In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara, and Sam dive into the underreported news of the week, including drug prosecutions, Billie Holiday, Nashlie Sephus, Black American sign language on Tik Tok. Netta Elzie gives an update on what’s happening with the nationwide protests. DeRay sits down with Johnny Celestin to discuss the political situation in Haiti. De’Ara interviews Will Driscoll about roofing reform for public health.
DeRay [00:00:02] This is DeRay, And welcome to Pod Save the People. This week, it’s me, Sam, Kaya and De’Ara as we talk about the underreported news that you might not have heard about this week, but that you should know. Netta comes on to give us an update about what’s happening with the protest. And then I sit down with Johnny Celestin to discuss the political situation in Haiti. And finally, De’Ara interviews Will Driscoll about how roof reform can save lives.
DeRay [00:00:21] Now, my advice is about chaos and artistry or our gift. I was talking to a friend the other day and I realized we were just talking through a movie that was recently on TV, talking to a movie that we had both seen about this idea that, like so many people believe that they are gift only shows up in the chaos.
DeRay [00:00:40] So they create chaos or they sit in chaos or they endure chaos around them and personal relationships because there’s this idea that that’s where their best work comes from.
DeRay [00:00:51] And like, I want to push us all to think about how our gifts can show up outside of the chaos that, like, sometimes the chaos is just a crutch.
DeRay [00:00:59] So how can we, like, get out of that mindset that says I need the things around me to fall apart so that, like, then I can get it. And, you know, this manifests in the like waiting until the last hour the paper is due to start it because you feel like in that hour the best ideas will come.
DeRay [00:01:14] It’s like our gifts are better than the chaos. Like our gifts can show up without chaos being present. Let’s do this.
De’Ara [00:01:22] All right, family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and the Twitter @dearabalenger.
Sam [00:01:32] I’m Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
Kaya [00:01:34] I’m Kaya Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:01:37] and This is DeRay @deray on Twitter.
Kaya [00:01:40] So my news this week is great news, amazing news. It’s coming to us from Ink and it is pure black girl magic. The article is about an Amazon scientists 25 million dollar plan to turn twelve abandoned acres in Jackson, Mississippi, into a tech hub. This sister is all right with me. Her name is Nashlie Sephus. She is a 35 year old black artificial intelligence researcher at Amazon. And she is putting together a plan. Actually, she’s activating a plan to create a technology hub on twelve abandoned acres of vacant lots and derelict buildings in Jackson. Now, this sister is going to take seven buildings, and over the next three to five years, she will create a maker space and electronics lab, a photography studio, apartments, restaurants, a grocery store and an innovation center to teach entrepreneurs tech skills. In fact, she she calls it a self-sustaining village where people can live, work, play and eat. And this is pretty exciting, I think, initiative. This sister is well degreed. She has an undergraduate degree in computer engineering from Mississippi State, a master’s and Ph.D. in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She founded an incubator and a tech consulting nonprofit in Jackson, which has helped more than 400 businesses. And she’s from Jackson. So she, in fact, lives in Atlanta. She commutes back and forth between Atlanta and Jackson, but she’s bound and determined to make something amazing happen in her hometown. She got a five hundred thousand dollar grant from the Kellogg Foundation. She got the city to back her and they’ve changed some of the zoning laws so that she can do her thing her way. Amazon has stepped up, she said. I thought I was going to get fired when I started this. And Amazon has stepped up and supported her with their Future Engineers program. And their We Power Tech program and she has clothes on this property this past September. She’s breaking ground this spring and I’m super excited for her. I’m also just interested in where she found the hutzpah to do this, she says. And, you know, lots of times we think, well, it’s my hometown and there’s nothing happening there and can I do it? And she says there’s a quote, an article. She says, It had never occurred to me, even though I had sold a company to Amazon, we I was working with some of the top people at Amazon. I led a whole startup. I started my own nonprofit. And it just never occurred to me that I, a young black female, could buy a building in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Well, this list is doing more than buying a building. She is turning these twelve acres into a tech hub and she is doing it her way in her hometown. And for that, I take my hat off to nationally surface.
De’Ara [00:04:39] Woohoo, Nashlie, yes.
Kaya [00:04:41] Yes,.
De’Ara [00:04:42] I first of all, I’ve done some consulting in the tech venture space and there always seems to be an issue around how can we be more inclusive, how can we do this?
De’Ara [00:04:54] How can we do that? How can we send our folks of color and black folks all y’all just give your money to Nashlie, please just do the right thing. Invest in people like her. I just thought this was wonderful Kaya and I think, you know, we’ve been talking so much about the South actually, so I thought this was something that we could highlight that wasn’t, you know, doom and gloom, but really was like, here is opportunity. Here is an innovative plan to give folks the tools. So I was really, really excited to see this and hopefully we can just follow her along.
Sam [00:05:25] So this is a truly Herculean effort. It’s powerful. And, you know, in reading through this article, you get a sense for just how difficult something like this is to pull off. You know, she was denied bank loans on three different occasions. It says she had to invest five hundred thousand dollars of her own money and get one hundred and fifty thousand dollars from friends and family to invest to make this possible. So I just think about the when we talk about the racial wealth gap, we talk about how hard it is for black people to get access to capital, to get access to the resources, to change the world, to build institutions, to redesign their own hometowns and think about creating opportunities locally. Like this is an example of how somebody was able, despite those limitations, nevertheless, to make things happen. And I think that that’s really powerful. It shouldn’t have to be this hard, right? It shouldn’t have to be that you need an extreme amount of personal savings in order to make this happen. Right. I think, you know, it shouldn’t have to be that you have to, you know, apply for a very rare grant from Kellogg for five hundred thousand dollars that I’m sure you of a very small number of groups probably get in order to make this possible. So I just think about how do we continue to open pathways and open doorways so that there is access for more people to bring these opportunities back to their hometowns and make things happen.
Sam [00:06:45] So my news is about Washington State, where this past week, due to a state Supreme Court decision in State V Blake for the first time in a very long time, drug possession is decriminalized statewide, all types of drugs decriminalized. Now, how did we get here? So this might sound like wild. How did we get here? Well, it turns out that in two states in Washington state and in Florida, there are drug laws that are written in a way that they don’t require prosecutors to prove that you actually knew what you were doing was illegal in order to convict you of a felony. So in most places, they have to prove that you knew the thing that you were doing was illegal. You knew that these were illegal drugs in order to successfully prosecute and convict somebody of a felony In these cases. In Florida, after about 2002, they passed legislation that basically eliminated that requirement. So now you found with the drugs we have, the drugs that alone is sufficient. In Washington state there are similar laws in place. And so the state Supreme Court in Washington state basically decided that that wasn’t sufficient to grant due process to residents of the state, that, in fact, that the state needs to either just completely rewrite its drug laws or take down and dismantle the existing criminalization of drug possession. But the existing laws that were in place are declared unconstitutional. So wanted to talk about this because I think, you know, this is the beginning of a new wave in sort of the effort to repeal the drug war, which I think, you know, phase one was very much focused on decriminalization and then legalization of marijuana. What we’ve seen even in the past year or so in Oregon through a statewide ballot initiative was for the first time an effort to decriminalize possession of all drugs. And now Washington state to this court decision will become the second state to do so. So already Seattle Police Department, other police departments in the state are starting to say that they will no longer arrest people for drug possession alone. And, you know, again, this is something that when you look at the polling data, at least in Washington and in Oregon and other states, it suggests that people are supportive of these measures. Obviously, they go further than what we’ve seen in other states. So, you know, stay tuned to see how this might have a ripple effect across the country.
