OPINION: Complicity and the Gayborhood

Last Wednesday, June 14th, was just an odd day. Not only was it the birthday of our current president, but also a reminder that progress is a journey full of unfortunate setbacks.

One such setback occurred at a book signing for a black gay media colleague of mine from New York at the Ethical Society in Rittenhouse. The evening affair, which opened with a Q&A followed by a meet-and-greet, was packed mostly with black LGBTQ community members who came to hear a first-time author offer perspective on writing a collection of personal essays that explore self-discovery, resilience, and cultural empowerment. Such themes resonated with a crowd of people who have themselves experienced the power of fighting for survival and inclusion while facing discrimination and erasure. Read more »

Off-Duty Cop Body-Slammed 14-Year-Old, Left Him With Skull Fracture, Says Family

Naji Tribble, left, at a family outing days before being handcuffed to a hospital bed on May 11th. Photos provided by the Tribble family

At the start, it was just kids being kids.

Around 5:45 p.m. on May 11th, Naji Tribble, a 14-year-old Brewerytown resident, and four friends stopped by a Dollar Tree near the corner of 26th Street and Girard Avenue as part of the group’s afternoon routine of checking out the stores up and down Girard. After buying some snacks, the boys decided to go next door for the first time to Steelworks Strength Systems, a new gym that had recently replaced a state store they’d never been allowed to enter.

The boys, all of whom are black, went into the gym through a propped-open side door and spent a few minutes lingering over the equipment as they made their way toward the building’s front entrance. Naji says that a group of mostly white men who were working out began cursing at them and demanding that they leave, some of them resorting to racial slurs as they chased them out. (Gym management declined to comment.) Read more »

“It Was an Ambush”: Behind the Vote That Ousted Sharron Cooks as LGBT Commission Chair

Sharron Cooks | Photo taken by Kelly Burkhardt

The Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, a 23-member advisory board announced in October 2016 after several intense months of revelations about racial discrimination in the Gayborhood, convened its first meeting on March 16th at City Hall. This inaugural gathering served as the formal introduction of Amber Hikes, a black queer woman newly appointed as the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, to the diverse body of volunteers who would help her advise Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration on the pressing needs of Philadelphia’s LGBT community.

It was during this meeting, which kicked off with commission members taking the floor for two minutes apiece to present overviews of their lives and work, that Sharron Cooks, a black transgender advocate and new member herself, noticed something potentially troubling. She felt that another member, a white cisgender woman, was “taking up too much space” — essentially framing discussion of diversity and inclusion around her own experience rather than that of people of color. Cooks said nothing, but noted that, unlike other members, the woman eventually spoke for five minutes longer than the allotted time. Read more »

Philly Actors Win Big at New York’s Prestigious Obie Awards

Obie award winners Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard in Underground Railroad Game.

If your aspiration is to be a big Broadway star, then it is a Tony Award that you seek. But in New York’s world of more independent, experimental, and DIY theater — the so-called “Off-Broadway” realm — the top prize is an Obie Award. And on Monday night, at Webster Hall, two Philadelphia actors got the prestigious Obie honors. Read more »

This New Podcast Will Change the Way You Think About Philly Teens

mouthful-podcast-stories-of-philly-teens

It seems that podcasts come and go from our cultural conversation. There’s no talk about them, and then something like Serial happens. Then they go away again until a series such as S-Town comes along, and once again we’re all taking about podcasts.

Well, it was around the same time that all of the controversy over S-Town was bubbling up that we learned about Mouthful, a brand new podcast featuring the real-life and often gritty stories of Philly teens.

And while Mouthful doesn’t have the tension of a Serial or the deep darkness of an S-Town, lighthearted it is not. These are moving first-person narratives that shed a light on just how difficult it is to be a teenager today.

Take, for instance, Mouthful, Episode One: One Hundred Sleepless Nights. This first episode is based on a monologue written by Hunter M., a trans high school senior in Philadelphia, and it focuses on issues surrounding trans and non-binary identities.

During the 21-minute episode, host and co-producer Yvonne Latty, a former Daily News reporter and current NYU prof, interviews Hunter M. and teens at Philly LGBTQ youth center The Attic, and transgender TV actor Scott Turner Schofield (you’d know him if you enjoy the guilty pleasure known as The Bold and the Beautiful) performs Hunter M.’s monologue. It’s an intimate, gripping portrait of a trans teenager.

The second episode doesn’t let up.

Mouthful, Episode Two: Comfort features a story written by Science Leadership Academy student Taytiana Velazquez-Rivera, who pens blog posts like “The School to Slavery Pipeline”.

Comfort is all about eating disorders and being an obese kid.

