Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review of the book "The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood"

People who live in what are typically considered the ghetto neighborhoods of America, and are fighting drug addictions, are often seen as the hopeless group that should be ignored. They are seen as people who won’t ever change their ways because they are happy using and dealing drugs and choose to continue doing so.

But in the book The Corner, by Ed Burns and David Simon, this belief is challenged by the stories of members of an inner city drug world in Baltimore. These stories are told through the eyes and voices of those who know it best because they are living it—those dealing and using the drugs.

The characters in this book are undeniably not the most admirable people in the world, but they defy the stereotype that they aren’t looking to improve themselves. While their lives may be disgusting and disturbing to outsiders looking in, their emotions can be shared and felt just the same as anyone else’s can.

Most of the people in this book want a better life for themselves, which is seen when Fran, the mother of the main character DeAndre McCullough, tries repeatedly to get clean. Often times, she is desperate to escape the world she lives in. When there was a problem at a rehabilitation center and there was no room for her to stay, she emotionally breaks down.

“I can’t make it. I can’t. I can’t go back.”

After she leaves there, she says she cried “like she hasn’t cried in years.”

When Fran is clean, she values life and desperately wants to stay away from drugs. She wants this for her children as well, which she expressed to DeAndre in a letter.

“Life is beautiful and natural and you may not get another chance. … If you don’t need yourself, I need you.”

Fran does beat her drug addictions time and time again, but when she returns to her neighborhood, she eventually falls back into her old ways and begins using and dealing again.

The father, Gary, began using drugs when he and Fran divorced. He wasn’t proud of who he was. He would often expresses how emotionally draining being a user really was for him and if he could change it, this isn’t who he would be.

“I’m a drug addict. That’s what I am. Who would wish for that? Who would choose that for their life?”
This furthers the point that Burns and Simon are capturing on the corner—the drug world is not always a chosen place to be.

Because of the lives his parents lead, DeAndre McCullough basically falls victim to the world around him. He is a high school student and at the age of 15 is already a drug dealer in the neighborhood.
“And off he goes, a fifteen-year-old entrepreneur on his daily commute to the office.”

Being in this world forces DeAndre and Tyreeka to grow up faster than they should because of what they see and do on a daily basis. But at the base of it all, neither one of them has grown up at all. She is 13 and he is 15 when they start having sex and before she knew she was pregnant, they both believed that having a baby would give their lives a purpose.

“The production of a child … would guarantee some tangible evidence of a brief existence.”
To believe as young teenagers, before they are even able to drive, that the only way to give their lives meaning is to bring another life into the world is heartbreaking. As the authors show, this is not something people would choose to experience or put their children through.

While Tyreeka was giving birth to their son, DeAnte, DeAndre was high on marijuana. But the birth of his son does make him want to change.

“I got to be a father to him. I’m gonna do better for him than got done for me and I’m gunna be up there with him so he knows who I am. My child gonna know me.”

But patterns aren’t easy to break and DeAndre falls right back into the world of drugs, waiting and hoping for someone to help him break the cycle.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

President Barack Obama Greeted by Protestors on his Visit to Cooper Union

Joseph Kohn standing with signs outside of Cooper Union on Thursday.
Photo by: Brooke Niemeyer

MANHATTAN—While President Barack Obama addressed leaders in the financial industry at a conference held at Cooper Union on Thursday, groups of protestors and activists stood outside of Cooper Union, all hoping to send their own messages to the president.

“We came here today to tell Obama that we want to live in peace with our neighbors,” Joseph Khon, 22, said. “We want him to stop dictating foreign policy, especially in Palestine.”

Khon and other members of the group Jews United Against Zionism arrived at Cooper Square before the president came and even though Obama left Cooper Union in the mid-afternoon, Khon and his group stuck around.

“Not only does the president need to know about our message, but so do other people,” Khon said. “According to our teachings, everyone should be working together in peace.”

Other members of the Jews United Against Zionism joined Khon in holding banners with their message printed on them in hopes that the president would notice what they had to say. But they were competing with many others.

Stacee Evarts, 36, held a poster with the words “Stop Harming Mother Earth” in block letters above a printed picture of the Earth that was surrounded by hand-drawn hearts.

