A Conversation With Country Star Mickey Guyton

18 hours ago

Mickey Guyton is one of the most prominent Black women in country music. Mickey signed a Nashville record deal over a decade ago, and since then has become a force in a genre that has often been unkind to performers of color.

As Elamin Abdelmahmoud writes for Rolling Stone:

At some point, it became an accepted cultural narrative that country music is the domain of white people. This has never been the case, but more to the point, it has never been further from the truth than right now. The myth persists while a number of Black artists are challenging its foundation, hiding in plain sight on the country charts or on tours or on the radio.

Mickey is one of those artists. During last month’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, she dropped a single “Black Like Me” with no promotion. The song ended up on Spotify’s Hot Country playlist. It asks country fans and industry people alike to look at life from a Black perspective.

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We talk with Mickey about being a Black woman in country music, her songwriting process and more.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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80 artists will mark Fourth of July with skytyped messages over U.S. detention centers

It is a Fourth of July custom. Fleets of airplanes take to the sky and produce massive typewritten messages in the air. Known as skytyping, these vaporous missives generally serve as advertising for music festivals, summer movies or car insurance and are often generated over public parks and crowded beaches.

This holiday weekend, however, some of those messages and their locations will be very different.

A group of 80 artists from around the country, led by rafa esparza and Cassils, have teamed up to produce skytyped messages that will appear over immigrant detention camps around the United States, as well as other sites related to internment and incarceration.

The project, called “In Plain Sight,” will last for three days beginning Friday morning and will feature messages such as “ICE WILL MELT,” “CARE NOT CAGES” and “NO MORE CAMPS” displayed over sites such as the New Orleans field office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Los Angeles County Jail and the Santa Anita Park, which once served as a temporary detention facility for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.


Also included will be messages in Spanish, such as “NO TE RINDAS” (Don’t give up) to be written over the U.S. Customs and Border Protection outpost at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and one in the Mayan language of K’iche’, which will materialize over L.A.’s MacArthur Park. That message — “MA KA QA XE’IJ TA Q’IB,” which translates to “We will not be afraid” — was organized by artist Beatriz Cortez and a coalition of Central American community organizations.

An augmented reality visualization shows skytyped words in a Mayan language over MacArthur Park

An augmented reality visualization shows how a message in K’iche’ will appear over Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.

(4th Wall AR / In Plain Sight)

“It’s exiting the confines of traditional art spaces and using the sky as the ultimate platform,” says esparza.

Adds Cassils: “It’s thinking about how art can serve.”


It’s also about producing a work that just might be visible to those who are incarcerated as well.

The artists describe the action as a vast collective artwork — albeit one with a distinct purpose. Each skytyped message will feature the hashtag #XMAP, which should lead the curious back to the project’s website: xmap.us. That page will feature information about immigrant detention and a map of incarceration sites around the U.S., along with a list of organizations fighting for immigrant causes, such as the National Immigration Detention Bond Fund, which helps immigrants pay bonds set by immigration judges.

“You’ll also be able to put in your ZIP Code and see what detention center you’re closest to,” says esparza. “In terms of the sheer amount of immigrant detention centers — it’s something that people feel distant from. People place them along the border, but they don’t imagine them in every state. We want people to know that.”

A map produced by the artist project "In Plain Sight" shows the site of immigrant detention centers around the U.S.

A map by the artist project “In Plain Sight” shows immigrant detention centers around the U.S. — along with sites that will feature skytyped messages over the Fourth of July weekend.

(In Plain Sight)


Among the participating artists are Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors; Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas; graphic designer Emory Douglas, once the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party; and a range of cultural practitioners, including Ken Gonzales-Day, Harry Gamboa Jr., Mary Kelly, Susan Silton, Raquel Gutiérrez, Raven Chacon, Karen L. Ishizuka, Edgar Arceneaux, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Devon Tsuno.

Esparza, a Los Angeles artist whose work straddles performance, painting and installations crafted with hand-made adobe, says the idea for “In Plain Sight” was born around July 4 last year amid rising concerns over the sheer number of incarcerated immigrants and the conditions they endure.

“There was a group of artists that had self-organized,” he explains. “We wanted to create visibility around immigrant detention.”

The group began discussing ideas in a group chat on Signal. Cassils, a multidisciplinary artist whose work engages issues of the body, gender and sexuality, was in Europe at the time — but was moved by the discussion.


“I’m from Montreal,” they say. “Immigration has weighed on my life for a long time. It took me 17 years to immigrate and that was with all the resources. … Navigating the immigration system and staying in compliance and the expense of it. The lack of ability for me to hire a lawyer. It was so incredibly difficult.

“I can’t imagine if you’re trying to do this while you are fleeing for your life. To land in this country that is supposed to be about freedom and they lock you in a cage for profit. That is appalling to me as a new citizen.”