Taysha Canales

Taysha Canales

Noted Philly actress Taysha Canales (she plays Hermia in the Arden’s fantastic Midsummer Night’s Dream, which closes this week), performs Velazquez-Rivera’s sad, insightful monologue, and local clinical psychologist Samantha DeCaro weighs in with her experience treating teens with eating disorders.

By the third episode, we’ve arrived at an examination of race.

Mouthful, Episode Three: Pedestals tells us what it’s like to be a student of color in a school that’s mostly white. In Pedestals, Latty interviews high school students of color who attend private schools in the area, including Olivia Nelson-Haynes, a Penn Charter student who made a video called The Black Boy Project, in which she interviewed black male teens about their experiences.

Nelson-Haynes is also the daughter of Mouthful executive producer Lisa Nelson-Haynes, the head of Philadelphia Young Playwrights. That’s the organization behind the Mouthful podcast.

The episode also includes some perspective from Latty and her own daughter, Nola, a student at Friends Select School.

Yvonne Latty

Yvonne Latty

“As a parent, I am constantly amazed by the complexity of being a teenager today,” says Latty, who has raised two teenagers of her own. “It is not an easy time, filled with rapid change, struggle and awareness. Working on Mouthful has opened my eyes to so much. It has helped me be a better mom, because when you hear these kids express their joys, fears, and hopes so honestly, it opens you up. It makes you look at your own kids and want to listen, really listen, in a way you didn’t before.”

Mouthful officially launched on Thursday, April 13th on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Soundcloud.

The first season of Mouthful is currently slated for ten episodes. Its launch coincides with Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ High School Monologue Festival at the Drake, which features performances of new monologues written by 18 high school students from across the region. Thursday’s opening night show is sold out, but it runs through April 22nd.

As for Mouthful, it will make you change the way you think about Philly teens — and teens in general — and if you have kids who haven’t quite hit those years, it may be a real eye-opener.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter

OPINION: We Can No Longer “Agree to Disagree” About White Privilege in America

Aslan Alphan | iStockPhoto.com

Aslan Alphan | iStockPhoto.com

As the hand-me-down celebration known as Black History Month settles, I’m reminded of the legacy of my ancestors and the inheritance that has historically been denied to me. Culturally, racism is still viewed as a social issue, a realm in which “allies” (those well-meaning white people) can absolve themselves of their white guilt by verbalizing how supportive they are of diversity efforts and interracial harmony. But often missing from our collective narratives of black history and what it means to have such skin color in America during a Trump era is the role that race plays in financial equity and access.

Racism is more than just an individual character flaw and act of social misconduct — it’s the expression of a pernicious system that can’t be defeated with promises of moral sobriety and personal concern. One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding race, in fact, is the illusion that class position can somehow negate white privilege. Read more »

Want to Solve the Mummers’ Diversity Problem? Just Call It “The White Heritage Parade”

"Make Mummerica Great Again" truck at the 2017 Mummers Parade. | Photo by Ernest Owens.

“Make Mummerica Great Again” truck at the 2017 Mummers Parade. | Photo by Ernest Owens.

It’s a new year, and the older I get, the more I have begun to realize that some stuff won’t change because it really doesn’t want to.

Case in point: the Mummers Parade, the age-old Philadelphia tradition that marches along Broad Street every New Year’s Day. You don’t really need me to detail the parade’s racist, anti-LGBTQ, sexist, and culturally insensitive history — there have been plenty of reports in the past of Mummers in blackface, and some mocking transgender individuals and uttering sexist/racist/homophobic slurs. Read more »

Philly’s Biggest Losers of 2016

Background image by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia™

Background image by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia™

Now that the last shreds of wrapping paper have been vacuumed up and the good dishes are finally put away, we revisit our time-honored tradition of taking a look back at the year and the losers, miscreants, and ne’er-do-wells it spawned. (For a more optimistic view of Philadelphia, consider Holly Otterbein‘s Biggest Winners of 2016.)

Ed Rendell

The once-lovable former champion of the everyman now spends his time being largely irrelevant and making facepalm-worthy comments in places like the Washington Post. But when you’re pulling in a cool $5,000 each month to do virtually nothing for a casino in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you probably don’t care. Read more »

That Time (Last Week) a White Man Joked That I Must Be the Coat-Checker

Photo: shironosov/iSotck

Photo: shironosov/iSotck

Holiday parties: for me, either the best of times or the most uncomfortable of times.

As the editor of G Philly, Philadelphia magazine’s LGBTQ channel, and one of the few Black gay journalists working in this city, I’ve become accustomed to a routine that rarely varies. I walk into an event and take stock of the sea of whiteness about to embrace me as if I were Tiger Woods at a PGA golf tournament. The hosts tell me how very happy they are that I came. After that, there’s a round of step-and-repeat photos in which my partner and I are the cute young Black couple that makes event planners feel even more flattered about the “progress” in our “community.”

Read more »

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