Teacher #GiannaRodriguez helps kids across #Baltimore transform themselves through #art

Image: Bruce Weller.

Image: Bruce Weller.

After school in a Baltimore art space, a dozen kids lean over canvases, their hands busy. One draws the word rookie in graffiti script, the o's doubling as eyes on a cartoon face. Another puts the finishing touches on a pair of tattooed, praying hands.

These students, many of whom have spent time in juvenile detention or jail, are exploring their talents and earning extra money through Baltimore Youth Arts (BYA), a nonprofit founded by 32-year-old artist-educator Gianna Rodriguez.

At BYA's Community Studio, Gianna and other instructors offer classes on fine arts, creative writing, DJing and life and career skills, such as registering for an ID and drafting a résumé. The kids, who act as apprentices, are paid $10 for every hour they attend class or work in the studio. During the summer they sell paintings and screen-printed clothing in local galleries and on BYA's website. They keep 70% to 90% of their profits, and the rest goes toward supplies.

"Kids sometimes resort to illegal activities when they need money," says Gianna. "We want to create opportunities so they can step back from that."

Gianna grew up as an artist and dancer, but also had brushes with a tougher crowd. "People close to me went to prison and some struggled with substance abuse," she says. "But my mother taught me to see the best in others."

For more than six years, Gianna taught art to at-risk and incarcerated young people in her hometown of Providence, RI. Then, after earning her master's degree in arts education in 2015, she moved to Baltimore and established BYA. Today, the organization reaches about forty 7- to 22-year-olds per week in detention and recreation centers, in addition to the studio. All told, BYA has worked with more than 250 kids in the past two years. Private foundations help pay for supplies and instructors, and Gianna earns a full-time salary through a fellowship.

Many of Gianna's students tell her that before joining the organization they'd never had an interest in art, been exposed to painting or drawing, or had help with life skills.

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The racial wealth divide is worse than people think—and it’s growing

Lenny Clay outside his barbershop in Baltimore. In 1961, when Clay opened his shop, the neighborhood was busy, bright, full of hard-working black families and black-owned businesses. (Reuters/Eric Thayer)

Lenny Clay outside his barbershop in Baltimore. In 1961, when Clay opened his shop, the neighborhood was busy, bright, full of hard-working black families and black-owned businesses. (Reuters/Eric Thayer)

Wealthy white households control the vast majority of the nation’s economic resources, and they appear to have no idea how the rest of society lives.

It’s pleasant to think history is marching towards a more fair and equitable society. Things might be a bit rough around the edges right now, but there’s progress, the story goes.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the deep racial wealth divide in the United States, the numbers just don’t back this up. Rather than closing, if we don’t take steps to change the course we’re on, that gap could go on growing forever.

A pair of recent research papers bears this story out.

The first comes from a group of Yale psychologists who looked at public misperceptions around racial economic equality. The researchers looked at black and white populations from low-income and high-income households alike and compared their assessments of racial economic equity.

The researchers found that both racial groups got the numbers very wrong, vastly overestimating progress in closing the racial economic divide. Wealthy white respondents, perhaps predictably, were the most off in their assessment, overestimating a typical black family’s household income more than 30%.

I co-authored a recent study with a colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies and our allies at Prosperity Now that did.

We looked at the growing racial economic divide as it relates to wealth, and specifically its significant implications for the American middle class. Our study found the racial wealth divide is significantly larger than the income gap—and worse, the racial wealth divide is on track to keep getting bigger.

We looked at how race, education, and income correlate with middle class wealth status, which we defined as owning between $68,000 and $204,000—between two-thirds to double the white median household.

We found that black and Latino families in the middle would need to earn between 2 and 3 times as much as white families in order to enter the middle class. By our count, roughly 70% of black and Latino households would fall below the $68,000 threshold needed for middle-class status, compared to only about 40% of white households.

Further, only black and Latino households with an advanced degree have enough wealth to be considered middle class, whereas the average white household with a high school diploma or higher would be considered middle class.

We also looked at the past three decades of racial wealth data to develop an idea of what the future will look like if current trends continue. The findings were bleak. The median black family, who today only owns $1,700 in wealth excluding their car, will reach zero wealth by 2053. That’s just 10 years after the country is projected to become majority non-white.

