Communities of Color Are Not Commodities | African Alliance of Rhode Island | Nakeia Medcalf | MDes ’18
The African Alliance of Rhode Island has faced its steep challenges with grace, understanding, patience and sincere care for the community it seeks to serve. The obstacles presented to the African Alliance manifested in the early weeks of my presence there. The first challenge was justifying the significance of educating community members as health educators that serve the community to the Department of Health. Therein was the biggest problem. Why do organizations that seek to propel the community forward have to justify anything to the hierarchical superiors so out of touch with what is going on the ground? This question, and many others is one that has stuck with me for the duration of my time with AARI. That said, the obstacle was and is only a stepping stone to bringing an idea to life.
In order to raise awareness on the importance of blood pressure and hypertension disease within the community of people of African heritage, AARI is hoping to create a program within one of the most common gathering places for people of color– the barbershop. To initiate the program, we met with the DHS to find out where best to employ their resources. Their role as an organization is to aid in preventing disease and promoting health. Like all government institutions, the DHS must work within the boundaries of rules and regulations that limit their outreach capabilities to a certain degree. Rather than dwell on what the Department of Health could not do, we decided to think of ways to exhaust all of the resources they were willing to provide.
The idea to exhaust all of the resources in front of you brought up the discussion around communities of color as commodities who are viewed as experiments for an ideas with little follow through. Though the discussion with DHS proved to be discouraging, we all left the meeting hopeful that the Providence community does not have to be a commodity. Instead, we can be a community that takes the resources available and continues to strive for better. We can take the resources that we have and apply the same strategies to all communities of color.
The barbershop has always been a staple in the African American community. The barbershop is not simply a place to get your haircut—instead it is where your voice is heard, where conversations are started and resolutions are made. It is safe space where friends, family and the neighborhood can gather. The trust the African American community has built around its barbers and the barbershops role in the neighborhood makes it the perfect place to begin the conversation of best health practices around blood pressure and hypertension. Bringing in health practitioners to train barbers and other community members on using blood pressure measurement tools is the goal in growing an understanding to the importance of healthy habits.
As healthcare issues continue to effect the African American community, specifically in the areas of blood pressure and hypertension, the new initiative by the African Alliance will engage the community in an effective way, where they are. And that is exactly what this community needs now.
I had the honor of helping out with and attending DARE’s Annual Juneteenth Celebration. For those who are unfamiliar with the holiday, Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when news of the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation’s declaration reached Galveston, Texas—nearly two-and-a-half years after it was issued by Lincoln.
Community members enjoying the cookout and music.
Sophia kicks off the celebrations.
Drum performances! This little girl was very enthusiastic!
A ceremony for ancestors and those lost.
The celebration itself was a great way for me to meet members of DARE outside of the Tenant Homeowner’s Association meetings and casually get to know peoples’ stories.
Today marks the end of my third week as a design fellow at the Providence Department of Planning and Development. I’ve fully settled in and finished my first couple of projects, so I have some tasty first deliverables and impressions for you!
I started the week before PVDFest 2018, which meant that the Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism (ACT) was in a huge crunch to finish everything for their biggest event of the year. As such, I got to help out in a couple ways for that event. One of my favorite things that I got to do was event photography. Photography has been a passion of mine for several years now, so I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to utilize my skill set. Also, getting to work with ACT was a blast! They are truly a dedicated, experienced, and hilarious team that are exactly the type of people that I was hoping would work in city government.
The size and variety of PVDFest made it an event photographer’s dream
One of biggest takeaways from the event came from the PVDFest Ideas Conference, which kicked off the weekend of festivities. Every panelist was incredible in their own way, but there were a few that stuck out to me. The keynote speaker, Sarah Williams Goldhagen, gave an overview of the findings of her most recent book Welcome to Your World. She has done an incredible job of compiling cognitive psychology and neuroscience research to effectively link the appearance of our built environment (architecture and urban design) with our own thought patterns and mental well-being. I could gush about her findings for the entirety of this post, but instead I’ll just encourage you to look into her work at the link above. In addition to Sarah, I also had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Julia Gold, the Chief of Sustainability, Autonomous Vehicles, and Innovation (or, as Julia calls it, the Chief of New Stuff) at RIDOT, and Dr. Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor/researcher at MIT as well, as a one of the heads of the Design Justice movement. Together, these speakers really helped to affirm the importance of equity through design, and the fundamental framing of design as a public good.
After the craziness of PVDFest, I began to focus in on my work for the Planning department. I’m in the process of creating an education campaign for new traffic control devices (street markings and traffic signals) that are being put in throughout the city. You can see one of my very first drafts of this campaign below. I’ve developed the style and message significantly since this point, but the deliverables are still internal, which means you will just have to stay tuned in coming weeks for the final product!
My main goals here are for it to be eye-catching, readable, and accessible for a variety of road users. I was also curious about how to expand the reach of this campaign beyond the follower base of the city’s social media channels.
One of the biggest pieces of news is that this past weekend we had a truly wonderful demo day for the City Walk project (a walk/bike corridor going through Providence proper and one of my main focuses this summer)! This included a ground mural, the presence of a street team to answer any questions and collect input from community members, and a temporary bike lane that was true to the principles of Tactical Urbanism (a term developed and implemented by The Street Plans Collaborative, one of the major consultants for City Walk). Below you’ll find some photos I took the day of as well as some posters I designed for the event.
It was really inspiring to see the variety of bicyclists and community members that were interested in the project, from street artists to local shopkeepers to kids on bikes riding around their neighborhood.
This style of graphic design was certainly outside of my comfort zone. Really fun to be pushed towards different styles and types of content!
I think the event was really visible and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did community members seem excited and interested in the project, but the murals and commotion had a noticeable traffic calming effect on Broad Street, which is typically quite aggressive towards pedestrians and cyclists. I learned a lot about planning a municipal event. There are a lot of boxes to check if you want to draw and maintain a crowd, such as food, water, bathrooms, music, shade, and of course something to do! However, it’s also important to think about what crowd you are trying to draw. For instance, if we went too far into the party atmosphere, we could have distracted from CityWalk as a project. This event seemed to be less about entertaining a crowd, and more about being visible and transparent to the community. I think I may just be spoiled from PVDFest.
I’m a huge tease, so of course I have saved the best for last. Below you can find a map that I am working on for the Urban Trail Network. The network is a future plan to connect the disparate recreational paths throughout Providence into a dense network that would let any pedestrian or cyclist get to most destinations in Providence safely. I think that if this project were to be implemented quickly and effectively, Providence would have the facilities necessary to begin to transition away from automobility.
My supervisor mentioned that I might get to work on signage and wayfinding for CityWalk and the Urban Trail Network. This is an exciting and intimidating opportunity to have a real impact on the accessibility of some large-scale city projects.
Thanks for reading! Until next time.
/ / micah epstein / /
p.s. here’s a bonus pic of me and my girlfriend at my first ever Pride Parade in Boston!
Hello everyone! I’m a little over week into my position at DARE, and am getting a better understanding of the complexities of all the campaigns they are tackling! As is the case in organizing, some changes have cropped up since I first planned this fellowship.
Originally DARE was approaching rent control through a ballot initiative campaign. However, with some setbacks in getting enough registered signatures in such a short time, strategies had to change. Instead, we’ll be pushing to bring Rent Control to Providence City Council, similar to the path organizers took to pass the Providence Community Safety Act. Plans are in motion to create a housing crisis forum for the new city council candidates, and I’ll be working on materials for collecting community narratives for that event.
I’ll leave y’all with DARE’s Principles of Unity — great words to see when I enter and leave DARE.