Janet Greene, Historian, Educator

Rachel Benner, Fordham University sophomore, interviewed Janet Greene in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org

In November, I had the opportunity to talk with historian, educator, and activist Janet Wells Greene. She is one of the most interesting and inspiring people I have ever met—to say she is an impressive woman is an understatement. Her mission is to make life better for people, especially the working class and those in poverty. Most recently, she has carried this out by creating The Freedom School, where she worked for ten years before retiring in 2019. The school—less like a building and more like a movement—was built on her educational philosophy and her own life experiences.

Her work is centered around education. Influenced by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, Janet’s philosophy is that education should be for community empowerment. People should understand the story of their lives and study their neighborhoods. Janet emphasized that “we need to understand what came before us, and we need to learn from the past.” In 2009, she and her husband moved from Brooklyn to Newark, Ohio, a town made up of factories and working people. From talking and observing, she learned that the population was suffering, and they tended to blame themselves or each other for what was happening. She knew the blame should instead fall on those in power and organizations just looking to make a profit at their workers’ expense. Nobody was listening to the people of the town. In response, she and her husband founded The Freedom School in Licking County with the help of other groups committed to making a change. In an article about the school, she wrote, “We want to provide opportunities for education to expose and eliminate the conditions that caused people to be unemployed, poor, and uneducated.”

Life experiences of her own led her to this work. Janet has three master’s degrees in English, Library Science, and History, and has a Ph.D. in American History. Even with these degrees, much of her work has been funded by grants, making it temporary. The search for jobs has forced her to live in 10 states throughout her life. Her first move, from West Virginia to Tennessee, was at the age of ten when they closed the coal mines her father worked at. Janet can relate to the struggles of the working class because she is a part of the working class. There were times she had little money because it had to go towards necessities or medical costs, so she understands the burdens that the people in Newark carried.

Her challenges have shaped her beliefs about poverty. Janet attributes poverty to people not getting paid liveable wages and not having enough money because of uncontrollable outside factors. “If you go to a food pantry and talk to the people about why they’re there, half will tell you that they are there because they had cancer, and the other half will tell you it’s because their job disappeared,” she said. She acknowledges that people can become poor in an instant and the absurdity and injustice in that. In 1997, before her move to New York, Janet started a food pantry in Ohio. When she returned years later, she found that the people getting food were treated as if they had no rights. They were only allowed a limited amount of food (depending on how many social security numbers they presented) and could only come once a month. She was horrified but was able to partially change the practice. This is an example she shared to illustrate the importance of learning about your community and how it operates. With this knowledge, people can “uncover the power relationships in their society” and strive to break free.

Another objective of The Freedom School comes from what Janet learned in her years spent in academia. She observed that oftentimes the purpose of education is to learn how to participate in academic conversations and share your research. But, she realized that nobody was talking to the people that lived through the history and issues they studied. A main goal of The Freedom School is to listen to and learn from people and create plans for change together from there. She also identified a big concern with current education: inaccessibility. Because individuals have to pay to learn, many people that work or cannot afford college lose the opportunity for education. Additionally, the books she read for research were dense and difficult to understand; she wants books with the same material formatted in an easier way to understand. The Freedom School intended to make education accessible to anyone willing to learn about their communities and how they are being stripped of their power. “We need to make sure the people in the present can understand what is being said without having to spend their whole lives studying so they can understand the conversation,” she explained.

In its entirety, the goal of Janet’s work and The Freedom School is to open the conversation to people struggling, listen to their concerns, and to train new leadership and work to solve them. Janet has learned that their problems and needs are different from what people studying from afar claim. Her mission was to notice these people and care for them, unlike those in power. The hope is that they stop misdirecting their blame to themselves. She says this process is difficult and long but well worth it. Janet Greene and her school is a catalyst for this change. “I want to be the crack in the ivory tower…the place where all the information gets out,” she expressed. “I want to tear down the wall.”

