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The Interview: Barbra Fant

Poet / Performance Artist / Healer There’s a certain metamorphosis that occurs after the longevity of sorrow. It’s a metamorphosis through which poet Barbara Fant has transfigured and has lived to tell. Fant’s words have floated through illuminating performances in globally-recognized slam competitions and prestigiously-awarded literature, but she still finds time for mentoring children and [...]



Poet / Performance Artist / Healer

There’s a certain metamorphosis that occurs after the longevity of sorrow. It’s a metamorphosis through which poet Barbara Fant has transfigured and has lived to tell. Fant’s words have floated through illuminating performances in globally-recognized slam competitions and prestigiously-awarded literature, but she still finds time for mentoring children and providing ministry through poetry.
But right now, studying comes first. Pursuing an MFA program at Antioch University, Fant divides her time between Los Angeles and Columbus, all while being a voice in citywide promotions for I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100. Through her revelations of the past and her eyes ahead on what’s to come, Barbara Fant’s story is still writing itself.

The first time I saw you perform was at Urban Spirit about ten years ago. What I remember most was that your eye contact with the audience was as gripping as the piece. What goes into practicing your performance?

Barbara Fant: I always say that I found poetry when I was really young, and then when I was fifteen, poetry found me. I lost my mom when I was younger and I was kind of an angry teenager, so I didn’t really know how to talk to people. I started writing, it was my way of prayer, it was my language, it was my communication. When I was in high school […] I saw Sunni Patterson. She’s a poet out of New Orleans and I was like “Oh my goodness, I wanna do what she does.” When I came to Columbus, I said I was gonna find an open mic and get on stage. I ended up at Black Pearl Poetry which was a spot that Ed Mabrey used to run, and [poet] Will Evans slammed through that scene…. Will and I became good friends. When it was 2008, [it] was the first Women of the World Poetry Slam, and they needed women to compete. Will was like, “Barbara, I need you to slam” and I was like, “What? You’re crazy, no way.” So, I did and I went to the first-ever Women of the World Poetry Slam, and that’s when I started performing. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I perform a lot, but I also do open mics as my practice. I got used to performing a lot in the mirror, like, looking myself in the eye, then when I got on stage, I’d be able to look other people in the eye.

Is there anything specific that you want your audience to mentally unpack when they listen to you?

BF: My writing in the past has been a lot about spirituality, and now I deal with a lot of trauma and things that I’ve experienced in my childhood that I didn’t really know were traumatic. What I hope that people—I guess—unpack is that I really just want them to be able to see themselves in a piece of it. I hope I give people the space to be able to find themselves in the work, in a way, or feel that they can now tell their stories because I was able to tell mine.

“The poetry scene is constantly growing and developing. It’s a place where I can really do my work, hone in on my voice, and still see a national scene, but have a community, a grassroots, a place to come back home to.”

Have you ever had someone in the audience, or someone that’s heard you, approach you very emotionally after you did a piece?

BF: Yeah, that actually happens to me a lot. (laughs) And, I don’t know if that’s because my work is sad or what. People usually want to hug me or something after. People will come up to me, like, “Can I give you a hug? Can I just hug you?” I don’t really know what all that is, but yet, people do approach me emotionally a lot. I’ve kinda gotten used to it now. •
“I think for so long, black women’s voices have been silenced, and I think the only way that we break through any kind of false narrative is to keep speaking our truth.”

You’re originally from Youngstown and moved to Columbus to attend Ohio Dominican University. After winning so many national competitions, what made you stay in Columbus?

BF: I decided to stay in Columbus because ultimately at the time, I was serving at a local fellowship. That fellowship isn’t in existence anymore, but I was serving there under a pastor who was walking me through the ordination process. I went to seminary after I got my degree, and the reason I went to seminary was to become a prison chaplain…. I ultimately didn’t go that route, but part of my staying in Columbus was because I was back in school. I’ve had a really good community in Columbus, and I still do. The poetry scene is constantly growing and developing. It’s a place where I can really do my work, hone in on my voice, and still see a national scene, but have a community, a grassroots, a place to come back home to.

Did you face some challenges balancing being mentored by a pastor, wanting to be in the religious field and performing poetry?

