Category: Uncategorized

Should I Invite You to My Graduation?

By Steven Turner-Parker

For a second, the car was completely quiet. We were heading back to UMass, swerving on those darkly-lit backroads, when I thought to myself, “wow, this is the first time my dad has ever done anything for me.”

It was a surreal moment that I never thought would happen. But as that realization hit, I found myself shedding a few tears in the front seat, thinking about how my biological father was actually being a dad for once.

This moment didn’t just fall into my hands magically. I actually worked on reconnecting with my father’s side of my family for awhile. But it all started with my intention of never seeing his face again. He hadn’t been there for me growing up and I had no reason to include him in life. Or so I thought…

It wasn’t until I heard Hov (better known as Jay-Z) talk about his situation with his dad, that I started to rethink my own relationship with my father. In his short documentary, “Footnotes of ‘Adnis’,” inspired by his 2017 album 4:44, Hov said:

“What happened to you…what happened? I start thinking about [when] my uncle got killed it put my dad in this weird place. He went through depression and he started to use drugs and it became this slippery slope. He couldn’t face his children at some point. It wasn’t that he was leaving, it was ‘ooh I’m embarrassed now, I’m not even myself anymore.’ And that was [our] separation.”

In his words, Hov was saying that your parents are people too. They make mistakes, faces challenges and fall into situations that affect not only their relationship with their child, but with life in general. It was a message that resonated with me.

The last couple of years I’ve begun to forgive my father for not being there for me when I needed him the most. Now, as I get closer to the next chapter of my life, I do want to build some kind of father-son relationship with him. But since he’s just now coming back into my world, does that mean he gets to come to my college graduation?  

It’s a question I find myself asking more and more as the days pass and the end of my undergraduate career approaches. I’m just not sure whether I can let him in fully.

Should I let him be a part of my greatest achievement when he wasn’t there to watch my back during my toughest times: dealing with gangs, friends dying around me, navigating a drug infested community filled with too many bad influences and stray bullets with no names. All of those experiences I survived without him.

He wasn’t there for the bad parts but he certainly wasn’t there for the good moments either. I remember the smell of the fresh hardwood floor on the basketball court, wiping the sweat out of my eyes while I watched other fathers giving their sons love for having a great game. I sat with a few kids on a cold silver bleacher near the sideline, thinking about what it would be like to have those moments with my dad.

But I was lucky enough to have an amazing mother who would go to the moon and back just to see me be successful. I was privileged in that way, because some of the other kids on that bleacher didn’t even have that much. But, in my heart, I still wanted my dad to be there.

Now, sitting in the car staring up at the stars as they light up the black western Massachusetts sky, I suddenly heard Vybz Kartel come out the stereo. I looked back at my dad with my eyebrows high and a smirk saying, “Steve, this is the music you be listening to?” He smiled back and replied,“Yea this what I would listen to!”

This surprised me for two reasons: the first being that Vybz Kartel’s music is usually played by younger people at parties or during the ride to the party, so I genuinely wasn’t expecting my dad to be listening to him.

The second reason was that music, specifically hip hop and dancehall, have had a huge influence on me. Making the connection that my dad and I had similar taste in music was a big deal. It made me start to think if we had other things in common that might explain why I act the way I do.

It’s a thought that honestly scares me—just knowing that I have links to my identity connected to my father without even knowing it until now. I grew up feeling so much resentment towards this man that I honestly thought it would last forever. But, having him around the past three years, I find myself going back to being that kid on the bleacher hoping for a relationship with my father again.

Pulling into the Southwest horseshoe, looking up at the towers, my mind was racing about what I should say to him as I got out of the car and entered into a whole different reality from the one back home. I stepped out with a heavy heart and my body fueled with all types of burning emotions that I had to come to grips with in seconds.

All those years of hate I had for him slowly faded away by the end of that car ride. Instead, when I looked him in the eyes as we said our goodbyes and reached out for a handshake, I simply said: “thank you, Steve, for coming all this way.”