DeRay [00:08:58] The other thing that I want to add is, as you can imagine, the police are fear mongering. Right. But one of the majors in the Bellevue Police Department, he said “at this point in time, we are not going to make any custody, arrests or arrest of an individual for having that controlled substance. Yesterday, it would have been you could be arrested for that possession. Today, we’re not going to make an arrest.” And they are like the Seattle police are also doing it. The Seattle Police Department announced a similar change, saying that drug possession is, quote, “no longer an arrestable offense. It also cannot be used as a legal basis to seize an individual.” But they’re doing all this stuff as a way to fearmonger this notion that, like crime is going to suddenly go out, like just ruin communities. And it’s like, you know, we can think about making sure that people don’t harm themselves or harm communities without putting people in cages. So, like, can’t succumb to the fear mongering that will necessarily come from law enforcement and really interested to see what happens. Because, you know, the scary thing is that the legislature could come back and make really crystal clear laws that are awful. And that is not good either.
De’Ara [00:10:02] My news this week, all of us from the L.A. Times, and it’s about the United States versus Billie Holiday, it’s a new narrative film out on Hulu directed by Lee Daniels, the screenwriter for the film with Susan Lori Parks, who, if you all don’t know her, you should get to know her.
De’Ara [00:10:21] She is incredibly gifted. The one thing that this article did leave out is that she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. Sis is bad to the bone. So she did things like Topdog Underdog. I don’t know if you saw that it was on Broadway years and years ago, but it was with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. She also did the last play I saw before before covid, which was White Noise starring Daveed Diggs, which was incredible. But here she comes writing this script. The subject of Billie Holiday is so complex and so complicated. And I actually didn’t know a lot of the history. I grew up with Lady Sings the Blues, which Diana Ross obviously queen then queen now. But it was a different telling of the story. Right. And so the telling of this particular story, the screenplay was written from a chapter of a book. And the author of the book is Johann Hari. And the book is called Chasing the Scream The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. And so basically, the film in this chapter basically tells more of the story about how Billie Holiday, how she entered the war on drugs, essentially because what I didn’t know what the film comes to light and I promise I won’t do too many spoilers is that Billie Holiday was was targeted by the FBI, by an agent of J. Edgar Hoover. His name was Harry Anslinger. Essentially, you know, we know that Billie Holiday was a heroin addict, but they really, really kept a close eye on her. They actually had similar to Fred Hampton. They had a young black agent who actually followed her and was the reason when she was ultimately arrested. But really, it was less about the heroin and less about the war on drugs and more about stopping Billie Holiday from singing Strange Fruit. And so, again, I think we understand the context of strange fruit. Obviously, it’s a critically important song to the civil rights movement, but it was super early. It was like 1939 when Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit. And what this article lays out really beautifully is that there was a jazz critic, Leonard Feather, who said that “Strange Fruit was the first significant protest song in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” Jazz drummer Max Roach, who, if you don’t know Max Roach, get to know him, too, also said, you know, “Strange Fruit was more than revolutionary. She made a statement that we all felt as black folks, no one was speaking out. She became one of the fighters, this beautiful lady, who could see and make you feel things.” So it was so early in the movement and Billie Holiday really sacrificed her entire her career herself.
De’Ara [00:13:01] You know, she she died really early at 44. She had a really rough life despite her her her fame one. I think you everyone should see it. And I think we should learn more about Billie Holiday. I think Andra Day, who plays Billie Holiday in this film, does a really incredible job. The other thing it just brings to light is how vulnerable you are when you’re black and excellent and how you are targeted and how, you know, there’s always the temptation of throwing someone else black and excellent of or of color and excellent under the bus to get even further ahead. And I think there’s some lessons of that in this film as well. So I just thought it was incredible. I thought Andra Day did A beautiful job. I wish we had more stories of complicated, strong, magnificent black women. And I think Billie Holiday in the same space really of Zora Neale Hurston and others, that they are this incredibly talented women. But because of the era they lived in, they were only allowed to do so much or go so far. So, yeah. So that just wanted to bring that to you. I thought it was pretty compelling.
Kaya [00:14:14] One of the things that this made me wonder about was the song Strange Fruit, where it came from, and it was written by a white Jewish guy from the Bronx named Abel Meeropol who saw a picture of a lynching and it haunted him.
Kaya [00:14:31] And so he wrote a poem about it. Abel Meeropol was a teacher who and he published his poem in the Teacher’s Union magazine.
Kaya [00:14:42] And from there, a colleague saw the poem, thought it was promising past that he he was also an amateur musician. So he put it to music, gave it to a friend who gave it to Billie Holiday. And the rest, as they say, is history. But Abel Meeropol was an interesting cat in his own right, and I think a lot of times we we don’t know these deep, deep histories, but, you know, anybody could be out there writing the next most amazing song of the century, which is what Strange Fruit was called. And and that single solitary song that Abel Meeropol wrote is the reason why the FBI was after Billie Holiday. They wanted her. I mean, this song was moving people all over the place and they wanted her to stop singing this song. And they did everything that they possibly could to stop her.
Sam [00:15:36] You know, it is wild. You’re growing up. You you hear about COINTELPRO, you hear the stories of how the federal government, how the FBI surveils and harasses and in some cases murders people and have done that in the civil rights movement. And you become familiar with this idea. But you just fully, as you learn more like this was this was news to me. So I didn’t appreciate the the scale at which this was happening, going all the way back. You know, we talk about the 60s and in the 50s, we’re talking about now going back to the 40s, even like the late 30s. And it is wild to see the way in which, you know, as you said, De’Ara, if you are black and you are excellent, you are targeted by the state. And it’s just while it comes after, you know, seeing also the new revelations around Malcolm X and how the NYPD and the FBI also, you know, infiltrated his organization, infiltrated, you know, his work, his bodyguard try to remove them right before he was assassinated. His one of his top party bodyguards was, it turns out, an undercover NYPD agent. As we tell these stories, they sound like they’re conspiracies. They sound really wild. But I think we are just scratching the surface of, like, what actually happened, the scale at which the surveillance actually went down, the scale, the number of people, the proportion of of leaders, both in sort of the political space and civil rights space, in music, in culture, all across the space who were targeted, who are harassed, who are surveilled by the federal government. And, you know, I don’t even think that we’re really at the point where we where we fully appreciate the scale at which this has happened in the past, let alone how it’s still happening right now.