BF: Well, interestingly enough, when I was in undergrad, I got a call from a pastor out of the blue, and her name is Yvonne Gilmore. I ended up going to her church and she is actually the one who became my mentor. She was in a group called The Cornel West Theory, so not only was she a poet, but she’s a black woman who was also in a pastoral role, started a new church and, you know, she’s a black woman. I grew up not even realizing that women could be pastors, my father told me that was not possible, that they weren’t supposed to, and here is this black woman in a pulpit, and she’s doing her art. So for me, being able to meet her just showed me a new world. It was like, “Oh, it’s possible.” I’ve never considered myself a “Christian poet,” but I always considered myself a poet who is a Christian.

What similarities do you see within the children that you’ve taught at ArtSafe and Transit Arts? Have both experiences compared to your youth?

BF: ArtSafe was such a great organization. We took art into juvenile correctional facilities and that helped me fall in love with that space. I’m still really-really connected and feel a strong call to be in that space with individuals who are incarcerated. I think that is because I saw myself in a lot of those youths; I realized it could’ve been me. I was really empowered in that space…. I think because I’ve lived the life that I’ve had, I connect with people who have really deep, traumatic experiences.

What are some practices that new poets should implement to enhance their craft?

BF: With my kids, […] they love the arts. Some of them are more advanced that others, but most of them are entry-level writers. What I work with them a lot on is introducing them to new writers and new ways to tell their story. I do a lot of introductory poetry exercises and teaching them different styles of poems, like letting them know that it doesn’t all have to be a sonnet, or it doesn’t all have to be free verse. There’s different ways to tell your story. We work a lot with introductory metaphors and similes–all the poetic tools you would think of for how to build a poem.

How can black women define themselves in a time when we’re often misconstrued?

BF: I think one of the ways to do that is to keep speaking. It’s probably a really simple answer, but for me personally, I’m oftentimes in an all-white space, and the only thing that helps me continue to define myself is to keep speaking and to keep being and to not let my voice be silenced. I think for so long, black women’s voices have been silenced, and I think the only way that we break through any kind of false narrative is to keep speaking our truth. That’s something that I do and I work to uplift the voices of other women because I think that there’s power in that. People won’t know it unless we tell it. Only we can tell our stories.

Barbara Fant will lead a 2-hour performance poetry workshop on January 23rd as part of a poetry slam competition co-sponsored by The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts and The Columbus Foundation.

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Penzone shares: what to expect with salons

Julian Foglietti



With the closing of Hair Salons on March 18th, buzz cuts and bowl cuts have made an appearance on the heads of Ohioans, young and old. Luckily for those desperate for a do, Dewine has announced that hair salons may begin to reopen on May 15th. To guide us through the transition, I spoke with Debbie Penzone, President and CEO of Penzone Salons, about serving on the Governor's salon advisory board, dealing with the business effect of the virus, and what we can expect from hair salons moving forward. 

I understand that you served as the chair of the Governor's committee board regarding reopening salons. What did you do in that role? 

On the committee, my role was pulling from my experience as a cosmetologist and business owner to assemble a group of individuals that represent our business in Ohio. We had everyone from 10 person salons to one person barbershops. braiding salons and nail salons, to schools and three health commissioners. From there, the job was building an agenda and listening to members while consulting health professionals on how to expand upon existing sanitation guidelines.  The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology has been enforcing for years. Beyond that, it was a lot of keeping time, guiding the conversations, gathering information and reporting it.  We also wanted to build plans if something did happen in a salon, and make sure that everyone could abide by these practices so we can remain safe and open.

In what ways has the virus caused you to rethink the way salons will function moving forward?

One of the things we did was go through a COVID specific certification process with Barbicide, which produces a lot of the sanitation products already used in salons and barber shops. A lot of people don’t realize that in the Ohio Administrative Code, there are very specific sanitation guidelines that you have to follow when you get your license, and there is a major component of constantly learning new sanitation practices all the time. The main difference you’ll see is us taking that sanitation to the next level: social distancing between booths, or barriers put in place, as well as reduced capacities in many salons. There will be more emphasis on reducing contact points and sanitizing things like doorknobs and counters as well. The biggest change will be the way we interact with our clients. We're a very emotional industry. We’re huggers, and we’re very close with the people we work with. Our clients are like family to us, so having to distance ourselves and not engage in that way will be different. 