Robin Holder, Artist

Jillian Elba, Fordham University sophomore, interviewed artist activist Robin Holder in fall 2020
for Labor Arts.org

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Robin Holder, a multi-ethnic and bi-racial female artist based in Northern New Jersey. Her art explores a variety of topics such as: the complexities of the human identity (something that she can relate to and has to live with most days as a mixed woman in America) and the larger social issues that work to exclude and oppress those already vulnerable. Her art works as a form of activism, as it forces the audience to consider deeper and institutionalized issues of class, race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status, etc. and to consider their own role in either perpetuating or preventing it. Robin confronts the audience and forces them to ask themselves these questions by portraying her own personal experiences or events that affect her or people in her community. Despite the fact that this may make audiences uncomfortable, Robin only wishes for people to be “comfortable and open” towards her and her art, which she demonstrated to me when she asked me if there was anything I disliked or “found disturbing” about her art.

The series of hers that we discussed most in depth was “What’s Black and White and Red All Over? An African American Russian Jewish Red Diaper Baby”. She described her desire to create this series due to the fact that she wanted to track her development as a young girl and how she became aware of her identity. She specifically wanted to consider “the incidents and interactions that indicated what my gender, racial, political and class identity was”. To achieve this, Robin even re-read books that she loved in the past to return to her past thoughts and considerations.

This autobiographical desire is also rooted in her identity as a multi-ethnic, bi-racial woman who was raised in an intellectual family, as she claims another reason she was so drawn to creating this series was, “to discover for myself how is it that I become aware of who I am and how do I utilize the different aspects of my identity and how do I break out of the confines of aspects”. In regards as to who she wanted the audience for this series to be, she said “everybody and anybody”, for she “wanted to spark conversation about these specific events that happened or how these affected people or what they were doing or thinking or feeling during these things that happened and also for younger people to think about and consider and reflect upon how we develop as young people”.

Robin places an emphasis on one’s childhood, for she views this period (specifically from ages 6-16) as the period when one becomes aware of who they are in the world. This development of discovery was something extremely apparent in Robin’s life as she claims that “I was always the only one”. Whether this is in regards to her being “Jewish or dark-skinned or young or a girl”, almost every part of her identity was something that differentiated her from everyone else. Because of this, Robin says that she “didn’t do anything that was expected of me the way that it was expected”.

A particular moment where this was illustrated appears in her piece “half and half” which appears in her series discussed above. This art piece displays three panels, with a younger Robin shown in the middle and two silhouettes of little girls on the outer panels. In the silhouettes of these little girls lies large metal chains which take over the entirety of their bodies. Under the younger Robin in the middle are words which describe the event portrayed in the art. To see this piece and Robin’s other work, just click here.

With “half and half”, Robin discusses an interaction she had with her friend Elsbeth. During a normal day, Robin was spending time with her friend Elsbeth who lived in her neighborhood. As normal kids, they were simply talking when Elsbeth told Robin that her family ate snake meat and then asked Robin if she wanted to see it. Robin, as any child would, agreed. Robin described the walk over as not specifically abnormal until, “just before we started to go up the stoop, she remembered like in a quick instant, she said ‘oh, my dad doesn’t allow n****rs in the house’ ”. Elsbeth further expressed her confusion in whether or not Robin could come into her house and told Robin, “but you’re half-and-half, so I’m not sure”. Robin responded to this by claiming that half-and-half was something that her mother put in her coffee, not a description of who Robin was.

Robin describes this incident as displaying “two girls who are friends and who want to do what they want to do”, yet are still confined by “remembering the rules and guidelines that their parents gave them” to justify their desires and thoughts. Through this piece, Robin wanted to address our “internal dialogue”. The internal dialogue of the two girls is portrayed by the chains in the silhouettes of the girls (as described above). Robin explained internal dialogue as “a private, personal conversation that’s constantly going on in your head where you are evaluating, interpreting and reflecting on what’s happening”. This occurs when we engage with other people or in activities and Robin wants to emphasize its importance, for she believes that “that life of that internal dialogue is really what informs people and what motivates them to move forward in society”.

This incident and art work also describe the presence of ignorant or naive people in our lives. After going to Elsbeth’s house, all Robin could think about were slaves and Elsbeth’s father and his understanding of black people. The internal dialogue mentioned above actively works when being around ignorant people, as Robin explained that she has “a constant negotiation or navigation with them”, where she is unsure of what to reveal about herself or whether she should comment on something the person said.

