a postscript

Set the scene: A micro-town in Indiana, a family reunion, a 99th birthday party for a woman who has faced enough hardship in her life to deserve a birthday bash with her entire extended family every year. However, that extended family is large, white, largely religious, and conservative. In New York, you defended the South as not being entirely filled with bigotry and hatefulness. Back with a myriad of Southern folks, though, you have to take a breath and revisit that assertion.

Act 1: Respect Your Elders

You shan’t reveal her name, but she is related to you, in her eighties, and wearing a pink button-down. She has asked about your summer, and you tell her: “I worked with kids of parents who are survivors of domestic violence, oftentimes kids who witnessed the violence.” She proceeds to tell you three disparate stories about slapping and hitting her children and how she needed to show them that she was their mother and in charge. She adds, almost as a punctuation, how appalled she was that her son, upon her question about what he would do if one of his children were gay or lesbian, responded “I would be okay with it, as long as they were happy.” You feel as though you have been socked four times in the stomach, but you are in the South and gentility is the name of the game, especially with the elderly. “That’s good you think about your grandchildren so much,” you say, and then escape to help prepare the homemade peach ice cream.

Act 2: Jokes Aren’t Jokes

Your second cousin who says Obama is a terrorist brings his girlfriend, who is two years younger than him at fifteen and, apparently reading the room, opens with a joke about crossdressers. When a group of you sit under a tree and you say “Her shade is beautiful,” she pushes up her glasses, tucks her hair behind her ear, and responds sardonically: “Did you just assume the tree’s gender? Triggered.” She hits her boyfriend, on his side, on his back, with her phone case. He slaps her plate out of her hand in the line for cornbread. They laugh. You wince. They’re young, yes, but already raising hands to each other. You wish you could talk to your supervisors. You wish you could say something. You wish, you wish, you wish.

Act 3: Shape Your Present

One of the child brigade, muddy-legged and sprinting around like a sweet Southern cliché, is pushed by her sister and calls her r*t*rded. You speak sharply without a beat, and she looks at you wide-eyed. No one has ever told her this word could be wrong, or hurtful. Your heart aches for all the autistic kids, all the kids with learning disabilities or growth disabilities that you interacted with this summer, and how easily you know she could brand this slur upon them. You, being twenty to her ten, take on that mythical mixture of cool teen and authoritative adult, and being told off by you brings her stinging shame. “I’m sorry,” she says, eyes cast downward. All you can do is hope she will think about this again in the future.

You miss Moxie. You miss it, and you keep starting when you realize where you are, not at work and not in the city and not reading feminist theory every single day. But all of this has given you strength, if only to get through the reunion. You are full of ineffable little gratitudes. You hope those that they are meant for understand, somehow.


To Love Another Person Is To See the Face of God

It is eleven o’clock on a Friday night and your mascara-tinged tears are drying on your cheeks.
Continuing your trend of being the girl who blogs in second person about the intricacies of musical theatre and social justice, you have just come out of the evening performance of Les Misérables on Broadway. Les Mis has been important to you for years; it’s your favorite book (you’ve read the unabridged version four times through), you love the movie (except for Russell Crowe), and you’ve seen a regional production. You have done research on the book and its fan culture for class credit. The characters are imprinted on your heart and under your skin.
With forty-eight hours to process the show, you have begun thinking about its relevancy. There is a reason that the show was revived when it was, and you think about its political implications in a headspace that is much more comfortable than the one you occupied post-Waitress. Les Misérables was important when it was written, and its number of adaptations testifies that it has continued to be important right up until the present day. Por quoi? you might ask. You can make connections to nearly every topic that the Moxies have discussed in seminar. You can see the social structures that existed then carrying over into now, continuing to make places like family justice centers necessary.
Inspector Javert. 
The first tableau you see onstage is a group of law enforcement, standing over prisoners doing hard, unethical labor for little-to-no pay, and cracking a whip when one of them falters. Throughout the entire show, we see Inspector Javert doggedly attached to his idea of the law, genuinely believing that he’s a righteous man for the oppressive work he does. It feels like a synthesis of this week’s news, albeit with a racial slant as opposed to Les Mis’s class struggles (though, in the United States, those are intricately tied together).
Fantine in her work attire. 
The next scene, the audience is presented with a factory, utilizing cheap feminine labor (a topic you have discussed in Moxie seminars) to sew. The women who work in the factory are subject to sexual harrassment and violence by their foreman. We are here introduced to Fantine, whose story follows an arc that can easily be discussed in terms of reproductive justice rhetoric; the father of her child abandoned the two of them, forcing her to leave her daughter with an innkeeper and work under false pretenses to send money to care for her. Once this is discovered, she is fired quickly and mercilessly, thus bringing in the conversation of worker’s rights, particularly for more vulnerable populations. Fantine is forced to turn to sex work to provide to her child, and ultimately dies of tuberculosis that she got while working the docks. She does not have the safety and autonomy to parent her own child, whom she loves dearly. And not everyone has a Jean Valjean to save their child and give them a wonderful life.
Late in the first act, spectators are presented with Les Amis de l’ABC, a militant student activist group dedicated to advocating for the rights of the people. You cannot help but consider the Moxie conversations of youth, empowerment, and radicalization as you watch them plan and erect their barricade. You are particularly attached to Les Amis and expect to cry when they ultimately meet their deaths, but you think this time it may have been enhanced by realizing fully that this still happens. You find yourself having far more emotions than usual around the children in the show (young Cosette, young Éponine, and the street urchin Gavroche), all of whom face many of the same issues as the children that you work with at the BxFJC; housing instability, food instability, lack of social support, and sometimes even abuse.
Throughout the whole show, though, are chords of radical love and intense compassion of every sort. A mother’s love for her child, a father’s love for his adopted daughter. Romantic love between two people, platonic love between two people, love between a group of friends, love for a cause and a country and a people. One of the last lines in the show that always wrenches tears from you, sung in gentle, delicate harmony, is as follows: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Theatre, as you have said time and time again, can be social justice elevated to art. Some do it clumsily, yes, but some weave together a gorgeous, necessary show that dredges up important cultural narratives. You admit that you’re biased, but Broadway’s Les Misérables has certainly achieved the latter.
Also, you meet some of your favorite actors at the stage door, including (in order) Joseph Spieldenner (Grantaire), EJ Zimmerman (Éponine), and John Owen-Jones (Jean Valjean)! 

