If trees could talk, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022
I remember the young girl who leapt across puddles on a rainy day, she climbed trees to pick fresh mulberries, swung on the monkey bars, and jumped over concrete parapets too. As children, our association with the natural environment is a strong one but, how often do we see ourselves interacting with a fresh flower bloom or the whistling leaves as adults? How often have we mindlessly walked along an arid path with a tree stumped down to half? Have we questioned why that tree stands without its supporting limbs; Branches, stems, and leaves?
These conversations I had with myself led me on to explore the relationship between urban forestry and the need for increased public engagement towards land restoration efforts. I started working on Treeggered as part of my graduate studio in the spring of 2021.
Through the Maharam Fellowship, I am collaborating with Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) A Providence-based non-profit organization to expand its presence in the realm of environmental and social justice through increased outreach and community engagement initiatives. My research is focused on understanding how the changing climate exacerbates existing inequities for frontline communities (members of low-income/BIPOC communities) in the state of Rhode Island.
My interest in urban ecology and social justice issues opened my eyes to the warps and wefts of both these topics.
According to American Forests, a national non-profit conservation organization, “trees across the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually.” Conversely, places that lack tree canopy also tend to be the poorest, the hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, and the most urbanized, making tree access a social justice one as well. 1
A recent article I read states that in 92% of the urbanized areas surveyed, low-income blocks had less tree cover than high-income blocks. On average, low-income blocks had 15.2% less tree cover and were 1.5⁰C hotter than high-income blocks. 2
I spent the first few weeks of my fellowship creating a network of stakeholders I could interact with in order to gain on the ground information about tree canopy and the tree equity score. For everybody new to this, as was I until a few weeks ago, a tree equity score is a tool that analyzes map data across different neighborhoods including information on existing tree canopy, population density, income, employment, surface temperature, race, age, and health. “These metrics are combined into a single score between 0 and 100. A score of 100 means that a neighborhood has achieved Tree Equity.” 3
Over the next few weeks I will be working closely with the Washington Park Neighborhood Association and local Providence tree planting organizations to investigate the factors that contribute to low tree canopy scores and their correlation to historic redlining, systemic racism and governance. I will be using a two pronged approach to the movement through my skills in art, design and systems thinking. The first, to raise awareness amongst the communities who are directly impacted by low tree canopy. The second to enable them to find a voice in the dialogue surrounding climate change and its impact on health, wellbeing and other environmental issues.
More on the how in my next blog. Until then, I am leaving you with a link to the Climate Justice Plan drafted by the City of Providence. Might I also recommend the book ‘Rising’ by Elizabeth Rush, a memoir about climate change traversing through different cities in the United States.
The ice cream cart within First-Gen Chisme plays an important symbol that inspires the work that I do to support First-Generation students. The paletero (ice cream man) always drew the attention within my community with ringing the bells on the ice cream cart. All the kids always ran to the ice cream cart waiting to purchase cold sweets on a hot summer day in Kansas City. This inspired me to merge my cultural background with educational resources to help grab the attention of upcoming students interested in pursuing post-secondary education. This is how First-Gen Chisme was born. I purchased a candy cart on Etsy and spray painted it to match the First-Gen Chisme color branding. I then organized folders and pencil pouches to hand out in various community events. Building the cart to hand out supplies is a poetic act that brings the attention of the youth and excites them for what First-Gen Chisme has to offer.
La Placita is a bi-monthly Market at Bethany Park. It features vendors, entertainment, and different forms of community organizations. It is organized by CABA, an organization that focuses on community outreach and engagement within Central Avenue located in Kansas City, KS. The Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA) is committed to a nondiscriminatory approach and provides equal opportunity for participation and advancement in all our areas of activities, programs, events as well as work facilities.
My two cousins, Ashley and Mia, and my brother, Axel, volunteered for community service during the school supply giveaway at the Placita! We handed out school supplies and invited other youth to paint with us at our table. It was a great success and we had lots of fun making art and handing out supplies to families that walked by. We were able to hand out around 15 First-Gen Chisme Plushies, 40 school folders, and 30 pencil pouches.
I will be participating in another school giveaway at Central Middle School with a local non-profit organization, El Centro. El Centro, Inc. focuses on strengthening communities and improving the lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities. I created four flyers to help promote the event on our social media!
As First-Gen Chisme continues to participate in community events to hand out supplies and talk about educational resources and Enough is Enough, I have begun to ponder on how this work can be sustainable and enhanced within my community in Kansas City, KS. My ultimate goal is to create a non-profit headquarters of First-Gen Chisme located in Kansas City, KS. I would like it to focus on creative arts, design, education, and architecture within the community. As a current teacher’s assistant for DownCity Design and Project Open Door, located in Providence RI, I am inspired to bring in the expression of art and design within my own community. I have realized that my community is a heavily STEM-based environment and not so much attention is given to creative arts or design. In Kansas City, MO, there is a larger opportunity for arts nonprofits, however, I would like to support my own community in Kansas City, KS through the arts because it can be an opportunity for students to reduce stress and violence through creative and artistic expression. Although I am not certain on where I would locate the non-profit, I will be focusing on a proposal site close to Bethany Park in Central Avenue Kansas City, KS. I am choosing this site as I have realized the impact that businesses have on families when located near Central Avenue.
