Connect with us

Community

“I Am America.”

Escaped war; war never escaped me. Larry Smith’s six-word memoirs are an exercise designed to cut through the extraneous, and find the fundamental truths at someone’s core in a provocative, intriguing, and immediate way. So when Sara Abou Rashed wrote the six-word sentence above at a workshop for teens led by Smith at the Thurber [...]
Laura Dachenbach

Published

on

Escaped war; war never escaped me.

Larry Smith’s six-word memoirs are an exercise designed to cut through the extraneous, and find the fundamental truths at someone’s core in a provocative, intriguing, and immediate way. So when Sara Abou Rashed wrote the six-word sentence above at a workshop for teens led by Smith at the Thurber House in 2015, he knew he had found someone special—but just how special, was still yet to be discovered.

Smith later caught up with Rashed at a TEDX talk. She had won the 2015 Ohio Poetry Association High School Contest, a mere two years from arriving in the country from Syria and learning English. Smith began to work with her as a storyteller, and discovered the extent of her remarkable gifts for narrative and poetry and for holding an audience.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re amazing. You are a brilliant storyteller,’” Smith gasped.

Smith and Rashed began a journey that has culminated in a new venture for both of them: a 70-minute play/story written and told by Rashed, and edited and directed by Smith. A Map of Myself is Rashed’s remarkable exploration of her identity and her search for home: reflective, dramatic, humorous, revolutionary, and hopeful all at once.

Now Smith and Rashed’s creation, which began with a meeting at workshop, has become a workshop and educational piece in itself. The story has found its home in the capital city.

“In the end it’s a Columbus thing,” said Smith. “If you have a good idea and you work hard, people want to help you make your vision come true.”

In the audience for Rashed and Smith’s first show last month at King-Lincoln Theatre, we did our own reflection on how Rashed’s narrative has been shaped by country, city, and and her many cultures. These are her words from A Map of Myself (11.7 and 11.10 @ Columbus Museum of Art), explored from stage to page.

The Loaded Question

“Where are you from?”

Identity and belonging are fluid…I’m a Palestinian-Syrian-American. In Syria, I was Palestinian. In Palestine, I wouldn’t be Palestinian because I never lived there. And I only became Syrian coming here, to the U.S. So this is why I say it is really fluid, and it’s more complicated than “Oh, I’m from here.” So I think that’s something really cool to explore, just how intermixing with another country redefines who you are.

The Human Condition

“There are mean girls everywhere.”

Through living in different countries, I have come to realize that the same exact people exist in those different countries. They just speak a different language. I see people here, in America who speak English who are blonde or whatever, and they remind me of people I’ve known in Syria. They look nothing alike, but they have the same exact persona, same charisma, same movement, same walk, same talk. I would look at my mom and I’d say, “Doesn’t she remind you of so-and-so?” That there are mean girls everywhere—it’s so universal because in each of those countries the same culture, the same people exist. And a lot of people don’t realize that. They look at others and go, “Oh they’re so different.” But they’re really not. The language is different, the culture is different, the religion—but the essence of what makes up a human is not.

Arabic the Language

“For love alone we have 14 words to describe its many stages. Now like me, you would probably think love is just one stage—right?—love being a bitch.”

Arabic is a very eloquent and elaborative language. You don’t just have the word love….We have all these different stages of love, all these different names that then become what we know as love. So each verb that there is in English to describe that, like “I fancy that person, I like, I love, I adore, I’m infatuated,” we have 14 of those, and all of them make up love—almost like a matrix. Like, how exactly do you feel about that person?

Learning English

“Word for word I translated The Odyssey.

I remember a lot of learning English and I truthfully just sat down and translated every single word, and I would keep playing it on Google Translate and I would repeat the word after it. And then the next day we’d discuss it in class and listen to how people would pronounce the word and I’d try to pronounce it that same way. And that’s how I learned English. It helped that I was young—I was 13, 14. It was a very, very painful process. I was really sad through it because I always felt like I didn’t do good enough or I wasn’t learning as fast as I should be, because I was held to the same standards as American students…I worked twice as hard, maybe more to catch up. I learned hundreds of words per day.

