Category: News

UMass Amherst students ‘March Against Racism & White Supremacy’, bring list of demands to administration

A mixed crowd of undergraduate and graduate students gathered in front of the Student Union (Photo: Brie Bristol/Rebirth Project)

By Brie Bristol

A usual day around one in the afternoon at the University of Massachusetts Amherst consists of students in class, eating in the dining halls, studying at the library, or working out at the recreation center. On Thursday Dec. 6, it was different than the norm. About 200 people marched together to “denounce the acts of hate and cowardice plaguing our campus in recent months”, such as written threats and racial profiling.

In the past three months, UMass Amherst has experienced various racist incidents. A Whitmore employee had campus police called on him, the Melville residence hall had three racially targeted issues in a row and white supremacy flyers were found around campus. While this is not the first time these incidents have happened on the campus, their frequency over the fall semester has made it a deep concern for the UMass community.

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Local Women of Color Entrepreneurs & Their Stories

Left to right: Sheila Coon, Donabelle Casis, Erica Wilson, and Rosemary Tracey Woods

By Lucia Solorzano

Starting a local business is quite a challenge and a large endeavor, but these four inspiring women have cultivated different paths to follow their passions and create businesses.

The Women of Color Leadership Network from the Center for Women and Community at UMass Amherst held a panel of four local businesswomen to inspire and engage in conversation with young business women of color on Thursday, November 28.

Erica Wilson is the creator of Head Games Beauty Supply in downtown Amherst, a natural hair care store. She opened the shop after realizing there was no accessible beauty supply store in the Amherst area. Despite spending most of her life as a professional dancer or dance teacher, she had always had a love for hair care. At a time of transitioning into teaching at a new university, her son going through an academic transition, and cutting off her dreadlocks to having a new halo of curls, she saw an opportunity to go after something new that was also an important aspect of embracing her curls. She had a vision for Head Games and after much planning and testing products, eventually opened up the store.

Sheila Coon is the owner of Hot Oven Cookies in Springfield, a cookie store with a plethora of flavors and homemade recipes. Sheila always had a love from cooking and baking after watching women in her family cook, and she wanted to make that passion into a career. After having trouble balancing children as a single mother and taking care of her grandmother, her dream job got interrupted many times. It had always been a struggle to be able to follow her passion, but she was determined to prove that she could do it. After a tough time business-wise, she recently opened up her cookie shop in Springfield on November 24, 2018. She looks forward to expanding and becoming a franchise in the future.

Aaija Hall, UMass sophomore, said regarding Sheila’s story that, “even in times where it seems like life has ended because it’s so hard and you feel like you’re not going to get through that, things are actually possible because you see it in real form, and this woman has really done this with seven kids, birthing a baby at 15, and now she has her own business that’s successful.”

Donabelle Casis is a local artist who turned her art into a leggings line. She calls it her “project” because it is only sold in a few small stores and online. She has always loved colors and creates vibrant art pieces, and she wanted to create her own leggings that can be used everyday or for working out. Once she created them, people inquired about where she got them; so she made her leggings available and got picked up by a few local stores.

Onasheho Toweh, UMass PhD Student stated that “ it was so real to tell us, you know what? It’s not easy, there are many stumbling blocks along the way but going for your passion and being true to what your call or vision is, is key.”

Rosemary Tracy Woods owns Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield focuses on African American artists. She had always loved art and museums and saw a lack of representation in museums and art conventions. Growing up she had never seen black art, and when she did she felt a connection with and saw herself in it. She had friends who sold art, so Woods also got involved, eventually opening up a gallery in Springfield.

They all gave the advice to always be open to critique because there is always room to grow and improve your business. It was also stressed that planning is a key part of starting a business. They suggested tools such as Live Plan to create a business plan to always look back to. Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, a sort of mini shark tank, was also suggested as they are a great support for women and people of color.

Jaida Hall, UMass sophomore and business owner, stated that despite the setbacks the women ran into, “they knew there was going to be more opportunities as long as they loved what they wanted to do.”

A common thread through all of their advice was, as Woods put it, “don’t follow the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, follow your heart. Whatever business you get into, you really have to enjoy what you’re into.” They all emphasized how this is all worth it to them, through every struggle, judgment, and failure they endured, because they are extremely passionate about what they do.

Eyewitness Account: Solidarity with the Migrant Caravan

Embed from Getty Images

By Sifa Kasongo

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, students and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Amherst joined the International Socialist Organization (ISO) at 6:30 p.m. in the Campus Center to hear a firsthand account of the struggles of the migrant caravan and how people can show solidarity and support.

The firsthand account came from Fermin Valle, a queer South American activist, an ISO member and a doctoral student in higher education at UMass.

Valle discussed his experience traveling down to Mexico City, where he met some of the migrants, asylum seekers and people who are a part of the caravan.

According to the New York Times, the migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with fewer than 200 people; but as people got word of what was happening, “the mobilization quickly grew”. The migrants are leaving their countries in search of better wages and a better future for their families.

The migrants, who mostly come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are travelling thousands of miles through South America and arriving at the US-Mexico border, planning to either stay in Mexico or cross the border. According to BBC News, they are staying in temporary shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.

The path migrants have taken over the last two months (Source: BBC News)

“I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I had to go and figure out what’s going on,” Valle remembered saying to his brother before heading down to Mexico City with him.

When Valle arrived he saw around 1,000 people, most of whom were from El Salvador, taking refuge in a church. While he was down there, he soon noticed the press leaving, but he stayed behind to talk to the migrants in order to understand their situation and be able to share their stories. Through these conversations, that was how he met Daniela*.