Rather than doing a benefit show in a gallery or staging some sort of charity auction, the group wanted something that would make a big statement to the broadest audience possible. Skytyped messages emerged as an idea that could help an unseen problem (incarceration) be accessed by everyone.


“It also,” says Cassils, “seemed like a brilliant way to invert the terms of patriotism” — airplanes taking to the sky during Fourth of July.

So they got to work fundraising. Patching together donations from private supporters and various arts organizations, the pair were able to generate the $160,000 necessary to put planes in the sky on July 3 and 4, for a total of 80 skytyped messages. But everything else has been a volunteer effort. Dozens of artists, along with uncounted others, have donated their time to make “In Plain Sight” happen.

Esparza says many were personally motivated to participate.


“There are folks whose family members were in incarceration camps during World War II,” he says. “There are folks who have relatives that were Holocaust survivors. And Black artists that use their work to talk about the prison industrial complex. We are all wanting to harness our voices to focus it on immigrant detention.”

Beyond the sky messages, “In Plain Sight” will exist in other ways. Documentarian PJ Raval and producer Farihah Zaman are filming a documentary series related to the project that will also explore deeper issues of migration and identity. To make up for the carbon footprint, artist Sam Van Aken is planting trees close to detention facilities and other carceral sites.

An augmented reality visualization shows the words "NO MORE CAMPS" over Santa Anita Park.

An augmented reality visualization of the words “NO MORE CAMPS” to be skytyped over Santa Anita Park this weekend. The project was organized by curator Karen Ishizuka and the group Tsuru for Solidarity.

(4th Wall AR / In Plain Sight)

Artist Nancy Baker Cahill has uploaded the skytyped messages into her augmented reality app, 4th Wall, which users can download for free to their phones. Once installed, it is possible to view skytyped messages virtually at each location. Not sure where those locations might be? A function in the app uses geolocation to direct users to the nearest site.


Moreover, Oxy Arts, the cultural space run by Occidental College in Eagle Rock, which is serving as a presenter of the project, will host a fall exhibition of participating artists and offer related programming, such as panels and performances.

“In Plain Sight,” therefore, will continue to exist in myriad forms after the last clouds of vapor have evaporated.

Says Cassils: “It will live on.”

In Plain Sight


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Trump revives losing cause vs. ACA

Protesters gather across the Chicago River from Trump Tower to rally against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act Friday, March 24, 2017, in Chicago. Earlier, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders yanked their bill to repeal “Obamacare” off the House floor Friday when it became clear it would fail badly. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)



Throughout the Barack Obama years, the Republican Party beat a dead horse, repeatedly trying to kill the Democratic program providing the government-overseen health care plan. Officially, it’s called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but the GOP derisively nicknamed it Obamacare.

Donald Trump is trying all over again, looking to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

Long ago, Republican congressional leaders were determined to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but they finally were dramatically denied by one remaining colleague with a spine, the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

On July 28, 2017, he rose from a sickbed at home, flew across the country and cast the deciding Senate vote that kept Obamacare alive, to the great dismay of fellow Republicans but to the grateful relief of millions of its policyholders. Among their supporters was former vice president Joe Biden, a principal architect of the Affordable Care Act who is now on the cusp of the 2020 party presidential nomination.

If Trump had wanted to arouse Biden’s wrath, he could not have found a better policy to assail than Obamacare. The former vice president, after stumbling through the early 2020 party primaries, made a remarkable comeback in South Carolina on the strength of African American voters and is poised to be the next Democratic nominee.

Just why Trump would choose to resurrect the lost cause of killing Obamacare is a political mystery, when in recent history it has been widely and increasingly popular with voters. In the Democratic primaries, Biden clung to it in competition with the more progressive party wing led by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, that favored a Medicare-for-all alternative replacing Obamacare.

Biden undercut them by also offering a public option that works similarly to Medicare, tailored for those who cannot take advantage of private-industry coverage paid for by their employers or unions.

As a result, Obamacare has been substantially reduced as a vulnerable target for Trump to exploit in the coming general election, once it gets seriously underway. Its protection of coverage for pre-existing conditions remains among its most publicly desirable features.

Accordingly, the president is thrashing around in search of another path to save his incumbency, in the midst of sinking public opinion polls and a health-care crisis hammering his rudderless policy leadership. He is being reduced to finding other political escape routes, such as challenging the use of mail-in voting prior to Election Day and making wild claims that the outcome will be “rigged” against him by unidentified “thugs” and other partisan miscreants.

Biden himself has warned in a recent radio interview that Trump “is going to try to steal this election.” Speculative scenarios circulate of ways the sitting president, if faced with defeat, might decline to go quietly and have to be forcibly removed from the White House. He has told Fox News, though, “Certainly, if I don’t win, I don’t win.”