As a rising fourth-year student in Architecture, I will be using my architectural skills to propose a First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters located at 49-189 N 12 St, Kansas City, KS 66102, up the hill from Bethany Park where the school supply giveaway event was hosted. Architecture allows me to dream and propose of the possibilities of constructing First-Gen Chisme into a physical non-profit organization.
Before designing the non-profit, I researched current non-profits within my community that have been successful for educational and youth betterment purposes. In Kansas City, what are current non-profit programs that are beneficial to the Kansas City community? I chose four non-profits to research that have been positive avenues for youth within the community.
Researching the current non-profits within my community helped me gain an understanding of the meaningful work that they are doing to enrich the experiences of youth living in Kansas City, Kansas. The majority of the non-profits focused on STEM and athletic related activities. There was only one non-profit I found that focused on providing art classes for youth within the Latino Arts Foundation.
My goal is to create a non-profit through First-Gen Chisme that focuses on creative arts, design, and educational opportunities for all students located in the Kansas City Metro Area.
Students will have access to take art/design courses taught by local Kansas City KS/MO artists in the area. This will range from music, sculpture, graphic design, architecture, painting, and more. Students will engage in different forms of problem-solving skill sets through the use of design. This is a great opportunity to engage youth in the power of design when used within communities. Students will also have access to hands-on learning as they engage with various career based fields focused in creative, design, and STEM. There will be a variety of classes and involvement activities that students can participate in on weekends, after school, and in the summer.
Through educational coaching and mentorship, students will have the needed skills to pursue post-secondary education. First-Gen Chisme will continue to focus on enriching the experiences of First-Generation, BIPOC, and Low-Income youth located in Kansas City, KS.
I hope to continue my inspirations with el paletero man (ice cream man) when designing how the non-profit will function. I would like to have multiple First-Gen Chisme carts that travel to various school campuses. This would help invite students to the non-profit and encourage community participation. Then the carts would travel back to the First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters where current and new students can participate in the programming.
These renderings are a rough draft proposal idea, the Maharam Fellowship allows me to plant the seed for my future goal of creating my official First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters located in Kansas City, KS. I believe that the First-Gen Chisme non-profit “headquarters” will provide students with the adequate resources to express themselves creatively and explore opportunities for postsecondary education. I believe that art allows many individuals to voice their emotions and reduce stresses. This non-profit proposal has the opportunity to reduce gun violence within the community as it supports students in various ways. It engages students to think differently with creative problem-solving techniques where they can help their own community thrive. It has been a pleasure thinking through the possibilities of what programming this non-profit can focus on and how my own experiences with volunteering in various non-profits have been helpful when designing my own non-profit space.
The First-Gen Chisme non-profit building includes various opportunities for learning with vibrant spaces. The space include a multi-purpose room, two meeting rooms, open-space learning centers, lounge area, public bathrooms, gardening shelter, and more.
The upcoming goals for my Maharam Fellowship are to attend the second free school supply community event on July 24th, finalize branding designs for Enough is Enough, and reflect upon my Maharam Fellowship experience as it will soon be coming to an end in early August. Thank you for tuning in on my Maharam experience so far!
Final Brown University’s Break Through Lab (B-Lab) Updates:
To read more on my venture:
As B-Lab comes to an end, I would like to reflect upon my experiences in being a part of such a great cohort of student-led ventures at Brown University. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to pursue both the B-Lab and Maharam with First-Gen Chisme. Both of these opportunities have helped expand my knowledge in entrepreneurship and the possibilities of growth for First-Gen Chisme. I learned that First-Gen Chisme is not an “app” its more than that. Its a space that connects students together, “By First-Gen, For First-Gen”. The Mobile and Web Tech solutions that First-Gen Chisme has created, is only one part of our solutions to raising graduation rates of First-Gen, Low-Income students in post-secondary education. Our various solutions of mentorship, coaching, and educational content helps build our vision.
I learned the key aspects on, ‘thinking like an entrepreneur’, these are skills and ways of thinking that I will continue to value in my venture process. I am excited to grow First-Gen Chisme to its greatest potential and I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance I have received during my B-Lab experience. As the only RISD student on the cohort this year, I am very grateful for the opportunity of being a part of such a great community at B-Lab. My next venture steps are to think through what I want First-Gen Chisme Mobile and Web Tech solutions to look like, so they can provide the best adequate support for the First-Gen community. I will also be in search of a team seeking to work in a non-profit space to support First-Gen, Low-Income, and BIPOC students!