“Today is Earth Day and all Obama cares about is money,” Evarts said. “He needs to get his priorities in order and make changes to save our planet.”

Evarts said she believes that this is a problem that affects everyone and is surprised that Obama is not doing more to help solve it.

“He has kids so he should want to look to the future for them and their kids,” Evarts said. “If we don’t have a planet for them to live on, money won’t even be a concern.”

But Devon Conoley, 20, had a different agenda.

“It took forever for me to even get to this point because of the traffic and now security won’t let me cross the street,” Conoley said as he watched the president’s motorcade of black SUV’s go by. “Yes it’s great that Obama is here, but I wonder if he can write me a note saying he’s the one who caused me to be late to work.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Artistic Statues Mistaken for Suicidal Jumpers


What looked like a naked man stood extremely close to the edge of the Empire State Building's 26th floor. His naked body was rigid and tipped forward. A woman looked up and screamed, "Oh my god! Someone call 911! He's going to jump!

But it wasn't a suicidal man. It was a statue. 

The statue is one of 31 statues that make up the "Event Horizons" art exhibit, created by British artist Antony Gormley. Each statue is 6 feet 2 inches tall and can be found on ledges and rooftops of buildings, while four of them are at eye-level around Madison Square Park. The statues are causing confusion to many New Yorkers.

"I don't get why it's naked or who this is," David Park, 75, said as he tapped the legs of a statue with his wooden cane. 

The metal statues, brought in by the Madison Square Park Conservatory, were made from a mold of Gormley's body. They appear rusted and stiff, with their arms to their sides and fingers pressed tightly together, as if Gormley was in a tense pose when the figure was cast. The statues on the ground are looking straight ahead, while the ones on the building ledges are looking down at the streets below.

Details on the faces of the statues are minimal - the eyes appear to be shut and there is no facial expression or lips. There are eight flat circular knobs, about the size of silver dollars, which were used during removal of the molds from Gormley's body.

While the figures on the ground are made of iron and weigh around 1,400 pounds, the ones on the buildings are made mostly of fiberglass and weigh about 75 pounds. Many Flatiron pedestrians believe the statues, perched on the buildings, are suicide jumpers. 

"I started to get out my phone to call the police when I saw it up there," Margaret Jones, 36, said as she pointed up to the statue on the Empire State Building. "Why else would someone be that close to the ledge if they weren't going to jump?"

"I looked up and saw a man standing near the edge," Catherine Zimmers, 38, said. "I had an instant flash to what happened when people were jumping on 9/11, and my heart dropped."

While the New York Police Department could not provide an exact figure of how many people call about these "possible jumpers," one police officer said at least hundreds of calls have come in because of the statues. 

In a written statement, Gormley said that the intent of this exhibit was not to cause people to be alarmed, but to get them to slow down and notice their surroundings. People are certainly noticing the statutes, but many are not enjoying the experience. 

Gormley came to New York City in August of 2009 to scout out locations for his statues. Together with representatives from Madison Square Park Conservatory, Gormley decided that placing the statues as close to the edge of the ledges as possible would help with visibility and would add a dramatic effect.

When Zimmers was told about this, she shook her head in disbelief. 

"Why would someone do this to the people in this city?" Zimmers said. "I still have nightmares about those people who felt there was no way out but to jump. I don't need a reminder just because someone feels they are being creative."

Gormley developed a large following in Europe after the release of his statue "Angel of the North," which became one of England's most famous statues. After a similar "Event Horizon" display along a London shoreline in 2007, Gormley decided he wanted to create an exhibit for New York City. This is his first public art exhibit in the United States.

Patricia Shiplett, a visual artist from Saskatoon, Canada, has been studying Gormley's work. She didn't think she would get to see the exhibit in person unless she went to London, but she said she was thrilled to see it on her trip to New York City. 

"I think they're actually beacons to what's happening in the world," Shiplett said. "I think they're placed there to sort of observe mankind and maybe have us think a little bit about what we're doing with the world." 

Others simply enjoy the experience of searching for the statues. 