Such is the atmosphere of contrivance on one side and wishful thinking on the other, as this weird and most unconventional presidential year unwinds. Both major party conventions are toying with ways to soldier through the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping to emerge with a semblance of sanity and discipline. The Grand Old Party particularly gropes to retain public interest and respect for a political process that has gone haywire in the path of an invisible force of nature.

One can only hope that we as a people can maintain our own sanity through the coming months; that we can allow our long history of peaceably selecting our national leadership to run its course through an orderly procedure that has served us well for more than two centuries. The best result will be a clear-cut, incontrovertible victory for one nominee or the other, in both the popular vote and in the Electoral College.

Until then, however, the chances are the divisions and the bitterness on both sides will go on, until the people speak decisively and with a collective wisdom that seems beyond our capability right now.


Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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Danny Glover: Police Represent the ‘Last Line of Defense for White Supremacy’

Actor and far-left activist Danny Glover, perhaps best known for playing LAPD police officer Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series, has declared that the police in America represent the “last line of defense for white supremacy.”

“But the violence that we see — whether it’s the toxic places where they (black people) live; the inadequacy of health care for them; whether it’s the lack of affordable housing; the absence of jobs at living wages; all those things – that’s basically going unseen. We see the actual violence because the police is what it is. It’s the last line line of defense for white supremacy. That’s what the police represents. They don’t protect African Americans,” Danny Glover said in an interview with Variety, speaking about the death of George Floyd and the frenzy of protests and hysteria that followed it.

“You can make an argument that the institutional violence has its roots in so many different ways,” the Predator and The Color Purple star said. “The violence that we see now that is acted out on the physical body of George Floyd has been the kind of violence that is engrained within the American idea of its culture, in its own subtlety, since the first Africans were brought here. So it’s 400 years of violence. It’s not just now!

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez (R) and US actor/activist Danny Glover (L) wave to the crowd while attending the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program inauguration ceremony at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church 21 September 2006 in the Harlem locality of New York. Chavez, in Harlem to announce the expansion of a programme to send cheap Venezuelan oil to poor families in New York, launched a new personal attack against President George W. Bush, calling the US leader an “alcoholic” and a “sick man”. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Glover has long been one of Hollywood’s most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other left-wing causes such as Bernie Sanders’s unsuccessful presidential campaign and Hugo Chávez’s disastrous “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela.

Last year, Danny Glover testified before Congress on the issue of providing financial reparations for descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States, describing it as a “moral, democratic, and economic imperative.”

“Despite much progress over the last centuries, this hearing is yet another important step in the long and heroic struggle of African-Americans to cure the damages inflicted by enslavement, post-emancipation, and forced racial exclusionary policies,” he declared at the time.

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at bkew@breitbart.com.

Author Releases African American Children’s Coronavirus Tale

  NATIONWIDE (BlackNews.com)Why is Everything Closed? A Coronavirus Tale by Lauren Patterson is an uplifting, colorful tale about how an African American family draws closer during 60 plus days of quarantine. Told from a child’s perspective, this adventure is packed with vivid illustrations to entertain children of all ages.

     When a deadly virus seals Donovan and his sister, Zara, indoors with their parents indefinitely, they are determined not to waste time playing “Clean-Your-Room” games. As they come up with activities, they learn there is life beyond TV and video games. Plus, the extra time at home brings the family closer together.

     The story shows there is a positive side to everything. But most of all it shows the best way to keep parents off your back during lockdown is to keep them busy. The book goes on sale in July at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, retail chains, and local bookstores.

     Learn more at https://www.blesspattbooks.com/whyiseverything closed

     For more information, contact Ramona Patterson at Blesspatt Books at (704) 426-2621.

Jamaal Bowman: The Left Has to Become the New Center

NEW YORK – Jamaal Bowman is the new voice of the democratic, socialist and insurgent left in the United States after prevailing in the primaries of his party in New York over veteran congressman Eliot Engel.

In an interview with EFE in a park in the Bronx neighborhood, he says he is convinced that the “left has to become the new center” as well as the need to defeat President Donald Trump, whom he compares to Hitler.

About 10 minutes before the interview, he personally calls to confirm the location: the corner between Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park in the North Bronx, a place near Yonkers County, where Bowman, a former high school principal lives with his wife and three children.

He arrives alone, dressed in a purple polo shirt, black glasses, shorts and a smile that can be seen behind a fabric mask, which he takes off when the interview begins.

The interview takes place on a bench in Van Cortlandt Park where he talks about his life, his party, the country and the African-American community.

“It got us to the position where we have this happening. People are dying while people are making billions of dollars, so Biden have to move, the Democratic Party has to move, the country has to move away from these extremes that literally kill people, particularly black and brown, disproportionality,” Bowman says.

Bowman, 44, is part of a new generation of young progressive figures in the Democratic Party, led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

He was a high school teacher for 20 years and has experienced many of the US’s social injustices first hand which has helped shape him as a politician.