Below I have included my one-pager and final First-Gen Chisme presentation for the final 5-minute summer pitch event, Bears Lair, hosted on July 23rd. I am very pleased with how my pitch went and I am thankful for the mentorship I have received from Jason, Jonas, Rob, Viet, and the entire B-Lab community! I was congratulated on creating a visual presentation that is easily understood as well as connects on a personal level to the First-Gen student experience. I hope I made the RISD community proud! 🙂
Recap: I am an Artist in Residence at BosLab, in Cambridge, MA, researching new ways to use bacteria to dye textiles. I have successfully dyed textiles purple using Violacein.
I am fascinated with the patterns of the bacteria. Left to grow naturally, bacteria grows in beautiful fuzzy colonies, creating spotted winding paths that vein out at the edges. The patterns are so beautiful. I would love to be able to create textiles with such whimsical and natural forms.
For my first attempt to grow bacterial patterns on textiles, I placed the fabric swatches on an agar plate to grow bacteria, and I streaked the bacteria onto the textile. While I couldn’t see the bacteria from the streak, I knew that I had just placed hundreds of bacteria on the textile that would grow to be very purple. I put the plate in the incubator to grow for a few days. When I came back, the entire textile was a very deep purple. This, unfortunately, was not what I was hoping for. But I was able to get a lot more variation in the textile color and intensity, which was still exciting.
When I repeated the experiment, I noticed that the bacteria wouldn’t grow on parts of the textiles that weren’t touching the agar plate. This made sense, because the bacteria off the agar wouldn’t get the nutrients from the agar. This was a very interesting find as it allowed me to create some patterns and textures within the textile. I started to experiment with this more. I scrunched up the textiles and placed them in a plate. Again, the bacteria only grew where it touched the plate, creating the most beautiful random geometric patterns on the textile.
In my quest to create patterns, I also tried some Shibori dyeing techniques. This is a traditional Japanese technique involving methodically folding textiles into bundles to create even and consistent patterns. After I folded the bundles, I added them to the bacteria dyes, put them on heat. When I came back a few days later, the Shibori dyeing technique had worked wonderfully, creating the most beautiful square patterns.
Week 2: Define + Discover
We wanted to start Week 2 with a short lecture about a general design process and different types of design. There are six steps in this process: define, discover, develop, deploy, test, and iterate. We defined each term and related it to a board game project that Juliana worked on this past semester. These steps aren’t linear; therefore, we highlighted how this is only one way of thinking about solutions. On the next page, we discussed different areas within design and had the youth call out examples. This exercise was a great way to recognize the ubiquity of design and the spectrums connecting designed goods and services! Following, we explained the levels of impact adopted from the Ashoka Systems Change Crash Course. They list four levels: direct impact, scaled direct impact, systems change, and mindset shift. GWRI is involved with all four, with one example being their tree planting initiatives. The trees have a direct impact on PVD, but also a scaled effect since they are planted in the surrounding towns as well. GWRI is involved with initiatives to fund and support more tree plantings in redlined neighborhoods and redefine our relationship with trees. After a short break, we dove deeper into the first two steps of the design process: define and discover. The define phase sets up the background for understanding, sharing, and starting a design intervention. There should be no design solutions at this stage! There are four main concepts: the problem statement, design opportunity statement, design statement, and design criteria. As an example to explain the terminology, the redlining board game was elaborated on further. As the second phase, discovering involves observing a problem and collecting data about the issue as well as benchmarking current solutions. There are two main types of research used: market and user. The youth are primarily focusing on user research through ethnographic research, demographic data, and surveys.
PVD x PCF Monday – combined due to weather conditions
Because of the weather conditions, the two groups combined, and it was an excellent opportunity for them to get to know each other. We reintroduced ourselves and played an icebreaker game about proposing a movie. The groups had 15 minutes to develop a movie: detailing its plot, actors, and budget. They would then propose this movie to the judges (J + J and the Green Team coordinators) who decided to fund both movies. After, we had a group lecture and discussion about the design process and, in further detail, spoke about the define and discover phases. As the sky cleared up, we took that information with us and walked around the Hope Artiste Village, taking observational notes on general sights, sounds, and smells.
PCF Thursday, July 15th
After lecturing about the design process and systems design, we walked around Hope Artiste Village and Pawtucket, writing down observational notes. We relaxed under a tree at Baldwin Elementary and started discussing the problems we observed while walking around. The conversation shifted quickly towards Galego Garden, a Pawtucket community garden the group was working at once a week. Located in the back of the Galego public housing complex, the garden is a space for residents and community members to tend to their plots. The youth work at the garden once a week, helping with a variety of gardening tasks. With the goal of the summer to have the youth choose their project, they were more interested in working with this space. Additionally through this discussion, they were able to acknowledge a variety of problems as a group. For example, they noticed the center path is too steep to climb with a wheelbarrow, the weeds are difficult to control and lead to a low retention rate of gardeners, and the lack of advertisement and awareness about the garden amongst the community. After a successful talk, we grabbed yummy Mamacita ice cream as a treat for their attentive and thoughtful work. We left that day excited about the prospect of this space that we were unaware of prior.