DeRay [00:17:19] De’Ara, I think you said it perfectly sort the risk of black excellence like you nailed it. I legitimately had no I thought it was just like the organizers they were targeting. That’s what I thought I’d like. And that sort of I understood that as like a tactic of the government to make sure people don’t come together. It’s like not a good tactic. Obviously, it’s diabolical. But I’d heard that story so much that I was like, OK, the government’s trying to undo the organizers. Got it. But I never imagined that they were targeting the singers to, like, trying to disrupt, like, the fabric of solidarity. Right.
DeRay [00:17:51] Like it was deeper than just sort of the organizers, the people bringing people they like, bringing people together as activists. It was the disruption of like the fabric of solidarity, like anybody who is helping create like mass moments of solidarity among black people inside Billie Holiday, like the disruption came.
DeRay [00:18:10] So I to think that we are just scratching the surface of this, it was really surprising to see and I’m happy that this story, this story is brought to light.
DeRay [00:18:19] It also reminds me of sort of the danger and harm of addiction and how when we don’t treat addiction as a public health crisis, we make incredibly gifted people, which is everybody vulnerable to the worst of society. So we think about what does it mean that the FBI was able to prey on her addiction as a way to bring her down, that what we don’t see is a record of treatment. We don’t see a record of supports and sustains supports. And it’s like what this is. And, you know, people have explained, you know, like she was there’s a lot of trauma in her life. And you’re like, yeah, but we can support people through these things. Like we actually have. This is not beyond us. We know how to do it. We can do this. And when I think about her dying so young, you’re like, we failed as a society, we continue to fail. We have failed so many people struggling with addiction.
DeRay [00:19:13] So my news is about Tic Tok.
DeRay [00:19:15] So, you know, I fall in love with different wings of Tik Toc, whether it’s the vibe for me with that dance, I’m obsessed with that song. And there’s a host of things. But there’s a community on Tik Toc that I wanted to highlight. And there’s an article in The New York Times called “Black, Deaf and Extremely Online.”
DeRay [00:19:31] And it’s about the Black Deaf, young people who are creating a whole new community very publicly and helping to bring visibility to black American sign language. And let me tell you, I didn’t know there was like Ebonics sign language. This blew my mind. Like, it didn’t blow my mind because I’m like black people are incredible. And of course, we made sign language and a little flavor and like just a little more hutzpah. So, like, shout out to the black signers. But it was really interesting learning, the learning the history of it. And they talk about how white deaf schools and the 1870s and 80s were moving towards what they call oralism, which place less emphasis on signing and more emphasis on teaching students how to speak and lip read. And black signers were actually learning how to sign because in so many ways, the racism of the white deaf schools, like they didn’t care whether black kids like lip read, spoke or anything, they just sort of left these kids behind. And the black deaf students, like, got a whole new culture within American Sign Language. And I thought it was amazing to read and learn about. The article also talks about how black signers also tend to use larger signing space and emote to a greater degree and how there are black sign language words for like tight like like that or or chicken like all these really cool things you like. I love it. And what’s funny is that I’ve actually seen, like I know some of the black deaf talkers, but I didn’t know there was a community of them because sometimes in Tik Toc it’s not easy to find like communities of people. So I saw a couple and I saw one young black girl respond to somebody being like, are you really deaf? And she was like, she was this great responsable, like a, annoying and rude but b, like we’ve always been here, like she just like nails. It’s like, do you think you’re the only person that can use technology? Do you think you’re the only person that can use the Internet to do the do you think you’re the only person that can communicate with people like it was just really beautiful to watch.
DeRay [00:21:24] So I thought that was great. The last thing I’ll say is that there’s actually a project called the Black ASL American Sign Language Project, which is a six year research study that was started in 2007 that drew on interviews with about one hundred subjects. And they showed that segregation in the South played a large role in the development of black sign language. So this understanding that there were schools for black deaf children began to come about after the civil war and that there were there were obviously segregated and it allowed for a different culture of sign language to emerge among black deaf children, mostly because there wasn’t an effort to prepare them for college or to continue their education. And it also talks about how a lot of white deaf students went to black ASL schools and programs because the education was so high quality. So I’ll just leave it there. I learned a ton and it was beautiful to see the community highlighted.
Kaya [00:22:22] Two things stood out for me. There’s always two things when everybody’s articles, I’m not sure why, but the first as a teacher, it was really interesting to me to see how a prevailing orthodoxy where instead of continuing to teach sign language faithfully, they were teaching oralism and teaching deaf people how to read lips and how to speak. And so American Sign Language didn’t fall totally out of fashion, but that was the prevailing pedagogy of the day. And so a lot of talented white teachers, white American sign language teachers ended up going to black schools, as you mentioned. And so black people actually got a superior education in American Sign Language. Oh, and then we added a little flavor to it because that’s what we do. And so that was really interesting to see how teaching orthodoxies shift and then cause these kinds of things to happen. And then the second thing that was really just beautiful to me was the fact that this black American sign language is not new. This young Tik Toc lady has her grandparents and her great grandparents in the video, and they’ve been black ASL in their whole lives. And of course, regionally, there are differences. And of course, generationally there are differences, just like the regular old English language, just like black people from a lot of different places we call different soda pop, whatever it is. Right. Why wouldn’t black American Sign Language be as complex and varied and integrated and flavorful as how we communicate with one another? I thought this article was great and thanks for bringing it to the pod DeRay.
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DeRay [00:27:12] And now I check in with Netta as she gives us an update on what’s happening with the protests across the country.
Netta [00:27:16] Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning back in. It’s me, Netta, and I’m so glad to be back with you all again this week. Last week was personally uneventful. Thank God, and Sage is her usual fluffy and playful self. So I think that I shared with you all that I actually became a plant mom recently. I look so I see people on Twitter talk about how dramatic their house plans are. And for some reason, I really thought that I was going to be different, that my Plant Parenthood was going to be so special that my peace lily would not at all be as dramatic as the ones that I see on Twitter. But oh, no, I was sadly mistaken.
Netta [00:27:56] OK, so listen, what I need for you all to do is to send me your best houseplant care tips, suggestions for other low maintenance plants. And I do mean low maintenance, OK, because the Internet like this plant is not low maintenance at all. She requires a lot of time and attention and talking to a lot of prep, we do a lot of like morning affirmations me in this little peace lily, it’s a lot going on, so I need your help. Thank you so much. And so now let’s talk about the news. There’s a wifi stigma of sorts that will be available for millions of people and families who qualify as low income. The FCC has approved fifty dollar monthly Internet subsidies and up to 75 dollars for tribal households. The program also provides one hundred dollars off a computer or tablet. The pandemic exposed many things, including the fact that many folks don’t have consistent or strong enough Internet access to successfully work from home or attend school online. The FCC says the program could launch the next two months once they figure out the logistics of how to make this all happen.
Netta [00:29:09] We will see. I hope that this does become an actual plan. This does sound like a bit of relief, and folks definitely need that. So last week, Malcolm X’s family held a press conference to announce that they discover a letter written by an undercover NYPD cop who confessed to playing a part in breaking down Malcolm’s security team.
