News Analysis – William Blackstone: The First White Guy

Statue of William Blackstone, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, at the corner of Exchange Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Based upon historical accounts, the subject is portrayed holding a book while riding a bull. The sculptor is Peruko Ccopacatty.
(Photo: Michael Bilow) (License: CC BY-SA 4.0)

On Indigenous People’s Day, an alternative to the official Columbus Day holiday on October 11, 2021, a few dozen attendees at Veterans Memorial Park in Pawtucket protested the recently erected stainless steel statue of William Blackstone, who is primarily remembered because the Blackstone River and Blackstone Valley were named for him.

Children with the sign they made at the William Blackstone statue protest, Oct 11, 2021.
(Photo: Michael Bilow)

In a speaking program that lasted about two hours, many speakers expressed objections to the statue and demanded it be taken down. (Full audio available here: motifri.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/blackstone-audio.mp3)

Melissa DaRosa, Pawtucket City Council member, at the protest of the William Blackstone statue, Oct 11, 2021.
(Photo: Michael Bilow)

Melissa DaRosa, an at-large member of the Pawtucket City Council, attended the protest, she told me, “to stand with the Narragansett Indian tribe and to learn more about what this monument signifies… some people are saying this is capturing a beautiful history but for some that history is less beautiful.” I asked her, “What’s your objection specifically to the Blackstone statue?” She replied, “Would we put up a statue of Hitler?”

But Blackstone was far different from Hitler. As the marker at Blackstone Memorial Park near his burial site in Cumberland notes, he was “founder of the town of Boston, and the first white settler in Rhode Island.” He was otherwise unremarkable, even forgettable: an Anglican clergyman born in England in 1595, he sailed to North America in 1623 and settled what is now Boston. He had a falling out with the Puritans (who were anti-Anglican) that led him to relocate to what is now Cumberland, Rhode Island, in 1635, a year before Roger Williams settled in Providence. He had neither slaves nor servants, cultivated new species of fruits and vegetables, lived alone in the solitude of the woods with a large library of books until he married at the age of 64, had a son, and died at the age of 80 in 1675 – about a month before the outbreak of King Philip’s War that would mark the utter collapse of relations between the settlers and the indigenous Native Americans.

Bella Noka, member of the Narragansett Tribe of Native American Indians, speaking from the stage at the William Blackstone statue protest, Oct 11, 2021.
(Photo: Michael Bilow)

Bella Noka, a member of the Narragansett Tribe who organized the protest, said she wanted the statue taken down. “If I were to be raped, and I was to be violated in the worst way possible, do you think I want to walk by that same man every single day and look him in the face, and people praise and see a statue 14 feet high, looking down at me every day? No, I would not,” she said. “To think that they can even raise a voice on what this man has done, the atrocities that they have done. He’s not the only one: I’m not blaming just him. There were hundreds of them, there were thousands of William Blackstone… He’s just another face. But you think because somebody wears a collar he was a righteous person? Well, ask all the altar boys how great the priests were.”

Pawtucket resident Jax Adele Ventura holds a sign at William Blackstone statue protest, Oct 11, 2021.
(Photo: Michael Bilow)

In her view, Blackstone bore responsibility for the entire settler program. “Blackstone is the one who afforded that [mindset] that you can come in and take over our land. He died with 200 acres. How did he get those 200 acres? Did we just give it over to him because he’s a jolly good old friend? No, it was taken. We don’t give up land and we didn’t have a value on land, because land does not belong to people. It belongs to Mother Earth as the creator. We are to protect her. We are to give to her because she gives so much back to us. So, for them to come and have ownership and parcel things off, in the name of greed, or their right to do that is a shame on them.”

Historically, Blackstone had good personal relations with Narragansett chiefs Miantonomi and Canonchet and with Wampanoag chiefs Massasoit and Metacomet. Both Blackstone and Williams opposed the “doctrine of discovery,” the legal justification that European settlers could claim land without the consent of the indigenous aboriginal residents; both argued that proper title to land required treaties with and payments to Native Americans. (See “Providence Plantations: The Real History”, by Michael Bilow, Jul 13, 2020.)