School’s Out Forever…

And the children descend.
You have had more than one workday where your children’s room is at capacity or close to it from 9 when it opens to 4:45 when it closes. Summer means that kids don’t have a place to be during the day (since summer camp is usually a privilege reserved for higher socioeconomic status folks), so they come with their parents to the family justice center. You cease to be Savannah, a girl from Duke with her head on her shoulders, and step into the roles of “paint dispenser,” “automatic paper towel machine explainer,” and “sous chef in play kitchen.” And you love it.
Every kid that comes through the door of the children’s room has such a wonderful, big personality. You talk to one boy for nearly half an hour re: Steven Universe theories (how will Jasper’s redemption arc play out?!) and then about his reaction video YouTube channel he wants to get started.
You think Steven Universe might just be the best piece of children’s television ever created. 
A sibling pair establish a pretend functional restaurant, taking orders on a chalkboard and serving up plastic delights to other children drawing at the table. One three-year-old boy comes in and spends the first ten minutes going through every item in the room and asking “¿Qué es eso? ¿Qué es eso?” You’re pretty sure three-year-olds are not capable of this level of complex, multi-perspective scheming, but you can’t help but get the feeling after a while that he’s testing you on your Spanish vocabulary. (Which has been getting better as you have more and more chances to practice it.)
You also learn, perhaps most importantly of all that it is nearly impossible to explain to children under five the concept of washing your brush out before changing colors on the watercolor palette.
If only, if only…
After this experience repeats multiple times, you have half a mind to just not mention that you have paint in the room, or limit the ages of the kids that can use it. But today a little girl asks if she can paint, and you say “would you like to draw instead?” She shakes her head no.
“I have markers and crayons, but I don’t get to have any paint at home,” she says, and you can feel those words somewhere between your ventricles, reminding you that at the end of the day, you’re here to be kid-centric. If that takes sitting next to a child and moving their hand to the water cup whenever it looks like they’re aiming for the yellow with a blue-covered paintbrush, well…so be it.
You feel good in your skin, in your mind, and in your work. You love your morning train rides and your weekends spent reading in Union Square park. And you can hardly believe that there are only two weeks left.
You find yourself wanting desperately to turn back the time so that you can stay here working and living longer (since with every day that passes, you love your job more and you find another amazing thing in the city). You’ve essentially decided that you MUST go to grad school here and have casually changed your entire four-year plan to have a higher shot of getting into a particular Columbia program. This summer has been incredible, and you wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. However, one of your friends back home did just get a new dog, so you’re not entirely bummed about the Moxie Project ending.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 6.22.01 PM
Do it for him. 

On Musicals

Prior to taking on your new identity as a Moxie, you were already critical of the media you viewed. Autumn referenced in discussion recently a favorite Onion article of yours, “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show.” This article, of course, is satire, but the phenomenon is not. Since beginning to identify with feminism, you have realized how little it is taken into consideration with much of popular media, or what a simplified version creators tend to be working from. How difficult it is to fully enjoy things when they were created out of patriarchy.