Netta [00:29:31] This new evidence points to a haunting but unsurprising reality, which is that it is highly likely that the FBI and NYPD had a hand in Malcolm’s murder.
Netta [00:29:43] The officer’s name was Ray Wood, and it is his cousin Reggie, who brought the letter to Malcolm’s daughters. But since the press conference, Ray’s daughter Kelly told the media that the letter is fake. She said that her father, who passed away in November, is not a coward and would have. Never, ever ask anyone to speak on his behalf after passing, the FBI is pleading the fifth and the Manhattan district attorney’s office is actively reviewing the new evidence. So I definitely wanted to just share a quick story, which is that a few years ago, I got to spend some time with one of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, while in New York City.
Netta [00:30:23] And wow, at that sentence, here’s another wild sentence and then I’ll finish the story. Olympian Tommie Smith was also there, you know, one of the two brothers who bowed his head and threw up his black power fist to protest poverty in black communities and other injustices during the 1968 Olympics.
Netta [00:30:44] So, listen, I’m still in all of this moment and honored to have even been included in this conversation, to be allowed to just sit at their feet and soak up so much knowledge and all of those gems during our time together. The final story today was about brother Malcolm X.
Netta [00:31:02] But what struck me over the weekend to bring this all up on the podcast was an interview clip I saw with Gayle King and Ilyasah. Malcolm was a human being. Malcolm was a husband, a father, a comrade to his people, hearing Ilyasah speak of the normal moments, whatever those are like when your father is Malcolm X and your mother is sister Betty, truly enriched my spirit and listening to a daughter describe the love of her father really completed that picture in my mind.
Netta [00:31:36] I respect his work, his principles, his jarring honesty, and I’m truly grateful to know his words and deeds.
Netta [00:31:43] What a legacy and what a family. Keeping it short and sweet again this week. I’ll talk to you all next time. Bye.
DeRay [00:31:52] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere.
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DeRay [00:35:36] You know, I’ve seen a lot about Haiti in the news, but I haven’t known what’s going on. And I now know about the political turmoil on the scale that I did not know at all.
DeRay [00:35:45] And, you know, there’s been so much going on that I wanted to sit down with somebody who knows us so much better than I do. That’s why I sat down with Johnny Celestin to interrogate the situation from top to bottom. Help us know what’s going on and what we can do.
DeRay [00:35:55] Let’s go. So Johnny, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Johnny Celestin [00:35:59] Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be with you today.
DeRay [00:36:03] So you’re here because I’ve been reading a lot about what’s going on in Haiti. I was in Haiti two years ago working with a teacher prep program that only worked in rural communities. I was in and set of places that were in rural Haiti Working Teacher Project and that is the extent of what I know about Haiti. I mean, I know the Haitian revolution, but I was like, let me call somebody who knows more than I do. So thanks for being here. Can you talk about your relationship with Haiti and then let’s talk about what’s going on?
Johnny Celestin [00:36:31] Sure. Well, I am Haitian American, born in Haiti, been here in the States for over 30 years. So most of my formative years have been here. But I came in my teens. And of course, being from Haiti, you know, the passion of back home has always pulled. In 2010, after the earthquake, I decided to move back to Haiti with my family after, of course, a 25, 30 year career in the States, because I felt that it was it was important for Haitian and Diaspora to kind of go back and help the country. And so I spent almost 10 years in Haiti and I work primarily in the development sector. And I was also in the public sector. I was the deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Planning. And so this really gave me an opportunity to sort of rediscover Haiti. And, of course, the challenges that exist there have existed for generations. It’s something that many of us are fighting for in terms of ensuring the kind of social justice and equality that we want to see both in Haiti as well as here in the United States. And so really, my experience fighting for equality here where I live in Harlem, which is where I am now, has really helped me and the work that I did, I did in Haiti after the earthquake.
DeRay [00:37:49] So can you give us, like a primer on sort of the political landscape in Haiti in some of the challenges macro that the economy or the society is sort of dealing with as we transition to talk about what is happening today and why? Why is Haiti in the news today? Why their protests in the street? But can you lay the foundation for, like, what the context is for Haiti and the way other countries have treated Haiti or like how we got to the conditions that we’re in today?
Johnny Celestin [00:38:17] That is an important question, I think, for many folks who may not know about Haiti or heard of it kind of in passing when when we in the news or for bad things, I think it’s important, particularly for the African-American community, to know that Haiti is the first country that came out of a slave rebellion. So in for Haiti’s Haiti rebellion started in 1793. But by before we kicked the butt of the the British, the Spaniards, but particularly the French to become a free republic. And of course, right after that, Haiti was blockaded by all the world’s superpowers and many people. This is the kind of endeavor, if you think about a small place like Haiti, small island that is blockaded by the international community, including the United States, which did not want the ideas that Haiti was promoting around the Caribbean to reach the shore of the United States. And this idea was the idea that we’re all human beings, the idea of equality, particularly for black people. And so when we became free in 1804 Haiti really made it a point to say if anyone set foot on the island of Haiti, that person was a free person. And, of course, you know, Haitian fought and the American Civil War. And indeed, there are statues of Haitians who fought in Savannah. So we fought on the side of liberty across the Caribbean and Colombia and Venezuela to this day to bring it sort of the current time. Haiti has paid the price for this. The first price it paid was that right after winning our freedom, these countries blockaded us and we had to pay a huge fine for to the French because of loss of property, and I think many folks in the United States, particularly African-Americans, can understand what that meant. So Haiti was in the 1950s occupied by the United States. And so we’ve been under the control of the international community for a very long time to the struggle that I talk about. It’s a struggle for broader recognition of Haitian humanity, but really a struggle for black liberation and the struggle for freedom and equality in Haiti and abroad.
Johnny Celestin [00:40:36] So this is the kind of context that brings us to where we are today in terms of the challenges that we face, because we continue to be under the control of the international community, in particular the United States, which plays an overwhelming role in dictating really what happens in Haiti in terms of who gets elected and who doesn’t, and our economy runs and who is in charge of the economy and all those kinds of things.
DeRay [00:41:02] Before we talk about this current moment. I want to know, what did you learn being inside the government? Because it you know, it’s one thing to see the conditions and to know the history and to think about it when you live in society. And that’s not a less valid perspective. I do think it’s so different when you see the machinations happen up close, when you are part of it and you’re like, wow, this is how decisions get made. This is how decisions don’t get made or did that. How did that experience a deputy chief of staff? How did that either change or inform or like I don’t know what what was that experience like in terms of your understanding of both the problems and the possibility?
Johnny Celestin [00:41:38] I recognize the challenges that exist When one talks about governing. It is difficult.