After hearing how excited the youth were about Galego, we went to check out the 1.5-acre garden. We met Chandel, the garden coordinator, and Everett, an AmeriCorp member, who were eager to show us around the hilly, green landscape. Community gardeners grew a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some even had beehives! They were very friendly, and we sat in the shade to learn more about the lush community garden and our involvement and intentions for the student-led projects. For the upcoming week, we will work in the garden to learn about the space and struggles of maintaining the constantly evolving garden.
The weather was rainy and cold, creating a sluggish PVD x PCF group. However, the youths were engaging and talkative during our discussion about the different types of design. The icebreakers also helped re-engage the youth to get them thinking and moving with their fellow team members. We used a giant paper pad to prepare the lecture notes the first week, but the paper was too flimsy and slippery. We needed something to hold the slides up and decided to get a whiteboard to pin up information and brainstorm sessions. Unfortunately, the print-out design process sheets were not an engaging form to share information, and the youth were less interested in reading and following along.
We originally had an additional print-out with the 5 W’s + 1 H as an outline for taking observational notes on their clipboard. However, the youth didn’t use it because it was easier to have an open discussion with a designated note taker.
This summer, we are working with Groundwork Rhode Island’s (GWRI) Youth Green Teams: two groups in Central Falls/Pawtucket and one other in Providence. We meet with the Providence team at multiple locations: GWRI’s Greenhouse in South Providence and Billy Taylor Park to discuss a mural project at the West River. We additionally meet with the Central Falls/Pawtucket groups at GWRI’s office in the Hope Artiste Village and the Galego community garden. Our main goal for this collaboration is to bring the tools of design thinking and making into the hands of youth working in redlined neighborhoods, ideally giving them the power to design their own small-scale solutions within their surrounding communities effectively. We plan to hold lectures and run workshops for hands-on learning experiences. In addition, we plan to support the youth — financially, temporally, emotionally, and physically — to define a communal problem and design their unique solutions. The aim isn’t to create for these communities but to lend them support in developing on their own.
Week 1: Introductions + Icebreaker
As it was our first time meeting the youth, we kicked off with a design-centric icebreaker. This was adapted from a class we both took last semester. The group split into pairs for this activity and set off to design a utensil for their partner – “utensils” being loosely defined. For the beginning 15 minutes, each person interviewed their partner. Questions asked included, but were not limited to, “what utensils do you prefer,” “are you right- or left-handed,” and “what is your favorite color?” With that information, everyone dove into sketching and making utensils. Available materials included playdough, wooden sticks, hot glue, and wire; moreover, tools included utility knives, pliers, and elbow grease. Halfway through, partners exchanged whatever utensil they had made thus far with their partners to gather feedback to further progress. This small part of the project parallels testing and iteration in the design process. Soon after, the youth returned to making. With only 10 minutes left, everyone was told to hand off their final utensils and, in a circle, describe the essential elements of their customized utensils. The ultimate goal of this activity was to quickly introduce the youth to a simple use-case of the design process and create a comfortable space for open communication and fun!
PVD Monday, July 5th
On Monday, July 5th, we met the first group of youth – a group of 8 adolescents ranging from 14-18 who grew up in Providence’s redlined neighborhoods. We kicked off with the intended curriculum outlined above, and the quirks of this group quickly emerged. The group was energetic and creative. Some found interest in communicating with their partner to learn about what they were interested in, and others were more absorbed in the sketching or modeling processes. Regardless, the group was diverse and lively; moreover, the utensils they made were cool and creative. Before heading out, we gathered around to pull and tie some garlic.
*two utensils were omitted because they were deconstructed before we could document them
At Groundwork Rhode Island’s main office in the Hope Artiste Village, we met with the first Pawtucket and Central Falls youth group on Thursday, July 8th. The group was small, with only three youth, one of the PCF coordinators, and us. After going around and introducing ourselves, we turned on some K-pop and got to work with the utensil workshop! We paired off to begin the pre-planned curriculum that was successful with the PVD group; however, this time, the energy in the room was off — we believe it was because it was the first day, the weather was gloomy, and interest in the activity was low. Regardless, there was good fun involved, and most of the youth understood and fulfilled the assignment. It was, generally, a good icebreaker activity. The utensils made are seen in the image below:
We planned to meet with only the second Pawtucket and Central Falls (PCF) group on Monday the 12th; however, due to weather conditions, we had to join the Providence and PCF teams.
Perhaps due to the good weather, nearby garden, and full bellies, we ran into few problems with the Providence group during this entire kick-off. Most of the youth were attentive and communicative. Many were creative; however, some ran into artist block from the start. Talking between partners mainly was sustained throughout the process, and the most talkative shared that they were very interested in the user research process. The rest were primarily interested in the making process, with many fiddling with the materials even after the activity.
Despite the highlights, the trickiest part with the first PCF group was getting them to interview each other to get the information necessary to make their partner a catered utensil. From the start, some youth were not interested in the discussion part of the activity and instead found interest in the act of making and playing with the materials. Knowing this, we can cater their personalized curriculum to involve more hands-on, making activities over sit-down discussion activities.
