Author Archives: princetonsjp

Bodegas Confront New Challenges

imageThe Yemeni American Merchants Association

By Itzel Luna

Sylmar, CA.

When Juan Valerio’s customers pick up their morning coffees and sandwiches at his New York bodega, there are no more intimate conversations and warm welcomes. Only smiles hidden behind facemasks and muted transactions through plexiglass. But all that matters to his regulars is that Deli Grocery is open.

“Bodegas are something essential for the area you live in. When you have a business, you view those people like family,” Valerio said in Spanish. “The clients are yours for years. There are people who [used to] come at 6 in the morning to make their coffee, and if that business is closed, those people don’t know where to go.”

Deli Grocery is located in the Bronx in New York City, one of the initial vectors of America’s coronavirus outbreak. Valerio has owned the bodega for 14 years, and the pandemic forced him to temporarily close it for the first time. The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which represents 4,000 Yemeni-owned bodegas, said about 15 percent of their members have shut down because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

“By closing my business, I felt like I abandoned my clients. When it [closed], the clients called us asking why we weren’t opening,” Valerio said. “They needed us.”

What his customers didn’t realize was that Valerio’s father had died of COVID-19. When Valerio reopened his store after a month, he had to adjust to coming home every day and not seeing his father. It’s been difficult. “We weren’t father and son. We were two people that always shared the world,” Valerio said.

He soothes himself with Latino home remedies, like smearing himself with VapoRub and drinking jugo de limon, all while repeating, “Hay que seguir adelante,” or “we must move forward.” This sense of hope and community is what has kept New York bodegas afloat during these difficult times.

Given that most bodegas are family-owned, their success often depends on the entire family. In May, 20-year-old Brooklyn college student Nasim Almuntaser’s father was hospitalized for two weeks due to health issues unrelated to the coronavirus. As schools began to go online-only, Almuntaser, an educational advocate for the Yemeni merchants group, found himself adjusting to virtual classes, working long hours in his parents’ bodega, and worrying about his father’s health.

“There was something that got me to the finish line,” Almuntaser said. “I want to make him happy, and make myself happy, and reach my goal.” Getting his degree.

As customer demand increased, Almuntaser’s family chose to keep their bodega open 24 hours a day. But more hours meant more possible exposure to the coronavirus. At the beginning of the pandemic, Almuntaser had to use the same disposable mask for two weeks. To help protect essential workers, the Yemeni merchants group started the NYC Mask Mission campaign, which distributes free safety kits to bodega owners. They include three to five masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and disinfectant wipes.

Youssef Mubarez and his family own three bodegas in New York; one has operated in Times Square for two decades. Despite the economic hit these businesses have suffered, Mubarez credited the survival of bodegas to their resilient communities.

“It’s this kind of community that drives the bodega owners and workers to stay operational during times of need,” said Mubarez, a spokesperson for the Yemeni merchants group. “At the end of the day, the owners in the stores are there to protect the people who live in their neighborhoods.”

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nasim photoNasim Almuntaser, a college student, has been working long hours at his parents’
bodega while trying to adjust to online classes.

By Alexa Figueroa

Brentwood, MD.

The American dream is a concept that has attracted many immigrants throughout their lives. While the idea has been adapted to fit everyone’s personal preference, owning a business is often a common element. Bodegas, small grocery stores typically based in urban communities, have helped make the American dream achievable for their owners,
as well as their employees. But the emergence of the coronavirus has jeopardized the livelihood of these small businesses and the fate of their American dream.

Juan Valerio, a bodega owner in the Bronx, always wanted to be an athlete, but learned to adapt his American dream to survive. When he came to the United States, he lost his mother, prompting him to become a bodega owner. He believes that being humble is one of the greatest qualities you can have. “Humility is something that you will always value and it will always show you the path. Never forget where you come from,” he said in
Spanish. “If you forget where you come from, the path will be filled with failure.”

Bodegas have become essential during the pandemic by supplying items that may be unavailable at a supermarket during the crisis. “The bodega has already, before the pandemic, served as places to buy groceries, diapers, milk. Some stores serve as daycare centers,” said Youssef Mubarez, a spokesperson for the Yemeni American Merchants
Association (YAMA). “It’s this kind of community that drives the bodega owners and the bodega workers to stay operational during times of need.”