"It's like a puzzle trying to figure out where they are hidden on the buildings," Alexa Kinsley, 20, said. "I like it."

The statues are on exhibit until August 15. 

This article and slideshow were published on the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute's website, Pavement Pieces

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bridal Gown Designer Takes Another Path to Success

Bridal gown designer and owner of Dress as Ritual, Stacia Adams.
Aspiring dress designer Stacia Adams, a tall woman with simple style, both in her appearance with unpainted fingernails and only a touch of makeup, and in her fashion designs, sat at a desk working on her latest design.

Her long, dark fingers held a Pentel pencil, used to sketch in one of the many design books she keeps on her desk. She switched to a Prismacolor marker, and the bright color brought the design to life.

Adams is one of many people who are trying to break into the fashion industry as a gown designer, but at the age of 29, she hasn’t made it yet, and statistics show it won’t be getting easier for her anytime soon.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 there were approximately 22,700 employed designers in the country, and the employment of fashion designers is projected to grow by only 1 percent between 2008 and 2018, making this a very competitive industry.

Despite the odds, Adams is still going after, what she calls, her passion in life.
A study done by the USBLS shows the majority of fashion designers start out by working for another designer in order to gain experience and an understanding of the industry before they open their own business, which is the path Adams followed.

After obtaining her associate’s degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and her bachelor’s degree from New School University, both schools in New York, Adams went to work for designer Carolina Polokova, attending fashion events and cutting garments. 
Because Adams feels so strongly about having creative freedom, she decided to open her own business instead of working for someone else again. She now owns and runs her own bridal business, Dress as Ritual.

“The clothing label was created to liberate women from restrictive clothing and offer dresses that symbolize spiritual practice,” Adams said. “Dresses actually empower women and are a symbol of our identity.”

According to Dorothy Silver, the director of sales and merchandising at Kleinfeld’s in New York City, launching a clothing business right now in a recession is challenging, but she believes the bridal business has a better promise for success than other clothing industries.

“There will always be brides getting married every year, so the future in bridal will always be strong,” Silver said.

Dress as Ritual hasn’t drawn in the buyers Adams is desperately seeking and she feels she’s trying everything she can. She’s hoping getting her masters degree at New York University might be the answer.

“At NYU I am learning how to be a relationship builder and make connections with influential people,” Adams said. “These people can help me send a message (about my business) to those who matter.”

The USBLS says those who want to run their own business often combine an undergraduate degree in fashion design with an advanced degree in business, marketing or fashion merchandising, but this is where Adams differs from her peers. She is going for a degree in a field that studies are finding is dwindling due to the state of the economy—public relations and corporate communication.

"My leap from fashion to PR was a combination of hard work and passion," Adams said. "I believed in my unrealized potential as both a professional communicator and a fashion designer."

Adams did not disclose the amount of debt she has, but between the cost of materials needed for her business and paying for school, money is tight. She relies on student loans to cover her tuition at NYU, which as of spring 2010 was around $14,000 per semester. She runs an alteration service from home to help her finance her business.

While Adams says she does plenty of alterations, she prefers to focus on the promotion of her original designs for her company. Silver said self-promotion of dresses is important and even though there are major showcases for newcomer dresses to be seen, it is a tough industry.

“Every bridal market I go to has a section at the shows where they showcase new talent,” Silver said. “Some make it, and some do not.”

Adams likes to design when she has a specific goal in mind and tries to find inspiration to work on her designs as often as possible.

“Nature inspires me, and I think healing is a huge inspiration,” Adams said. “I rely on esoteric teaching as well as fashion pioneers (for inspiration)."

For Adams, these fashion pioneers include Iyanla Vanzant, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. She says the vision behind her dresses makes her unique and will help her achieve her long-term goal of having a storefront in SoHo alongside designers she feels her style is similar to, such as Vera Wang, Yoshiko and Ana Sui.

“I like to keep things fresh and in the moment,” Adams said. “Fashion is really about what is happening now.”

Silver says that no matter the economic situation, many designers don’t make it because of their lack of originality.

“You have to realize that most (women) have no idea or don’t care about the designers name,” Silver said. “All she cares about is how she looks in the dress. It’s the collection that has to stand out.