“A Map of Us.” King-Lincoln, October 2018.

Immigrant Identity

“I’m an immigrant not because I want to be, but because they keep reminding me I’m one.”

I think there’s this misconception that immigrants are dying to go to a better country…people just don’t realize that immigrants never wanted to lose their country. No matter how bad it is, no matter how poor, they were happy being there. So the idea of immigration—at times it feels like an insult. They’re like, “Oh you’re an immigrant,” like you’re one of those people who leave and they want better things and they’re after a better life and they want freedom. But you know, it’s really all in our heads. Every country has freedom to an extent. So it’s not that the immigrant is trying to suck the sources and life out of the host country they come to. It’s that they’re really miserable being immigrants. It’s not a fun thing to be.

Religion

“I’m not perfect, but my religion, like all religions, is, and I’m proud to be a Muslim woman.”

I find religion to be perfect at the core, what it’s trying to do. Ultimately, all religions have the exact same goals: kindness, forgiveness, community, love. So it sounds really counterintuitive that religious people of different religions would hate each other.

A Map of Us

For Columbus influencers in the audience, Abou Rashed’s show was a reflection of country and community. Their thoughts:

David Brown • Harmony Project

I don’t know how she did it. Sara Abou Rashed and I have very little in common. But through A Map of Myself I found myself in her shoes, in her head, and in her heart…and left with her in mine. Based on the response of the audience, it was a shared experience. That she is standing there, speaking perfect English, accomplished beyond her years or any expectations of her as a new American is worthy of an audience in and of itself. However, it is the comfort and discomfort she so freely shares, and the grace with which she navigates both the pain and passion of her life so far that brought the room to its feet. Sara’s map led her to Columbus. We are all better for it.

Barbara Fant • Columbus Foundation

Being able to see her story in action was both moving and inspirational. Her story is powerful, and to see the way she brings it to life is equally explosive. By wrestling with language, it is through her art that she has now given birth to a new language, one that invites us into her story, her world, but also the world of so many in our community. I am so thankful that she is in this community and that we can wrap our arms around her the way that she has woven her heart into so many of us. She is a voice for those who do not have voices.

One of my favorite parts: Sara read the poems of other writers who share a similar story to hers. Even in her own space, she chose to bring the voices of others on stage with her to uplift them. Even in uplifting her own voice, she showed us that this is still a communal work, and she does not stand alone. Her community stands with and for her. She is doing the work and I feel so blessed to be able to witness it.

Jeni Britton Bauer • Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Sara Abou Rashed is one of the most powerful voices in America right now. Her story—coming to America from Syria, teaching herself English by translating every word of The Odyssey, and becoming such an accomplished poet and storyteller before graduating high school—is one that every American can either relate to or should hear.

In the show, she asks: What does it really mean to be home? She helped me understand that I never had to question it. Even though I moved around a lot as a kid, I always knew my home, always found a place of acceptance. It’s a question so many of us have never had to think about profoundly as Sarah, her family, and so many other seeking refuge in America.

Abou Rashed will present A Map of Myself again November 7 and 10, both at 2 p.m. at the Columbus Museum of Art. For info and tickets, visit mapofmyself.com. For more about her and her work, visit sarathepoet.com.

Continue Reading

Community

The Interview: Wil Haygood

Author / Journalist / Curator Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

Published

on

Author / Journalist / Curator

Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in which the Tigers won championships in basketball and baseball 55 days apart, eclipses them all.

“I would never like to be called an activist,” says Wil Haygood when asked if he might consider himself such. “That’s not my game. I’m here just to find a good story. It’s my calling to be objective. I could never just tell one side of the story.”

Yet, in reading his latest book, Tigerland, and immersing the reader in the strife East High faced in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the “feel-good” triumph of two championships takes on a higher purpose. There’s so much more to the story. It’s the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principal in Jack Gibbs. Of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.