Outside of these meetings, we met an additional time with the PVD team on July 7th at Billy Taylor Park to hear from the local artist, Ysanel, to discuss the role of place-based public art in social justice movements. Ysanel is known for painting the electrical boxes around Providence with feminist figures! The reason for this meeting was to begin a discussion about a mural that would bring awareness to the hidden West River near the Stop & Shop off Branch Avenue. Located on the fittingly named West River Street, the wall would be painted with imagery decided by the Providence youth team. Currently, the West River is heavily polluted with trash, and cleanup was planned for the 10th but was rescheduled because of weather conditions.
Researching visuals pertaining to gun violence and public programming within my community and in other initiatives helps me understand how Enough is Enough could be visually engaging for middle school and high school students. I believe that social media is a great tool to increase student participation within any program. Especially, if the content posted is visually engaging and catches the attention of students. At my community library, the West Wyandotte Library, I scanned six different visuals I found that indicated a service for helping others, the community, or within education. These scans allowed me to research different ways on how my community communicates events and information in a visual and written manner. My community is a melting pot of many different ethnic and racial backgrounds and it helped me understand the importance of translating information both written and visually.
After researching the flyers I found from my community library, I began to do research on organizations outside of my community that focus on raising gun violence awareness. One of my favorite ones that I found is the organization Change The Ref. The create year long projects using different visual mediums and performance to raise awareness on gun violence and NRA corrupt actions. Change The Ref uses visual art to bring attention to the needed conversations surrounding gun violence. My favorite project that they have done is create soap molds in shape of a gun and asked individuals to wash their hand with the soap until it disappeared. This performance action was shared across social platforms to raise awareness. I also really enjoy their most recent project where they presented, “The Lost Class”, a collection of empty chairs graduating to represent all of the student lives lost due to gun violence that were unable to graduate high school.
Another organization that I researched was the March for Our Lives organization that was a student-led demonstration in support of gun control legislation. The organization was led by a group of students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Never Again MSD). March for Our Lives partnered with Gun Safety Alliance to create posters and social media visuals to express their messages on gun violence control.
After researching Change The Ref and March for Our Lives, I realized the impact that visual arts has when expressing issues towards gun violence. It is very powerful to see the voices of students within their communities speak up visually about these issues. It appears that the partnership between March for Our lives and the Gun Safety Alliance asked students to sketch out ideas and then a graphic designer helped create the content. In the initiative Enough is Enough, they are known to use a blue ribbon as a symbol to express the need for gun violence awareness within the Kansas City, KS community. However, I think that it would be more helpful for the initiative to express themselves visually by connecting the students voices to the forefront of the conversation similar to how the two organizations I have researched.
I found it powerful to read posters on what the students wanted to be in the future and how they were afraid that they would not make it because of the gun violence present in their communities. I think it is important to also recognize the symbolism behind a blue ribbon when connected to a police department. Making the voices of students in the community be heard and expressed should be visualized within the initiative as it allows other students the freedom to express themselves. Students might feel uncomfortable participating in an initiative that can be visually connected to police enforcement.
As I continue my internship with Enough is Enough, I think it is important to focus on the visual language of the initiative. I want students to feel like they can express themselves without any restrictions. By including a more expressive and visual language, it will create a better representation of the youth voices. Enough is Enough focuses on the 21+ student lives that have been lost within the Kansas City KS School District. My goal in this internship is to continue supporting their work to help students have the necessary resources to pursue their post-secondary educational goals and or other pursuits.
I believe that Enough is Enough can have a better social media presence through different forms of graphic design. As a founder of RISD’s Latinx club, Mango Street, I have experience with creating social media graphics that bring attention to events and information. Putting forefront the voices of the youth within the community is my goal when designing to enhance the branding of the initiative.
The Enough is Enough initiative focuses on helping curb the violence by educating their families and students as well as promoting student involvement in leading the change. I created a couple different posters that engage in what students are currently interested in, such as accessories, sports, and music. I then combined those interests with Enough is Enough to lead students to learn more about the program. How can students continue to promote and engage with Enough is Enough? Will engaging students with a more contemporary visual help them feel more comfortable in accessing the information? I am challenged to design posters that feel welcoming and engaging but still communicate ideas of gun control without it feeling overwhelming. I created a a more engaging Enough is Enough Poster Contest flyer to hopefully encourage students to apply to the competition. I hope that these posters can help inspire students to visually express themselves creatively when designing their own posters in the future for Enough is Enough.
My research within the library and the community organizations have helped me understand how information could be translated in different forms to reach a variety of audiences. I think my next steps will be to continue making content that communicates why the initiative Enough is Enough is important within the community. Why should students be involved? These online visuals will be more text heavy but I will use my research to indicate what are the best ways to organize the information. The flyers will focus on: What is Enough is Enough?, Why is it important?, and, How can I get involved?. I will also continue brainstorming on how the posters can be enhanced to continue the conversations surrounding gun violence in Kansas City. How can I use my research from the March for Our Lives campaign, to inspire the visuals be a more critical way of visualizing gun control?