Despite the difficulty and discomfort that can occur when being around people we may deem ignorant, Robin believes that one of the most important lessons she ever learnt was when she was in fourth grade and her fourth grade self realized that “most adults were stupid or ignorant or not able to answer my questions, but that I could like them anyways”. This “revelation” came to her when she went to give her favorite teacher her favorite flower (dandelions) and her teacher “drew back” and told her “oh Robin, those are weeds”. Robin described herself as being extremely upset by this incident and believing that her teacher thought her “dandelions were untouchables” (in reference to the Indian caste system).

Robin, however, found that this teacher was still her favorite teacher and that she could still in fact like her. Robin describes this incident and lesson as still impacting her as she told me, “to this day there’s people that I like that I think are really ignorant or inept or unskilled, but it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying or appreciating them”. She believes that this lesson is “valuable” and that if more people learnt this, then we would all be more empathetic and compassionate.

While Robin’s life has often been made more difficult due to her identity, she continues to create change and inspire others to do the same whilst passing on her knowledge and stories to whoever is fortunate enough to meet her or witness her art.

David Nocenti, Union Settlement

Ryan Gregware, Fordham University sophomore, interviewed David Nocenti in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org

A few weeks ago David Nocenti was gracious enough to chat with me on the phone. David previously worked as a lawyer and now spends his time as the Executive Director of the Union Settlement in East Harlem. This organization has been around since 1895 as its primary job is to help the community of East Harlem. What I found most interesting about this organization is that they do not have one primary method of helping the people. They understand that each individual has a different situation and needs to be helped in different ways. Typically, there’s a sentiment about throwing money at problems but the Union Settlement truly is dedicated to providing the low-income residents with the skills and opportunities to succeed and build better lives.

Some of the different ways they provide this include; Education/adult education, summer programs, job training, English classes, mental health classes, and all social services that advocate for social justice. The community also opened a food pantry during the ongoing endemic to help feed the community.

Union Settlement is also one of the leading organizations working to reform NYPD practices. David wanted to be a lawyer because he wanted to make a change and understands the way to do that is through the law. He uses his background in law to talk to city councils and try to enact change through legislation to make the NYPD a better department for themselves and the community.

However, Union Settlement alone can not do their job to the best of their ability without help from the government. The main challenges David has had to overcome have involved getting the government to understand and recognize the deep needs of low-income communities.

Through this experience, David told me he has gained a deeper knowledge of the needs of low-income communities as well as an appreciation for the hardships that many families in east Harlem have to go through. He talked about how it doesn’t matter if you’re 70 or in college, you can make a change. He said there is no one answer for how to make a change, but if you give your time and relate you’re giving to your passions in life it will be beneficial to everyone.

Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, Philanthropist

Hannah Adams, Fordham University biology major, interviewed philanthropist Gladys Miller-Rosenstein in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org

Gladys Miller-Rosenstein is an exceptional woman. In between her busy schedule, this week she was gracious enough to take a few moments with me to reflect on her time spent developing the Puffin Foundation. The foundation was started in 1983 by Perry Rosenstein, the late husband of Gladys. While it has grown significantly over the years, the foundation remains true to its mission: “to join with other concerned groups and individuals to ensure that the arts not merely survive, but flourish at all levels of our society”.

After retiring from teaching first grade for twenty-five years, Gladys joined the Puffin Foundation full time working heavily to develop the foundation’s grant program. Each year the foundation funds artists and art organizations who would be otherwise unable to receive grants. When reflecting on the foundation’s early years, I asked Gladys about how the grant process began. She explained that in the first year, she and Perry put advertisements for grants in the local paper with social issues they were interested in. During this first year, 18 grants were provided. Nowadays, hundreds of artists are provided grants yearly ultimately “giving people who have important things to say an opportunity to say them” as Gladys explained.