That objective journalism is becoming more of a rarity is troubling. Haygood’s storytelling is a resistance, and in Tigerland it’s a redemption story brought “from the shadows” that is uniquely complex and distinctly of Columbus. He insists there are many more stories of Tigerland’s ilk which must be exposed. The uncovering of a zeitgeist forgotten is a theme consistent with Haygood’s recent curation of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. In I, Too, Sing America (also an award-winning art book), he chose to spotlight lesser-known writers and artists of the era that continue to play “an enduring role in moving us forward.” How that dais influenced the cultural rise of African-Americans in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where the sub-plots in Tigerland play out, is palpable in Haygood’s words.

In talking with Haygood, he’s acutely aware of how Tigerland’s legacy and the continued re-awakening of the Harlem Renaissance add to the social discourse that accumulates to this day. Our interview here is abridged, if only because we spent a taut 45 minutes veering down rabbit holes created by the vivid representation Haygood paints of Columbus, Ohio in 1968. Fortunately, it’s a conversation that has and could last for generations.

In an interview you talked about Tigerland not being the story “you were born to write, but a story that the rest of the world needed to hear.” Why is this now such an important story?

Wil Haygood: When I traveled around the country, to about 25 different cities talking about this book, people constantly asked me if the release of Tigerland was intentional given how timely the story was. It just happened that it was the 50th anniversary of the famous Olympic protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Colin Kaepernick narrative was playing out, the President of the United States was attacking black athletes for their social activism—these were the things on the mind of so many people on this tour. Of course, I didn’t time it, but this story is just so topical, it’s so rich with drama, it just calls for very enlightening conversations with the people I met across the country.

I love it for the locality, and learning about a Columbus I never knew existed. So I’m curious to know if the heroes in this book, Bob Hart (East’s white football coach), Jack Gibbs (East’s first black principal), and the Tiger athletes, have always been heroes in your eyes, especially growing up? Did Columbus, en masse, know the history being made on the East side of town? 

WH: The city was so segregated that it was hard to give the East side its proper due. A figure like Jack Gibbs—he’s someone who you can almost make a movie about his life. It took so much perseverance and so much focus for the student body of East High to do what they did in that 1968-69 calendar year that I thank the literary gods for the foresight to return to my hometown and pull this story together. Frankly I kept waiting for this to be written by someone else, given the amount of high school sports stories that are on the shelf. I’m not trying to rate this story against any of the others, but I do think that it’s a book with a sports theme. It’s also a book that’s about far more than sports.

Was this your favorite book to write?

WH: That’s a tough question, but here’s how I’ll answer. As a little boy, I lived in the North side of the city. When I lived there East High was a mythical place and I had never laid eyes on that school. But I knew about it because it seemed to be this spiritual epicenter of the East side. It was where you had a lot of black teachers, an all-black student body. Your uncles, aunts, and cousins would always be talking about East High School. It constantly grew in my little boy mind. I lived within walking distance of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, so I would always beg my mother to let me go watch the team play. You had to be there. It was a lot wrapped up inside of me as I approached this book, because in a real way I was writing about my heroes. I’m sure that my history and emotions played a part in me wanting to do this book.
What memories do you have of Columbus during that time, that reminds you that no place was isolated from the racial and social unrest of the events of that era?

WH: In the summer of 1968, the very summer of after Martin Luther King’s assassination, my mother moved her five children to the Bolivar Arms housing project. Within weeks of moving there, there were riots on Mt. Vernon [Avenue]. I, as a 13 year old boy, saw National Guard tanks right through my screen door. It was a very frightening summer for me to wrapped up in that racial turmoil. I did not know that urban unrest on the North side of town. That street was integrated, our neighbors were white. Then I was thrust into this community on the East side that was feeling pain—the pain of a lack of good housing, a lack of jobs. The whole environment of urban America was set right outside of my front door.