In First-Gen Chisme (www.firstgenchisme.com), I have continued to organize the resources on the website to make them more accessible for visitors. I want students to feel supported with the needed information to continue pursuing their post-secondary education. Researching for Enough is Enough has helped me understand the importance of having content that is easily understood for its target audience. Students can download PDF’s on resources towards applying to college and financial tools that prepare them for their education.
Alongside my graphic design research and projects, I have purchased the school supplies that I will be giving out on July 17th and 24th at Bethany Park. My original plans were to visit the high schools in the area but I was advised by a community member that it would be more beneficial to attend an event that already has an active audience. This is because sometimes students can find it difficult to go to their schools during the summer without their needed transportation resources. I will be attending the Bethany Park, ‘La Placita’ event hosted on Saturdays from non-profit Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA). La Placita is known to have local vendors on Central Avenue Street located in Kansas City, KS. Central Avenue is an important location within my community as it has many Black and Brown businesses that helps support the Black and Brown families in the community.
My First-Gen Chisme cart has arrived and I began painting it the First-Gen Chisme branding colors! I will be taking it to Bethany Park and handing out supplies and information surrounding First-Gen Chisme and Enough is Enough. On the next blog post, I will show it fully painted and assembled! I am excited for you all to see it.
My Maharam Fellowship and B-Lab Venture Accelerator, have inspired me to re-think ways in how my help in non-profits can grow within my community. The next project I am hoping to pursue is the possibility to re-imagine First-Gen Chisme. How would it function if it was established as an official non-profit in Kansas City, KS? How can my work in this fellowship grow in the future to make a permanent collaboration between the USD 500 Kansas City KS School District and First-Gen Chisme? Are there any locations in Kansas City, KS that I should have my eyes on for the future home of the First-Gen Chisme headquarters? I will explore these questions and create more content in regards to the questions I asked about Enough is Enough above in the next blog post. Thanks for tuning in!
This is a long overdue update as I have been caught up meeting people and getting my hands and mind busy! My priority this summer is to build meaningful relationships with as many growers, vendors, and other Sankofa members as possible; while finding small and large moments for my art and design orientation to support their needs.
For the first few weeks, I plopped myself in the main Sankofa Garden, which is surrounded by Sankofa Apartments (affordable housing from the West Elmwood Housing Corporation). Whenever someone would come out to water their plants, I’d start to weed with them, and ask about the vegetables they were growing. One such woman I met was Ana, a Dominican woman who immigrated alone to Providence at 18 years old. When I first met her she was grieving the recent loss of multiple members in her family, yet finding time to nurture her plants in between calls from relatives. Ana is an English-learner; she pointed to weeds, demonstrated how to pluck them correctly, and directed me to do the same. Her gestures, directness, courage, and patience reminded me of the warmth I often feel with Indian aunties or women in my family. They see you as their own, and are always thinking of you. After only an hour or two together, Ana playfully pushed me inside her home for some home-cooked beans and rice. On another occasion, she brought out popsicles and had me rest inside to stay out of the heat. This generosity is seen among all of the growers. Everyone is an immigrant or a refugee from a multitude of places; such as Liberia, Rwanda, Dominican Republic, or Cambodia. Growing vegetables from their home countries, and then cooking culturally specific dishes for their families is a healing practice for them; as they are celebrating who they are.
So onto my greatest reflection of this internship: regardless of what country they come from, if they are wealthy or not, or if you have already eaten lunch, immigrant women will always force you to eat their home-cooked food!
The Sankofa Market opened June 23rd, and has been running every Wednesday 2-6pm outside Knight Memorial Library since (it’s open through October, so if you’re in town, you should stop by)! At the market, I have been helping vendors wherever needed, and as a result, getting to know them and their work better. Every week, I help set up tents, write out the prices of their produce, and spray cold water on vendors on sweaty days! On the first market day, a Cambodian vendor immediately rushed as he saw an African older woman struggling with her tent. Although they couldn’t understand each other’s words, the Cambodian man used body language to suggest an ideal placement of the tent and table. I find this kind of camaraderie between different immigrant groups pretty rare. Oftentimes, each community is struggling to meet their own needs in this country, and are pitted against each through capitalism and white supremacy. I saw this small act as a larger representation of mutual aid; which is critical in order for communities of color to move towards liberation and independence from discrimination.
Market sign before 2. Sketch for painted sign 3. Painted sign in progress at the Market
Growers often struggle to describe a vegetable on their table with its English name (especially if it is native to their home country). This usually isn’t an issue as their clientele are usually immigrants from the same region as them. However, learning about different foods, how to prepare them, and what the dish means to someone, is one of the most beautiful aspects of this community. I find it’s also a fruitful way to connect through care with someone from a different background and story. When I am struggling to communicate my questions about the produce or even themselves, I find drawing is a universal language. I sketch to ask questions, and also to communicate to other customers about the produce vendors are selling.