What has been the greatest challenge to overcome over the past months? 

It’s really been adapting to the constant change we're all facing. We might spend all this energy sharing with our team new knowledge, but the next week it will change again. It’s been difficult to coordinate and continue to train everyone and update them with the new practices, as well as provide support for them while we're all distanced from each other. We're all scared right now, and it’s important to not lose our community so we can give each other confidence in the direction we’re heading in.

What have you witnessed over the past few months that gave you hope?

The biggest hope for me was serving on this committee. I’ve always felt so strong about our industry, so bringing so many people together and supporting one another during this difficult time. This whole thing has really brought us together as an industry, and shown that we can work together to support each other and raise each other up. There's enough clients for everybody, and it’s beautiful to see the incredible diversity of salons and see us all coming together to work with one another.

Are you worried about customers returning?

We’ve opened our booking today, but were not opening on the 15th, because we want to have a few days to go over the new procedures with our teams before we start to bring clients in. Every salon will only be operating at 50% capacity, and then we’re extending the hours to make sure everyone has the same hours they used to, and some of them are already booked out to July.

What would you say to ease the concerns of customers?

Really that we’re regulated by the state board and have so many sanitation practices in place. We have printouts posted showing the guidelines for clients that come to the stores, and for those who are high-risk, we are opening up early so they can be the first people to come in right after the salon is sanitized. What's important to remember about salons is that the regulators randomly check our spaces to make sure we're complying, and as we build on regulations, these checks are going to be taken to the next level. 

As a hairstylist, do you see any hairstyle trends emerging from this?

I definitely think there's gonna be a boom for bobs and pixie cuts, ‘cause people are just done. Maybe some bold colors, because everyone just wants to come out and say, “I’m back, baby.” Maybe just a little more attitude with the cuts people are getting.

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Meet the Saviors: from doctors on the front line to PPE makers

Mitch Hooper



While searching for Columbus’ helpers, we found that they come in many different shapes and sizes. And this month, we are telling as many of their stories as we can.

These are the stories of the saviors on the front line, working at hospitals, and assisting patients on a day-to-day basis. Or these saviors are at home and providing essential resources to these same folks on the front line. These efforts are quite literally saving lives and risking their own in the process.

Saviors: Pauline Vales, COVID-19 ICU Nurse at Riverside

It was just a little more than a week before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be going into social distancing orders when Pauline Vale and her husband had already begun leaving for a vacation to Texas. And when she returned home on March 10, the events preceding have been a rollercoaster ride of long days and nights, moments of sacrifice, and above all, bravery in the face of danger.

“We have to be mindful about what we need to do each time we enter a patient room because we can’t just run in and out when we need something. It’s harder to connect with our patients because they can’t see our faces, we can’t hold their hands without gloves on, and it’s harder for them to hear us talking through a mask,” Vales explained. “It seems like there is something new every single day, so we have had to adapt and evolve many times over in the last weeks. And there is just more stress and worry in general, but my unit has really come together as a team and done so many amazing things.”

The challenges are seemingly endless for nurses in the ICU like Vales. She said beyond medical professionals having limited contact with patience, hospitals are not allowing visitors unless it's a life situation or fits a different protocol.

There’s also the battle of resources; now more than ever, folks on the front line need protection like gloves and N95 face masks. Luckily, that call is being heard by larger corporations who can do something, such as Battelle. Battelle now works with hospitals, including Riverside, to decontaminate face masks for these front line workers.  And coincidentally, Vale’s husband works as a virologist at Battelle while she was also a former microbiologist for Battelle.

“I have been able to share my knowledge about virus research and testing with my co-workers at the hospital. It has been very helpful to understand the challenges in developing reliable testing and treatments,” she said. “When we first realized that PPE supplies were a real concern, we were worried about how we would be able to protect ourselves and still care for our patients. The relief of having enough PPE available was really palpable on the unit.”