In addition to her work developing the grant program, Gladys helped establish the Puffin Cultural Forum and serves as its executive director. The forum is a gallery and performance space where art shows, musical performances, film screenings, interviews, and discussions on  social issues/movements for all ages can occur. During our conversation, I asked Gladys if she was an artist herself. While she said no, she explained that the focus on arts was largely driven by Perry who believed that art speaks to people and through art we reach people with important themes. In addition to providing grants and hosting events at the cultural forum, Gladys explained that the foundation also works to support the arts in education. Having been involved in school band programs beginning in fourth grade and continuing until college, I was so grateful to hear how the foundation is supporting access to arts in education.

As I mentioned earlier, Gladys taught first-grade for twenty-five years prior to working full time at the Puffin foundation. When asked about her experiences teaching, she exclaimed with such joy “the first-graders are magical. It is like working with a beautiful bud opening up”. Given that Gladys was a teacher for so long, I was curious to learn how her experiences have impacted her work with the Puffin Foundation. She explained that it opened up other avenues for the foundation to work with. She brought a different view to the foundation which has allowed for the development of after-school programs like Superstrides and activities including bird watching, hiking, and photography at the Teaneck Conservancy.

Ultimately, Gladys’s work for the Puffin Foundation has enabled it to become what it is today. When meeting with her, her passion for the organization and the people it serves is so clearly evident. In regard to the future of the foundation, she hopes that it will continue to  expand its services, enlarging the programs at the forum and parks like the Teaneck Conservancy. She mentioned that the concerns regarding conservation/environmental practices, labor issues, art, and the economy are significant in today’s society and can be expressed through art so long as people have the access to do so. Overall, Gladys is a remarkable woman whose commitment to the mission of the Puffin Foundation is inspiring and makes me hopeful for a future where outlets such as the Cultural Forum and the Teaneck Conservancy will exist throughout the country.

Lynne Elizabeth, New Village Press

Jillian Elba, Fordham University sophomore interviewed publisher Lynne Elizabeth in fall, 2020 for LaborArts.org

If my conversation with Lynne Elizabeth could be summed up into one life lesson, it would be the power that storytelling holds.

Lynne Elizabeth is the founder of the New Village Press, a book publishing company, so a large part of her life revolves around the art of storytelling. The New Village Press differs from a normal book publishing press due to its emphasis on community. Lynne described her desire to found the New Village Press due to her interest in the “revitalization of distressed communities”. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the press focuses on both the stories of these ignored communities and solutions to social justice issues that are unfortunately extremely prevalent in these communities. Lynne Elizabeth finds these community stories so important due to the fact that she believes that much can be learned from the history of “distressed” communities, mostly the fact that anyone could create more empathy and understanding for those different from them simply by paying attention to and hearing these stories.

To further differentiate Lynne Elizabeth and the New Village Press, even the way that the press creates these stories is distinctive. To begin, Lynne Elizabeth does not simply look for community stories that only focus on the negative aspects. Rather, she strives to publish stories that portray all aspects of the community, with a special emphasis on the joy and positivity in these communities that are hidden from the public eye or outsiders. In addition, the New Village Press does not view all “distressed” communities as the same, but instead recognizes the individuality and uniqueness that each one holds. With this in mind, when publishing stories that reflect on the social justice issues that affect the communities and the inhabitants, the New Village Press does not create “polemic” works that “just focus on the problem” at hand. Instead, the New Village Press avoids “cookie cutter models” and provides “what can be done” through its incorporation of solutions that have been useful and successful in these specific communities.

The main focus of the New Village Press books that describe the “revitalization” of communities emphasize cultural expression, more specifically art. Lynne Elizabeth describes cultural expression as “nourishing to the whole being” and all throughout our conversation, it was extremely obvious that Lynne Elizabeth cherishes art and truly understands and advocates for its power. One way that Lynne Elizabeth demonstrated this passion of hers was through her storytelling of an artist named Lily Yeh. In one instance, Lynne described to me how Lily Yeh, with the help of middle school students, transformed an abandoned factory in Beijing into a “beautiful” school campus for children of migrant workers where art is emphasized. This story entirely epitomizes the beliefs of Lynne Elizabeth and the New Village Press, for it tells of the impact that art can have on the community and how art encourages community engagement and orchestrates community change and empowerment.