There’s no doubt that the gardens are a healing space for growers and vendors. For me, the place brings me a sense of home and comfort, like a bowl of warm dhal my mom used to prepare when I was sick. However, conflict is bound to arise with language barriers, cultural differences, and miscommunication. As I move onto the middle of my internship, I am collecting the needs of different individuals in these spaces in order to design a spatial intervention with them. Stay tuned to hear more about these observations and plans!
Ocean Species Shifts | Providence, RI
The more I learn about ocean sustainability the more I come to understand how complex the issues of habitat conservation and seafood supply chains are. One way that Eating with the Ecosystem is approaching such complex issues is by researching how different species in New England waters are reacting to the effects of climate change. Effects can be observed through warming water temperatures, new current patterns, differences in salinity, and more. There are many species that are exhibiting population shifts potentially as a direct result of climate change. Some species, such as Atlantic Croaker, Blue Crab, and Black Sea Bass have been scientifically studied and their shifting population centers recorded. For other species such as Triggerfish and Northern Pufferfish, the evidence is more anecdotal through word of mouth of fishermen and those in the seafood industry. Either way, there are species that are expected to make distinctive, often Northbound, shifts in their typical population centers, perhaps on a journey to find cooler water temperatures.
How these sea creatures are responding to climate change has important implications for everyone, particularly for people working in the seafood industry and for consumers who expect certain seafoods to be available to them. If species that are more common in Southern Atlantic waters are becoming more popular in Northern regions, will there be a market for those fish? Or will consumers expect the same fish to be available, forcing the supply chain to stretch and increasing the transportation required to deliver traditional species? It is possible to build a healthy relationship between us and the organisms that feed us, and one element of that is to adapt our eating habits to fit the ecosystems around us, ecosystems which are continually changing.
These past few weeks I have been working with the data that Eating with the Ecosystem has collected to make a series of species profile sheets detailing information on 12 fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods that are part of our diets. By organizing information in a clear and engaging way, viewers can learn about how species populations are changing more succinctly. These species profiles are intended for seafood market professionals who will be briefed and interviewed as a way to collect more information on these species. This sharing of knowledge also will allow fishermen and market professionals in New England to prepare their business models in advance so that they may adapt to new species being available due to climate change. These species population shifts are expected to continue and increase. If we can introduce the new species to relevant regions and build a market for them in advance, maybe the seafood industry can better adapt to a fishing model that is sustainable for those working in the industry as well as the ecosystem we depend on.
I’m excited to see how this project develops and am looking forward to learning more about the complex supply chains involved in the seafood industry. Alongside the species profiles, I am also coming up with ways of highlighting projects through social media pages as well as early brainstorming for a community outreach event. More updates to come!
Recap: I am Artist in Residence at BosLab, in Cambridge, MA, researching new ways to use bacteria to dye textiles. So far, I have been successful in growing beautiful shades of pink dyes using magenta synthetic e.coli, but unsuccessful in maintaining the colors through the bacteria killing process. I have been researching other types of bacteria for textile dyeing.
In my research, I came across the bacteria Violacein. Violacein creates a variety of colors ranging between deep purple and light gray. It is a bacteria that can be found naturally in puddles all over the world. After talking to some of my advisors, we found a source for Violacein and I was able to start working with it at BosLab.
To dye with the Violacein, I followed the same bacteria dying process as I had used before. I grew up a vat of the dye in LB Broth, added textiles to the dye bath, put the dye bath on heat and came back a few days later to the most beautiful rich blue and purple hues.
The Violacein dyed the textiles beautifully. It really seemed to fuse to the textile fibers, which was unlike anything I had experienced with bacteria in the past. Even better, I was able to kill the bacteria with the autoclave and the color stayed true. I have officially dyed my first textiles using Violacein!
Once I knew the Violacein could dye the textiles, I spent the next few weeks trying different dying techniques and starting to understand the intricacies of the textile bacteria dying process. I was able to create many beautiful tie dye effects and consistent dye swatches. While I am happy about my ability to dye the textiles, I am now hoping to find a way to dye the textiles allowing each bacteria to grow in its own natural patterns, which are very beautiful.
The opportunity to continue my post-secondary education after high-school is a great privilege and honor to have. As a First-Generation college student, I have realized the difficulties and challenges that many students from marginalized communities face within pre-dominantly white institutions. I created First-Gen Chisme, http://www.firstgenchisme.com, as an opportunity to give back to the upcoming generations of Students of Color pursuing their education. During my internship, I have been able to connect with my supervisor, Sharita, to explore ways on how content could be distributed in an engaging manner. The Enough is Enough initiative has created many visuals around the community where they ask students to register in any violence seen around their communities and schools. An issue that we realized is that many students would not engage directly with the visuals. This could be due to the fact that they are not familiar with the work of Enough is Enough and might not know how to get involved. I took some time to think on how to bring attention to the initiative with visuals, movements, social media, and more. I realized that el paletero (the ice cream man), always caught the attention of the community with his ice cream cart ringing bells on the block. I began to wonder… What if I could integrate my cultural upbringing with my educational resources? This is where the idea for an educational cart that hands out resources and information about Enough is Enough and First-Gen Chisme came to be! The goal for the educational cart is to have it completed by middle July to visit at least 3 high schools in the Kansas City School District. The educational cart would give students school supplies and important information in regards to Enough is Enough and First-Gen Chisme.