Johnny Celestin [00:41:45] It is it is hard work and very often for those of us who on the outside. And so why don’t they apply X, Y or Z policy? And when you’re in government, you juggling a lot of competing priorities, a lot of competing demands from different factions of different factors. Right. So is this the first lesson I learned, really, like I said earlier, helped me discover the country. So I traveled the country from north to south, east to west, and realize the disconnect that existed between the people who lived in the rural areas and those who live primarily in Port au Prince, an urban area. So that was really on the inside the first lesson that I learned. So I do have an appreciation for the challenges that exist in government while you trying to govern. Right. I also realize that much of what we think is impossible or difficult to achieve is essentially rooted in people’s unwillingness or inability to kind of make the decision that they need to make for the greater majority. The analogy is when you look at the United States and you see who runs the economy and how we can bail out the banks. And as soon as you talk about helping a family have a place to live, you know, it becomes a struggle, a big disagreement. And so is the same thing in Haiti where there are very few families, about a dozen of them, who control every aspect of the economy. And they do so with an iron hand. And so in government, I realize both the challenges, but the opportunities that existed to make changes that would benefit the great majority of Haitian.
Johnny Celestin [00:43:26] And I think those possibilities exist today. And that’s why we’re trying to push as a Haitian American community on policies that can really push the government because they need sort of that external push in order to make the right choices.
DeRay [00:43:41] Now, can you explain how or why or how there’s a small set of families that control where you set family it seems like you’re not even talking about like elected officials that are. Maybe you are. I don’t know. But here, explain why. In twenty, twenty one, they’re still a small set of people, not for the families who can control an entire country.
Johnny Celestin [00:44:00] Yeah, well, right after the Americans invaded or took control of Haiti, they made a decision that No. One, they would centralize the country’s economy, which meant that a country that was primarily rural became a country in which most of the economy was centered around not just Port au Prince or the major urban centers, but really around importations. And so we were no longer sort of producing but were importing sort of basic necessities in order to really make that work. They needed to have control over who managed that economy. And so they partnered with a few families. A lot of them had been in Haiti for a number of times, but others were very recent immigrants who came to Haiti, from Syria, from Egypt, from the Middle East. They were troubled back in their countries and they moved to immigrated to Haiti. And it was easier for the American occupation to deal with those folks as opposed to the larger black population. And I think you’ll see something analogous that took place, for example, in India. So this centered everything.
Johnny Celestin [00:45:11] And they also gave control of the economy to a few families. And that has consistently been the case for the last, I’d say, 80 years. In the meantime, we had the regime of Duvalier dictatorship regime. And he also sort of reinforce that process in terms of dealing with a limited number of families and cut deals with them. As long as they supported his regime, they were able to control parts of the economy. And so we are in a place where specific families have specific piece of the economy. Some parts of people import rice, some people import iron, some people and, you know, import chicken. And so they control and they don’t compete with each other, you know, the sort of divide. And they said, you get this part, I get this part, and we don’t compete with one another. And in in such an overcontrol economy, obviously, you know, it’s an economy that’s not producing.
Johnny Celestin [00:46:09] The result of it is the level of poverty that we’re seeing in Haiti were over four million people in Haiti are living in extreme poverty and over six out of the 11 million are in poverty.
DeRay [00:46:20] Well, that’s the context. What’s going on today? And can you talk about why America has an outsized influence? Is this exacerbated by the Trump administration, did the Biden administration do something? Is nobody doing anything about of the country, which is why things have gotten worse? You know, I don’t know, like, everything seems like an option to me because I just don’t know. So can you help contextualize what’s happening today and how it got to that place?
Johnny Celestin [00:46:45] Certainly. And I’ll make it extremely short. The most recent history in terms of the last two presidents we had, and I’ll say one of which I served in his administration, President Martelly, who got elected right after the earthquake and his election, was a result, really, of the Americans deciding that he was the one that they wanted. Of course, when he left office, he did a what we call a Putin, essentially passing the baton to someone that he had selected, someone who was never in politics before. But, you know, with money, with guns, they were able to get this person elected. And where we are today is that this current president’s term has ended as of February 7th of this year. And he has decided that he he would not step down, that he said, you know, for him, his mandate ends next year. The United States and a number of folks, the country’s international community have supported him. And what he’s doing, or at least even if they don’t do it explicitly, implicitly support him. Because, you know,.
DeRay [00:47:53] What was the rationale?
Johnny Celestin [00:47:54] So the rationale is that our Constitution, the Haitian constitution says that irrespective of when you take office and and the reason why I think the folks who wrote the Constitution put this particular clause in the Constitution was because, you know, we’ve historically never had elections when they were supposed to happen. And so far, his case is that the elections started in 2015. There was a lot of issues in terms of fraud, et cetera. So they were put on pause. The election got restarted and they completed in twenty sixteen. They completed in November of twenty sixteen. What the Constitution says is that the president is supposed to take office February 7th of the year that their election was completed. And so this president election was completed on November twenty sixteen. And so based on the Constitution, his mandate started February seven, 2016. However, he took the oath of office on February 7th, 2017, and as a result, he’s making the argument that he started twenty seventeen. And if you add five years to it, which is what the Constitution says as the number of years the president serves, his mandate doesn’t end until 2022. The funny thing about it is that there were senators and deputies who were elected in the very same election as he did, and he decided that last year, 2020, that their mandate was over because the Constitution says that it was supposed to start on the year that they got elected.
Johnny Celestin [00:49:36] And so what happened?
DeRay [00:49:38] Come on. Come on.
Johnny Celestin [00:49:40] It was his time. He felt like. No, no, no, no, no, no. This is completely forget what I said for what I did for the Senate and what I did for the deputies, which, by the way, at the Senate no longer exists. And the president is now ruling by decree. He uses like disregard what I did for the Senate. For me, mine doesn’t end until next year. So it’s really a very odd situation.
DeRay [00:50:06] That is that something, so people in the I’ve seen of that protest happening is like a party leading the protest.
DeRay [00:50:15] Has America said something or your thing? Nobody said anything, which is being complicit. What can be done? Do we just wait for a year? Like, I don’t know.
DeRay [00:50:22] What’s the what can the court rule or.
Johnny Celestin [00:50:26] Right now is Trump’s administration had a hands off policy to the extent that the administration was supporting what the administration wanted. So, for example, that you might have heard or you know of the big sort of fight that the United States has with Venezuela and Haiti being a member of the.
DeRay [00:50:48] I assume we know nothing about them. We know nothing. So what is the fight with Venezuela?
Johnny Celestin [00:50:52] So the fight with Venezuela is that the United States. So they had this long disagreement with Venezuela, but they’re trying to push out the elected president of Venezuela and in fact, one of the senators and the Venezuelan Senate, the self-declared as president, he said he was president in the United States, recognized him as president and as part of the process of trying to push out the elected president of the Venezuela. They went through the international institutions like the OAS, the Organization of American States, like the United Nation, to gain support for this idea that this self-declared president was the president of Venezuela and Haiti being one of the members of OAS, because in terms of the countries that supported this policy and those that didn’t, it was sort of equally divided. And Haiti was one of those countries that supported the United States. And this effort, to the extent that Haiti supports the United States, they turned a blind eye to where we are today. What we have is that civil society.
