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People Who Make America Great for Everyone Part III

People Who Make America Great for Everyone Part III

SABAAH FOLAYAN

Sabaah Folayan was asked in an interview, "As an activist, do you think you can be objective?" In this essay, Folayan states, " I didn’t (and still don’t) believe that objectivity is the appropriate response to the killing of a teenager in broad daylight."

 Folayan is an organizer, advocate, and storyteller born and raised in South Central LA. She entered the world of storytelling through theater, attending the Lee Strasberg Institute of Theater and Film as a teenager, and performing as a member of the Black Theater Ensemble while a pre-med student at Columbia University. She curates the blog, Sixty Million and More, an anthology of original poetry, short stories, and informative articles. The title, “Sixty Million and More,” is a nod to Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Beloved. The dedication of the book reads “Sixty Million and More,” which is a reference to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.

In 2013 her advocacy work took her to Rikers Island where she interviewed dozens of incarcerated people about their experiences with trauma. She later helped organize The Millions March, one of the largest marches for racial justice in New York history, in response to the non-indictment of the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death. She was also recently published in The Experience magazine. Determined to expose the deep wounds inflicted on the black community at the hands of the criminal justice system, Folayan went to Ferguson, Missouri with cinematographer Lucas Alvarado-Farrar in September 2014 to learn the truth behind the dramatic scenes playing out on the news surrounding the murder of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a cop in broad daylight. Hearing the stories of community members in Ferguson and the surrounding St. Louis area inspired her to enter the world of film, and embark on her directorial debut Whose Streets, landing her a coveted spot on Filmmaker Magazine’s annual “25 New Faces of Independent Film” along with Co-director Damon Davis.

While public media focused primarily on the few instances of looting and property destruction that this dynamic triggered, Sabaah Folayan’s documentary, Whose Streets?, weighs what happened in Ferguson from the viewpoint of residents who found their own government treating them as “the enemy”—complete with tear gas, tanks, and National Guard troops. From their vantage, this official response to a seemingly blatant injustice only underlined a sense that poor Black communities remain an object of control, rather than a full participant, in American democracy. Comprised mostly of local activists’ on-the-ground footage, this vivid document doesn’t pretend to be a definitive, 360-degree take on the events captured. But its portrait of citizen activism being greeted by occupation-style “military war tactics” (as one Fergusonian puts it) is startlingly immediate—and important, as numerous states have since introduced laws to criminalize protest. 

Folayan recently directed an episode of Glamour Magazine + The Girl Project’s Get Schooled web series presented by Maybelline. She is a 2015 Firelight Media Producers Lab Fellow, 2016 Chicken and Egg Accelerator lab Fellow, and 2016 Sundance Institute Documentary Edit and Story Lab Fellow. Folayan continues to inspire others to fight for social justice, she is a real, living, breathing, badass #forceofnature.

 

TARA HOUSKA

 Tara Houska is a tribal-rights attorney, acts as the national campaigns director for the indigenous-led environmental-justice organization Honor the Earth, has served as adviser on Native American issues for Bernie Sanders’s campaign, cofounded Not Your Mascots to fight the appropriation of indigenous culture, and protested the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Houska has been a contributing columnist to Indian Country Media Network since January 2015. 

Tara is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation and a tribal attorney based in Washington, D.C. She was born and raised in International Falls, Minnesota, and attended the University of Minnesota with a triple major in Biology, Art History, and American Indian Studies. She holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. She has appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” “RT America,” “Native America Calling,” and local Washington, D.C., news organizations speaking on Native American plight and prosperity. She was a law clerk for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2011.

Check out this video of the badass duo, #forceofnature team Winnona LaDuke and Tara Houska on Democracy Now.

Her work has incorporated traditional knowledge and values, as Houska is a long-time student of Midewiwin. Her environmental justice efforts have ranged from grassroots organizing and media work to clerking for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She is a co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a non-profit committed to educating the public about the harms of stereotyping and promoting positive representation of Native Americans in the public sphere. Tara is dedicated to mino bimaadiziwin.  

From Outside online's highlight article about Houska: "Recently, most of Houska’s efforts have gone toward building a support network to defend the nearly 700 protestors who’ve been detained and arrested at Standing Rock, as well as divesting from banks that fund the pipeline. 'It was huge for the environmental movement,' Houska says, 'because people all looked to Standing Rock like, What’s happening? This is police brutality at the hands of the state over the creation of a pipeline.'"