How much do you think Columbus has progressed since the time of Tigerland in accepting inclusion and fostering growth in underprivileged neighborhoods like the East side?

WH: There has been a lot of maturity and growth in this city. I’m very proud of a lot of things that have happened. There is no big city in this country right now that doesn’t have social problems, but I think Columbus has done a much better job than some cities certainly in creating a peaceful dialogue over the years. I think that there have been stories that haven’t been championed as much as they should have. There is a gap in what the young people of Columbus know about the city’s past. Another fact from the book is that during that school year in 1969, East High sent more kids to college than they ever had before. Those are stories people need to know.

As a teacher of many students who come from broken homes and neighborhoods, I’d love to know what advice you give to young people?

WH: Since the release of the book I’ve spoken to Somali students in St. Paul, Minnesota, to white students in rural Maryland, black students in Dayton, Ohio. I tell students that on their darkest day, on that day when they feel like the world is not loving them enough, that they need only to take inspiration from these East High Tiger athletes. Eight of the twelve basketball players’ mothers worked as maids, many of them did not have fathers living in the home, two of them had fathers in jail, and none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But what pushed them and helped them succeed was a championship attitude before they dribbled a basketball or swung a baseball bat. They knew they wanted to be successful. They can lean into this story and they can rise up. Sports is a very gentle way to open the door to talk about poverty, racism, and sexism. You want to hear about how the winners won and how the losers dealt with losing.

Wil Haygood will be the first featured speaker of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series on Jan. 27th. Register for free at Eventbrite.com.

Continue Reading

Community

Remembering Chris Bradley

What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven? I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven. When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. [...]
Laura Dachenbach

Published

on

What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven?

I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven.

When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. I was new to King Avenue United Methodist Church, and Chris was just a nice guy corralling his young son in the milling area, which was full of other people I didn’t know. He was the dad that everyone wanted, standing with a watchful and proud eye and who was always ready for a hug and kiss. Such a stunning smile, I thought. Almost like a trademark. He was the friend everyone wanted to be with, adding a buoyancy, an accessibility, a welcomeness to the conversation. Sharp ties. This guy’s got some sharp ties. The more I observed, the more I wondered. Somehow, he seemed like someone I knew, or should know. One day, I decided to engage Chris in the only awkward conversation I knew him to have.

“So what do you do?”

“The weather on Channel 10.”

The dots started to connect. My face became warm. I started wearing hats and sunglasses and avoiding Chris for a couple weeks, hoping he’d forget me. But that wasn’t possible with the gregarious Bradley-Krausses, and eventually I grew to know and adore this charming and very musical bunch: Chris (who was an adopted child) his husband Jason, and their two adopted children Spencer and Maria—four people connected not by blood, but by their love for each other. The Bradley-Krausses became activists simply by being a family and living out their love for each other and their community with endearing authenticity, creating bonds that have extended beyond the loss of a family member.

In their dying, some people give the rest of us life because they illuminate what life should be about. Chris Bradley’s death from an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia was one of those moments. We can sometimes strangely forget the worthiness of our own lives—the reality that life is indeed more than existence and schedules and tasks. Chris fought for his life because he knew life was worth living. And we should also fight every day for this rare and precious privilege to be alive: to understand all that we can, say all that we can, and be all that we can for however long we are called to do so. Life itself is a terminal illness, and once in a while we are granted a remission from that affliction in being allowed to witness a soul such as Chris love life so much that we cannot help but fall in love with it again.

Weather is defined as an “act of God” because it is completely out of our control. Death is also out of our control. Both tend to depress people. I imagine the great faith in God Chris maintained throughout his life and illness is why he could confront both these inevitabilities with awe, never letting either of them overwhelm him, make him become bitter, or lessen his spirit.

Weather is what makes our planet alive. Chris is now a part of the rain that will nourish the beloved gardens around his home. He is part of the sunshine that will smile on his husband and children. He’ll be in the iridescence of every rainbow we post on Instagram and part of the joy of every Columbus kid’s snow day. Each time we marvel at the mercurial, if not downright wacky amalgamation of temperature and precipitation that is Columbus weather, we will remember our Chris Bradley.