The outbreak has created major challenges for bodegas, and YAMA has mobilized to help Yemeni-owned bodegas and the families of their employees stay afloat. YAMA represents 4,000 bodegas in New York. Fifteen percent of these stores have shut down due to COVID. “We help back home in Yemen for any family members who are being impacted by the pandemic,” Mubarez said. In New York, the group distributes bodega safety kits, including three to five masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and disinfecting wipes.

Many bodega owners, like Valerio, have taken measures to reduce the burden the pandemic has put on employees by being not just an understanding employer but a friend. “I’ve given them fewer work hours, and if they need anything, they can take it from the store,” Valerio said. He’s also taken them home so they have less contact with people in public transportation.

Nasim Almuntaser, an educational advocate for YAMA, believes that being optimistic will help customers and bodega employees stay sane and move forward. “You know, it’s just being hopeful,” he said. “And motivating yourself and doing other things in this pandemic to remain healthy is crucial at this point.”

Once Called ‘Unskilled,’ Workers Now ‘Essential’

Jobs with JusticeJobs With Justice

By Finley Williams

Chicago, IL.

Labor organizer Ada Fuentes was raised in a working class family in the mostly immigrant community of Chelsea, Massachusetts, a densely populated city that sits
across from Boston on the low banks of the Mystic River.

Her mother spent long hours baking bread for nearby grocery stores, and, finding that insufficient, took on extra work as a domestic worker in the community, often
babysitting the children of women who had factory jobs. Her father, a union man with Sky Chefs, provided services as a handyman and plumber to supplement that income. Despite two working parents, Fuentes’ family could often only afford homes with
absentee landlords that lacked heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Fuentes recalled her neighbors also working multiple jobs in order to subsist. They lived
frugally and garnished their meals by the salt of their sweat—labor was not merely a forty-hour-a-week excursion, but rather a deep necessity and a source of tremendous pride.

“I kind of grew up with the sense of, ‘This is how the world is, and we’re just scrappy and
we piece things together and try to make it on our own,’” she said.

But the unprecedented economic and social turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic has put the livelihoods and safety of millions of American workers like Ada’s family and neighbors at risk.

As many white collar workers took shelter from the coronavirus in the safety of their homes, some 50 million Americans, toiling in grocery stores, hospitals, and innumerable other industries, reported to work. These were the so-called “essential workers,” a group of laborers who were previously viewed as “unskilled” and “entry-level.” And now they were the only thing keeping the economy alive.

“When I started hearing people say ‘essential worker,’ I was like, ‘This is exactly what we’ve been saying the entire time. This is what workers who work in that industry have been trying to tell you, that their jobs, their literal jobs, are essential to the economy,’” said Fuentes, a senior membership organizer for the nonprofit Jobs with Justice.

The group has used this new spotlight on essential workers to help them organize for better protections and rights from companies that have offered them few benefits.

“There is a path forward with workers organizing themselves. We’ve been seeing a lot of really awesome worker organizing happening,” Fuentes said.

Willy Solis and Jeanine Meisner and the work they do to organize workers for Shipt, a Target-owned grocery delivery service, are an example of this momentum. Both are members of the Gig Workers Collective.

Much like Fuentes, Solis became involved with labor organizing when he witnessed firsthand the plight of Shipt workers during the pandemic, especially after the com-
pany sliced workers’ pay.

“I literally spoke to hundreds of shoppers back in February and got really, really upset hearing those stories about the pay cut and how people were getting impacted and hurt,” Solis said. It’s why he became the lead organizer representing Shipt shoppers for the Gig Workers Collective.

Solis said he took the unpaid position because of the leverage it afforded him in organizing with other gig workers.

An immuno-compromised Shipt shopper who’s extremely vulnerable to pneumonia, Solis himself has experienced the desperation Fuentes witnessed in Massachusetts. He carries out a strict sanitation regimen, which includes wiping down every surface he
touches, changing gloves every time he enters a store, and showering as soon as he returns home. It is his need for money that dictates his hours: “Sometimes I go out as
late as 10 or 11 depending on the day or depending on how much money I need.”

Citing an instance where Shipt was unresponsive to the concerns he brought forth regarding PPE and lowered pay, Solis said that Shipt shoppers and other gig workers are disrespected by the companies that employ them, especially under the current circumstances.

