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Fight Intensifies Over Exam That’s Said to Keep Black Students Out of NYC’s Elite High Schools

Members of PLACE staged a rally at City Hall in October to advocate for the SHSAT. (Photo: Jasmine Photo)

One month after Sierra Fraser participated in a demonstration against New York City’s high school admissions testing, she’s visibly distressed about the experience.

“It was rough,” the 18-year-old college freshman tells me over Zoom, her hair sitting atop her head in a tight bun and her voice quickly turning from quiet and composed to loud and frustrated. Sierra adjusts her glasses and looks up at the ceiling: “We were chanting ‘Black students matter,’ and they yelled back ‘All students matter.’ Their signs said ‘Education for all,’ but how can you say ‘Education for all’ and not support a more inclusive education system for Black and brown students?” More →

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The Bean Comes Back to Second Avenue, But When Will Its Customers Return?

(Photos: Daniel Maurer)

A little over a year after it closed its doors, The Bean has reopened its Second Avenue location, bringing a neighborhood staple back to NYU students and other East Village locals. The coffee shop’s reopening on Nov. 18 was the result of a rent break brought on by the pandemic, but with a second wave of COVID-19 threatening to hit New York City, it remains to be seen how long the silver lining will gleam.  More →

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Can a Team of Volunteers Light Up Chinatown This Winter?

(Photos: Bessie Liu)

On a sunny afternoon in Manhattan’s Chinatown, masked residents can be seen wandering the streets, chatting with friends. In the alleyways, a handful of customers are seated at outdoor dining tables. The once deserted streets of Chinatown have come back to life. But local advocates believe the area could be more inviting after dark, and they’re hoping to brighten it up with hundreds of lanterns. More →

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More Are Fostering Cats During the Pandemic, But Are Skittish About Adopting

Heather Ha’s current foster cat, Luna. (Photo: Heather Ha)

When New York City went into lockdown mid-March, many people turned toward furry companions to keep them company during uncertain times.

The number of people who applied to foster pets has increased dramatically. According to a PetPoint report, the number of cats and dogs who have joined the foster network has increased by 6 percent and 13 percent respectively from the previous year. The ASPCA saw a 70 percent increase in the number of foster applicants for cats and dogs.  More →

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An Especially Cold Winter Lies Ahead For NYC’s Homeless

The Bowery Mission. (Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Earlier this month, MTA track inspectors came upon the remains of a middle-aged man in a subway tunnel near the Wall Street station. Officials suspected the deceased was a homeless person electrocuted by the third rail while seeking refuge underground. As temperatures drop, more and more New Yorkers are reportedly seeking shelter in the tunnels, illuminating the complex difficulties of contending with homelessness in the cold amid a pandemic. More →

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Activist Bookstore Bluestockings Has Reopened and ‘A Lot of Magic Is Happening’

(Above photo courtesy of Bluestockings, others by Pooja Salhotra)

“Pretty much every place I go, I look for the anarchist bookstore,” says Jason Dean, who wears dark-rimmed glasses and a black winter jacket. Dean fumbles with his new purchase, Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story collection The Unreal and the Real, and explains to me that he’s on a cross-country road trip. Dean started from his home in Washington State and is now making his way down the Atlantic coast in a camper van. Thursday is his last day in New York, and he doesn’t miss the opportunity to stop into the new location of Bluestockings, a radical bookstore, café and activist center that, for many, is a Lower East Side institution.   More →

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In Bed-Stuy, a Cafe Where Free Health Care Is On the Menu

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Bed-Stuy, an A-frame sandwich board on Malcolm X Boulevard advertised the offerings of Bailey’s Cafe. But there were no lattes  or quiches on the menu. The “cafe” is actually an event space for local organizations, and today its sign read: “Healthcare for the People: free medical services to anyone in need.”