The main takeaway that Lynne Elizabeth wishes for her readers to receive from her books is the ability for connection and empathy. Lynne founded the New Village Press because she wanted to share stories she found inspiring. She hopes that readers find her stories as inspiring as she has and that they are “transformative”. Lynne wishes for a connection with the authors and that readers are able to “think about things differently, see other people’s lives, be more compassionate and empathetic” and “see possibilities” from reading her books. Overall, Lynne wants her books to teach all of us the importance we must place on the stories of others and in the recognition of those different from us as humans.

Lynne Elizabeth is an incredible woman who has dedicated her life to story-telling in hopes that she will provide solutions and inspire others. She allows people who are forgotten and often silenced to speak about themselves and share their valuable stories with us. To conclude with the amazing and inspiring words from Lynne Elizabeth herself: There’s so much we can do (to build better communities around us). If I had to distill it, I would say is to open our hearts. Be open hearted. When I feel that our country loses that, loses its empathy, loses its ability to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes, that’s when we get into trouble.

Sonia Goldstein, Righting Wrongs

Rachel Benner, sophmore at Fordham University, interviewed longtime activist Sonia Goldstein in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org

Last week, I had the privilege of talking with Sonia Goldstein and hearing her brilliant life story. Sonia is a lifelong activist who has dedicated her time to righting social issues. She was raised in Washington, D.C., by her parents, both Russian immigrants. Growing up during World War II, she became a global thinker at a young age. It was her parents’ devotion to caring for others that first sparked her passion for activism.

As a young adult and married to a WWII veteran, Sonia’s first social fight was to desegregate D.C. In the late 1940s, she marched to desegregate her local pool where only white people were allowed. During the demonstration, people built a burning cross in front of her. Despite this threat—and an encounter with the police—her community was able to secure everyone’s access to the pool. (You can read more about Sonia’s police encounter during an integrated party here.)

One of the most striking things Sonia shared was that she has attended hundreds of marches and protests. This is where she felt most “full,” being surrounded by like-minded people to remind her that she was not alone. Just as her parents did when she was a child, Sonia and her husband passed their activist spirits to their children. Feeling as though they did not understand what real life was like, she took her two oldest children to the 1968 March on Washington where they heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. A defining moment for Sonia was bringing her kids to the Washington Monument and telling them, “Look in all directions; everybody here agrees with us. We all think alike.”

Sonia practiced what she preached, spending her time helping others. Living in a Bronx co-op, she held youth groups and taught young people their rights. She assisted with local elections in New York doing whatever jobs were necessary. When she moved to Long Island in 1953, she helped build schools and worked with children who were handicapped. Her most significant impact in the community was creating the Planview Cooperative Nursery School in 1956, which still exists today. They hired teachers and worked to create a positive environment for children. When asked who helped start it, she responded, “our gang, our people, our friends.”

Hearing Sonia’s stories, it is evident how highly she values community and family: “We took care of each other, in our lives as well as the work we did.” To her, we all have a duty to look after one another.

I cannot overstate how inspiring it was to hear Sonia’s thoughts on the United State’s current situation. Amidst a country tackling political differences, civil rights issues, and a global pandemic, Sonia maintains great hope for the next generation. As a woman who has lived through 92 years of crucial history, she understands that it is a struggle to fight for social justice, but she thinks we are making significant progress. With vigilance and collective support, she believes activists can continue fighting for what is right, just as she has done all her life.

Sonia’s closing words were, “Now is the time! This is the time.”

Ed Murphy, Labor Activist

For LaborArt.org, Jack Craven, Fordham University sophomore, interviewed labor activist Ed Murphy in fall, 2020

This past week, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Ed Murphy, executive director of the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) to talk about his career and the work he’s done with both social justice campaigns and the labor movement. Now, Murphy’s road to co-founding the WDI was by no means a straight cut road. To truly understand how the WDI came to be, I need to take you back to Murphy’s beginnings in 1963 when he was in seminary school.