“The fact that the companies are not responsive to our concerns and our vocalization of
the issues does give you nothing but the feeling of being slapped in the face repeatedly,” he said. “The CEOs of these companies are definitely not the ones out there doing this job on a daily basis and exposing themselves and their families to this, yet they want to continue to give us pay cuts repeatedly over the course of a pandemic. To put it bluntly, it’s despicable.”

However, a Shipt spokesperson told The Princeton Summer Journal, “Our updated pay model takes into account the many factors that go into a shop, such as estimated drive time, the number of items in the order, peak shopping windows and location, that can affect the effort needed to shop and deliver an order. With this new model, the majority of approximately 50 metropolitan areas across the country have seen shopper
base pay remain steady, while some metros have even seen an increase.”

Shipt also said it provides safety kits for its most active shoppers and those in high-risk areas, adding that Shipt shoppers can obtain masks and gloves at Target stores.

Public awareness and responsiveness to the risk workers are taking has also diminished as more cities and states push to reopen. Solis remembered the beginning of the coronavirus shutdowns—the outpouring of support was almost “surreal.”

“[But now] that we’re moving away more from the first parts of the pandemic, that sense of heroic effort on our part has seemed to be kind of dwindling away slowly and people are going back to viewing the position as one of a basic service,” he said.

Low-Income Students Face Extra Hurdles In School Disruption

By Kayla Bey

Lilburn, GA.

Mauricio Vazquez, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at Chapman University and Princeton Summer Journalism Program alum, was alarmed when he logged onto his computer days before finals week and saw he had an F in his class. After switching his evaluation from letter grades to pass/fail, Vazquez ended up barely passing. But he considers the effort he put into that class a success. After all, he managed to pass despite the challenges of learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

This spring, colleges across the country announced a sweeping transition to online learning. At Harvard, those who left campus for spring break would not return. “They said that by Sunday everybody had to leave,” said Ryan Morillo, a Harvard
freshman and PSJP alum. “Everybody was scrambling. Nobody knew how they were going to pay for flights home, or storage.”

The sudden disruption of higher education has been especially challenging for low-income students. Kay-Ann Henry, a 21-year-old PSJP alum entering her senior year at University of Miami, says her campus urged her to stay home. However, the reality of “home” for many low-income students can be hostile—and on-campus living, a survival mechanism. “I was going through a family situation, so it wasn’t [in] my best interest to go back home,” said Henry, who was able to secure housing in the University of Miami’s
student apartments.

Morillo didn’t have the same opportunity, having already booked a plane ticket home. “Once I started classes at home, it was horrible,” he said. Around the clock, his parents would ask for help around the house. In between those moments, “I’m studying in the same room that I sleep in, and everything is like a sense of procrastination,” he said.

“I don’t go outside,” said Henry, noting the recent spike in Florida coronavirus cases. Despite living in University of Miami housing, “I wasn’t really seeing people in the other apartments. One of my suitemates stayed [on campus] because she worked security, but I would hardly see her. She would be working so much.”

Henry once thought she would appreciate remote learning. She does not. “I definitely miss that social aspect. There’s just some classes that work better in person.”

Morillo agrees. Though he appreciates Harvard’s mandatory pass/fail policy to mitigate the consequences of a “rough transition,” Morillo is now worried about how his transcript will affect his graduate school applications. “Not all schools did that,” he said.
“It’s going to weigh in in the future.” Graduating college on time is an integral component of that future, especially when low-income students are more likely to leave college regardless of a global pandemic.

M, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at Arizona State University, is an undocumented immigrant. Despite living so close to campus that she commutes there, her undocumented status would force her to pay out-of-state tuition if she was without a full-ride scholarship.

M can’t imagine taking a gap year, never mind the thought of leaving school entirely. “My scholarships are also strictly for four years. I know I talked about it with my friends,” she said. “For them [taking a semester off] was an option, but, for me, because
of my scholarship, it wasn’t really an option.”

But while the coronavirus has upended higher education, especially for low-income students, there are some upsides to studying during a pandemic.

“Doing school right now is difficult, but it’s keeping me busy,” said Vazquez. “It’s given me something else to think about other than everything else going on in the world, and I very much need a distraction.”

