And while my parents had to take out a loan to pay for it, they never complained.” Tuition, room and board at her private, four-year institution averaged $3,400 a year. The average income per person in New York during that time was estimated at $40,000 per household (Gulino, 1983).

After completing one and a half years of school, Davis left NYIT to begin a family. It would be near twenty years before she returned.

College has grown into a necessity since the 1980s, and many Millennials are starting to feel the pains of not attending. “A lot of kids my age just couldn’t pay for it.” The lack of affordable education for the city’s middle and low income families is a personal experience for 30-year-old Ruben Castro Jr. of the Bronx.

The oldest of four siblings, Castro spent his teenage years helping his mother at home while attending the Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts in Manhattan. “I wish my parents had encouraged me to be more creative when I was a kid. Latin families are like ‘you’re going to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or work in a bank.’ So by the time I finished high school, I didn’t want to have anything to do with college.”

But the introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship program inspired a change of heart in the Millennial. “I think it’s a great thing. It’s been working well for other countries for a really long time. America is just very hustle-oriented.” Castro’s hesitance in 2005 was also due to the overwhelming task of understanding the process on his own.

“Trying to figure [college] out by yourself can be stressful, anxiety-inducing, and a little depressing, but that’s how it is, you know? I wish it didn’t take me this long to realize that, but at least I’m doing it now.”

Community outreach and advocacy organizations like the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC) are also reviewing how this new law will impact their efforts.

The non-profit focuses on individuals and families in the northern region of Manhattan island, and the west and south Bronx. One of their many programs that creates and increases the standards of living in the community focuses specifically on college services.

“We help students decide whether college is the right choice right now. And if it is, we help prepare them by finding the right school, assist them in getting in and [finding ways] to pay for it,” NMIC explained in a statement on the non-profit’s website.

 

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Their services include one-on-one college counseling to narrow down school selections as well as college tours. One of their higher demand services is financial aid planning.

“Oh, this is so great!” Anna Martinez, a 32 year-old resident of Washington Heights in northern manhattan, reacted happily to the scholarship program. “One of the girls I used to babysit messaged me on Facebook the other day, saying she’s graduating in May and going to college in September. She told me I inspired her to go. That actually made me cry! She was going to babysit like I did to help cover the costs, but now I don’t think she needs to. I am so happy for her!”

While the terms are viewed positively by rising freshmen and their friends and family, graduated students are reflecting differently. Davis viewed these stipulations as a bigger hurdle than necessary.

In the 1980s, Davis wasn’t aware of financial aid and federal grants. Armed with this knowledge, she returned to NYIT as a full-time student in 1999. She graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in advertising in May of 2002. She relocated to southeast Virginia with her academic credentials and upwards of $30,000 in student debt.

“While I was really happy to hear about this program in New York, it wouldn’t have worked for me,” she shared. “I had a job waiting for me in Virginia. It’s been 16 years since I graduated with my degree and I’m still paying for it. If kids nowadays have to choose between staying in the state for four years or moving for a better job and paying it all back, then it’s not really a good choice, is it?” Davis believed the decision to stay should be up to the student, not the state.

Castro, on the other hand, took these stipulations in stride. “I know the fine print is a little nitty gritty, and the expectations are high. [But] it takes off that stress of having to work two jobs and go to school for a lot of people. Maybe it’s a sign, you know? I’ve been thinking about getting my degree for a while. Maybe this is the time, and this is my moment.”