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raceAhead: Remembering the Holocaust

When I was eight, Mondays were hectic for me.

I was running a little operation in which I repurposed money that I should have used to buy my bus pass – back in the 1970s, New York City school kids used paper passes for a week of rides on city buses – to buy penny candy at a bodega across the street from my school on 96th Street. I would then sell my haul to friends for two cents a piece. At the end of the day, I had doubled my cash and had enough to both buy my bus pass and fuel my weekly Nancy Drew habit. It was a good scheme, but it required me to run nine city blocks to school one day a week.

I felt no need to run any of this plan by my mother.

But every Monday, I made one detour into a deli on Broadway between 107th and 106th. I was a shy kid and didn’t talk much, but there was an old man I used to like watch work through the plate glass window. He had a way of smiling without moving his face; he also looked at me like I was a real person. There had been plenty of drama in my mixed-race family and the uptown streets back then, so I was sensitive about how people looked at me. I would pop in on my dash to school, and he would give me a little slice of whatever meat he was carving for the later lunch rush. “’Allo leetle girl,” he would say.

One day, I asked my mom what the tattooed numbers on his arm meant, and that’s how I learned about the terrible things that can happen to your neighbors.

Saturday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and my deli man is often the first person I think of when the subject of the Holocaust comes up. I didn’t know his name or story, but he was my friend in some sort of way. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to grasp the enormity of what he must have suffered and the resilience it must have taken to rebuild. I now realize how extraordinarily lucky he was to have gotten here at all.

These are the kinds of experiences that proximity can bring, the unpredictable benefits of living or working alongside people who are different from you. History becomes personal. And when others see and invest in you, even in simple ways, it changes your ability to see a place for yourself in the world. It’s the part of inclusion that is more art than science, the part that makes everything from eradicating hate speech to debating refugee policy to running better meetings a human imperative. After an extraordinary two years of listening to your stories and learning your best practices, it’s the part I’ve come to cherish most.

I believe researchers will find better and better ways to measure the business case for proximity, but for now, I’ve learned to take a lot of it on faith. To finish my tale: Every Saturday, my mom and I would walk a half a block past the deli to Adlo’s Hallmark for my weekly treat. “Well, hello Miss Nancy Drew,” Mr. Adlo would say, while he patiently counted out the change from my perfectly executed candy scheme, and listened to my big plans to become a writer someday.

 

I ran a version of this column last year. I just wanted to say it again.

On Point

Local journalism’s essential role in believing and bringing justice to Larry Nasser’s victims“I just signed your death warrant.” Those words uttered yesterday by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina provided a dramatic end to the trial of Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former team doctor for the U.S.A. gymnastics team. While the wrenching testimony of his victims that continue to haunt, it’s worth noting that the investigation that rocked USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the U.S. Olympic team, was launched in March 2016 by the Indianapolis Star (IndyStar), a two-time Pulitzer winner for investigative reporting. The paper revealed that more than 368 gymnasts have alleged sexual abuse over a 20-year period, and USA Gymnastics failed in its responsibilities to act on reports and protect the athletes. Click through to see how the whole story unfolded. IndyStar

A new index measures gender equality in over 100 companies
More than 100 companies from 24 countries across a variety of industry sectors have joined the inaugural Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) launched this week. The GEI measures gender equality across a number of measures, including employee policies, external engagement and products. Click through for all the data, but here’s two to get you started: Women in GEI firms hold 26% of senior leadership positions, 19% of executive officer roles, and earned 46% of promotions in 2016; and 67% of members evaluate all advertising and marketing content for gender biases before publication.
Bloomberg

In an award season filled with firsts, a transgender director gets a nod
Earlier this week, Yance Ford became the first trans director to be nominated for an Oscar, for his first full-length documentary film, Strong Island. It’s an unflinching look at a grave miscarriage of justice, in the aftermath of the death of Ford’s brother, William Ford, who was shot and killed in 1992. “The very exciting thing for me when I think about history is that this film is a correction to the historical record of my brother’s life,” he told EW. While the nod will get this story to a wider audience, Ford says it’s also about representation. “I think that everybody out there should know that there is a generation of trans directors who are coming for their Oscars,” he said.
EW

Denzel Washington and Phylicia Rashad paid for ‘This Is Us’ Star Susan Kelechi to study at Oxford
This is how the network does the work. When Kelechi, then a Howard University undergrad, was unable to afford to attend a prestigious a summer program studying Shakespeare at Oxford, a Howard insider contacted Rashad. It was a big deal: Students of color typically didn’t get invited to attend; students from an HBCU would have been a first. The Howard alum reached out to Washington, and the two paid for ten Howard students to make the trip.
Blavity

The Woke Leader

How a show about drag queens can change the world
Jenna Wortham’s first cover for the The New York Times Magazines digs deep into the radical meaning behind RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality competition that’s become as much societal bellwether as pure, dishy-bitchy drag queen fun. In the nine years the show has been on, words like “queer” have been reclaimed, and issues of masculinity, femininity and diverse gender expressions have been explored with an unexpected level of acceptance. Wortham digs into the history of the drag art form, but also its future — including the way drag culture intersects, or doesn’t, with trans culture. While the story is as much of a romp as the show itself (we get to know some of the queens very well) it’s also a testament the kind of savvy marketing that shows how entertainment can become a radical act of culture change.
New York Times Magazine

A parody video becomes an unexpected rallying cry for freedom and acceptance in Russia
A silly re-make of a fifteen-year-old music video called “Satisfaction” has become the talk of Russia. The video of fourteen underwear-clad Russian air-transport cadets dancing suggestively in a dorm-like environment was accidentally released online, triggering official investigations of the “outrageous incident,” with it’s “clear expressions of homosexuality.” While calls for punishment grew, messages of support did too – almost all in the form of, well, young, underwear-clad people dancing and parodying the parody, under the hashtag #Satisfaction. The New Yorker’s Masha Gesson has the story and a list of some of the solidarity videos. They are bold and irreverent — my favorite is an impressive version performed by retired single women living in communal squalor. (They are clothed.)  It all becomes less raunchy and more inspiring when you consider how dangerous it is to be gay or an ally in Russia, and how hard it is to organize.
New Yorker

A documentary charts the portrayal of “American Indians” in Hollywood
It’s not the story you’re expecting to see. ‘Reel Injun’ is an outstanding 2009 documentary directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, that explores the portrayal of the Indian through the Hollywood lens through the century-long history of film. There are many jaw-dropping surprises; some of the earliest films ever made were made by indigenous people celebrating their own culture. Then along came John Wayne to ruin everything. Though an inspiring indigenous filmmaker movement is growing, they’re struggling to balance the deep cultural damage that continues to this day. 
Netflix

Quote

Change is freedom, change is life. It’s always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don’t make changes, don’t risk disapproval, don’t upset your syndics. It’s always easiest to let yourself be governed. There’s a point, around age twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities. Those who build walls are their own prisoners. I’m going to go fulfil my proper function in the social organism. I’m going to go unbuild walls.
Ursula K. Le Guin