 

Eviction Lab Aims To Help Renters

By Isaac Monks

Tahlequah, OK

One day in March 2016, V arrived home to see an eviction notice on the doorstep of her
apartment in New Jersey. She frantically threw her personal belongings in bags to take with her. While collecting her belongings, she heard a faint police siren on its way to lock her out of the home she’d centered her life around.

This was not the first time V had been evicted. In 2011, V lived with her now-husband and friends in New York during her sophomore year in college. She came home from long school days and worked to make ends meet. V felt successful. But her suitemates struggled to pay rent and fell behind. Months later, V’s suitemates told her they had to move out that night. Feeling distraught, V and her boyfriend quickly packed up their items.

V saw this as a minor setback, but her second encounter with eviction in 2016 would make it much harder for her to find shelter. She was living in an apartment with her
husband and child. “I was working in a temp job, and I wound up losing the job,” she said.

This time, unlike in 2011, her name was on the lease, and she was liable for late payments. V quickly threw her family’s belongings on the street, losing all her furniture, most of her family’s clothes, and countless irreplaceable photos.

With V’s new tarnished housing record, her family house-jumped between friends and family for months, because they were unable to find stable housing as a result of her bad record. V was blacklisted by landlords in the Trenton suburbs, making her family move to inner-city Trenton. “The apartments kept getting worse and worse,” V recalls, describing how the spaces her family lived in got smaller as they were pushed into less safe neighborhoods.

After almost a year, V was able to secure an office job with the county welfare agency. Having a regular paycheck allowed her to rent an apartment in inner-city Trenton. Still, she says the two evictions shaped her in permanent ways. “It made me more motivated to find gainful employment,” she says. “Before, we could stay on a friend’s pullout couch … I have children now, and where would we go, if I don’t have a home?”

Not every eviction has to be a punishing cycle like V’s. Princeton’s Eviction Lab team has been collecting data on eviction and its causes to better understand what policies can prevent evictions and help people escape the trap of homelessness and poverty. They have found that an increase in filing fees for landlords would decrease the number of evictions they set in motion.

The researchers also suggest that tenants should have a right to counsel. “In zip codes where this policy was enacted, we saw a dramatic decline in evictions,” said Joe Fish, a research specialist for the Eviction Lab. “A right to counsel levels the playing field and gives tenants a fighting chance.” Rent control and housing vouchers can also help, Fish added.

The Eviction Lab reports that the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and more Americans are being evicted than ever before, trapping people like V in an endless cycle. But while V may have been a victim of eviction, she remains hopeful for her family’s future in their new Trenton apartment.

Asian Discrimination Hits New Peaks In Pandemic Era

By Aigner Settles

Pennsauken, N.J.

It was an early June morning when Nicholas Wu, 24, decided to go for a casual jog in
Washington D.C. Wu had been jogging by himself with his headphones, when he was suddenly disrupted by an older Caucasian woman screaming at him to stay away.

He had not approached the woman, nor had he been any closer than six feet because of social distancing, but the woman continued to shout until he had passed her.

Moments later, another jogger passed the same woman, but came in closer distance than
Wu had. However, the woman seemed to not give the jogger a second thought. The only visible difference between Wu and the second jogger were that he was Asian, while the other person was white.

“I decided not to engage and kept going. I stopped a little bit further down to catch my breath, looked back and saw a white woman pass within two feet of this person and there was no reaction,” he recalled.

Since the nation’s shutdown in early March to slow the spread of COVID-19, Asian Americans have faced an increase in discrimination. The virus originated in Wuhan, China, and much of the recent racism comes as a result of people blaming Asians for the spread of the coronavirus.

As of July, nearly 40 percent of Asian Americans have reported negative experiences because of their race over the course of the pandemic, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Within a month of the pandemic’s sweep across the nation, the Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate Reporting Center collected more than 1,500 reports of racially charged violence against Asian Americans, though there are likely many more cases.

“Because there’s been such underreporting of hate-related incidents, the data is dodgy,” said Wu, a Chinese-American reporter for USA Today. “We know this is happening, but the magnitude is tricky to measure.” Wu describes the surge in these instances as “concerning, annoying, and saddening in many ways.”