This has only been exacerbated with your work at the Bronx Family Justice Center recently, as you learn more and more about the effects of domestic violence, both on adults and children. It has made you experience another part of your New York experience with new eyes; the theatre scene. At Duke, you are extremely active in a student-run theatre company, and you love watching theatre, consuming it, listening to it, and creating it. You have long realized that while theatre as a genre is often classist and restrictive in many ways (expensive, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly straight and cisgender), it can be used as a phenomenal social tool. Since you arrived in this city, you have seen four shows, three of which heavily featured gender-based violence. The reel of scenes and incidents won’t stop playing in your head, coaxing you to think about a new dimension of theatre and what it does, what it can do.

Beth Malone, playing Older Alison in Fun Home, makes an offhand comment about child neglect halfway through the show. Her father has spent his time onstage criticizing his children, forcing them into clothes they don’t want to wear, being aloof and secretive, and ultimately leaving them alone in a strange room for a full night. To you, “child neglect” seems like an apt and conservative label. The audience around you laughs uncomfortably when she says it, whether because of the content or the sardonic, “whatever” tone the actress delivers it with.

Matilda Wormwood isn’t wanted by her family, in part because she’s assigned female at birth. Her parents frequently verbally abuse her and her father threatens physical violence. Her masculinized school principal Miss Trunchbull (who is played by a man in drag) also frequently impresses violence upon the students at her school, as well as historically abusing Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey. You have always taken all of these things in stride, as part of the classic tale; you first read the Roald Dahl novel when you were very small. Sitting in the theatre, though, you feel newly unsettled by the dark material coated in excellent theatrical achievements, thinking about the traumatized children that you have been working with.

And then there’s Waitress. You see it with all the Moxies as an enrichment activity. You write afterwards in your reflection that you wish that you could have seen it alone and sat with its themes and problematics on your own. As it was, this was the only show to explicitly address gender-based violence and feature it as a central plot, which can in many ways been seen as a good thing. Art about things can change things. However, the show’s content normalized power imbalances as sexy and male stalking as persistence to be rewarded. Having spent a lot of time with the classic power and control wheel hanging above your desk, you wonder what would happen if the Waitress team were to visit the BxFJC for a few days.

Regardless, you enjoy all three of these shows in various ways. However, it has definitely made you think much harder about the social power of the medium and the narratives that we choose to tell through it. You still have a few shows on your list, and you’ll see how those go as well.

The Food Drive

Your security clearance still hasn’t come through. Folks around the Bronx Family Justice Center are running out of projects to give you in the meantime. So you jump at the chance to help out with the biannual Share the Love Food Drive that the BxFJC puts on in order to restock their food pantry. Clients can take what they need from it if they’re short on food. Because of the high demand, it’s always dwindling, and this drive is their chosen method of stocking up to critical mass. The concept is rather ingenious; bring in canned goods or other nonperishable food items, and get access to a sumptuous spread of baked goods. Sophia, who heads up the food drive with a purple apron and a steady hand, tells you that recently the Center had an awakening. “The lawyers,” she says, referring to those who work in the DA’s office next to the Center, advocating for clients in court, “were telling us that they didn’t have time to go and buy food, and could they just donate money instead? So we have a box. You have a box, I mean. I’m not allowed to touch money, it’s a conflict of interest.”

So you hold your blue donation box under the table and you think on that. You know New York is tireless and you have spent plenty of time waiting in Trader Joe’s lines that seem endless, but is there truly no time to pick up a few cans of soup from a bodega? Logistically, you know that donating money achieves much the same effect; all of it is directly taken over to the grocery store and used to round out the landslide of nonperishables. Still, it seems less personal, less connected to the cause. You have been thinking about donations and money and ethics, ever since A) the Zero Tolerance benefit that you attended as a volunteer for Sanctuary for Families and B) a choice reading about where nonprofits get their resources from. It is something you cannot quite solidify your feelings on.

You hardly have time to think in the moment. You rip a contact at nine-thirty AM and spend the rest of the day in a soft haze of half-blur and quiet pain. One blink of your blurry eyes, though, and there are two tables set up in the lobby of the Center’s office building, visible to all the lawyers and guards and others who come through to get to the elevators. Another blink and there are baked goods, both handmade and store-bought, covering the entire surface area. You sit sandwiched by the table and the food drive’s banner, explaining the process to formally-dressed folks who come by, give you a dollar, and then demur when you offer the baked goods, patting their (usually pretty flat) stomachs and saying that they can’t afford the calories. The fruit and coffee go the fastest. Someone hands you a fifty-dollar bill, and you can’t say you’ve ever held one before. You thank folks ubiquitously as the box in your lap gets heavier and heavier.