Randy Noka, member of the Narragansett Tribe of Native American Indians, at William Blackstone statue protest, Oct 11, 2021.
(Photo: Michael Bilow)

It was Randy Noka, the husband of Bella Noka, who in a wide-ranging 40-minute interview asked what seemed the most resonant question: “Why put up a statue about him, if he was such a recluse then what the hell’s he doing being recognized like that for?” I answered, “My guess, and I don’t know this, I think the city was just totally blindsided by it, they figured the river is named after him, the valley is named after him, his name’s on everything.” Noka pointed out that these names replaced Indian names: “It was the Pawtucket River, Pawtucket Valley. Whoever changed the name… if he was such a weirdo out in the wilderness and kissing trees and whatever, then why the hell, why change the river? What did he do, even for his own kind?”

I asked, “Are you saying that being the first white settler in the land, he doesn’t deserve a statute for that?” Noka answered, “Oh, he’s the first one, so we’ll put up an ugly – no disrespect to the artist – an ugly monument, rename a river, rename a valley, whatever, because he was the first white guy. How prejudiced is that? How about the first Black guy that came here? They don’t know that person because he was probably brought from Africa as a slave.” Eventually, Noka summarized his perspective: “He went over in the woods, lived by himself, but happened to be the first white guy, so let’s put up a statue, rename a valley and a river. Well, that’s even more insulting!”

Greenleaf gets the Green Light: Dispensary Review

In the brief time that cannabis has been legal(ish – for recreational use in MA, and in Rhode Island for medical marijuana card holders), visiting a dispensary has gone from something incredibly foreign to even a veteran cannabis-user to something we have pre-set expectations for, like any other purchasing experience. 

When you walk into the Greenleaf Compassion Care Center, you’re instantly hit with a soft green aesthetic and a clearly marked off queue line, so you know right where to go. There’s also a spot to check-in for new patients to register. The space isn’t large, but there’s plenty of room for customers to browse safely-distanced while they wait to approach the counter. Display cases flaunt a range of Greenleaf’s greatest “hits,” while large screens behind the counters showcase featured products and deals. There are also easy-to-scan QR codes that link to Greenleaf’s full menu to scroll through while you wait in line. 

At the counter, there’s a lot to take in: full displays of all of the flower options (all color-coded based on strain type) and of the other products they offer including edibles made in house, an array of concentrates, several outside brands including Sea Witch and Hapi, as well as some glassware and Greenleaf merchandise. Even with menus detailing the options available, it can be overwhelming as you’re rifling through all of your choices, but that’s where Greenleaf’s expert staff comes in. 

The budtenders are well-versed on virtually everything they have in-store, and this is quite an undertaking. When I asked about a more mellow strain to help wind down at night, they recommended the “Billy Idle” indica hybrid which they described as, “nice and minty”. After talking through some of the other offerings and deals, I knew I couldn’t leave without grabbing some of their house-made edibles. I ended up choosing their 10mg chocolate chip cookies as well as their 5mg strawberry gummies.

After trying both edibles, I appreciated that they were both packed with flavor without being overly sweet, and because they were fairly low-dosage (for me anyway), I was able to get that classic sunk-(but not stuck) in-the-couch feeling I’m always searching for. The Billy Idle strain had a great mix of sweet and minty terpenes, and gave a super smooth smoke resulting in a calm, relaxing sensation. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that strain going forward.

Discerning cannabis buyers expect a clean and welcoming atmosphere, a wide range of products to choose from, and staff that’s knowledgeable and can guide you towards the right decision. Greenleaf meets and exceeds all these expectations, delivering great products with remarkable service. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it. 

Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, 1637 W Main Rd, Portsmouth, RI 02871

For info about Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program, please visit ​​https://health.ri.gov/healthcare/medicalmarijuana/for/patients/

The Price of Becoming Invisible: Family and Connection

As I put pen to paper or rather fingers to keys, I am reminded of the time, when on this land everyone was Indigenous, and everyone else who came to this land was an immigrant. Particularly, those people whose skin was white, fleeing a land where they were rejected, dismissed, excommunicated, or sailing across the sea with the assignment to conquer, pillage, and kill. 

Here is the point, there is something very special about being of this land called Rhode Island and the reinforcement of that bond — discussed and embodied in everything that you become as a person. That is my story and the relationship my family has with this particular place. It is not extraordinary.  Humans are all from places where our ancestors have deep connectivity to the land. I think the disconnect rises when people forget that relationship and become consumed with the “invisible” and use it as a weapon to seek power.  Ideas like imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and white supremacy — basically all of the “isms”.   These ideas do not serve humanity and if we are not careful, they will kill us and we will all become invisible permanently!