“You know when you have that experience, it’s not just that, being raised by a single mother, my father not being around, living in public housing, living in rent-stabilized apartments, attending public schools, having family members on drugs, having friends who have been killed or incarcerated, being beating by the police,” he adds.

“All of that made me who I am. And it helps me to empathize with others who go through oppression and struggle.”

He says he is in favor of investment in public education, universal health care and other social policies, in addition to raising taxes for large companies and corporations.

“When the wealthy has a problem, we give them a $1.5 trillion cheque to solve that problem. So, socialism works in this country for the wealthy,” he adds.

“But when we talk about it for the working class, the wealthy paint the picture that socialism is a negative thing.”

He continues: “All it means is that we believe in universal healthcare, we believe in public education, we believe in housing as a human right, we believe in justice in all its forms for everyone, that’s what we believe and we believe in equality and equitable sharing of our democracy, so if that means socialism, that’s socialism.”

Bowman’s campaign priorities include demands for justice and equality for the African American community.

He says the Black Lives Matter movement which was sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis contributed to his victory in a constituency where voter participation has tripled this year compared to 2018.

Floyd, who was African-American, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

“Every movement is gonna have a huge victory that’s part of it, the victory that seems to be happening right now is police reform and criminal justice reform,” Bowman says.

“And we have to be bold and visionary in pushing the right reform.”

He adds that being African American in the US “means to live with rage that you have to exist within a country and a system that you’re a part of but often oppressed within.

“So, it’s fear, it’s rage, it’s anger and that’s what we have to overcome individually and collectively, we have to get over that to exist in this country with joy and love and community.”

He describes Trump as “a manifestation of how rotten our system has become” but that he has triggered “people like me, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and others to get more involved in our politics, and not just in terms of running for office, but just being involved at every level.”

He says that the US president is a “Hitler-like figure” and adds: “If we don’t stop him now, we should have stopped him before, but we absolutely have to stop him now because he is a racist, he is a fascist, he is the epitome of white supremacy and we have to stop that at all costs.”

Fresh Arts focuses on diversity

When artists and creative entrepreneurs attended Fresh Arts events before the onset of COVID-19, they saw a diverse representation of people that fostered an inclusive environment — a valuable resource for artists of color.

But because of the pandemic, the arts nonprofit made a point to continue their emphasis on diversity through virtual content by highlighting artists of color in online workshops and discussions.

“They will always be mindful that this person is from the African American community, this person is from Africa, this person is Asian America, this person is Hispanic American,” said local theater artist Neisha Bently. “I think if you’re trying to report the image of inclusivity you would host your events in that manner.”

Fresh Arts is a nonprofit that helps local artists and creative entrepreneurs succeed in the business of art. Fresh Arts treats the arts as any other industry, understanding financial success comes from a strong business acumen. Through their artist-centered community programs, they offer resource sharing and skill-building initiatives to help advance their careers.

Immediately responding to news that Houston would be following work-from-home guidelines, on March 17 Fresh Arts launched the first of many virtual programs aimed at amplifying efforts and support of Houston’s creative community.

“We have reached nearly 30,000 users from all parts of the world,” said Marci Dallas, executive director of Fresh Arts in a news release. “We are reaching twice as many artists and arts lead organizations as we were offline. We’re able to do that even more effectively now by meeting them where they are.”

Fresh Art’s strategy was to leverage what they’re good at, which was nurturing a good online following, and talk to people who already want to talk to them, then work based on that, according to Fresh Art’s programs outreach coordinator Reyes Ramirez.

Every Tuesday, Fresh Arts launches Arts on Tap LIVE on Instagram TV, featuring artist interviews and behind the scenes scoops on local art happenings. On the first and third Tuesday of the month, audiences can participate in the Resource Round-up, hosted by Ramirez, on Facebook Live that featured special guests and informs viewers on available resources and upcoming opportunities. Fresh Arts also recently launched a Facebook Live Conversation Series that is broadcasted every Thursday, where local artists talk about how they are adapting and staying engaged during the pandemic.

Beginning in August, Fresh Arts will also launch a monthly podcast discussion on career development.

Online content provides artists with an opportunity to remain engaged with their audiences throughout the shutdown, such as mezzo-soprano opera singer Jessica Blau whose work, Sonquete Iberoamericanx, was rescheduled due to COVID-19.

“The fact that Fresh Arts is there to help support some of us artists who are trying to create our own work and really showcase different kinds of projects, it really helps individual artists,” said Blau.

Still, many Houston creatives are not aware of Fresh Arts, including many artists of color. According to Bentley, many African American artists she knows do not affiliate with what they consider “non-black organizations.”

“Working in the theatre community, there’s the Ensemble Theatre community, then there’s everyone else,” said Bentley, referencing Houston’s Ensemble Theatre, an African American ran theatre company which works to bring Black Theatre to the Houston community.