And then there are the Center’s clients that come to the table before or after their appointments, and these encounters are so different they won’t stop sticking to the sides of your mind, especially in contrast to those described previously. Many of them riffle around in purses and pockets and pull out a crumpled dollar or two, or just a handful of change. Everyone working at the table with you tacitly agrees on a course of action, and the lot of you fill plate after plate at the client’s suggestion, wrapping things up in foil, handing out stacks of little desserts to bring home to their children or to save to eat later. A second after a young mother moves off towards the elevator with two balanced plates (one of fruit, one of pound cakes and cookies), a man in grey pinstripes carelessly drops you a five and moves off, taking nothing, hardly even looking at the food under his notes. These interactions hang so differently in the air, next to each other in odd discordance.

You have many wonderful conversations with lawyers; you don’t mean to suggest that they care less about the cause. In fact, all of them have dedicated their work to advocating for the very clients that came by the table. Regardless, it makes you think about the different faces of support, and what it looks like for different people. At then end of the day, you have a heavy donation box and a heavy cart full of goods to restock the pantry, a tangible, visible outcome of objective good. You load things into the food pantry and eat a leftover slice of angel food cake, rubbing your blurry eyes, ruining your makeup, and letting these thoughts weigh in your mind.

On “Chopped,” Packing, and Apprehension

Your name is Savannah. You are twenty years old and have just ended your sophomore year at Duke, where you recently declared a double major in psychology and women’s studies. You intend on declaring an education minor, but haven’t actually gotten around to it yet. In your spare time, you devour books of all sorts and theatre of every kind. You practice taekwondo, knit, and interact with every animal you come across. You will be     working with Sanctuary for Families at the Bronx Family Justice Center this summer, and you are effervescently looking forward to it.

(from Chopped: open your mystery baskets, folks!) 

It is May 23rd, and you have come off of the end of your killer spring semester. You swallow a full two seasons of Chopped in entirely too short an amount of time, and once you feel suitably lazy and refreshed, you begin packing. Packing is something that you have always enjoyed, though for something as large as the Moxie Project, in NYC no less, it feels almost insurmountable. What clothes to bring, what accoutrements to include in the limited space of your suitcase? What will your apartment have or not have? What will you be willing to buy? You’re starting to envy the people on Chopped who are told exactly what they need to feature in the dishes they create for the judges. Even if Chef Alisha has to cook with bay scallops, braeburn apples, sorrel, and duck hearts, she knows that at the end of the round, a dish must be created that feature those four weird things.

You approach your packing like you might approach Chopped, regardless of your utter lack of professional chef experience. You lay out things that seem utterly opposed in juxtaposition to one another; your conservative button-down shirts, your favorite going-out dress, your huge rainbow wings for NY Pride. You are flying blind, but you know that you’ll get through.

When you’re not packing for the Moxie Project, you’re thinking about it. You have synced the calendar with your own and have spent more than a few minutes running around your house and contacting every group text when you found out the program includes tickets to the Broadway musical Waitress. You have emailed your supervisor and read over all the literature that the the BFJC gave to you about its mission and regulations. “Excited” doesn’t begin to cover it.

(this is you, only with less property damage)

Still, you have been trying hard to sit with some ethical issues that were only enhanced in your mind through the well-intentioned but ultimately unfulfilling DukeEngage Academy (meant as a two-day training for students going all over the world on similar programs). Your program director said something that has stuck with you; she hopes that you will do the least harm possible and that you hopefully will do a bit of good.

You know that as a summer intern, your presence is valued but it is a sacrifice. You have never worked with children of survivors of intimate partner violence before. You have barely even worked with survivors of intimate partner violence before. You are equipped only with a background in developmental psychology, a history of childcare experience, and a passion for the work. You expect that you will be out of your comfort zone, and you are prepared to lean into that discomfort. Still, as with any similar fish-out-of-water experience, you feel apprehensive. Will you be able to relate to the children? Will you have a good relationship with your supervisor? When a child speaks to you in Spanish, will all your years of language classes fly out of your head? There are a thousand possibilities for things to go awry. Again, this is something you have to sit with.

You hope this summer that you can apply some of the theoretical knowledge that you have been given academically with real, on-the-ground work. In addition, you hope to reinforce and grow your relationship to feminism in the context of what you read, discuss, and experience throughout the course of the summer. Less cerebrally, you challenge yourself to budget not only your money, but your mental energy and your time as well.
You are almost, almost, almost finished packing. A few more episodes of Chopped should do it.