Substance Abuse& Mental Health Among Migrant Farm Workers:
These presentations are slides from a semester-long group project for GLC, where I am a consultant.
Sexual Assault Campaign project
These presentations are slides from a semester-long group project for my Strategic Communication Research and Theory class.
These are pieces that I wrote for The Post, the daily newspaper at Ohio University.
*Stars indicate the pieces I am most proud of.
(see also: Weekly recap blogs of ‘The Bachelorette’)
These are longer-form pieces I wrote for my high school newsmagazine, Spark, which I was also an editor for.
* Stars indicate pieces I am most proud of.
People wore birthday-themed hats, cooked out and munched on cake at the Contact Center on Vine St. last Friday. The celebration? Social Security’s 80th birthday.
Contact Center, a community-based membership organization aimed at making changes in policies that affect low-income people and health care, celebrated the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Social Security Act of 1935 by President Roosevelt.
“Before 1935, seniors may have slaved for as long as they could until they just fell over and died,” said Lynn Williams, lead organizer at the Contact Center. “You had to rely on having a child to help you in your old age, and if you had no surviving children, that’s why a lot of seniors ended up homeless.”
About 50 people gathered, many of who are on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Lead organizer at the Contact Center Lynn Williams estimates that about 90 percent of members of the Contact Center have a disability.
“Because a lot of our members are getting older, they’re very concerned about how they’re going to live into old age. Social security is very important to them,” said Williams.
One attendee, John Munnis, is on SSDI and said he hopes to protect social security especially for people like him who have Spina Bifida, a developmental birth defect of the spinal cord.
“I was born with Spina Bifida and my mobility is quite good, but many people with Spina Bifida need SSDI,” said Munnis, who volunteers for the Spina Bifida Coalition of Cincinnati.
One way to protect social security, he feels, is by “scrapping the cap.” Currently, anyone who makes more than $118,500 each year does not pay social security payroll taxes on anything above that amount, Williams said.
“Millionaires and billionaires should be paying their full share,” Willaims said. “It’s something that low income people can’t even comprehend just how much they’re making on stocks alone.”
Phillip M. Jacobs, who works with Dr JW Jones Center for Training & Innercity Development, said that while social security is worth celebrating, there is still work to be done.
“Hopefully the new president will make some better social security benefits,” Jacobs said. “When you have social security, you have (less) problems in the community.”
Every piece of Streetvibes distributor James Davis’ outfit has a special meaning.
His hat, which has a dolphin on the front, is from Tampa, where he and his friend, Marcus, played music last summer. His bright blue shirt—which reads “Bill Bell for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge,” is a two-year-old campaign shirt, but he still wears it in support of his friend and patron. He bought his sandals from the old Value City in Kentucky, his all-time favorite store to shop at as a kid. He found the silver ring on his finger under a bench, and claims it’s given him good luck ever since. He listens to 100.3 FM—“old school Cincy”—through the bulky headphones around his neck. And the colorful beads he wears are from New Orleans, where he and his nephew, Dave, like to play music to earn extra cash.
Those beads might be the most defining part of his getup—he hasn’t gone a day without wearing those beads in three years, he says.
“Oh, I love these mardi gras beads,” James grins, laughing and laughing. “My regular (Streetvibes) customers down here, they love them, too. They say, ‘you have on so many magnificent beads!’”
James’ unique style matches his eccentric personality, says William D. Bell Sr., a Cincinnati lawyer and the man behind James’ old campaign shirt.
“I think that (his style) sets him apart from some of the other people who are doing the same thing,” says Bell, who buys papers from James outside of his office on the corner of 9th and Main St. “James is a good spirit, we kid with each other all the time. He’s had some issues, but he has never ceased to be James. He’s never ceased to be a good person.”
Fellow Streetvibes distributor and friend of James, Willa Jones, can attest to his good spirit.
“Me and James, we like to make people laugh,” Jones says. “We try to take bad situations and make some good out of it.”
His style not only attracts potential Streetvibes customers, but it’s also consistent with his music, one of the things he’s been extremely passionate about since a young age.
“I made my first pair of bongos out of oatmeal boxes,” says James. “I took two of them, I cut one shorter than the other and tied them together to get two different sounds out of them. I was 6 years old. I’d sit on the steps, practice and beat along with them.”