In Bentley’s conversations with African American artists, many will say, “’Oh, I thought it was just for white people’, and I’ve found myself having to explain that it’s really open to all of us.”

According to Ramirez, Fresh Arts understands that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America and makes a point to feature artists of color in their discussions and programs.

“Even before the protests, we understood that artists of color make Houston what it is. It makes the Houston arts community what it is. It’s always been great, and we know by featuring them would be paying them respect but also shows Houston that this is it, this is the heart of it,” said Ramirez. “It’s artists of color who have made Houston’s arts community great.”

One of their recent conversation series featured local artists Marissa Castillo from Teartx, a local Latinx Theatre Company, and Matt Manalo from Filipinx Artists, an artist collective of Flipinx visual, performing, literary, culinary and multidisciplinary Houston artists.

They have also featured multidisciplinary artist, curator, and project manager Theresa Escobedo, and visual artists Jamie Robertson. Their July programming is centered around cultivating equity in the arts, with topics such as Amplifying Arts Writers of Color, Implementing Language Justice for the Arts, and Prioritizing Programming for Marginalized Artists.

“They definitely do garner attention from all different types of people, ethnic backgrounds, geographic locations, and also artistic disciplines,” said visual artist Amy Malkan. “We’re bringing a different flavor, we’re bringing our own cultural backgrounds, our perspectives, to whatever that artistic opportunity is. “We’re introducing people to new cultures, new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing things.”

According to Malkan, the arts is like any other industry where people have subconscious biases and give art projects primarily to people that are white, leading to artists of color missing out on opportunities.

By Fresh Arts producing content that featuring a diverse group of people, “you can’t say ‘oh well they’re only catering to this group’”, said Bentley. “It’s never all one color”.

“It’s important now for our voices just to be heard,” said performing artist Chris Thomas, also known as Yung Chris, “It’s always been the time for that but I feel like now is more critical just because of the climate of what’s happening around the world and in our community.”

“I think people are starting to listen now versus just being silent,” said Thomas. “We have a story as well. We have narratives as well. Those narratives and stories should be highlighted, and I hope it’s not just a trend but more so it’s an actual change that will continue in the far future.”


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Chef Jonny Rhodes built a revered Houston restaurant. His next mission: Fighting ‘food apartheid.’

By most accounts, Houston chef Jonathan “Jonny” Rhodes has already achieved tremendous success. Just a few years removed from culinary school, he has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens and is running his own celebrated restaurant. Nonetheless, he says, everything in his career has brought him to this moment, confronting food justice against the backdrop of what is perhaps the biggest movement against anti-blackness and police violence in history.

“We talk about that stuff all the time in the neighborhood, honestly, because our community is constantly harassed by the police,” says Rhodes, 29. “I see it every night when we’re closing up shop at 11 o’clock. Nobody would have called the police, there would have been no incidents,” and yet six police cars pull into the neighborhood. “It’s like they’re hunting.” Police violence is one of the many ways black Americans are denied freedom, Rhodes says. Freedom here, he laments, is conditional. “We’re literally treated like tenants. The second we step out of line, it’s like, ‘Well go back to …’ or, ‘This is my country…’ ”

That’s why a restaurant, even a revered one, has never been enough for Rhodes, who says the pathway to real freedom is through the security and sustainability that comes with land ownership. He has been laying the groundwork since he opened his neo-soul food restaurant, Indigo, by building out a market of preserved and canned pantry items supplemented by produce from the modest garden next door. His intention: to eventually open a full-service grocery store and, further down the line, start a farm to supply the store.

Rhodes harvests peppers in the garden next to the restaurant/grocery. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

Rhodes decided to open Indigo in Houston’s Northline neighborhood, just outside of where he grew up, in part because he wanted to prove that fine dining belonged there, even if local law enforcement — and some Yelp reviewers — may have thought otherwise. But he has long had bigger aspirations for the project he undertook two years ago: He wants the world to see what’s possible without the chains of an oppressive history, by “showing people what we’re capable of and letting them follow us through the examples of what we’re doing outside. It makes them curious. And as it makes them curious, they create, they start asking questions. And when they start asking questions, they create their own ideas, and ideas are dangerous to the establishment — so instead of telling people to stay safe, we tell them to stay dangerous.”

What constitutes “staying dangerous” in Rhodes’s mind? It starts with Indigo’s unconventional, barrier-breaking premise: The five-course soul food menu is made up of dishes designed as much to convey flavor and beauty as to elicit dialogue about the food history of the African diaspora, with such names as Violence of Hunger; Hijabs, Hoodies & Afros; and Descendants of Igbo. Everything that’s cooked is prepared over a wood-fired grill because it’s historically accurate and because Rhodes and his team — including his wife, Chana Rhodes, and longtime locals such as Edwin “Slim” Williams, who built most of the restaurant’s garden himself — couldn’t afford the $10,000 necessary to install a gas kitchen when they opened. Once or twice during the meal, Rhodes steps into the dining room, surrounded by African art, books about slave foodways and posters emblazoned with revolutionary quotes, and presents a deft treatise on the inspiration behind each dish, encouraging guests to consider the intersections between past and present, in addition to their own roles in the sociopolitical issues he touches on. The 13-seat restaurant, which offers only two seatings per night, four nights per week, has become one of the most coveted reservations going.

