The patrons of Dred Barbershop and Salon get haircuts yesterday afternoon. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Not every African immigrant is upset over Trump calling their homeland a “shithole.” At Dred Barbershop and Salon in the South Bronx, some believe he was right on target.
“Trump is 200 percent right. Some parts of Africa are a shithole,” said Ghanaian immigrant Mohammed Ali Akirugu, 34, a regular customer at the barbershop. “The way he said it was not right, but what he said was right.”
President Trump’s comments were allegedly made during a bipartisan meeting with senators in the oval office where, they discussed a deal to protect America’s borders and immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries who are on temporary protection status (TPS).
Akirugu, a Ghanaian immigrant and regular customer at the barbershop said the economy back home made it difficult for him and now his younger brother, who recently graduated with a political science degree from the Islamic University College, Ghana, to find work.
“We video chat every day and nothing has changed since I left,” he said. “If you don’t have political connections somewhere you can’t get a job, that’s a shithole.”
According to a 2012 study released by africaneconomicoutlook.org, Ghanaian youths make up an estimated 33 percent of the population. Youths between ages 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 25.6 percent, twice that of those between the age of 25-44 and three times that of those 45-64.
Solomon Oolong, 27, a Ghanaian immigrant who emigrated to the United States two months ago, shared the experience of his inability to find work after graduating in 2012 with a degree in Business Administration from Valley View University in the Greater Accra region of Ghana.
“I literally begged for work to do, but everywhere I went, there were no openings,” he said. “We have all the resources in Ghana, but our leaders won’t help us so we end up living in hell.”
Oolong supported himself by opening an internet cafe with money he earned from his National Service at a military hospital in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. National Service is temporary paid labor all graduates of accredited Ghanaian institutions are required to perform for a year to the nation.
“Some of my mates who I graduated with came to me for work,” he said. I couldn’t believe it. These guys were graduates.”
Oolong said he does not find President Trump’s comments as an insult or an attack on his identity as an African man.
“Trumps comments don’t affect me because he doesn’t know me personally,” he said. “He’s speaking to our leaders. It’s a wakeup call for them.”
Kofi Addison, a 35-year-old barber who has worked at the shop for 11 years, also expressed his support for President Trump’s comments.
“I love my county, I love Ghana but the politicians there only enrich themselves,” he said. “My job is to work hard, improve myself and hope my people back home change their mindsets.”
Germain Ouedraog, 25, a college student from Cote D’ivoire, was among the few who expressed their anger towards the president’s comments.
“What he said was not right,” he said. “He should think about the past, the United States would not be this great nation without Africans.”
Ouedraog came to the United states on a student visa, with the hopes of completing his college education and finding a better job to support his family back home.
“I’m paying my taxes to this country, not to Africa,” he said. “If I come from a shithole country, it is my tax money that aids development here.”
He said the president should show more respect to the immigrant community and the leaders of African nations should invest their resources in their people and nation.
“It is time to think of ourselves and stop depending on others,” he said. “If Africans would unite and start fighting for ourselves, maybe Trump would see how great we really are.”
Volunteer Ashley Ellick sits behind a t-shirt table as volunteer Celia Hoskins looks at the display in the lobby of the East Village Cinema. The women are volunteers at NYC Mental Health Film Festival. Photo By Keziah Tutu
Films that create awareness of mental illness were the focus of yesterday’s NYC Mental Health Film Festival at the East Village Cinema.
“My grandmother suffered from mental illness. I want to understand some of what she experienced,” said Eric Williams, a first-time attendee of the NYC Mental Health Film Festival. “By learning about what other people go through, we can then learn about what we need to do to help.”
This is the 13th year of the film festival sponsored by Community Access, a nonprofit organization that supports people living with mental illness. Eight different films were screened during the one day festival, ranging from short pieces to documentaries.
Films were chosen by a screening committee made up of Community Access employees and volunteers at a meeting held at the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation services, a nonprofit organization in Albany. Genres ranged from documentary, fiction, animated films and autobiographical stories.