The Veins that Stopped Growing

By Lucia Solorzano

I have dreams of my veins spreading out
like the vines on my garden wall

And my blood,  bringing life
like the ocean 20 miles south

My skin, the protector
like the air and the clouds

The hairs on my body to keep me warm
like the small spring grown sprouts

My braid that swings about
like the old moss licked tree
that grew with me

and it’s leaves that fell
like the trees that fell
like the chemicals that spewed and spilled
and the smog that clouded our judgement
and brought us downhill

and now the vines can’t grow
and the ocean can’t glow

with the life and the warmth
of the trees and the sprouts

and my garden wall
the vines stopped growing
and all we do is watch the leaves fall.

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.

UMass Interviews: Imosé Wraps by Stephnie Igahrosa

Interview with Imosé Wraps

What is Imose Wraps?

Imose wraps is a subscription service for headwraps with a platform for immigrants and refugee communities. So I kind of start off by explaining, because not everyone knows what a subscription model is — do you know about subscriptions? Netflix, Hulu? What about subscription services like Ipsy or Glamour? They are services that send you care packages in the mail monthly. Well, Imose Wraps is that. The plan is to send you packages, and it allows you to discover headwraps frequently right at your door or dorm, conveniently and easily. So that’s essentially what Imose Wraps is. Both a subscription service but also a philanthropic service.


Why did you start Imose Wraps?

For multiple reasons. One, I kind of saw how, over the the summer in 2017, I subscribed to a lot of subscription services like stitch fix and pop fit which were mostly clothing ones and I saw how, like some of them I liked and others I didn’t, but getting the experience of having those subscription services — I realized wait! There’s kind of a missing market for something that I would like.

I noticed how headwraps pervade my life. I use head wraps in my cultural life where I wear headwraps for, or we call it Ukionfon in my Benin Nigerian culture. Or wearing head wraps to cover my hair when I’m praying for spiritual reasons where I feel, as a Christian, closer to God when I do pray and my hair is covered. Or headwraps when I am going through a self-care day and I just don’t want to do my hair but I can cover it up and leave my door. Or even just to cover my ends so I don’t get split ends so I can protect my hair before I go to sleep. So essentially headwraps pervaded my life and I saw how useful it was but also just beautiful. So because of that reason as well, I decided to start Imose Wraps.

But I also wanted to start it because I, I never really got into this before, but last year was a trying time for me where I was forced to confront my own radical consciousness with different experiences that happened to me in the classroom, in my life, in my relationships where I learned more about my identity as an immigrant. And so that in addition to what has happened in the general US context of DACA, and the US president building borders to restrict immigrants coming into this country, I was pushed to do something about that because it was hurting me and I wanted an outlet for that. So I thought why not use this vision that I’m looking forward to with beauty, fashion, and design and bring it together with helping people like myself to create what is now Imose wraps. Essentially that name IMOSE in Benin means beautiful, I usually call my grandma that “Iye no mosé,” “Grandma that’s so beautiful,” and in Hebrew it also means Moses, and so I think those two images and words come together with the beauty of Imose but also the story of exile and exclusion coming together and re-claiming that for a common purpose


How do you decide what designs you want to use for the headwraps?

So far, I’ve literally just been going on social media scrolling through different images of styles that call out to me, putting it on my excel spreadsheet. Also following different blogging communities and different pages of headwrap businesses, such as Aṣọ Dára (@asodara on Instagram), which was a company started by two Yoruba immigrant sisters, or Fanm Djanm (@fanmdjanm on Instagram) started by Paola who’s Haitian-American, and the Wrap Life (@thewraplife on Instagram). Those kind of businesses, I follow them and see the styles that are being promoted and the ones that are kind of in season. But the thing is, headwraps don’t really go out of season. It’s really what you’re wearing and how you want to define yourself in that day, in that moment. So that’s kind of what I love about it too — that it’s so free flowing, and fluid that I’m not really stuck  in “oh I have to do this style or that style”. But what does inspire me for choosing a headwrap? I don’t have a certain inspiration, I just kind of go with it to find a collection of headwraps and I’m still in the process of doing that.