Welcome to the incredible green screen of heaven Chris. You’ve still got a job, we’re still watching, and I have my derecho plan. Thanks for that.

Donations in the memory of Chris Bradley can be made to The Columbus Foundation. Visit columbusfoundation.org/fund/bradley/3730.

Continue Reading

Community

A League For All

It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy. If this [...]
Mitch Hooper

Published

on

It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy.

If this sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. After all, it’s fantasy football. But anyone who plays in a fantasy league knows one thing: winning is everything and a year of bragging rights over your closest colleagues is a feeling comparable to very little.

With the highest highs of winning comes the lowest of lows of losing. It doesn’t matter if you have crafted the perfect squad from top to bottom—injuries occur, athletes are traded, and expectations for your sleeper picks were just a little too high. Thus, your league dues are simply put into the pocket of your frenemies, or worse, the random people you met online when you joined that Yahoo league at the last second.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun … You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

This situation happens all too often in the fantasy sports world. The week-to-week challenges offered on FanDuel are often saturated with fantasy pros who make a living off competing against the common sports fan, and the long-term season ends with only one true winner, so your odds of coming home with the cash are slim. However, DraftMates, a fantasy sports app dedicated to raising funds for 501(c)(3) charities, is a chance for the casual fan to delve into the fun of winning, bragging rights, and trash talking—arguably the best parts of fantasy sports—while also giving back to the charity of your choice.

Created by Matt Golis, a Miami (OH) graduate and a Columbus-native, DraftMates was a dream that started in the Bay Area and made its way to Columbus. With the San Francisco traffic, the cost of living, and the struggle to build a team to design this application, Golis said he started to toss around the idea of moving back home.

“It was really difficult to hire a team with that type of a model,” Golis said. “[There] just aren’t the rabid sports fans like there are in
Columbus in the Bay Area.”

Fast forward roughly five months and now it’s Golis, a team of six members, and an office in New Albany.

By creating your league through DraftMates, each league member will pay the traditional dues to the commissioner, but instead of that money going into a pot for a winner-takes-all style competition, each member picks a charity to represent their team. If your team wins the league or in a weekly face-off, 85% of the profits will go towards that charity. The other 15% is spread across DraftMates for operations, and you know, keeping the lights on.

The idea, Golis explained, is something akin to a “gamified GoFundMe.” While fundraising services like GoFundMe as well as Facebook’s donations feature offer a chance for people to donate money to essentially anything—medical bills, a new car, your Aunt Suzie just needs a vacation and can’t afford it—DraftMates takes a different approach that allows the user to feel like they are getting an experience out of their donation.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun,” Golis said. “It’s kind of like you put your credit card information in online and you just say ‘donate now.’ You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

By doing this, it accomplishes two different things. First, if you are winning, you get the pleasure of knowing you are the champion and the charity of your choice will benefit from it. On the other hand (and this is what fantasy sites like FanDuel can’t offer), if you lose, your money is still going towards a good cause and not your buddy’s drinking money.

And the FanDuel experience is actually what Golis is trying to stay away from. DraftMates is for the casual sports fan, and even if you aren’t an avid sports watcher, the app offers an auto-draft and auto-pick feature that will take all the stress out of it for you. The idea here is not to cultivate a community of charity gambling, rather, a chance for people to have fun doing what they were already doing, while also giving back.

While as of now DraftMates offers fantasy leagues for the NFL and NBA, Golis said they are working on rolling out options throughout 2019 for many different sports varying from March Madness with college basketball to the PGA. Who knows? Your next office March Madness bracket could be held through DraftMates where each buy-in benefits the charity your office selects. At the end of the quarter, inning, or day, the participants have fun competing, the charity is able to raise funds for the things it needs, and everyone gets to be a winner.

DraftMates is available on Google Play or the App Store.

Continue Reading
X