As an Architecture student, I have learned the necessary tools to visualize how I would program this community event. I began to create construction drawings on how the educational cart would function. The most important factor about its function is that it must be easy to take a part and assemble in order for easy transportation.
I asked my dad if we could collaborate together to create the cart from scratch since we both have experience with wood working. We went to the hardware store and bought some materials to get started! We began a base for the cart and had a fun time working together. However, we both realized that our schedules began to become really busy and we were unable to fully finish it by the deadline needed. We also did not have all of the necessary wood cutting equipment which made it difficult to get the project completed into the quality that we both wanted. Thanks to the Maharam Fellowship, I had the freedom to research for an already built candy cart that I could purchase. I found an amazing one from Etsy and will be arriving in the first week of July, right on the deadline I originally planned! Although, I really wanted to build the cart from scratch I am fortunate to have the necessary resources to be able to find one just in time. I also am very appreciative of my dad for taking time out of his busy working schedule to help start a project with me!
The plan is to have the educational cart travel to at least 3 high schools in the Kansas City, KS school district to provide with school supplies and visuals supporting Enough is Enough. We will have conversations on what Enough is Enough is doing within the community and how students can get involved. Students will receive folders, stickers, pencils, pens, pencil holder, and visuals pertaining to Enough is Enough and First-Gen Chisme.
As I wait for the candy cart to arrive, I have continued my research on visuals pertaining to Gun Violence within my community and in other initiatives. I will be collecting different visuals from the public library and online that demonstrate community building. What do these two flyers in the folders need to have to create an engaging and visual messages surrounding post-secondary education and gun violence? Is there any other things I can help give that catch the attention of students? For example: Pins, Buttons, Stickers, Posters, etc. How can I best support the gun violence awareness work being done in my community in a respectful manner that helps catch the attention of others? Engaging the youth in conversations surrounding gun violence is very important. I want to help support students pursue their education and have success outside of the violence present in their communities.
These illustrations help provide an idea on how the educational cart will look when present at the schools. I am very excited to be able to visit the schools in person and distribute the necessary resources for students to have a safer educational environment! My focuses will be on the Kansas City, KS High Schools: F.L. Schlagle High School, Washington High School, Wyandotte High School, J.C. Harmon High School, and Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences. Due to lack of time, I will not be able to attend the Middle Schools in my community but the three day event will be open to all students.
I look forward to updating you all more on my research visuals for gun violence research in the next blog post. As well as, hopefully, answers to the questions asked above. Thank you for reading!
Quick Brown University B-Lab Updates:
To read more on my venture: https://entrepreneurship.brown.edu/breakthrough-lab-2021/
Alongside my Maharam Fellowship, I am participating in the Brown University 8-week summer accelerator program for Brown and RISD students developing high-impact ventures. Recently, I pitched a 90 second venture pitch for 80+ people on Zoom for preparation on a bigger pitch in September. It was definitely a nerve-wrecking experience but I am very appreciative of the practice pitches we are able to have during B-Lab. I am currently continuing my bottom-up research to understand how an app focused on providing First-Gen students with academic and financial resources could best work.
The Pitch: Every time I come back home from college, I talk with my friend about our experiences and difficulties in being the first in our family to attend college. We shared conversations where we often felt lost, pressured, and always feeling behind our other peers who’s family did attend college. I realized that we were sharing our First-Gen Chisme. The ability to build a First-Gen community that can help support incoming students inspired the tech non-profit First-Gen Chisme.
First-Gen Chisme is a non-profit tech app that focuses on providing First-Generation, Low-Income, and BIPOC students with needed academic and financial resources throughout their post-secondary education. We provide school year-long content and mentorship on academics, scholarships, FAFSA, mental health and more. First-Gen students need 24/7 support to successfully guide them through their education. Based on our bottom up research, many First-Gen students do not know where to start when asking for help. They need accessible resources that help them feel supported within their institutions.
Nationally, 89 percent of Low-Income First-Generation students leave college within six years without a degree. As a First-Gen student myself, I speak from personal experiences on the struggles that we face coming from under-resourced communities. Many Universities fail to acknowledge the extra support needed from First-gen students. First Gen Chisme believes that with access to direct resources, students would feel more supported and graduate their institutions with great success.
If you are interested in learning more please visit our resource website for more updates on our tech-app and content. Let’s continue to make education accessible to ALL students with First-Gen Chisme.