“A lot of the time, mental health is associated with homelessness and substance abuse, but there are a lot of people in professional fields that too suffer from mental illness,” said Eugene Smith, 64, a veteran volunteer of the festival. “These films help bring that to the forefront so there is less stigma.”
Some of the film producers also experience mental health conditions, said Sandy Brower, a member of the screening committee.
“The personal stories told by producers, who have a personal connection to mental health, are the most impactful,” she said.
Films must meet certain guidelines to be screened at the festival. They can’t be too long or too expensive to screen. They can’t be too emotional or violent for an audience who may also be suffering from mental health issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 25 adults experience a mental illness that interferes with or limits major life activities.
“I was diagnosed with manic depression and psychotic episodes beginning at age 19, and I was in and out of institutions and on various meds,” said Steven Muff, who has volunteered at the film festival for 12 years. “I’m involved with this work because they keep the conversation going, not that anyone has any of the answers, but it’s important to discuss.”
Many volunteers at the festival have mental health issues, Muff said, adding that there is a stigma surrounding mental illness and it is important to educate different communities about what it is and what it can look like.
Celia Hoskins, volunteer who has bipolar disorder, shared her experience of watching one of last year’s films about a young black boy who was confronted by police while having a manic episode.
“It seems as if the moment someone mentions mental health and the authorities are involved the situation turns violent,” she said. “But this film showed how it can be handled gently.”
Ashley Ellick, 24, another first-time attendee and volunteer, came to learn how to build support systems for those affected by mental illness. This cause is especially important to her because her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia 10 years ago.
Growing up in an African-American household, mental illness was never spoken of until her brother’s diagnosis, she said. Now she wants to create awareness.
“Mental health is almost like a myth in the black community,” she said. You don’t talk about it, you pray it out.”
African-Americans and Hispanic Americans use mental health services at about half the rate of white Americans, and about one third the rate Asian Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“My advice to others is just be informed, be supportive and listen,” Ellick said.
A group of protestors rallying against Housing Budget cuts passed by President Trump Thursday afternoon at the NYCHA Head Quarters in Lower Manhattan. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Public Housing advocates rallied against President Donald Trump’s plan to cut over $6 billion from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Budget yesterday.
“Before I moved to NYCHA Queensbridge, I lived in Sunnyside for five years, but I was evicted from my house to a shelter,” said Ok Soon Son, a current resident of one of New York City Housing Authority’s Queensbridge housing developments.
Son came to protest in front of the NYCHA headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Twenty-five years ago, Son was evicted and then threatened by child protective services to either find another home for her two young children, or risk losing them to foster care.
“All human beings should know that housing is not a luxury but our basic human right,” she said. “If there was budget cuts and the government did not give me a house in NYCHA Queensbridge, my family could have been separated. There should be no family being separated from each other because of housing.”
Under President Trump’s proposed 2018 fiscal year budget, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will cut NYCHA budget by $6.8 billion. These cuts will affect public housing organizations which provide housing to about 400,000 New York City residents.
According to the NYCHA, this will affect the availability of public housing units, increase the cost of rent and affect supplemental housing programs such as Section 8.
District Council 37 AFSCME, the union for NYCHA workers, along with the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, formed a circle at the protest and shouted, “’What do we want? More funding! When do we want it? Now!’”
Julian DeJesus, a member of District Council 37 AFSCME said, the rally isn’t only about getting more funding, but it’s to make sure those funds go to the right places so residents live in better conditions.
“We know that it will be difficult to create a better system in NYCHA and public housing across the country if they don’t have the funds to do so,” he said. “We want people to live comfortably and there is no reason why people should be living in slums.”
DeJesus said that with the community’s involvement, the goal is to get the president and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and other community leaders to see the importance of funding public housing.
“We don’t want them to cut what we already have, which is already lacking,” he said. “We’re on the defensive at this point but if we could get more people out here, more people fighting, more people aware, we would be in a better situation.”