Johnny Celestin [00:52:03] And this is one of the rare times where civil society in Haiti, broadly speaking, and when I say broadly speaking, I mean the unions, the Protestants organization, the Catholic Church, which is not generally a bastion of support for sort of the general population, the universities, the people have been out in the streets demanding that this president leaves. They’ve been asking that from last year, from two years ago, because under his administration, the country has gone downhill. We have kidnapings happening. It is a new phenomenon for us. There are kidnaping people left and right. He has aligned himself. The president has aligned himself with the gangs who have themselves federated. So they have the unionize themselves. They have a group called G. Nine of nine major gangs and various reports from human rights organization, including the United Nations, have demonstrated the link between the administration, the regime and the gangs in terms of controlling the population. And so, you know, the people are out on the street demanding that this administration leave. But now they’re out on the street saying, look, your term has ended and that’s it. And so there is wide agreement across all spectrum. The only one that’s been absent from this conversation so far, unfortunately, has been the business sector. And the reason, I believe, is because the president has given them everything that they’ve wanted so they don’t feel they need to stand on the side of the people as long as they’re making money. But every single organized institutions are demanding that this president leaves because his term is over and the people have been on the street every single Sunday for the last couple of weeks demanding that he leaves. Sadly, right now, the administration is taking, I won’t say hands off because I think they’re still trying to get their feet wet. And so yesterday there was a United Nations Security Council meeting yesterday on Haiti and the United States took some steps to recognize the human rights violation, to recognize that this attempt that the president is trying to change the constitution, they call it constitutional reform, that that’s not a very good idea. They recognize that the gangs are a problem, that kidnapings are a problem, that people who are close to the president or close to the administration have been linked to the gangs, but they have not gone far enough because they are sort of saying, well, whether the president’s term ended this past February or and the next year, we will not take a position on that, but not taking a position is actually taking the position, given the sort of larger than life role that the United States plays in Haitian politics. And so really what we are asking and what we’re trying to do is to get people to know more about what’s happening in Haiti, because the struggle for human rights, the struggle for for democracy is one that is clearly aligned with the same thing that we’ve I’ve been on the streets here with my wife and my daughter, Black Lives Matter because it is about some very fundamental things. It is not necessarily about a single man, which is just the president. It is much more about sort of a larger structure that exists that we need to get rid of.
DeRay [00:55:44] If you could control all the things you have, America do, what?
Johnny Celestin [00:55:48] What America could do is quite simple.
Johnny Celestin [00:55:51] It’s really to stand for what we fight for all the time, which is we fight for democracy and the rule of law. We’re not asking really for anything more than that. It’s really making sure that there is a transition that takes place and that transition has to be an organized transition. So they need to help facilitate that because they’re the key player in that process. And number two, we need an end to the violence. And again, because the United States and Canada and the United Nation are the ones who really provide all the technical support for the Haitian police, they can really have a great influence in getting the police to go after gangs as opposed to, you know, shooting protesters who are asking for their rights. And then lastly, really, we want to make sure that we restore the rule of law in Haiti. Right. And I think for folks who are here, what we asking is to sort of say when you hear this discussion taking place about Haiti, number one is to put it in the context of a broader demand for the rights of people of color, indigenous people fighting for their human rights, making sure democracy works for them. Number two is to sort of say, you know, if you were elected official when this comes up in a conversation, please do right. We’re not asking for any favors. Anything more do right by the people of Haiti, do right by democracy, do right by human rights and do right by the rule of law. And that’s it, right? That’s it.
DeRay [00:57:22] Now, besides, the United States, who else needs to act, is this the United Nations? Who else should be doing something, not just the United States or. It really is a thing like is the United States the biggest player in the faith and needs to do something?
Johnny Celestin [00:57:34] Yeah, there are a handful of key players. Right. The first by far the most influential is the United States. The second is France, which is used to be our former colonizers. By extension, when we talk about France, we talk about the European Union. But the Union tends to follow in this context where France goes. And then the third could be when we talk about Brazil that also have a lot of interest in Haiti because they export a lot to Haiti. But certainly the United Nation, which has a representation in Haiti, BINUH, BUNIUH and it’s the U.N. representation in Haiti. They are the key actors and working directly with the government on behalf of the broader United Nation. And yesterday’s meeting was about, you know, them reporting what was happening, whether they were making any any progress. So BINUH is a key actor. But again, overall, the key player in all of this is the United States. Wherever the United States goes on this, the other players would then follow. Right. And when we talk about the United Nations, again, the United States is a key actor in there. So the United States and France are the major, major actors.
Johnny Celestin [00:58:53] And what happens in Haiti,.
DeRay [00:58:55] I haven’t heard people talk about France stepping up in the international space, and that is definitely in my ignorance. So thank you for highlighting that. My last question is, do you think that the Biden administration right now is slow to act because they’re confirming the cabinet? Or do you think that when we get everybody in right, when we get all the people confirmed and whatnot, do you think that it’ll change or are you worried? Are you hopeful? And what can people do? Like tell me. Tell us.
Johnny Celestin [00:59:20] yeah, I’m worried. I have to say that in some of my fellow Haitian Americans who are starting to be concerned have pointed this out. I actually took time off, went down to Florida and campaigned for about almost a month for the Biden campaign. So I am a strong supporter of the Biden administration. And there are a number of Haitian Americans in the the administration. I do believe that the president wants to do the right thing. And obviously they have a lot on their plate. And that is understandable. And to the extent that they can sort of kick the can down the road and not have to deal with this right away, that’s one of the things that. It would sort of immediately try to do, but it’s not because they don’t have the people in place, Secretary Blinken is there and the position that they’ve taken so far has only strengthen the de facto president because he feels that to the extent that the Americans are not saying that his term is over or to the extent that they’re not being as forceful for him to respect human rights, he can get away with everything. Right. And so I think, again, for us as Haitian Americans, what we’re trying to encourage people to know about and the reason why we sort of talking to everyone is because, for example, the Black Caucus is very much aware of what’s happening and has been as strong as a unit, institutionally, very strong supporter for the respect for the rule of law and democracy in Haiti. And in fact, they’ve written already to Secretary Blinken to say this is not what the United States stands for and this is not something that a Biden administration should be supporting. There is momentum to push back on this. What I hope is that as we talk to more of our friends here in the United States, they can help, you know, the administration understand the urgency around this particular issue because Haiti has been through too much already, you know, 1804 until now, the earthquake and everything else that we need peace, we need justice. And I think the United States and particularly the Biden administration, who, by the way, promised the Haitian community when he went to campaign in Florida that he would be on the side of justice in democracy who understood the issue during the campaign. We hope that he keeps his campaign promises to the Haitian American community and support democracy in Haiti.
DeRay [01:01:53] We appreciate you. Keep us posted. We consider you a friend of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back.
Johnny Celestin [01:01:58] Thank you so much. I appreciate it. And I hope I can look forward to being back on the podcast.
DeRay [01:02:03] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [01:03:43] Now, Will Driscoll has been studying the effects of how roofing shapes the way he travels and buildings around Baltimore. And today, De’Ara is talking to him about how a simple solution could impact the lives of so many people. Something called Cool Roofing, De’Ara. Take it away.