A few weeks ago, I went to lunch with my mother and our cousins at the Sly Fox Den Too. (hear me when I say you must go because the food is simply wonderful!) Here is what was great about that day. I walked through the door and I saw people to whom I am related. I do not know how, because I do not personally know the owner of the restaurant or her family, but I do know that I can look into the faces of certain people here in Rhode Island and know immediately if you are my “cousin”. My mom walked in behind me, and she knew two people; my cousin walked in and she knew at least five, and everyone knew my cousin’s mom, who is 98 years old. And here is the key: all these folks are my family. It is this particular experience that I love about being a Rhode Islander and what is most important about being Indigenous to this land. My family is here and has been here for 15 generations! 

After we ordered our food, I asked my family, “do you feel like your Indigeneity is invisible?” Let me first say, the women to whom I am related are whip smart, wise-cracking, have low tolerance of foolishness, and can be extraordinarily contrary! (We will need another article to get into that!)

–I cannot be invisible because I am here, said my 79-year old mother, and you see me right? 

(Lord, I knew this conversation was gonna be a journey.) I responded, incredulously, “Yes, ma’am.” 

My cousin Rachel (I am changing the names of folks to protect the guilty) said, –I understand your question, and began to tell a story:

When she was in college, (a prestigious university here in Providence) one of her classmates had the audacity (hear caucasity) to say to her face – “I thought all of the Indians in this country were dead.” Rachel’s response was similar to my mother’s – Can you see me? Then clearly, I am not dead. She added, you are not very smart, are you? Suffice to say, that person avoided my cousin for the rest of their tenure at school. (We pity the foolish and pray for them). Rachel continued saying, “In the family we knew who we were and it did not matter what anyone outside the family thought — it was not relevant.” 

My other cousin, Wanda (not her name) had a similar experience in a local school system with a fellow administrator. They were discussing the peculiarity of the name of a student, and how it was odd, and very difficult to pronounce. Wanda informed her coworker that the name was Narragansett, and had a very specific meaning in the culture. The woman expressed that the child did not “look” Narragansett. (Oh, why did she say that to my cousin?) 

My cousin Wanda said, –Well you do not look Italian but you are, are you not? (I will end the story here because it does not end well for this woman. And you would just feel sorry for her and the tongue-lashing she received). 

Last to speak was  the eldest cousin at the luncheon, Wanda’s mother, Liza (also not her name). She said we all have a time when we feel invisible. It is a very human feeling. Wanda began to tell a story I remembered from my childhood story, about the sun and the moon. Here is the abridged version:

The Great Creator decided that the nothingness (the in-between time) needed light in order to see. The Great Creator blinked, and the sun came out for the very first time and daylight manifested. The Sun shined for a great many days as that was what she was created to do. 

One day the Sun became lonely and cried out to the Great Creator, she cried so hard that dark spots began to form on her face. 

The Great Creator asked the sun why do you have spots on your face? 

The Sun responded, I am lonely, and it is painful. 

The Great Creator could not abide by this and reached out and pulled down a piece of the nothingness and asked the Sun to shine upon it. She did as she was instructed, the spots began to disappear and her sister the Moon was formed. 

The Moon and the Sun became great friends. In fact, they played together two times a day, at dawn and again at dusk; the time when it is still. 

The Moon was most powerful at night, the time before the nothingness. The Moon shined differently than the Sun: her light was a reflection of the Sun’s, and her light depended on how many times the Sun spun around the Moon. 

One time, before the nothingness appeared the Moon called out to her sister, because she wanted to play. The Sun did not respond. The Moon became hurt and very angry because she thought her sister was ignoring her. 

In fact, the Sun was sleeping. The Moon called out to the Great Creator, I do not want to play with my sister any more. She does not love me.

The Moon began to cry, and deep scars began to form on her face. The Great Creator listened as the moon continued, She does not come when I call her! 

The Great Creator explained to the Moon that when she is shining the Sun is asleep, and that when the Sun is out the Moon becomes a part of the nothingness, which is like sleeping. The Great Creator further explained that they had a specific time to play and see each other – which was dusk and dawn – the time when it is still. 

This calmed the Moon, and she eagerly awaited the dawn, because she knew that she would see her sister, the Sun and they would play.

Now I am not sure if this story explains my point about invisibility, but let me try…

Another word for visible is self-evident. Or self-aware. 

If you can see yourself for who you are and understand yourself for who you see, then it does not matter what anyone else sees or understands. That is our individual life journey — to have the ability to see who you are, name it, claim it, and tell it. 