But reviews and awards have never been Rhodes’s goal. And neither is just conversation, though conversation is a big part of the Indigo experience, where questions about the impact of centuries of oppression on the foodways of the diaspora are commonplace. That’s because Rhodes says that “creating awareness [alone] is just kind of whack, but actually taking steps and strides to get natural resources” is where the real work and impact happens.

Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

For Rhodes, who served in the Marines before starting a family, going to culinary school and then getting a degree in history, the war for natural resources has long been an apt metaphor for the black American experience. “African Americans have been subdued because we don’t control any natural resources,” he says, pointing out that black Americans have consistently been denied access to land ownership throughout U.S. history, first through slavery, then tenant farming, then redlining. The impact of these systems remains clear to Rhodes, a century after black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Ark., and as residents of Flint, Mich., still don’t have reliable access to clean water, 50 years after redlining was officially banned. “They dropped bombs on our farmland: That’s why we got liquor stores on every corner. That’s why we got convenience stores on every corner. Those are the nuclear bombs on all of our communities.”

The communities Rhodes describes are commonly called “food deserts,” usually densely populated neighborhoods marked by a severe lack of fresh produce coupled with an often devastating abundance of alcohol and processed food. But Rhodes and other food justice advocates around the country consider the term a misnomer. A more accurate phrase, they say, is “food apartheid,” because while a desert implies an organic state of bareness, an apartheid is the result of deliberate, systemic racism.

According to Karen Washington, co-founder of New York City’s Rise and Root Farm, calling it apartheid allows us to “look at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith and economics. You say ‘food apartheid,’ and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty.”

Liz Abunaw named her Chicago-area food equity start-up Forty Acres Fresh Market with food apartheid in mind: “It’s an homage to the unfulfilled promise to African Americans of 40 acres and a mule. … The issue of not having access to healthy food where we live particularly hits our communities hard. And I find it to be a cruel irony that the people that basically built this country, who were our country’s first farmers, who were so tied to the land, now live on land where they can get nothing from the land.”

Employee Wayne J. Bell helps customers. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

Covid-19 has disproportionately laid siege on black Americans, something Rhodes sees as inseparable from food apartheid because of the interconnectedness between urban blight, food insecurity and health-care inaccessibility. The pandemic expedited his team’s plans. When states started shutting down in March, Indigo closed for a few weeks and then, like many other restaurants across the country, pivoted to groceries when it reopened. Unlike most other restaurants, though, Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries isn’t a temporary endeavor. Rhodes is seizing this opportunity to do his part to dismantle food apartheid, through a sustainable, community-oriented, black-centered soul food market.

For now, Broham resides in the same 819-square-foot space that houses Indigo, where many of the familiar ingredients from the restaurant’s menu are available, though now at a more affordable price point, which is important to Rhodes, since Indigo’s $125-per-person dinner price has been a barrier for many locals. With Broham, he says, “you can deconstruct the experience and still get the quality.” And despite the change in name and setup, the educational mission remains the same: to offer insight into the history that brought us to this moment, by letting the food tell as much of the story as possible.

Among the 375-plus items you’ll find at Broham is the “vegetable ham” featured in Ten Toes Down — a dish on Indigo’s Herbivore menu — which is made from turnips or rutabagas that have been cured, hung, smoked and pickled to evoke the flavor and texture of meaty smoked ham. For Rhodes, the product provides an opportunity to offer both a vegan option and a history lesson: Preservation was a big part of the ancestors’ food traditions, because slaveholders and farm owners tightly monitored enslaved people’s and sharecroppers’ access to food. The only food black folks were allowed was typically the spoiled or otherwise unwanted remains — so they had to find ways to improve flavor and to make what they had last. If you’re lucky, another product you might find at Broham is clabbered milk ice cream, a subversive interpretation of the spoiled leftover milk that black people were limited to during slavery. To fill the gaps of what they don’t produce on-site, Broham uses its space to amplify local, black-owned purveyors such as Me & the Bees Lemonade, which features a photo of the brand’s young founder, Mikaila Ulmer, on the label. “Imagine walking into a grocery store in your own community with people on the containers who look like you… Now a possibility,” says the caption on an Instagram post showcasing the lemonade’s shelf in the store.