In addition to playing the Djembe drum—his favorite—he plays blues, jazz, gospel and reggae on saxophone, trumpet and keyboard. Most of his family, including his parents and his seven brothers and sisters, are musically inclined. He thinks he got it from his mother, the pianist. That was one of his favorite things about her—next to her “to die for” lemon meringue pie, of course.
James admired everything about his mother—for taking him and his siblings on camping trips to Caesar Creek despite “not being the outdoorsy type,” and for taking him and his siblings to church every Sunday.
“We couldn’t get out of church for nothing in the world,” James remembers. “Even if we were sick. She’d tell us we go to church and get healed! Things were so bad (financially for us) then, but she built this faith up in us. Wow, it was remarkable.”
At age 17 he ran away from home in what he describes as a time in his life when he was “naïve” and “didn’t know what to do.” He experienced homelessness, tried out college for a year and a half before his scholarship ran out, and eventually came back around to his mother who welcomed him with open arms. Even though she passed away 10 years ago, he still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” James says. “Oh god, I will never forget it. I felt like a part of me left the world.”
But James has worked many jobs since, from car washing to landscaping, and lives every day hoping that he’s making her proud. According to Bell, he is.
“He really is phenomenal,” Bell says. “He has this personality that warms somebody’s day, and I think that’s very important. He’s a genuinely good person.”
And every time he enters the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, he has a grin on his face.
“I hate coming in here to hear that I just missed James Davis,” says fellow distributor James Brown. “I see him selling Monday through Friday and I see him selling on the weekend selling At Findlay Market… the way he takes care of business is amazing.”
James is more than just his headphones and mardi gras beads. He dresses to commemorate the memories he’s created with the people who mean the world to him—the snazzy style is just a plus.
“I have a lot of passion for people. I love people to death,” James says. “I’ve been through ups and downs and I’ve learned a lot of things. I believe you can never be too kind. And I believe if you stay strong inside and put your mind to something, you can do anything.”
“People act like homelessness is a choice—but when you lose your place and you have nothing, it’s not a choice. It’s something you have to deal with.”
That’s what Lee McCoy told me in October 2013 when I trotted alongside him as he marched in the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition (GCHC)’s homeless awareness march. After the march, I wrote an article for my monthly high school newsmagazine, Spark. I wove my article around Lee and the issues that he faces with the homeless shelters and gentrification in Cincinnati.
That article later won a national social justice award. I was flown to Baltimore in October 2014 to give a speech about the article in front of prominent media figures like Brian Ross from ABC News and James Risen from NYT. In the speech, I talked about the impact that Lee McCoy had on me.
Lee McCoy works with Streetvibes, a bi-weekly newspaper that covers social justice issues and is put out by GCHC.
The cool part about Streetvibes is that it’s sold by 50+ distributors – all of which are homeless or extremely low-income. Each paper is bought by a distributor for 50 cents, and then sold for $1.50. All profits go directly to the distributor who sold it to help save or pay for housing, food, etc.
A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Justin Jeffre, the editor of Streetvibes who I had interviewed for my article last year. I asked him if there was any way I could help out, and, remembering me, he quickly replied and asked me to stop by the office when I was in town so we could talk about opportunities.
Yesterday, I braved my fear of downtown driving, made it down to Over-The-Rhine. I wasn’t surprised that a few people panhandled me for money on my three-block walk to from the parking garage to the office, but I was happy to be approached by a Streetvibes distributor asking me to buy a paper.
The stout man wore sunglasses and a hat, and had little gray tufts of hair poking from the sides of his face. Before I could explain to him that I was already fairly familiar with Streetvibes, he gave me the whole spiel and asked if I would be interested in buying a paper.
I pulled out my money and explained to him that I was headed to the Streetvibes office now to talk to Justin.
“Well that’s great to hear miss,” he said, tucking the newspapers beneath his arm so he could shake my hand. “And what is your name?”
“I’m Rachel,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Rachel,” he nodded and smiled. “I’m Lee McCoy, it’s great to meet you.”
Lee McCoy. Neither of us recognized each other at first, but after I refreshed him, he remembered our interview. I told him that he had helped me spread Cincinnati homeless awareness and win this national award in which I talked about him in my speech, and he couldn’t believe it.
“Could you show me that next time I’m at the office?” he asked.
I’m no expert on homelessness, and I’ve really only have a sliver of an idea of the struggles that they go through every day. I start my internship tomorrow, and I can’t wait not only to expand my understanding of the misconceptions of homelessness and share that knowledge with others, but also to help out with an organization dedicated to doing good.
Maybe it’ll be a good summer after all.