Early on in life, Ed Murphy had cultivated and developed a passion for social and economic justice which is what prompted him to join the seminary out of high school. Both at the time and when reflecting upon his life, Murphy calls upon his year of silence in the woods as a transformative period where he became acutely aware of what he wanted to do with his life. Completely cut off from the outside world and left alone only with his thoughts, he realized priesthood was not where he could act on his interest and passion of social and economic justice at the level he wanted to. He then left the seminary, and enlisted in the army. It was here where he would soon become an intelligence officer. Murphy was also chosen to go to Vietnamese language school and spent most of his time in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. During his career with the military, Murphy always held an anti war stance and thought the war was “stupid”. These beliefs can be seen in the work he accomplished post Vietnam.

One of these accomplishments was after the war, where Ed Murphy was one of the first people to create and advocate for a program that aided veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Murphy also took advantage of the G.I Bill and returned to college where he engaged in anti war work and studied politics. Building up an impressive resume even before he finished college, Murphy’s passion for politics and social justice also ended up connecting him with his future wife when they were both arrested in Washington D.C for civil disobedience. It was truly a match made in heaven.

Now if I were to write about all the amazing work Ed Murphy has done throughout his career I could most definitely turn this piece into a full fledged book. So skipping ahead in time a little bit to when the WDI was taking its first steps into becoming reality, Murphy was approached by an old friend Denis Hughes who at the time was the President of the New York State AFL-CIO. Familiar with Murphy’s history and abilities, Hughes asked Murphy if he would come work for him at the AFL-CIO and work on a grant with them. It was this crucial connection that eventually led the AFL-CIO to support the creation of the WDI which Murphy would become the executive director of.

The WDI’s main mission is to grow and keep good jobs in New York State. Combining both the social justice and labor reforms ideals, the WDI facilitates projects that build workforce skills and strengthen employers’ ability to hire, promote, and retain workers. The WDI has grown to have over 13 million dollars to fund projects, subsidy programs, and independent publishing.

Ed Murphy is truly one of the most dedicated and accomplished people I have ever met and is still working to guide future generations on paths that will help them accomplish their own goals and achievements just like him. In a graceful display of a balance between work and personal life, Murphy has never lost sight of both the needs of his family and the people he serves and will continue to serve as a model for all future generations of activists.

Linda Aristondo, Restorative Justice

As part a LaborArts.org campaign, Fordham University sophomore Ryan Gregware interviewed restorative justice activist Linda Aristondo in fall, 2020

This past week Linda Aristondo was gracious enough to grant me some time despite her very busy schedule. Linda has been an attorney for several decades but does much more to make a difference. She does restorative justice work which makes her background in law very useful. This involves dismissing cases where people were arrested by the police, typically with prejudice involved. Most of these cases involve young aged black adults who have been arrested for minor possession charges. These individuals are over-policed which has led to many of their arrests.

While being arrested for something as petty as a small possession charge may seem like not a huge deal, it plays a massive role in shaping these people’s lives. An arrest can be made before a conviction as a criminal record eliminates a ton of jobs you are eligible for. Linda explained to me how many job applications will ask whether you have been arrested and not about a conviction. This leaves people with two choices, either lie and if people find out, get fired or tell the truth, and most likely not get the job. What Linda does with these cases is make a decision based on the reality of the perspective and if there are outside factors she will make a motion to dismiss the case.

Aside from her work as an attorney, Linda is involved with many other organizations that strive to help people. This includes the RDJ refugee center. This is a homeless shelter that works with people who are just coming out of detention. While there are many different types of detention the RDJ shelter specializes in people who are coming out of immigration centers. While some while return to their families not everyone has that option. These people have to go somewhere and the RDJ is one of the many shelters that help them find a place to live. The particular work that Linda does is set up asylum claims for people who don’t have one. Asylum claims are for people facing prosecution in other countries, but with the claim are provided internal protection in the United States. Most people at the RDJ are seeking asylums as they have been persecuted for their gender/sexual orientation or from fleeing local gangs. Linda noted that while this is not the last step for these people, there are several success stories within the shelter of people making a life for themselves after they leave.

