A revolution at home, a war in the east, and the families caught in between
This is a short teaser for my debut short doc titled “From Tunisia to Syria: Joining the Fight Against Bashar al-Assad.” It premieres on February 7th at 8:20 pm on NYU campus (19 University Place, New York, NY, 10003).
Two years after the Tunisian revolution, here is what I came home to.
In a time where many traceurs are turning to flashy flips and fancy acrobatics, Basilio Montilla sticks to the original principles of Parkour.
Geraldine O’Rourke knew that she was going to need help for the rest of her life when she returned to her Bronx home after spending nine months in the hospital. She was bedridden due to two hip operations gone wrong and recognized that her husband and family wouldn’t be able to tend to all of her needs.
“I needed help right then and there,” she says of the moment 10 years ago, while sitting in her wheelchair, television remote in hand. “I couldn’t walk and then what happened is the good hip kept coming out of place. I could hardly do anything for myself.”
The 83 year-old former bank worker lost her husband to rheumatoid arthritis six years later and now relies on two home health aides who clean and cook for her and help her bathe and climb into bed at night. Yvonne Garcia is from the Dominican Republic and spends four days a week with O’Rourke. Ifua Morson is from Ghana and is responsible for the other three days. Both Garcia and Morson spend the night at their client’s home but they are only compensated for 12 hours out of a possible 24. This is common in a field where home care agencies often refuse to split long shifts between home health aides in order to save on costs.
“We’re only responsible for one client but my previous one wanted me to take care of her husband as well when we visited his nursing home,” says Morson. “And she wouldn’t allow me sleep at all. She called on me all night. That was really challenging for me so I left.”
On election night at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad warned the audience in the Langston Hughes auditorium that what they were about to be shown would likely offend them. The projection of live presidential election coverage ceased and was replaced by a collection of racist caricatures of president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. The crowd groaned. Many of them had seen these images before.
With that, Dr. Muhammad, the Schomburg Center’s director, set the tone for a discussion between the panelists on the racist messaging that the Republican party had helped nourish since Obama won his first term in 2008. Newt Gingrich labeling Obama the “Welfare President” and the “Food Stamp President” during the 2012 Republican primaries was mentioned as an example. Governor Mitt Romney’s now infamous remarks to donors in which he derided 47 percent of Americans as “victims” who “are dependent on government” and would “vote for the president no matter what” were also cited.
“Even if it’s not overt, we know who they’re referring to when they say this type of thing. We know,” said activist Monifa Bandele as many in the crowd nodded in agreement. Earlier, she had claimed that Republicans were underestimating the numbers of people of color and the youth who would come out to support Obama. Michaela Angela Davis, a fellow panelist, added women to that list. When exit polls were published in the days following the election, their words proved prophetic.
Ninety-three percent of black voters opted for the president, as did 71 percent Hispanics , 73 percent of Asian Americans, and 55 percent of women. Chet Whye, the campaign director for “Harlem 4 Obama,” believes that Republican attempts to suppress the minority vote through identification laws in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida ended up galvanizing these constituencies into braving the long lines and making sure their voice was heard.
On a cold November night, residents of America’s black cultural capital of Harlem celebrated the reelection of the United States’ first African American president. Members of the community fanned out from their homes and election viewing parties at various bars in the neighborhood, converging near the statue of Adam C. Powell on 125th street to sing, dance, and laugh. Barack Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in the 2012 election, exactly the same percentage he carried Harlem’s district by in 2008.
When it comes to New York Police Department tactics, few provoke as much debate as “Stop and Frisk.” Last year, the NYPD performed 685,724 stops. Stephen Davis, a resident of Harlem, was one of them.
“I was on 125th Street, coming out an apartment and police stopped me and two friends because they said we looked suspicious. They stopped us and they frisked us. They found two bags of marijuana on me. I spent 90 days in jail because of that,” Davis explained while standing outside a deli in Harlem’s Little Senegal.
“They wouldn’t have looked at me twice if I was white. We were just walking, no probable cause. I know they do it to look for weapons but I didn’t have no weapons on me.”
The fact that Davis served jail time makes his case rare. Last year, police uncovered contraband in only two percent of stops and made arrests in just six percent of them. Another six percent resulted in summonses while 88 percent resulted in nothing at all. Nevertheless, the use of this strategy has risen by over 600 percent since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002.