But if we understand ourselves in the reverse e.g. “I can only see myself through someone else’s eyes and claim that as the truth,” then surely that is madness. 

I am aware that this is a VERY simplified way of understanding the concept of Indigeneity or self-evident, but can I tell you, I do not care. This is how I understand it and really that is all that matters. Besides I am contrary — like the women I am related to, who are much smarter than me and very much aware of who they are and how they see the world.

Binging With The Bird

Dear C and Dr. B,

I think my husband is trying to hand me a load of crap, maybe you can offer an opinion. Joe has a weight problem which could potentially impact his health, but he just can’t stick to his diet. His reason? He blames our pet, a cockatiel. Joe claims the bird encourages him to binge eat at night. How does this happen? Well, it seems that as much as my husband loves cereal, the cockatiel REALLY loves cereal. When it hears the rustle of the bag, it comes flying in from wherever it is in the house. My husband claims that the bird just looks so adorable waddling around with a big flake in its mouth, that he cannot resist falling prey to the cuteness. This is the excuse he gives every night when I discover the two of them binging on cereal. 

I don’t think the bird is expanding, but my husband certainly is!  What can I do about these late night binges?  If my husband dies I have to take care of the damn bird!        – Mad Marge

Dr. B says: 

Tell your husband that the bird prefers a mixed green salad. If it’s too time consuming to make one at night, it’s easy to buy pre-made ones at the supermarket for about $3.00. Add some seeds and there you go – and the bird will probably be grateful.  

C says: 

You are correct, Marge. Your husband is trying to hand you a load of crap. Unfortunately, this problem can’t be solved by suggesting a healthy salad, for Joe isn’t gorging on carbs to nourish himself – if he is headed for Type 2 Diabetes, that’s the sort of food that will induce a sugar coma and heavy sleep. Salad will not substitute.

But let’s address a more important issue. This, “Tee hee, I know I shouldn’t, but the bird made me do it!” garbage is a time-worn trick that I find seriously disturbing – grown men thinking it’s funny to ignore serious health issues and make a silly game out of it. This is how five year olds behave. It’s also one of the reasons that married men live longer. Left to their own devices, they would all be dead or disabled before they reached old age. But the real danger with men’s flagrant disregard for their health is the toll it takes on their partners. Married women get the short end of the stick – there is strong evidence to suggest that single women live longer, and are more content, than those who wed.

Your husband is setting you up to play the role of the straight man. If this were a TV sitcom, he’d be the one getting all the laughs and you’d look like the nagging old stick-in-the-mud.

Joe is probably going to continue giggling, gorging, and getting fatter no matter how much good advice you give him. If you want to keep your own head from exploding, have a little fun of your own. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Try this – stop cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or bothering to get dressed around the house. When your husband says, “What the hell, Marge?” just smile brightly at him and say, “I was watching Wife Swap the other night while you were binging with the bird, and this Stepford Wife with designer clothes and perfect hair switched places with a wife at a hippie commune. Joe, you should have seen her! She looked so cute with her hair all messed up, and seemed so much more relaxed when she let the housework go – I got inspired to try it too! Can you get my laundry the next time you do yours?”

It may not stop him from binging but he isn’t going to think it’s so funny anymore.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

RI Children Ages 5-11 Likely Start COVID-19 Vaccinations Nov 8

Children in RI could start receiving COVID-19 vaccinations on November 8, 2021, “give or take a few days,” Department of Health (DoH) staff member Tricia Washburn told a meeting of the DoH Vaccine Sub-Committee on October 27.

The prior day, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted 17-0-1 to recommend authorization of a Pfizer vaccine for children. While the Pfizer adult vaccine had previously been authorized for age 12 and older, the vaccine for ages 5-11 is a new pediatric formulation with one-third the dose; data submitted by Pfizer showed it to be 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The pediatric formulation is color-coded in orange packaging to prevent confusion with the adult formulation in purple packaging.

Although the FDA usually follows the recommendation of its advisory panels of experts, it is not required to do so. UPDATE: Late in the afternoon of October 29, the FDA officially issued an emergency use authorization (EUA). UPDATE: Final CDC authorization was issued in the evening of November 2, and RI began vaccinating children on November 4.

While the FDA is a regulatory body that decides whether a drug is safe and effective, after FDA authorization it is the role of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend appropriate use, and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is scheduled to meet on November 2-3 to consider use of the pediatric vaccine, including for which patients it may or may not be appropriate.