Inside of Bailey’s, tapestries crafted by local youth lined the wall, along with hand-painted quotes from Gwendolyn Brooks and Toni Morrison. On one of the cafe’s many couches sat Eddie Meraz, one of several licensed, volunteer health care advocates ready to provide medical assistance to anyone who visited. “Our goal and mission is to kind of… protest the health care system,” he said. 

 As Meraz and his colleagues at Callen-Lorde, a local community health center, labored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the barriers keeping many New Yorkers from quality medical care became overwhelmingly apparent to them. “The health care system as it is now is an unsustainable and inequitable model,” Meraz said, citing insurance challenges and other limitations, including lack of trust, access, stability, and education. “So our protest is against the health care model while also providing a service to the community.”

Healthcare for the People believes that health care is a right—not a privilege. This belief informs the simple service they provide: free medical care every Saturday from noon to 4pm. They began on September 19 in Prospect Park, and on November 7, they saw a record number of approximately 40 patients. And November 14 marked their continued growth as they gathered at Bailey’s for the first time, where they’ll continue to meet as winter sets in.

For equipment and supplies, they created a GoFundMe that generated approximately $10,000 within the first two days. Their pop-up check-in table, folding chair waiting room, and blue medical tent may at first glance appear to be a robust family picnic. But the purpose of their presence is clarified by the bright, green caduceus (the universal symbol for medicine) emblazoned on their tent, masks, and signs. Like the traditional caduceus, the symbol is entwined with serpents—but in keeping with the spirit of protesters, their symbol culminates not in a staff, but a raised fist. 

Anyone passing by the park or cafe can receive services including STI screenings, pregnancy tests, flu shots, blood pressure screenings, wound care, and overdose prevention training. And as their volunteer base expands, so does the diversity of their care opportunities—a Reiki healer, mental health specialist, and even veterinarian have volunteered their services. Insurance and paperwork are never required, and to eliminate as many barriers to care as possible, patients aren’t even expected to provide their names. 

“One of the things that’s been really interesting for me,” said Ronica Mukerjee, who serves alongside Meraz on the organization’s board of directors, “is seeing that my acupuncture skills are in demand more than my Western medicine skills.” She’s been an acupuncturist for 17 years and a nurse practitioner for 13. When she noticed that the volunteered services were primarily Western medicine, she decided to offer acupuncture though she didn’t expect to have many patients. “And it’s been incredibly popular, which makes you realize, we actually don’t know what communities want,” she said. “It’s a popular service because people who get access to preventative or more gentle forms of medicine are often people who have a lot of money and resources.”

While Mukerjee is passionate about providing often-inaccessible forms of care to any patient, she and Healthcare for the People also want to recast patients’ expectations of medicine. This requires both adapting to community needs and presenting abundance instead of scarcity. “I think a lot of health care systems that work with poor patients really make patients accustomed to a thinness of care—like they’re only going to scratch the surface of what their needs are,” Mukerjee said. “How many people do you know leave [their medical provider] and are like, ‘I had an amazing experience. Deep in my core I feel better—I felt heard.’ People do not get that experience, and that’s really a big problem.”

As she spoke, the door opened. Mukerjee recognized the patient and said, “I’m so glad to see you!” The patient replied with a laugh: “I brought a friend!” Together, the two friends made for a total of five patients to have visited Bailey’s within the first two hours—three of whom visited for acupuncture. “That’s awesome. Why don’t you guys have a seat?” Mukerjee said. “I’m excited to see you both.”

Healthcare for the People has considered the possibility of opening a permanent clinic, perhaps even—eventually—one in all five boroughs. And with a base that has drawn nearly 60 volunteers in only two months, the opportunity to maximize their services to New Yorkers is promising. But Meraz keeps their work in perspective: “We are one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest nations on the earth. Yet here we have health care providers who are volunteering on a Saturday to provide medical care in a park,” he said. “So our best-case scenario isn’t success in expanding: our best-case scenario is universal health care where people can actually access care. That’s the protest that we want people to see—why does this even have to happen?”