Many attribute the rise in discrimination to President Trump, who has publicly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” multiple times. He’s since stated that the alternative names for coronavirus were meant to reference where the virus originated, rather than the people themselves. However, the phrases have already proved to be problematic for the Asian community as a whole.

“The disease itself doesn’t discriminate, but people often do, and the fact that our nation-
al leader is coming on T.V., on the media and saying that has ripple effects,” said Audrey Pan, an organizer for Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories On the East
Coast (RAISE), a youth group that advocates for undocumented Asian immigrants.

“A lot of people might think that it’s okay to say, but those racist remarks have real physical implications for people. People have been beaten up, people have been kicked out of stores, not let into public places because of this type of language,” she added.

Mos Neammanee, 22, a member of RAISE, has been a victim of anti-Asian discrimination as well. “In person, I’ve experienced [it] mainly when I commute to school,” he said. “A lot of people, I’ve noticed when the pandemic hit, tried to avoid me … I still remember this one guy said, ‘Why are they letting these people into the country?’”

Asian American organizations have launched campaigns to bring attention to the growing harassment, including the NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus’s “I Am Not a Virus” campaign and the IW Group’s #WashtheHate hashtag. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng
from New York’s 6th District introduced legislation to combat discrimination amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Though instances of blatant racism towards Asian Americans have increased since the beginning of the pandemic, they are not new to American history.

“COVID has acted as an accelerant on existing inequities in American life,” said Wu. “Asian Americans simply seem to be a part of that.”

Pandemic Boosts Pet Adoptions

Credit_ Laura Wagner image7Jake, a Jindo terrier mix, has been treated to longer walks with his owner, Laura Wagner, during the pandemic. (Photo by Laura Wagner)

By Chastina Simmons and Sarah Furtado

Stone Mountain, Ga. and Vero Beach, Fla.

The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has hit everyone like a truck. Health scares, quarantines, and school closings are changing the lives of millions of humans. But there is another, less-talked about population that’s also being affected: pets.

Right now, because of quarantine, many people are stuck at home with more free time than we used to have. Many are filling this void by adopting pets.

“They’re flying out the doors, not in,” said Jill Van Tuyl, the director of shelter operations at SAVE, a shelter for homeless dogs and cats in Skillman, New Jersey. From her experience, she noted that more people are considering adopting cats and dogs during the pandemic.

“Because of COVID and so many adoptions, right now, a good portion of my day is dedicated to scheduling transports to bring animals in and also reviewing adoption applications for potential adopters,” Van Tuyl said. Both sides benefit: The new owners get an addition to the family, and these animals get a start to a new, and most likely better, life.

Credit_ @furio_gram on Insta 1

Furio, a Shiba Inu mix, lives with Kate Knibbs in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo by Kate Knibbs)

Laura Wagner and Kate Knibbs of Brooklyn, New York, have recently adopted puppies during this pandemic. However, the process of adopting their pets wasn’t easy. According to Wagner, “because everyone was trying to adopt dogs during quarantine, it was really difficult to get a dog or even get an interview with the various different rescues in Brooklyn.”

Although the adoption process was lengthy, both owners thought the pets were worth it.

In addition to offering companionship, Wagner said that having a dog helped her physical health. Every morning, Wagner takes her Jindo terrier mix, Jake, for a long walk.

“I went from averaging 700 steps a day to averaging 15,000 steps a day,” she said. “Your physical health is tied to your mental health, so definitely being more active is good.” She also noted that just cuddling with her dog during her breaks helped lift her mood.

Knibbs’ Shiba Inu mix, Furio, also keeps her spirits lifted despite demanding quite a bit of work. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to stay in bed when there’s this incredibly cute creature who needs your attention,” she said.

Cute creatures don’t just include dogs.

Credit_ @freddieyourbeardie on Insta

Zimmerman’s bearded dragon, Freddie, sunbathing. (Photo by Kier Zimmerman)

During these long, lonely months of quarantine, Kier Zimmerman was thankful to have a new bearded dragon lizard as a friend. “They like to be cuddled, they like to hang out. They’re very social, and they’re very easy,” said Zimmerman, a recent Harvard graduate cooped up at their parents’ home in Minnesota.