Linda also sits on the board of an organization that provides shelter for undocumented women and their families. These women are people who have suffered domestic violence and became homeless as a result. Linda said that the organization all speaks Spanish and understands the culture intending to need to protect people from their abusive partners.

Linda was always interested in this type of profession as it directly relates to her. She is a person of color who values social justice and knew she needed to advocate on the behalf of her people. With all the marginalized and disenfranchised people she has helped, she understands the importance of her work. Since she looks like the people she serves, there is a cultural reference and a level of trust between her and the people she tries to help.

Unfortunately throughout her career, Linda has had to overcome a great deal of prejudice. She said that many (white men) in her field will discriminate against her because of her skin color. They see her more as a helper as she typically ignores them and they become embarrassed when they realize how qualified she is.

In the future, Linda hopes to continue her efficacy work but add another level to what she does. The one message she wants people to hear is that you don’t need to be an attorney to help. The best thing you can do is have a good heart and give your time to people in need.

Dr. Cynthia Gomez, Medical Volunteer

Hannah Adams, Fordham University biology major, interviewed Dr. Cynthia Gomez in fall, 2020 as part of Connect ing Activists series at http://www.LaborArts.org

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Cynthia Gomez on a recent Monday evening. After a long but successful day at the practice Dr. Gomez and I met over zoom to discuss her overseas volunteer medical work. Within a few minutes I was captivated by Dr. Gomez’s stories. Throughout our meeting it was as if I was taking a trip alongside her.

We started off discussing her experiences working at a clinic in Nepal. I learned about the kids from the orphanage that the team of doctors treat and how one of the young girls she met while volunteering and proceeded to see on different trips went to school and even became a dentist. She kept every item Dr. Gomez had given her while working at the clinic in a special chest, that she one day revealed to Dr. Gomez.

We then began to discuss her experiences in Africa and the Middle East, Burundi and Jordan, more specifically. Her stories were quite honestly terrifying and heartbreaking to hear. She met a woman in Burundi who had been caught in the war between the Tutsi and Hutu people. She had lost everything. She had been attacked, mutilated, had her family killed, and was in exile from the community. Dr. Gomez told me another woman was crawling into the clinic in Jordan because her hip had been broken in the ongoing conflict. These stories are horrifying and what Dr. Gomez calls the worst part of her volunteer experiences; “people are simply cruel sometimes”. However, this led us to talking about how the best part of these experiences are the people she is able to meet, help, and work alongside.

Towards the end of our interview she told me a story about a girl named Prom. She had been in a family that was struggling to survive. Her family was led by their mother and she had younger siblings to care for as well. One of the youngest boys also had special needs. Dr. Gomez was able to help support the family and was even able to build a chicken coup for the youngest boy. Although family issues arose with the mother, Dr. Gomez was still able to support young Prom. She is now a happy, healthy young girl rocking out the classes at her boarding school!

Throughout all of her stories, Dr. Gomez’s genuine passion for caring for those around her is abundant. The joy that jumps out of her eyes and the smile that crosses her face when talking about caring not only for her patients overseas but for her team and family is radiant. Not only is she a true academic as one of the first doctors to be certified in Periodontic laser surgery and one of NY’s top doctors, but also she is a truly kind individual. As a woman hopeful to work in the medical field, Dr. Gomez is inspiring and someone I am happy to look to as a mentor for getting involved in volunteer medical work one day.

NYC in a Time of Lockdown

By Marivir R. Montebon

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered to close bars and restaurants and reduce their services to takeouts and deliveries, the first to disappear was my favorite halal street food cart. At first, I presumed that my warm, delicious $6 chicken-over-rice would still be accessible on Broadway because it only served the hot meals on-the-go. But I was wrong. When I walked down to the corner before the 96th Street subway station to buy my dinner, the food cart was gone! Since then, I’ve been missing my halal chicken.

I also missed the days when coffee shops and restaurants were open until late. It’s the best place for work colleagues and friends to hang out to unwind or discuss work. For sure, small businesses, which comprise 50% of the business in NYC, have been hardest hit by the lockdown since early March.