De’Ara [01:03:56] Hey, everyone. It’s De’Ara, so excited to dig in to what we’re about to talk about, so I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. We have Will Driscoll, who’s founder of White Roofs for Public Health. I’m doing a lot of incredible work in Baltimore. Will, why don’t you just jump in and talk about, you know, who you are, the work you’re doing, and we’ll go from there.
Will Driscoll [01:04:20] I reached out to a bunch of professors for advocacy advice and it worked. I had learned that the scientific study that showed that he compares sleep and the poor sleep impairs health. And I knew that flat roofed row houses in Baltimore and other places, other buildings with flat black roofs, roofs get hot, very hot in the summer and they convey that heat into the buildings. And so I knew that people in these buildings are exposed to the heat. And now this scientific journal article said that that heat is impairing your sleep and poor sleep is impairing your health, it’s a public health problem and nobody was talking about it, so I reached out to about 50 or 100 public health professors and one of them got back to me right away. And that was Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. And he basically said, you know, this is an interesting topic. And he put me in touch with a sleep researcher at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Adam Spira. And that was two and a half years ago. And last September, Dr. Spira and about 10 other researchers at Johns Hopkins announced a million dollar study of just the issue that I had raised with them. And they are going to look at the effects of heat from hot rowhouse roofs in Baltimore on the sleep and health of the families who live there. And to what extent can cool white roof coating solve the problem?
De’Ara [01:06:03] Wow. Can you talk just a little bit about like who are the people living in these houses? Like in particular? You know, I I’ve dug into some of your research. It seems that the folks that are being predominantly impacted by this are in East Baltimore. Can you talk a little bit more about that community there?
Will Driscoll [01:06:20] East Baltimore indeed, has a lot of row houses and all row houses and a lot of other flat roofed buildings, apartment buildings in New York City, Newark, New Jersey, have this problem. So do row houses in Philadelphia. There’s about 300000 row houses there. These row houses are in lots of cities east of the Mississippi, places like Louisville, Kentucky, Richmond, Virginia and Chicago. There are two flats with flat black roofs. And in New England, there are triple deckers with flat black roofs. This scientific study that I mentioned, they determined elevated nighttime temperatures are associated with poor sleep and that the populations most affected are both the low income and the elderly populations. So those are the groups that would be helped by cool white roof coating. That coding brings the roof temperature down on a summer day from 150 degrees and makes it 55 degrees cooler. So that’s a huge difference, basically the same temperature as the air temperature. And so that keeps the families living there cooler as well.
De’Ara [01:07:34] Wow. Yeah. So that super helpful. And the other thing that surfaced, while I was doing a little bit of research and learning about these issues is that loss in sleep is one of the things that that contributes to poor health. But some of the conditions that actually present themselves, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, stroke, depression, you know, you’ve made this great link to like, yes, sleep deprivation is kind of the catch All this, like, data point that we can point to that really captures. Yes, low income and the elderly are at risk. But can you paint more of a picture of us of like what’s happening in these communities? And are we seeing these types of diseases being more prevalent? You know, what can you tell us just to give our, you know, our audience a better sense of how people are personally impacted by this?
Will Driscoll [01:08:24] I think the Johns Hopkins study is going to attempt to get at that problem. One of the issues is that heart disease develops over decades. And if your arteries are getting clogged arteries to your brain, if they’re getting clogged, it ultimately causes stroke. That’s a process that occurs over decades. These researchers, they combine two data sets. They looked at data from about 800000 people who self reported the nights in which they had trouble sleeping. And then they combine that with nighttime temperature data for the cities in which those people lived. And so the data set was so big and the people reporting it had no idea that the scientists would come along six years later and compare their data with the nighttime temperature data. So there’s no bias in the data. What they found, they basically prove that excess heat impairs sleep. And then they cited other scientific journal articles that showed, like you said, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and suicidality, and also that poor sleep harms cognitive performance. And later, studies since that 2017 study have made the connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, which is a fatal disease and the leading cause of death. And also stroke, which can be deadly, and if it doesn’t kill the person, it can cause disability.
De’Ara [01:10:08] The more I learn in, the more you kind of wrap your mind around this. I mean, it is to me tantamount to what we’re seeing around the water crisis in Flint and some other, um, you know, communities in the United States. We’ve been covering on the pod. Also an environmental justice activist named Kathryn Flowers, who works in rural parts of the country, particularly Alabama, to ensure that folks have proper septic systems because a lot of folks are living in waste, essentially. So there’s so much room for narrative around environmental justice issues, particularly when it comes to communities of color, low income communities. And, well, I just see this as a part of that larger narrative, like getting these stories out around. But for, you know, a roof being black or white, you have these significant environmental impacts. Where are we in terms of, you know, kind of the advocacy of it all? I mean, you know, we’ve had a change in the administration, which is great. How do you see that impacting this work? And then from there will figure out, you know, what our listeners can do additionally on the advocacy side of things.
Will Driscoll [01:11:17] It’s interesting, the two examples you gave at the Flint, Michigan and Alabama, there were government actors who did bad things.
Will Driscoll [01:11:28] And with these groups, you know, my mother and uncle grew up in the Philadelphia row house. It was built in 1925, like basically all the row houses in Philadelphia and the asphalt roof. Asphalt is basically tar. It repels water.
Will Driscoll [01:11:44] It makes a good roof.
Will Driscoll [01:11:46] And so there was no malfeasance. It’s just that now we have this new information about heat and health and we know that white roof coating is tried and true cities all over have been doing it for decades to the extent they can afford it, which is very minimal, unfortunately. So it’s new information and the challenge is to get anybody to care about it. That’s right. And so you mentioned the federal government and indeed, Biden wants to weatherize two million homes. And I say that should include cool white roof coating. We need to be protecting people from excessive heat in the summer as well as saving on their energy bills in the winter through the recession. However, I believe the main way to get this done is to require landlords to coat these roofs white. And a city has the authority to do that, enact a public health law to require this. And a number of cities have already required that landlords provide working air conditioning in the rental units. You know, just like a landlord has to provide a working heater for the winter time to keep the family warm in the winter.
Will Driscoll [01:13:07] That’s a public health law. And a city can require landlords to protect your tenants from excess heat. I think the wrinkle is city government the real estate interests contribute a lot of money to city council races. And if they like you, they’ll contribute. If they don’t like you, maybe they’ll run negative ads against you. So far, there’s only one city council member that I know of, and that’s Baltimore City Council member Ryan Dorsey, who has spoken out about the white roof coating. He says that cool roofs are a human rights issue where the others and it’s no A, well-known issue. So why should they step out first and take the risk? And, B, maybe they some of them are aware that this is a real issue, but they worry about the landlords, even though it’s quite an expensive zip codes of coating on a roof, that it’s not expensive at all, I guess.
De’Ara [01:14:03] Well, that was going to be one of my questions. It’s like, what is the estimate on it? I mean, is it is it a large expense? I mean, it’s not like putting a new roof on. You’re just painting the surface, correct?