The best way to help the water protectors is to donate to the Freshet Collective, which provides resources for those who were arrested at Standing Rock. The Freshet Collective's mission is to raise, manage, and disburse legal defense funds to support individuals arrested for their involvement in direct action as part of liberatory grassroots social movements. This collective is small and rooted in long-standing relationships of solidarity and trust. They offer modest stipends for people doing the hard work on the ground, but operate mostly with volunteers, and no collective member receives financial compensation for their work. Organizational infrastructure and bureaucracy are kept to a bare minimum. Organizational structure is as horizontal as possible. The work has evolved constantly throughout the #NoDAPL campaign, and is focused in the following 4 areas: jail support, court support, criminal defense, and education.

Houska also wrote this horrifying op-ed, Your Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce is Poisoning Native American Lands, in which she writes, "Despite dated, hokey representations perpetuated by inaccurate education, sports mascots and the media, Native Americans are still here. Our story didn’t end with Manifest Destiny, and Thanksgiving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The land and resource struggles of the past have become modern issues that continue to plague tribal nations today." 

FEMMEDY TRIO

Based in LA, Femmedy Trio is an all-female comedic music group comprised of Stacey Hardke, Dahlya Glick, and Gabi Van Horn. With their sassy strength and clever lyrics, these ladies create funny, feminist tunes to save the world! Check out their videos here. 

In their video for their song, "#Hilary4Humanity," they try to visit Bernie's Coffee Shop Restaurant, only to find it closed. They are so bummed, it's like, worse "than when they ran out of molly at Coachella." The video pokes fun at being a millenial, selfie-obsessed, Facebook newsfeed and Instagram-informed twenty-something at the beginning and ends with the three #forcesofnature walking off in hazmats suits into the distance. 

 

DONNA MAXEY

“Talking about race is uncomfortable for all folks...No one wants to be thought of as racist, especially not in Portland, which is a very PC town.”

Racism is alive and well in America, and for white people, it is often hiding in plain sight.

Donna Maxey is a retired Portland, Oregon Public School teacher and administrator of 20 years who founded Race Talks six years ago. Maxey says Race Talks was inspired by her work helping to implement Courageous Conversations seven years ago at her school in North Portland, César Chávez K-8. It was one of PPS’ 11 schools to pilot the equity work. Since then, Courageous Conversations has been implemented at every school, to varying degrees.

Maxey says the way she saw staff members change the way they spoke to kids of color — and to her — was enough to convince her that she needed to bring something similar to the general public. She struck up a partnership with McMenamins Kennedy School, and “Race Talks: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism” was born. The series, held 7 to 9 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month, regularly draws up to 175 attendees. Race Talks 2 at Jefferson is its offshoot. Four years in, thousands of residents from across the metro area have sat in on the talks at both locations.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” says Tim Hills, the historian at McMenamins, who signed on to help Maxey by providing the space and is now co-organizer of the event. “It’s succeeded to a great degree. I feel like the most important thing is to get people from different backgrounds together in one room and have a chance to talk to one another.” Hills admits that the whole concept of white privilege in these talks can be difficult to comprehend and downright offensive for many at first.

The rumblings for Race Talks started in 2005 when Portland Public Schools introduced to study groups to the book Courageous Conversations About Race, which helped produce amazingly open conversations about race, class, and white privilege. As one of the Beacon School Facilitators, Maxey knew that this model needed to be shared with the general public. The urgency to start talking now was furthered by this factoid: by 2040 there will be more people of color in the United States than white people. Race Talks emerged in February 2011.

Check out Donna Maxey in this filmed meeting of the fourth year anniversary of Race Talks. 

Last March, I went to “Let’s Talk,” in Portland, Oregon, which is a facilitated event organized by the #forceofnature, Margaret Jacobsen. We divided into groups. The room was full of white people and people of color. The people shuffling next to me formed a circle and the ratio was five white women, one white man, and a black woman. The black woman spoke first. I found out she was Donna Maxey. She asked everyone to talk about how they were feeling.

Everyone described being scared. It was February and Trump was now president. Maxey said, “Why are you scared?” And the white women responded by saying something about Trump being like Hitler. Maxey then told the group about being a little black girl when they shot JFK. She realized at that time, being maybe nine years old, that if they could shoot a beautiful white man, the president of the United States, that they “sure as hell couldn’t care less about a little black girl.”