The store’s “vegetable ham,” made by curing, hanging, smoking and pickling turnip or rutabaga. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

For Rhodes, this moment is ripe with possibility: Earlier this year, he and his team purchased six acres of land just outside the city so they can start farming on a larger scale. (Always resourceful, they’re repurposing the wood they’re clearing for cooking, building fencing and growing mushrooms.).

The farm and the community it serves, Rhodes says, are the foundation for the real mission, so he’s going all in. “I write this with so many tears in my eyes. This all started with an idea & a dream of simply being free,” he wrote recently on Instagram, reflecting on the past two years of running the restaurant. He went on to announce that Indigo will close permanently next year as the team prepares to focus their efforts on the future of the farm and grocery store. In the meantime, as the restaurant prepares to possibly reopen later this month (with covid-19 cases surging in Houston, delays are likely), Broham is temporarily operating solely as a community kitchen serving free food to the neighborhood.

Real success for Rhodes may ultimately mean putting himself out of business entirely — but running a business was never the goal. “In my perfect world, my idea is to empower people to grow their own food, on their own land. Because if we can feed ourselves, that’s freedom.”

Marin is a Brooklyn-based reporter, writer and digital content producer.

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Why COVID-19 is both startlingly unique and painfully familiar

For Abby Knowles, a headache and fatigue was just the start.

She soon felt like she had a tight band across her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She developed pain in her upper body, which led doctors to check if she was having a heart attack (she wasn’t). Her blood pressure began to oscillate — too low, too high — leaving her lightheaded and nauseous. Her mind became so foggy she couldn’t read a book.

A symptom might taper off, only to return. “You’ll think, ‘Oh I’m done with that bit, brilliant,’” Knowles says, “and then three days later it will be back.” After more than three months of illness, Knowles — who is 38 and lives in Reading, England — has been referred for an evaluation for long-term complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, her husband Dan, who also became sick toward the end of March, had a high fever and more typical COVID-19 symptoms for a few days but soon recovered.

The experiences of the Knowles and many COVID-19 patients point to the ways that the coronavirus can be maddeningly unpredictable. Some people have debilitating illness, while others barely feel sick, if at all. For some, it’s mostly a respiratory illness, while others have neurological symptoms (SN: 6/12/20), such as loss of smell (SN: 5/11/20). Severely ill patients may develop life-threatening blood clots (SN: 6/23/20), adding vascular symptoms to the list. Some patients are struggling to get back to normal long after being sick.

And the way the disease plays out by age can be baffling. Severe cases of COVID-19 have been rare among children, but some have suffered a dangerous inflammatory syndrome that can appear weeks after an infection (SN: 6/3/20). Older people remain at highest risk for hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, but young adults are getting seriously ill, too (SN: 3/19/20). That group generally tends to fare better than the very young and very old with viral infections (one glaring exception: the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed healthy, young adults at a high rate).

In the six months since China reported a pneumonia of unknown cause, doctors have described a burgeoning catalog of health harms from what’s now called COVID-19. In some ways, the disease stands apart: The range of COVID-19’s effects and the difficulty in predicting how severely it will hit any one person is out of the ordinary. But some of the symptoms and patterns associated with COVID-19 are painfully familiar.

Combating COVID-19 — there are now over 10.5 million confirmed cases worldwide, and more than half a million have died of the disease — will take a better understanding of how it operates at every level, from the microscopic on up. Moving from the viewpoint of a cell to a person to society, here’s a look at how COVID-19 compares to other viral infections and the harms they inflict.

Peering at the cell

Studying how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the immune system has revealed some surprises along with one explanation for why COVID-19 can be a severe illness.

During a viral infection, the infected cells put out a call to arms and a call for reinforcements, says virologist Benjamin tenOever of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The cells release interferons, proteins that “signal to all of the neighboring cells that there’s a virus present,” he says. The cells also send out proteins called chemokines, which attract immune cells to the site of infection.

Viruses endeavor to overcome both calls. Influenza, for example, dampens each enough to replicate and move to another host, but not so much that a person can’t eventually clear the infection. SARS-CoV-2 does something different: It slams the breaks on the call to arms but puts the gas on the call for reinforcements, tenOever says.

In experiments with cells, animals and blood and tissue samples from COVID-19 patients, tenOever and his colleagues found low levels of interferons, which sound the call to arms. But levels of chemokines, which bring in the cavalry of immune cells, were high, the researchers report May 28 in Cell.

“It makes no sense,” tenOever says, as the juiced up call for reinforcements “doesn’t even necessarily benefit the virus.” But it can cause big problems for patients. The excessive show of immune cell force spurs inflammation and cell death, which can stoke yet more inflammation and cell death. This severe immune reaction can damage the lungs and other organs.