Daniela is a mother of four, with a daughter who got accepted into a university in El Salvador. She had lost her job due to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement signed by the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Daniela left her country and joined the caravan in hopes of crossing the border and finding a better-paying job to pay for the costs of university for her daughter.

Valle wanted to talk to more of the migrants and hear their stories, so he organized a discussion where over 30 people showed up. Xenophobia was the topic of discussion, which the migrants were aware has spread across the world.

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. It has not only created divisions between Mexicans and the world but also created divisions among the people who live in Mexico.

What some of the migrants didn’t know was that while xenophobia is prevalent, resistance exists. Valle shared with them about the time when millions of people gathered to protest against Trump’s inauguration and the ongoing rallies in support of the migrant caravan.

When they received this news, joy erupted and their morale improved. However, while broad supports of the migrants exists, Valle wanted the attendees to think about how we all can organize and have a bigger turnout in support for the caravan.

“There’s so much history in this caravan,” Valle said. “They want to know where in the U.S. we are going to organize the broadest support not only to resist Trump, resist white supremacy, but to meet them at the border.”

Valle asked the attendees to fight the xenophobia they hear about brown and black people here at UMass, in the U.S. and around the world.

He further said that in the U.S., people have a responsibility to identify with and “break with the chains of racism and white supremacy that pull us to align with the rich and powerful who are running this country.”

Moving forward, Valle wants us to figure out in classrooms how people are humanizing the struggles and lives of people who are looking for a better future to send money back to their families.

He says that a socialist solution is that there needs to be open borders and the government needs to “let them all in.”

“We already live in a world where borders are open to capitalists and so they should be open to the working class,” Valle said.

Below are some ways Valle says you can help show support for migrants in the caravan:

  • Fight against xenophobia
  • Build solidarity across the U.S. for the individuals and families in the caravan, because currently those migrants aren’t seeing that there is a lot of support.
  • Put pressure on the government to provide migrants with fair hearings, safety, etc.

The International Socialist Organization meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Campus Center in room 804-08.

*= ‘Daniela’ was a pseudonym used by Valle to preserve the anonymity of the migrant woman he spoke with.

Domestic Workers Building Dignity and Power, Past and Present

By Brie Bristol

On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Feinberg Series at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst presented “Domestic Workers Building Dignity and Power, Past and Present”.

The academics on the panel were Linda Burnham, senior advisor at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA); Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of the Matahari Women Workers Center, and Jennifer Guglielmo, history professor at Smith College.

The focus of the panel was to shine a light on the importance of protecting domestic workers, who are mostly female, to a full multicultural audience of at least 70 people. The panel was moderated by Diana Sierra Becerra, followed by a brief overview of each panelist’ work and how it pertains to domestic workers, and then a “coffee-talk” forum of questions and answers.

It was defined by the women that domestic workers are mostly “poor women of color” who receive unfair wages, no sick days, no retirement, and no overtime. Linda Burnham described domestic workers’ conditions as the slavery of the present.

Burnham discussed that through the NDWA, the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” was drafted in order to create a floor of how to improve conditions today focusing on overtime rights and rights to form a union. The “Bill of Rights” was ratified in 2010 in New York during a Matahari rally, as an act of building a conversation about the importance of protections for domestic workers.

Matahari or Matahari Women Workers’ Center is an organization formed in Boston where, as Becerra describes, “women of color, immigrant women, and families come together as sisters, workers, and survivors to make improvements in ourselves and society and work towards justice and human rights”.

Through Matahari, Monique Nguyen said that members can build a conversation about facts that all people should be knowledgeable about concerning domestic workers; this conversation has successfully been built through the creation of booklets explaining the “Top Ten Things You need to know about Domestic Workers,” these pamphlets are available through Matahari members like Nguyen presenting information about workers rights.

Besides pamphlets, Burnham discussed that another way that domestic workers have been benefited by the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” is through an online platform called Alia, where domestic workers can receive employment benefits. The benefits given through the Alia software range from accident insurance, critical illness insurance, paid time off, and many others. Burnham further explained that through Alia, employers and employees can communicate through phone numbers and emails about accumulating credits that convert into Visa cards, insurance coverages, and benefit credits. It was explained by the panel that Alia is one way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today.

Another way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today is by the availability of working-class archives through funding from Matahari run by Jennifer Guglielmo. These archives have been made available online in order to use history to strengthen movements supporting for domestic workers. Guglielmo has made history accessible through a digital timeline of over 30 slides translated into Spanish and English focusing on minor workers history that was rooted in African American women’s history. She has devoted her work to these slides as an action to promote the movement focusing on domestic workers just like Burnham and Nguyen.

Overall the panel was very informative on a class of people who are our neighbors. It laid out the benefits that domestic workers need, and the ways that we – as a society – can help them achieve the rights that all workers have. You can listen to the audio version of the panel here.

“Stand United, Fight Hate” Lecturer Defines What It Means To Be Anti-Racist

By Ethan Bakuli, Brie Bristol, and Cynthia Ntinunu

On Wednesday night, November 7, over 500 people gathered in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center Concert Hall for a talk by New York Times best-selling author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. His lecture, titled “How to Be An AntiRacist” was part of the inaugural UMass “Stand United, Fight Hate” series. The title of Kendi’s lecture is based off the name of his forthcoming book, while the talk itself covered the topics to be explored in his second novel, Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History Of Racist Ideas In America”.

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