What are some of your biggest challenges of starting your business?

Starting. No but in all honesty… I guess believing in myself. There are moments where I’m like “Oh should I even do this? Is this the right moment for me to do this?” Because right now I am not only trying to start this business, I’m also applying for medical school, trying to keep my head above waters in class, and thinking about my honors thesis, so I have a lot of pieces moving in my life as well. So time management is something that I struggle with in working with Imose, and then that kind of feeds the anxiety of maybe I should push this for a later project, maybe this is not something I should do now.

But then weirdly, or maybe not weirdly, there are these moment that are certain reminders that tell me “Stephnie, this is something you should do. Stephnie this is a vision you have, Stephnie you should keep pushing for it.” Whether it’s, for example, when I almost gave up with my GoFundMe page I ended up getting $100 in a day from this guy I worked for two summers ago to help him run for state representative, which he didn’t, but two years down the road he donates to my cause saying “I really believe in this” Wow, if someone else can believe in me, why can’t I believe in myself? Or someone randomly coming up to me saying “oh my gosh, I’m so ready to get a headwrap” and I’m like “wow, someone’s actually excited for this, ok, maybe I should push for that too” so I think that part of believing in myself is something that I’m still learning to have.

It’s weird because I think, what I assumed might be difficult, is getting mentors in different spaces to help me, but I’ve strangely been able to do that. I’ve been able to connect with mentors from the headwrap/hair industry, to people in the subscription service industry to people in the entrepreneurship field. And I think that, again, is a manifestation or it shows me that maybe this is something I should keep pushing for. Since the things that would normally seem so hard are manifesting for me.


Are you ready to start taking subscription orders, what stage of the whole process are you at?

I think figuring out the company, that’s going to be an ongoing process. Every day I journal “ok this is something new I’m going to add to Imose”, this is another idea I’m getting because this person talked to me. Because I saw the way the tree was moving, and think of maybe I can connect this with this. So every day there’s something being added or removed to Imose, so that’s an ongoing process.

So to talk about where I’m at right now. Yesterday I worked on the landing page, which is a pre-launch site. Having a pre-launch site for a subscription service is a way for me to “capture leads” (that’s what it’s called). So that just means knowing how many people are interested in buying and subscribing. I did one already in February, where I collected up to 50 leads, but I want to do it again so I can have more people. So that’s where I’m at with the subscriber side of it. Marketing I’ve worked with a couple photographers, Cynthia Divina (@Cynthiadivinan on Instagram) and Laura Sway (@Luswaystudios on Instagram). Where I’ve taken some photos and used that to help me with my social media platform. Mentors I think is a key part, and so far I’ve had the backing of my mentors to help me out. Taking classes to give me more of a business background. Because I’m coming from women studies, pre-med, and biology so I felt like I came in blindsided. But in all honesty, I feel like I am bringing some skills that I’ve gained from those other classes, my major and minor into this in a weird way. So essentially that’s where I’m at with mentors, marketing, and subscribers, and taking classes.

So some classes I’ve taken so far — I’m currently taking an entrepreneurial class with Bob Lowry, in Isenberg. I’ve taken a couple small business development classes in Holyoke and Springfield. And I’m also on this online platform called Subscription school where I’m learning tips and tricks of how to start your own subscription service. Yesterday I was on an online seminar for about an hour and a half asking questions. I literally asked like 20 questions and my name kept coming up over and over and over again.

So, I’m still learning in a way, because that’s where I am – the learning phase. I would love to launch by next month (April). I definitely want to launch before school ends. And when I say launch, I mean shipping and packaging and having logos and people/subscribers obtaining the product. Because right now, they know of it but haven’t received it. So before school ends, I want people to receive my product. Because I know I’m going to have to be doing the shipping and packaging by myself if I go home or with my family, so I want to start it in my dorm with friends and people around me to help me out with that and transfer that to doing it at home.


Where can people find Imose Wraps?

Instagram: @Imosewraps

Facebook: IMOSÉ Wraps