Their lizard, Freddie, has a compact build, a sand-colored complexion, and an apparent love of the TV show “American Horror Story.” “He will fall asleep on me or in my hand a lot, which is very cute,” Zimmerman said. “And he nuzzles into the corner of my hand and tries to bury himself in there.”

In a world in turmoil, these pets offer refuge to their owners. That’s apparent watching Zimmerman and Freddie. Zimmerman cradled their bearded dragon and reassured him: “Calm down. It’s OK.”

As Pandemic Threatens Pocketbooks, Black Activists Promote ‘Mutual Aid’

JGordon-Nembhard2018

Jessica Gordon Nembhard

By Daniel Sanchez

Boca Raton, Fla.

A natural opening for this story might have been focused on an individual, a relatable human being who was assisted by a mutual aid fund. But focusing on just one person would defeat the purpose of looking at a cooperative economic initiative.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, an economics professor at John Jay College specializing in community-based approaches to justice, views mutual aid funds as precursors to cooperative economic systems. The difference? Mutual aid funds have been practiced by “every population in the world … continuously,” she said.

Nembhard describes mutual aid funds as informal collections of money that are distributed to the community based on need. Each member of the group contributes through dues, with people designated to oversee the fund. They are usually specialized for specific circumstances, such as to pay health care bills or to plan funerals. The story of these grassroots programs spans generations, and continues to subvert traditional economic norms to provide opportunities to members of historically disenfranchised groups.

Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party developed social programs like the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which gave free breakfast to tens of thousands of children in underserved communities. They also had cooperative housing for the homeless in the surrounding communities of local chapters. Nembhard said there are not many historical examples of large organizations like the Black Panthers using “humane economics.”

A major reason why, according to Nembhard, is because productivity threatens the system. “If we show this system works well, why would you want to exist in a capitalist society?” Nembhard asked.

Now, young Black activists are picking up the gauntlet thrown down by their predecessors.

Red curtains framed the lightning bolts hitting New York as Tropical Storm Isaias passed the Northeast coast. Diligently answering questions while glancing at hurricane warnings on their phone, Asanni Armon explained their passion for assisting the LGBTQ+ and Black communities.

A 2017 Princeton graduate, Armon founded the organization For The Gworls, which raises money for Black trans people for rent and gender-affirmation surgeries. Their method for fundraising is throwing rent parties that generate revenue. In this sense, For The Gworls is a textbook mutual aid fund, one that focuses on a specific problem faced by minority residents in New York. Armon receives applications for aid and accepts everyone who fits within the scope of the organization.

However, Armon is adamant about preserving solidarity within the organization, a guiding principle which differentiates it from the non- profit industrial complex. “I don’t want to play into that,” Armon said, referencing non-profit organizations that attempt to ensure the fiscal responsibility of those to whom they provide funding. Instead, they trust the word of those who apply for assistance. Armon’s goal is to grow For The Gworls, but only in a sustainable way that ensures a community, people-centered approach.

With a pandemic and protests for racial equality raging throughout the United States, many people view mutual aid funds as a way to contribute to improving their community. “We got this boost [in fun- draising] in June,” Armon said, when protests and recent killings of Black Americans pressured many to consider their values. Now they hope the donations will continue throughout the year, as racism is an ongoing, systemic issue.

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forthegworls

Asanni Armon (L.) founded a mutual aid group that provides financial assistance for rent and gender-affirming surgery.

By Abednego Togas

Silver Spring, MD.

Asanni Armon did not know what to do when their two friends were facing eviction in late June 2019. With roommates of their own, Armon had no room to house additional people, so in an effort to help their struggling friends, they devised a collective way to provide immediate assistance.

Pooling resources, Armon put together a 4th of July party that required a fee of five dollars to enter. The money would then go directly to Armon’s friends, all of whom are Black and transgender. “The rest was history,” Armon said.

Armon’s strategy of hosting New York City ‘rent parties’ to raise funds to put directly into struggling Black trans people’s pockets continued to take place well after their July 4th occasion. Armon’s initial party led to the creation of the For the Gworls fund, an assistance program that fundraises money for rent and gender- affirming surgery.

For the Gworls is an example of mutual aid funding, a method of collectively raising money or pooling resources for the benefit of a community. Mutual aid funds are often relief efforts that take place after a sudden natural disaster, and focus on collecting resources such as water after an earthquake or masks during a pandemic.