Will Driscoll [01:14:13] Right. Philadelphia’s Energy Coordinating Agency, which has been doing white roof coding for years, they say it’s 1,200 dollars per row house and that’s for two coats, coat and a top coat. And that low cost comes because they contract for a number of roofs at once. And, you know, at least on one occasion, they coated almost all the roofs on a single side of the street in one block of row house. It’s like 15 houses for. So, you know, you get economies of scale when you do them all at once for an apartment building. You know, there’s so many floors. You know, if you divide the cost of the roof by the number of units in the building, it’s going to be, well, less than twelve hundred dollars per unit.
De’Ara [01:14:58] Right. And, you know, and it’s also something just in terms of like, you know, even the framework for how we’re thinking of this, like, really it’s like, does it matter to some? Yeah, obviously it matters how much something costs. But to the extent that you’re saving people’s lives in that you’re improving their quality of life like whole families, blocks and blocks of families, you would think the costs would be the least of our problems. You know what I mean?
Will Driscoll [01:15:26] It’s a point in favor of white roof coating.
De’Ara [01:15:29] Yeah, that’s right.
Will Driscoll [01:15:30] And that’s why I’m in favor of requiring landlords to do it. There is the energy savings benefit. I said that these groups get to be 150 degrees in the summer, that information from the U.S. Department of Energy. And they got this information out because they wanted people to save on their air conditioning bills.
Will Driscoll [01:15:49] And so, you know, that’s definitely a benefit, you know, for people that are trying to stay comfortable in their homes.
Will Driscoll [01:15:57] You know, we’re seeing a real house with a window air conditioner and trying to overcome this constant radiant heat from their ceiling.
Will Driscoll [01:16:04] Right. And comfort, you know, comfort is pretty important to you know, people are just.
De’Ara [01:16:09] That’s right.
Will Driscoll [01:16:10] That’s why all summer long.
De’Ara [01:16:12] And the summers are hotter now than they were, you know, years before. Yes.
Will Driscoll [01:16:16] However, I like to say that we don’t have public comfort levels. We do have public health laws. And so if you want a city council to pass a requirement, they can pass a public health law.
De’Ara [01:16:30] That’s right. And so and. Well, can you just dig into because I know you have a you have a construct for requiring land landlords to bear the burden of making the the roofs white. What’s the schematic there? So what like what if a landlord doesn’t do it in your proposed construct.
Will Driscoll [01:16:46] So yes, let’s say a city council passes a law. It says Lanza would have to cut these roofs like. So what if a landlord doesn’t do it? Well, you don’t want the people to suffer because their landlords are intransigent. The city would need to go in and cut those roofs white and then build the landlord on the property tax bill. And then what if the landlord doesn’t pay the property tax? Well, hopefully they all will.
Will Driscoll [01:17:12] OK, but if if some of them don’t, a city is legally authorized to collect on the property tax bill by selling the property and giving the net proceeds back to the landlord minus the property taxes that has not been paid.
De’Ara [01:17:30] Yeah, right. And you know that that all sounds workable. And you know, the other thing that I’m thinking the other layer to this, Will, is that, you know, going into another summer of this pandemic, a lot of folks having to be at home more than they would be usually makes this issue even more kind of high stakes. You know, it’s it’s in addition to covid is just like a public health issue, but also just what is required of people to be at home more and to be in increased temperatures within their own homes. Is that something have you has that factored in at all to the the research that’s going to happen at Johns Hopkins or you’re thinking at all?
Will Driscoll [01:18:07] You know, we kind of think about the people who live in these buildings. You know, we can always be worried about, oh, you know, the landlords. Oh, they might not like it. You worry about the people living in these buildings. That’s right.
Will Driscoll [01:18:17] And, you know, and if you rent a row house, you probably don’t have the money to coat the roof white. And even if you did, you do not have the legal authority to close the roof.
De’Ara [01:18:28] That’s right.
Will Driscoll [01:18:29] You were absolutely at the mercy of the landlord and at the mercy of the city, depending on the city, to require the landlord to move, right?
De’Ara [01:18:40] That’s right. That’s absolutely right. And so, OK. And it’s just so surprising to me. I don’t know why I still get surprised by wild things, but it’s still it’s surprising that there’s only been support by one member of Baltimore City Council. What do you suppose that is? Do you think it is around awareness or do you think it is? Because I guess obviously the awareness does lead to the advocacy and getting more people involved. But are there any other reasons that you can possibly think of? Why was City Councilman Ryan Dorsey able to get it and no one else?
Will Driscoll [01:19:10] He said that he rides his bike through East Baltimore and it’s the hardest part of the city.
Will Driscoll [01:19:18] So he he has experience that he’s just on the street he’s talking about. So he and, of course, the pavement of the streets radiate heat back up to somebody riding a bicycle. And so I think it’s you know, the understanding is key. And I’d like to talk about radiant heat because sometimes people say, oh, what about air conditioning? We don’t often talk about radiant heat. But the simple way to understand it is if you’re walking on a city street in the summer and it’s a hot day, everybody knows the shady side of the street is cooler. The air temperature is the same on both sides of the street, but on the sunny side. You’re also exposed to the radiant heat of the sun and so it feels hotter to you, it is hotter. Your skin is heating up from the sun’s rays. I’d like to tell your listeners what happens with these hot flat roofs getting to one hundred and fifty degrees,.
De’Ara [01:20:16] Please.
Will Driscoll [01:20:16] When the roof is flat, there are only a few inches separating the top floor ceiling from the roof. The asphalt roof gets 250 degrees. It radiates heat downward to the top floor ceiling. And that ceiling in turn radiates heat to the people living there. We don’t actually know how hot these top floors, ceilings get. I don’t believe anyone has done research on that. And I have an idea for citizen data collection that we might get to add to the top of the ceiling may not get super hot, but it’s really big. It’s a really big radiator. It’s a whole ceiling. And you can’t imagine anybody choosing to put a radiator across their entire ceiling, running nonstop all summer long. No matter how much air conditioning they have, nobody would choose that. So, you know, we got to get rid of it by coating the roofs White and local officials need to understand radiant heat in order to understand why this is an important issue.
De’Ara [01:21:22] Well, can you just hit on one one more thing? I know there’s some distinction between gray roofs and white roofs. Can you just kind of lay out what what that is and what we should know there?
Will Driscoll [01:21:31] Some people, like I said from the Department of Energy, have known that black roofs heat up the building. And so some people have contracted for a gray roof. Unfortunately, a gray roof has only half the cooling power of a white. And so I would argue that when we’re making progress on getting the black roofs coated white, we should also make progress on getting the Gravens coated white. It’s 50 percent better.
De’Ara [01:22:01] Yeah,.
Will Driscoll [01:22:01] Black roof, but it’s 50 percent not as good as a white.
De’Ara [01:22:05] That’s fascinating. And also good to know because I’m sure that that would have been a question from our listeners. So thank you for that distinction. Will,.
Will Driscoll [01:22:13] Sure thing.
DeRay [01:22:15] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcast, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lanz executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself, special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Sam Sinyangwe, and our special contributor Johnetta Elzie.