Many of the VRBPAC members expressed concern that the data were based on small studies with an insufficient number of participants to detect rare adverse reactions that may occur less frequently than 1 in 10,000 vaccine administrations, thereby making cost-benefit analysis difficult because most children infected by COVID-19 have mild cases. Rare adverse reactions such as heart inflammation (myocarditis and pericarditis) can be painful and require hospitalization, but so far have resulted in fairly quick full recovery.

It is hoped that the lower-dose pediatric formulation will reduce risk of adverse reaction relative to the adult formulation. The consensus was that for some children, especially those with existing medical conditions that leave them at high risk for severe complications if infected, the benefit of vaccination is clear. For the average healthy child, however, while vaccination does protect the child being vaccinated, the main benefit of vaccination is to protect others and the community as a whole, raising a question of medical ethics as to whether it is appropriate to expose them to risk, however small, of adverse reactions. For this reason, the VRBPAC members cautioned, COVID-19 vaccine mandates or requirements for children would be premature, and they expressed the hope that the ACIP guidance would respect the rights of individual families to decide to defer vaccination for young children.

Assuming the FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) and CDC guidance are in place by November 4, Washburn said, state-run vaccination facilities, such as Sockanosset, could begin vaccinations for ages 5-11 around November 8.

“November 4 is the ‘best possible case,’ assuming CDC issues final guidance and any clinical recommendations by that date, and we have all admin operations for state sites ready to go,” Washburn told Motif via e-mail. Administrative work includes incorporating the FDA and CDC guidance into informed consent forms on the web registration system and translating this into multiple languages. “The team works pretty quickly and it is possible but I am very cautious with setting expectations, so that is why I said it could be sometime before or after November 8. There are some sites like pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals and federally qualified health centers that are ready to start on Nov. 4, assuming CDC comes through by that date, as they run their own registration systems.”

The state expects an initial allocation of 27,000 doses of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine in three tranches of 9,000 doses each, following the EUA first in 1-5 days, second in 3-7 days, and third in 5-9 days. After that first week, supply is expected to flow at 9,000 doses per week, making available a total of 108,000 doses by early January 2022. In addition to the doses supplied through the state, the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership (FRPP) is expected to receive an initial allocation of 13,500 doses in the first week after EUA and continuing to receive 4,500 doses each week after that, a total of 54,000 doses by early January 2022. Because each child requires two doses, supply will be sufficient to vaccinate 81,000 children, comprising the entire age 5-11 population of RI.

COVID-19 vaccinations are completely free to patients by federal government regulation, so parents who choose to have their children vaccinated by their regular pediatricians will be exempt from co-pays and other fees such as office visits if the only service provided is vaccination.

Several members of the Vaccine Sub-Committee expressed concerns that pediatric offices may be choosing not to participate in COVID-19 vaccination programs because it takes more time to vaccinate children than adults, especially if there is significant counseling involved to address cost-benefit concerns. While none suggested a desire to bill patients directly, they suggested the state work with insurers to create a separate billing code for the 15-30 minutes of counseling expected to accompany pediatric vaccination, a concern especially for clinics and practices serving large Medicaid populations where the economic operating factors are already at the margins.

As of the meeting, of the 134 family and pediatric practices in RI, 40% are ready to administer vaccinations, 19% have started but not completed the process of being ready, and 40% have not started.

Each of the 39 cities and towns in RI will hold at least two pediatric vaccination clinics to administer first and second doses. Local education agencies (LEAs) will hold clinics in schools. High-density communities (HDCs), such as Central Falls, will hold additional clinics due to higher prevalence of infection and reduced access to health care services. On-line events providing vaccination information will be conducted in both English and Spanish.

In other news, the Vaccine Sub-Committee was told that, as of October 22, about 47,000 booster doses have been administered in RI with strong demand.

RI has reached 90% partially and 82% fully vaccinated of the population age 18 and older, corresponding to 78% partially and 71% fully vaccinated of the total population.

The state continues to invest substantial effort to close the gap in vaccination for those Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) with weekly rates exceeding those for the non-BIPOC population since May, holding more than 700 clinics to address “cold spots” where rates were lower than statistically expected.

Fully vaccinated rates among non-college students age 12 and older continue to vary enormously by geography, with wealthier municipalities such as Barrington and East Greenwich reaching 80% while poorer ones such as Pawtucket (41%), Providence (40%), Woonsocket (36%), and Central Falls (35%) well below.