Mutual aid has been predominantly used by marginalized groups to address and alleviate ongoing social needs. The Black Panther Party’s Survival Programs, for example, provided services such as free breakfast for children, and funded community health clinics to combat socioeconomic disparities in the Black community.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, professor at John Jay College, specializes in community economics and says that collective efforts like For the Gworls often come about from mainstream society’s neglect of marginalized groups. “The reason why most people start cooperatives … is because whatever was the norm, the mainstream, wasn’t doing what was needed,” Nembhard said.

A r m o n founded the For the Gworls mutual aid fund after facing discrimination in the workplace because, to their knowledge, there was no sustainable form of assistance for Black trans people. “When I started this last year, there was nobody else in New York doing this work,” Armon said. “People had been crowdfunding for individuals… but it was never a sustained effort.”

Unlike charities, nonprofit organizations, or other forms of assistance, For the Gworls puts money directly into recipients’ pockets with little to no follow-up because their main purpose is to help struggling Black trans people, and not to provide care with strict stipulations. “We should be trying to move away from that and move towards just radically caring about someone,” Armon said.

Mutual aid is also dissimilar from other methods of fundraising due to its collective and collaborative nature, historically forming out of a collective feeling of frustration due to economic discrimination and segregation. “It’s the racism, it’s the economic discrimination … in almost every case African-American people were excluded from something or marginalized by something,” Gordon Nembhard said. “A lot of the housing co-ops started because African-Americans couldn’t get access to housing.”

Instead of operating as a stringent corporation, mutual aid goes against capitalism and involves a community coming together and solving immediate problems to remedy each other’s needs. “Mutual aid to me is, at its core, very anti-capitalist,” Armon said.

The rise of COVID-19 has disrupted the Gworls’ rent parties, but Armon continues to crowdfund on social media, garnering the attention of several mainstream celebrities. COVID-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June have also led to a host of other mutual aid funds being created to address community issues.

But for Armon, the sole existence of mutual aid highlights a society’s failure to provide resources to all of its members. Until Black trans people are provided the same protections and support as others, Armon will continue to run For the Gworls to help their community.

“We are here, helping each other in the ways that we need to help each other, showing up for each other the way that we need to show up for each other,” Armon said.

Is philosophy dead?

Credit K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
K. Mitch Hodge

By Stephanie Garcia

Bronx, N.Y.

It is human nature to question what is around us. In the ancient world, questioning and seeking answers to life’s mysteries was met with mixed opinions. Nonetheless, the contributions of these philosophers are valuable to our contemporary society. They ultimately paved the way for intellectual curiosity.

The question now is whether the study of philosophy is still relevant in our science-based society. Today, philosophy may not be as highly valued as science, but does that mean it should die off?

“It’s still relevant,” said Daniel Dorsey, a philosophy enthusiast from New York City. “But it’s slowly dying because some people aren’t using their brains to question the world around them — something that is necessary for philosophy.” He believes that philosophy is still relevant in our personal lives rather than in society more generally.

Teniesea Russell from New York City is a college advisor who chooses to live by a wide range of her own personal philosophies. Her beliefs regarding the subject differ from Dorsey’s. She believes that she and many others use philosophy on a daily basis and that it cannot easily die off because of its relevance to our lives.

Russell

Teniesea Russell

Russell elaborated: “Some individuals like referring back to historically popular statements conveyed by philosophers concerning morals or virtues such as ‘patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet,’ which derives from a philosophical notion. We still talk about philosophers like Aristotle and sometimes apply their ways of thinking in our society or lives.”

While some people, like Dorsey, argue that philosophy is at risk of dying, there are others who say that it is already dead. In an interview from 2011, Stephen Hawking claimed that philosophy is dead because of its inability to catch up with science, which Hawking called “the torch for discovery.” However, he then went on to say that while philosophy may no longer be able to discover anything new, “it is still relevant in people’s day-to-day lives.”

Hawking’s claims about philosophy’s contemporary significance seem to contradict one another, but they do raise a question: Has science replaced philosophy? Both fields push us to question our world, yet science focuses more on actually finding answers.

Dorsey emphasized that in order to progress, it is important to “question why things exist, like a philosopher, and then find answers to anything and everything that can be answered, much like scientists do.” He concluded, “in order to progress, both must coexist.”