Small business owners were first to cheer after a moratorium on eviction of renters who couldn’t pay rent as a result of the recession is being implemented for three months. That moratorium is until June.

So now the city that never sleeps is actually taking intermittent naps. Until when? Maybe until July or August of this year. I don’t want to hurry. I have tried to make complete sense staying at home. It’s not just an eat-sleep-Netflix-repeat kind of life.

I have managed to perk up our virtual chat rooms on Facebook just to be in touch with everyone. Our FilAm Press Club NY has its chat room. My nuclear family has our own, and another one for my huge clan who are scattered in NYC, California, Cebu, Mindanao, and Siquijor. Then there is my high school chatroom and college chat room and a NY girlfriends chat room as well. So far, I have managed to be sane inside the new apartment in Manhattan.

The internet, despite all the many crazy things it has allowed such as the proliferation of fake news, has redeemed itself in the time of coronavirus – by linking people when physicality so prohibits.

On my workstation, which I call my war zone, is a huge picture of beloved daughter Leani Alnica, who passed on to a greater dimension, in November 2019, due to colon cancer. Staring at her picture, from time to time as I write, is actually energizing. Her smile eases my grief, and I think that perhaps, if she’s still around at this time, it would be doubly hard for her and me. I miss her everyday, but thought that God’s time is always perfect, always meaning to make things better for us.

As I write, my aunt is confined at the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens for she tested positive of COVID19. She was rushed to the ER for fever and hard breathing. Being diabetic and elderly, she is a vulnerable case.  Queens has the most number of COVID19 cases in the five boroughs here.

We have gone crazy in checking her out, through our cell phones and chat rooms. So this is how a COVID19 attack looks like: you cannot go with your loved one to the hospital, she is all by herself. You can only hope that she answers her cell phone or the doctor answers your call.

At the time of my aunt’s confinement, her older sister, who’s left at home was also running a fever. And we could not easily get an acetaminophen for that. Amazon had refused to take more orders for that day that I tried to order online. There was chaos and prayers of hope in my clan’s chatroom.

Now my aunt at Elmhurst is responding well to medication. But she is not yet out of the woods. She needs to be tested again if the COVID19 went away. Doctors said she is still contagious and must continue to be isolated. Meanwhile, my other aunt had to continue to hydrate and take immunoboosters big time, to keep the fever at bay.

A disturbing reality these days in NYC is the spate of suicides. This week, two incidents of suicides have been reported in the Upper West Side alone. And the siren of an ambulance that happens too often triggers my worry (I used to be annoyed by sirens in the city).  Another one goes to the ER, I’d reckon and say a prayer.

My thought goes to the thousands of nurses and doctors and staff in the frontlines of this war against an invisible enemy. I am in personal contact with friends and cousins who are nurses and doctors, and indeed could vouch for their alarm on the shortage of PPEs. It is ridiculously true.  The pandemic is not a political concoction of bringing down Pres. Trump, as right-wingers say. Frontliners are dying and they have to be given enough ammunition to fight the virus and save lives. By the end of this contagion, I don’t like to say it, but doctors and nurses may become among the rare species.

New York admittedly had acted late. The US acted late. No wonder it is now horrifyingly the epicenter of this new virus.  Decisive leadership is of the essence. And also, more importantly, community cooperation is needed. People should behave as prescribed – social distancing.

‘Stay at home’ is the rule every person has to follow. It is both simple and difficult, because New Yorkers are used to moving about so much. But this is the simplest contribution each one of us could do to contain the pandemic. Of course, wearing gloves and masks are a must as well.

Government projects that the worst is yet to come in the months of April and May. So, I sigh, God help us. And we have to be responsible too.

On the brighter side, locking down New York means having to keep the house immaculately clean and to change perspectives – that all we need is to be clean, to have only the essentials – food, water, vitamins, and to exercise (thanks to my nieces in Cebu who dance the tick tock like they’re my dance coaches!).

Money may not even be a main worry now, especially if rent and mortgages are suspended further. In New York these days, what matters is a clean home, a kindly relationship, and enough food supply. Hopefully, we all will become better after learning the lessons a virus has taught us.