In the moment when she realized how easy it would be for anyone to off her just like JFK, she also realized that there was no longer anything to lose. If death was such a real possibility, there was no reason to be fearful of anything. Living in fear wasn’t a logical option. Her words sank in. There Donna Maxey was, sitting with five white women crying about Trump. Maxey said that this, this mess we feel ourselves in, this black hole, this seeming nightmare, was nothing new. She said to us, “it seems like this is the first time you all realize that you are vulnerable.”

 

YURI KOCHIYAMA

Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara in San Pedro, California. After the attack on Pearl Harborin December 1941, Kochiyama’s father was imprisoned the same day. Her family, sent to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Jerome, Arkansas, were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during the Second World War. Two of her brothers joined the U.S. Army.

Kochiyama was a Japanese American political activist and #forceofnature. She was a lifelong champion of civil rights for Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian American communities. In 1963, she met Malcolm X during a protest against the arrest of 600 minority construction workers in Brooklyn who were fighting for their jobs. Kochiyama joined Malcolm X's pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity and her activism took a far more radical turn, focusing on black nationalism. She was at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York City with him when he was assassinated while speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), as pictured above. Kochiyama on knowing Malcolm X.

Check out Mountains that Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama: A Conversation on Life, a documentary that debuted at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in June 2010 and follows Angela Davis and Yuri Kochiyama as they talk about their lives and the state of activism and politics. Here’s the trailer (transcription here). 

Over the years, Kochiyama has dedicated herself to various causes, such as the rights of political prisoners, freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, nuclear disarmament, and reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during the war.

In 2005, Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project. Here is a blog that is dedicated to the memory of Kochiyama.

 

GLORIA ANZALDÚA

"A woman who writes has power, and a woman with power is feared." - Gloria Anzaldúa

Anzaldúa was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexican-Texas border and incorporated her lifelong feelings of social and cultural marginalization into her work. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders.

She was self-described Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/dyke/feminist/writer/poet/cultural theorist. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, continued her education at Texas Women's University, and became involved with the Chicano and feminist movements. After gaining a bachelor's degree in English, Art, and Secondary Edcuation in 1969, Anzaldúa taught in the public school system, facing the same racial discrimination she faced as a student. In 1977, she moved to California and joined the Feminist Writers Guild, where she quickly became dissatisfied with the focus on writings of white, middle-class feminists. So, she teamed up with Cherrie Moraga, a Chicana lesbian playwright and co-edited the groundbreaking, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 

Anzaldúa broke hegemonic norms, living pedal to the medal as a #forceofnature and refused to deny any aspect of her identity. She is quoted to say, "While I advocate putting Chicana, tejana, working-class, dyke-feminist poet, writer theorist in front of my name, I do so for reasons different than those of the dominant culture...so that the Chicana and lesbian and all the other persons in me don't get erased, omitted, or killed." 

In defiance of the whiteness of the feminist movement and angered by the dominating, privileged perspectives, Anzaldúa's book, This Bridge Called My Back, laid many of the foundations for the thought critical to the work of intersectional and third wave feminists. Her work illustrated her concept of a space, physical and theoretical, beyond the binaries that dominated feminism, cultural theory and queer theory at the time. What a fucking badass.

NTOZAKE SHANGE

“Shange’s work is doing something radically different…it is asking us to consider how the body might serve as a liberatory force in the beautiful black woman’s body…and a critique of and an expansion of the black arts movement period.” – Soyica Diggs Colbert, Associate professor of African American Studies and Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University.

Ntozake Shange is a self-proclaimed black feminist, playwright and poet. She is known for her acclaimed and award-winning "choreopoem," for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enufShange encourages the audience to think about race, gender, sexuality, and nationality through the incorporation of dance, movement, and poetry in this compilation of 20 poems. The themes throughout touch on love, abandonment, domestic abuse, rape, abortion, and other issues as faced by black women.

"We had seen posters advertising the piece months before we headed to midtown; Shange’s face, as painted by Paul Davis, had been plastered around the city. We hadn’t seen a black girl’s body promoting anything literary since Kali published her book of poems, in 1970, at the enviable age of nine," describes Hilton Als as he writes in the New Yorker about what it was like in 1977 to witness a production produced and performed by black women (not a white performer in black face).

 "for colored girls" first took shape in 1974 as an electrifying performance by Shange and four of her close friends at the Bacchanal in Berkeley, California. It opened on Broadway for the first time in 1976, has been performed Off-Broadway and on Broadway  ever since. Shange's "choreopoem" has been adapted as a book, a television film, and a theatrical film. The 1976 Broadway production was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.