Vales also faces challenges in her personal life. As a mother to a six-year-old boy, the outbreak of COVID-19 has severely changed his day-to-day without much preparation. Like most young children, social distancing is stopping him from going out and playing like he normally would.

“It’s difficult to convey the situation without scaring him,” she said.

But still, Vales and the rest of the team at Riverside continue to fight on the front line, day-in and day-out. And through all the adversity and tough times, she is still taking a moment to recognize the silver lining on these cloudy days.

“The outpouring of support for health care workers has been amazing and people have been so generous to our unit. We have gotten sweet treats, thank you cards, coffee, and so many encouraging words, which has been very much appreciated,” she said. “Different departments in the hospital have been doing kind things for each other, and our food service staff have been a huge support. I have seen many kind acts across Columbus as well. Food drives, to organizing financial help for families in need, to the support of local businesses. It has been great to see so many people doing what they can to help others.”


Saviors: Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP

Sometimes the battle against COVID-19 in Columbus means taking your talents elsewhere; and that’s what Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP, is doing. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.

“The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is that I’ve been applying and registering to help New York City for multiple weeks,” Ulmer said. “But extensive red tape has prevented me from being where the healthcare workers are truly overwhelmed and need us the most.”

Ulmer specializes in emergency medicine here in Central Ohio. As someone who has worked on the front lines here, he’s been reminded of the importance physicians like himself can have—especially during an international pandemic. And all the extra steps medical workers have made to further protect their families, he said the outbreak has been eye-opening within his own life.

“I will never take for granted the impact and importance of being present for our families when we are home,” he said.

But, while there have been many struggles, he’s found the silver lining in moments like this.

“The most beautiful thing I’ve seen is that so many people appreciate the entire medical staff, not just us as physicians. There is an incredible workforce that collectively cares for patients. I am so glad they are being recognized and appreciated for the heroes that they are.”


Saviors: Kim and Kallie Mallett, Mask Makers

Life was normal for Kim and Kallie Mallett just a few months ago. While Kim worked at Burn Boot Camp, Kallie was busy as an American Sign Language interpreter. And then in a flash, as it has been for most of us, life was far from normal.

Gyms were one of the first of businesses to close due to COVID-19 so Kim was out of work. And Kallie was also temporarily laid off from her position. Though the financial losses have been tough to manage, the biggest thing the two said they miss is getting to interact with and help all the people they meet through their jobs. So it makes sense that the two found a way, even through social distancing and shelter-in-place, to help by making face masks.

“I have been sewing off and on for years so when an EMT friend expressed a need for homemade masks as a way to extend the life of hers and her fire stations N95 masks, we felt called to help,” Kim said. “We quickly realized how significant the shortage of PPE was across all essential workers and just kept going. In the three weeks we’ve been making masks, we have completed almost 700.”

Through mask making, they’ve been able to raise more than $900 in donations—$700 of which will be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the rest will be used to purchase more fabrics to make more masks.

“It’s been amazing to see Ohio come together and lend a helping hand to their neighbors—from six feet away, of course,” Kim said.

“I’m further reminded of how interconnected we all are and how we need to continue to rely on each other because we truly are all in this together.”

And of course, they’ve learned lessons along the way.

“I’ve learned to take it slowly and one day at a time,” Kalie said “I will be more appreciative of time with friends, the ability to workout with my gym family—really, just normal life in general.”

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Govt & Politics

NY Times lauds Dr. Amy Acton with video tribute




If you live in Ohio, you'd have to have been living under rock these last 6 weeks to not know who Dr. Amy Acton is. Now the NY Times is making sure the rest of the country knows too with this nearly 7-minute tribute video titled, "The leader we all wish we had".

As the state's lead spokesperson on the healthcare side of the pandemic, Acton has received wide praise from both near and far. Despite recent protests that occurred outside of her Bexley home, most Ohioans believe she has been a shining star in these dark times.

She has a tribute t-shirt, "Not all Heroes Wear capes" created by Homage

Her own (Ok, Gov. Dewine too) tribute parody video

Her very own bobblehead from the Bobblehead Hall of Fame

A Facebook Fan Page with over 133,000 members

Here's our profile piece from the April issue of (614) Magazine - the cover of which is featured in the NY Times video. Very cool, Sarah!

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