Russell believes in the application of philosophy to science, particularly when developing sentient technologies such as artificial intelligence. “I believe we still need both because they provide different aspects of thinking,” she explained. “By having philosophical thoughts, we can continue to use science to get into the microscopic details surrounding these thoughts, which can pave the way for more scientific achievements.”

It is likely that philosophy will always be a part of society due to our natural curiosity. Science relies on philosophy to provide some of the ethics surrounding our new scientific endeavors and it is likely that philosophy will transcend into a new field of study: one vital to the ethics behind scientific progression and societal life. As long as these questions are asked and explored, philosophy may never truly die.

‘Old Guard’ Has Little New To Show

Untitled drawing (1)Maggie Salinas

By Tara Monastesse

Warwick, R.I.

Andromache, or Andy, played by Charlize Theron, is the battle-hardened leader of a group of immortal warriors who serve as de facto protectors of the planet. In “The Old Guard,” Andy finds her crew targeted by greedy scientists who plan to kidnap them, extract their biological data, and replicate their powers of regeneration. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film brings impressive choreography and new concepts to the action genre. But it stops just short of transcending it.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with “The Old Guard” is the risks it doesn’t take. While the rogue group of scientists is clearly immoral, the movie never delves into the serious question posed by their attempt to create a drug that extends human life: What do we owe to the rest of humanity? Moral questions like this present themselves throughout the movie, but instead of exploring them further, Prince-Bythewood always swerves back to more traditional fight sequences.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that—after all, who doesn’t love watching Charlize Theron bring a sword to a machine gun fight? For a movie that’s trying to bring new depth to the genre, however, the lack of commitment to challenging storytelling in favor of gunshots and bloodshed feels tiresome. When a new member of the immortals’ group, Nile Freeman, played by KiKi Layne, questions Andy about the lives she takes without hesitation, the film appears to be on the cusp of an engaging conversation about the nature of life and death. Instead, they part ways and return to their action-flick adventures.

The immortals in the film feel almost hollow, as if their centuries of life had no role in shaping the people they’ve become. While Andy has mastered multiple languages and fighting styles over the course of human history, she ultimately presents herself as any other 21st century woman would. This is understandable, since hiding her immortality is easier if she blends in. But Theron doesn’t quite convey the burden you might feel defending humanity over centuries; often, she just looks tired.

However, I enjoyed the dynamic between the immortals, their camaraderie and constant wise-cracks, as well as the compelling romantic relationship between immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Despite its shortcomings, “The Old Guard” is a fun addition to the world’s pandemic playlist. I just wish it were more than that.

Immortals In ‘Old Guard’ Also Show Their Human Side

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By Hana Hammad

Debary, Fla.

The Old Guard” follows a strong female lead, Andy (Charlize Theron), an immortal trying to change the world she’s lived in for eternity. Andy stands at the head of a group of immortal warriors—Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli)—that she discovered and trained over centuries.

One night, the immortals have a collective dream of a female Marine, Nile (KiKi Layne), a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan but mysteriously comes back to life. Andy seeks out the Marine to join her immortal warrior team—but Nile resists, confused about what is happening to her. Having lost her father a few years prior, she’s hesitant to leave her family.

Andy and her immortal warrior team are betrayed by an ex-CIA agent, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who traps them in an evil scientific research lab. The lab captures Nicky and Joe to perform tests on them for medical research. Along the way, a betrayal and plenty of action ensue.

The movie was enjoyable because it didn’t take long for the plot to pick up. The love story between Nicky and Joe was beautiful. Seeing that they had been by each other’s sides for hundreds of years softened the movie’s hard edges.

In many action movies, the theatrical fighting and explosives can be too raw, or even boring. But “The Old Guard” was able to tie in elements of love and action to make the characters seem more human, despite their immortality. Similarly, Andy’s backstory with Quynh—an immortal whose fate is revealed through a series of flashbacks—made me love the movie so much more. The strength of them together in battle scenes fighting side by side was magical.

The only downside to this movie was the predictability of some of the plotlines. The big betrayal of the film is similar to many others, such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Matrix,” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” But overall, “The Old Guard” has to be one of my favorite action movies. I typically don’t care to watch action movies but this one kept me engaged the whole time.