An accomplished #forceofnature, Ntozake Shange enrolled in Barnard College in New York City in 1966 and graduated cum laude with a degree in American Studies and went on to earn her master’s degree in the same subject from University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Dealing with a divorce and deep depression in college, led her to attempt suicide. This innovative and revolutionary artist was born Paulette L. Williams on October 18, 1948, but changed her name to Ntozake (Xhosa for ‘she who has her own things’) and Shange (a Zulu word meaning ‘the lion’s pride’).

MELISE EDWARDS-WELBOURN

Photo credit: Michael Durenleau

Photo credit: Michael Durenleau

Bouldering is her realm of expertise, having climbed for nine years this #forceofnature now competes all over the Southeast.  After graduating with a triple major in Evolutionary Biology, Ecology, & French from ASU, Melise Edwards-Welbourn used to be a Wildlife biology technician working for the National Parks Service, and now works for the Allen Institute for Brain Science. She is in the midst of applying for graduate school for a PhD in neuroscience. When she isn't at the crag or tagging birds in the national forest, you can find her baking some delicious healthy treats for her fellow boulder toads.

Edwards-Welbourn was highlighted in a post on Climb On Sister! where she describes her slow-building relationship with climbing:

"Climbing was something I was drawn to for the obvious physical and health benefits, but it also provided this framework where I could understand things about myself and others. Similar to working through the crux of a problem, time and time again I had to re-evaluate why I felt jealous of another person, or how to cope with an irrational fear of heights, or how to look at failure in a different and less emotional way and learn from it."

As one of our fave women bloggers in the outdoor community, Edwards-Welbourn is the author of the website Itsajurg.wordpress.com and she wrote an impeccable piece detailing the many occurrences of mansplaining that can happen to woman training in the climbing gym, or…just…living life.

Edwards-Welbourn is an ambassador for Evolv, Outdoor Research, Beast Fingers, Misty Mountain and UCO Gear. Her bravery to engage with topics of race and gender in the outdoor arena in a personal way is inspiring to many. Check out this sick video of Welbourn crushing in the south.

ALISON BECHDEL

Photo credit: Elena Seibert from Dykestowatchoutfor.com

Photo credit: Elena Seibert from Dykestowatchoutfor.com

From the website, Dykes to Watch Out For: "Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For became a countercultural institution among lesbians and discerning non-lesbians all over the planet. And her more recent, darkly humorous graphic memoirs about her family have forged an unlikely intimacy with an even wider range of readers."

Now living outside of Burlington, Vermont, Bechdel is the author of the graphic memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic." 

"Fun Home" chronicles the author's childhood and youth in rural Pennsylvania, United States, focusing on her complex relationship with her father. The book addresses themes of sexual orientation, gender roles, suicide, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family life, and the role of literature in understanding oneself and one's family. 

Fun Home turned into a musical adaptation in 2013 and was called "the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian." As a musical theater piece, Fun Home was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, while winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical, and the Obie Award for Musical Theater. In April 2015, it opened on Broadway and earned a dozen nominations for the 69th Tony Awards. Fun Home was awarded Best Musical. 

Bechdel describes the many strange ways in which her book is categorized in bookstores:

"My graphic memoir 'Fun Home' could be anywhere from the LGBT shelf to “Lesbian Fiction” (even though it’s all true) to 'Memoir' to 'Biography' to 'Graphic Novels.' Once I stopped in a bookstore to sign copies, and the clerk found it in 'Lesbian Mystery,' which was a mystery indeed.

I try to embrace this by taking it to mean that I’m sui generis. But really it’s disheartening sometimes. In fact, over the years, I’ve gotten so disappointed by not finding my stuff in stores at all that I avoid looking for it.

But today, for this assignment, I did a spot check at my local chains. A Borders employee told me that 'Fun Home' was usually in 'Lesbian Fiction,' but to my astonishment, he pointed out a small 'World of Alison Bechdel' display that he’d recently put up. At Barnes & Noble, I was disappointed not to find 'Fun Home' in the graphic novel section with Charles Burns, Jessica Abel, Chris Ware, and Jaime Hernandez. But there it was in the 'New Biography' section, which made me extremely happy. It’s gratifying to see it outside both the queer and comics ghettoes, mingling with other memoirs like a regular book." 

Remembering Anna Smith

Remembering Anna Smith

People Who Make America Great for Everyone (Part II)

People Who Make America Great for Everyone (Part II)