SARS-CoV-2 SEM image
This colorized scanning electron micrograph shows a cell infected with SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes COVID-19. The way the virus interacts with the immune system can lead to serious problems for patients, researchers say.NIAID

The way that SARS-CoV-2 tangles with the immune system largely sets it apart from other viruses, although SARS-CoV — the coronavirus behind the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003 — also showed the same mismatched approach to the call to arms and call for reinforcements, tenOever says. And the Ebola virus does something a little similar, although for a different reason, he says. That virus is good at blocking the call to arms, but it damages so many cells quickly during an infection that it ends up triggering a lot of inflammation, even though it isn’t revving up the call for reinforcements.

From person to person

Many of the symptoms and complications associated with COVID-19 are seen with other viral infections. For example, loss of smell, called anosmia, can occur during infections with common cold-causing coronaviruses and other viruses that target the upper respiratory tract. Fatigue is common with such viral illnesses as mononucleosis, which is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Blood clotting problems can occur in patients severely ill with certain viral infections.

But the sheer breadth of symptoms and complications associated with this illness is unusual. With COVID-19, “we are seeing such a devastatingly wide range of effects,” says infectious disease physician Anna Person of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Person knows COVID-19 both as a doctor and a patient. The Sunday in late April that the avid runner became ill started like any other and included a seven-mile run. But that evening, “I just had a wave of feeling horrible,” Person says, with chills and signs of a fever. “It hit me like a sledgehammer.”

During Person’s bout of COVID-19, she temporarily couldn’t smell or taste — coffee tasted like water, she says — and she experienced confusion and memory problems. Two months on, she’s slowly starting to feel like herself, but it’s taken longer than she expected. She has begun running again, but still battles heavy fatigue. Yet her case is considered mild because she didn’t need to be hospitalized.

The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 increases with age and with certain underlying conditions, but younger, healthy people are also ending up on ventilators or having strokes. What’s so unpredictable, Person says, is that “while we have studies that have told us certain risk factors for more severe disease, we’re seeing so many exceptions to that.”

Severe illness is no stranger to other viral infections, from dengue to West Nile to measles to chickenpox and shingles (SN: 2/26/19). And with respiratory viruses such as the flu, “there’s always a subset of people who present with very severe infection,” says infectious disease specialist Preeti Malani of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Those patients can end up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a deadly condition that deprives the organs of oxygen. But with COVID-19, she says, “clearly it’s a very different scale.”

Even those who seem to pass through a SARS-CoV-2 infection without a sniffle may not come out unscathed. Researchers assessed 37 people who tested positive for the coronavirus but didn’t have symptoms in the two weeks before their test or during their isolation in the Wanzhou People’s Hospital in China. Twenty-one had abnormal features in their lungs that have been seen in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, the researchers report online June 18 in Nature Medicine.

That leaves open the possibility that asymptomatic people, not just those with symptoms, may end up with long-term consequences. “One of the concerns is, are these people going to be left with lungs that don’t function normally?” Malani says.

CT scan of SARS-CoV-2 patient's lungs
These chest computed tomography scans from two patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 but did not have symptoms show signs that the virus affected their lungs. The arrows point to cloudy spots and stripes, abnormal features seen in patients who have COVID-19 pneumonia.Q.-X. Long et al./Nature Medicine 2020

Social scenarios

There is still much to learn about why an individual person might be more or less at risk of developing complications or long-term damage from COVID-19. But there’s little question anymore that certain scenarios put a person at higher risk of getting an infection in the first place. The virus mainly spreads by respiratory droplets, generated by coughing, sneezing or talking, when people are in close contact (SN: 6/18/20).

“Who are the people who are more likely to be in constant close contact with others, who are not able to isolate from respiratory droplets, who are not able to work from home?” says Jasmine Marcelin, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Those “often times are minority communities.”

The racial and ethnic disparities in terms of who has access to health care, owns a home and has a job that can be done remotely have produced stark differences in who gets sick and dies from COVID-19 (SN: 4/10/20). An analysis at the U.S. county level shows that greater social vulnerability — a measure which takes into account socioeconomic status, minority status, access to housing and transportation and other factors — is associated with a higher risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19 and a higher risk of death from the illness, researchers report online June 23 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Most patients hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with COVID-19 are from communities of color, says Person. “It’s systemic racism at work.”

This isn’t the first pandemic to disproportionately burden Black, Latino and Native American communities. For example, the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 was riskier for these Americans. And there is evidence that, even though fewer were infected, Black Americans were more likely to die from the 1918 pandemic flu than white Americans, researchers report online June 5 in Annals of Internal Medicine. “These problems have existed for centuries,” says Marcelin. Inequities “permeate every aspect of society, including health care and the way we respond to health care crises.”

All told, COVID-19 leaves us both with déjà vu and the sense we’re blazing new territory. Certainly some of what’s so transformative about the experience is that many of us are living through a pandemic of this scale for the first time, as we face a virus our bodies have never seen before. Because the coronavirus is new, “we’re learning on the job,” Marcelin says. “That makes it a lot more scary to think about.”