Median white families, by contrast, have $116,000 in wealth, and that number is actually going up.

So the research is clear: Wealthy white households control the vast majority of the nation’s economic resources, and they appear to have no idea how the rest of society lives. That’s a problem.

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#DumpsterArt: Artists beautify city

Image: LaShaunda Jordan. Charlie's Angels work on dumpster to beautify the city.

Image: LaShaunda Jordan. Charlie's Angels work on dumpster to beautify the city.

VALDOSTA — The second annual dumpster art project was held Saturday in the City Hall Annex parking lot. 

The project was made possible through a collaborative effort between the City of Valdosta, Valdosta Main Street, the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts and the Public Arts Advisory Committee.

Artist and artist teams transformed four downtown dumpsters into public pieces of art.

The team painting Dumpster No. 1 were employees from Barnes Healthcare Services; “Charlie’s Angels,” was named after Charlie Barnes III, owner of Barnes Healthcare Services. The team was led by Karen Lewis, a fine arts graduate of Valdosta State University.

“It’s a visual of our history. A visual of what makes Valdosta. Most people know Valdosta as being Winnersville football town and that tradition is what most people associate it with. We wanted to bring something to life that celebrated everything, you can really look at this and tell what Valdosta is all about,” Lewis said.

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#Immigration crackdown taking heavy toll on California students

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The Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants is having a chilling effect in California’s classrooms, with schools reporting increased absenteeism and students having difficulty concentrating, even crying in class, teachers and administrators said.

“We may see it all as rhetoric and posturing, but I’ve witnessed kids from elementary school to college level stressed out and traumatized,” said Alejandra Acuna, an assistant professor at Cal State Northridge who studies trauma among urban youth. “We’ve got 8-year-olds worried their parents will have to go back to Mexico. I saw one student literally crying in the elevator. If you’re undocumented, it’s not just rhetoric — it’s about survival.”

Trump has pledged to build a wall along the Mexican border, end protections for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, ramp up deportations of undocumented residents and greatly restrict immigration generally. In schools with large immigrant populations, these issues have eclipsed the usual business of reading-writing-and-arithmetic and put student welfare — and civics lessons — at the forefront, teachers said.

Schools around the state are responding to students’ fears by offering counseling, lessons on the Constitution and immigrants’ rights, and encouraging students to talk about their fears.

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The Rise of #Streetart in Bogota

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“People that don’t like graffiti, just don’t understand it,” explains Camilo Fidel López, the unofficial spokesman for Bogotá’s illegal street art scene. “When you understand graffiti, you see many things happening — it’s a way that people talk to each other.”

López is something of a rare beast — a lawyer with infinite charm and a rascally sense of humour. After getting rejected by Harvard, he jokes, he decided to further disappoint his father by promoting graffiti and street art in his home city. For the last eight years, he has worked with eight artists as part of independent collective Vertigo Graffiti, proselytising the illegal art form as one of Bogotá’s most powerful weapons in the fight to effect social change and narrow Colombia’s historically colossal gap between its wealthy and marginalised citizens.

As part of his work, López offers guided tours in various neighbourhoods and our first stop this morning is the cocktail bar of the W Hotel in the upscale Santa Barbara business district. This is where Vertigo Graffiti has created a huge floor-to-ceiling mural.

Showing a beautiful woman lounging on her back, her modesty protected by vines of graffiti, the work riffs on the idea of El Dorado, a mythical city made entirely of gold. The legend has several versions; most involve a Muisca tribe zipa (or chief) being covered with gold dust and diving into the Lake Guatavita while his attendants throw treasures — trinkets of gold, emeralds, and precious stones — into its waters to either impress a queen or appease the god that had taken her. Vertigo Graffiti reinterpreted the story by depicting Bogotá as the queen and graffiti as the city’s treasures — a tool of communication and opportunity for its people.

While one of the city’s more exclusive accommodations initially seems a strange place to start, the fact that the W asked local graffiti artists to decorate its exclusive nightspot demonstrates the genre’s increasing legitimacy in the Colombian capital.

As in many other cities around the world, graffiti here is a tool of personal creative expression and political commentary, and evokes mixed feelings in the local populace. But to understand the significance of urban art in contemporary Bogotá, you have to consider Colombia’s long history of violence, which only recently abated.

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