Expanding Vegan Dining: Providence Vegan Restaurant Week Returns

For its third year in a row, Providence Vegan Restaurant week returns in just a couple of weeks. This annual event extends outside of Providence and allows restaurants from all across the state to show off their vegan chops. Restaurants, vegan and nonvegan alike, create specials and demonstrate their ability to make delicious vegan meals. 

This year’s event will span two weekends for a collective nine day extravaganza from October 29th to November 7th. Currently, there are 28 restaurants and businesses participating. 

Among those participating are two pop-up businesses, the Afro-Indigenous Vegan and Basil and Bunny. 

Vegan Comfort Food from Basil and Bunny

Basil and Bunny launched in February 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. They pop-up all over Rhode Island with their foodtruck, the Bunny Mobile, and focus on vegan comfort food like burgers, hot dogs, and tacos. This year will be their second year participating in Providence Vegan Restaurant Week, they will be launching a few special dishes, while including some of their normal favorites on their menu as well.

“We wanted to illustrate how you can still enjoy all the foods you love without any animals,” says Basil and Bunny creator Lyslie Medeiros. “Burgers can still be juicy, and fries can still be topped with gooey cheese without any cows and dairy. Biting into a sandwich should be so satisfying that you crave it again and again. That’s what we’re bringing to RI. All your favorite foods that you crave – made from plants.”

When asked about her favorite meals on her menu, Medeiros says, “I have always loved both the Bunny Mak and Buff Bunny. They bring back memories of going to McDs as a kid with my grandma and enjoying a Big Mac and then enjoying buffalo wings on wing nights in college.”

Basil and Bunny’s pop up dates and locations can be found here as well as on their Instagram @basilandbunny.

This year will also be The Afro-Indigenous Vegan’s second year participating. AI Vegan does both pop-ups and delivery, and focuses on providing delicious and healing vegan comfort food. 

“I used to dream of being a chef as a child as I watched the television chefs on PBS,” Chef Bree Smith says “I started my AI Vegan Instagram page as a way to document my transition to a plant-based diet. AI Vegan the business was born when my husband tasted my Coconut Curry Lentil soup, looked at me and said, ‘Why aren’t you selling this? We’re going to get business cards tomorrow.’” She adds, “It’s [also] about the legacy that I am leaving to my heirs.”

Smith also shared about her roots and how they impact the food she serves. “Afro refers to the Diaspora, the 12 tribes if you will. Indigenous refers to my roots on this planet. I make Vegan comfort food from across cultures, which not only shows my range and versatility, but my inherent and spiritual connections to the places, people and food that I create.” She adds, “For me, it’s more than food. It’s that spiritual connection that comes through me to you with every bite. Plant-based eating is where my roots are. It is not a new practice, just a forgotten one. I am here to reclaim it.”

Chef Bree also emphasized that all the food she makes, even the fried items, include healing herbs and spices. 

The Afro-Indigenous Vegan will be making appearances during Vegan Restaurant Week on October 31st, November 2nd, November 4th, and November 7th. They will also be hosting a ticketed event, Chef Bree vs Chef Bree on October 24th, in which Smith demonstrates how easy it is to veganize all your favorite classic comfort foods. For information about menus and locations be sure to follow them @the_afro_indigenous_vegan. 

For more information, you can visit the Providence Vegan Restaurant Week website here or go to the event Instagram @pvdrestaurantweek.

Women Trailblazers in Music: Film to Premiere at RIC

Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky — when thinking of great composers, there is no shortage of household names. It is unlikely, however, that many, if any that come to mind are female. Dr. Judith Lynn Stillman is remedying that imbalance. 

Stillman is a professor of music and RIC’s artist-in-residence and has been producing prolifically through the pandemic. The film of her quarantine opera, “Essential Business” which she composed towards the beginning of COVID-19, won first prize in the international OperaVision #OperaHarmony competition, and featured Metropolitan Opera star baritone Will Liverman. The film was also presented earlier this year at RIC. 

Most recently, Stillman was inspired to create a film about talented and inventive yet often forgotten female composers of the past.

“My talented mother and grandmother’s musical careers never took off in the male-dominated societies,” she said. “This propelled me to champion women composers who were repressed, undervalued, discouraged, and forgotten due to the politics of their existence.”

Women Trailblazers in Music: Noteworthy Composers, which premiers November 4 at Rhode Island College, depicts the extraordinary lives of these female composers across a span of twelve centuries and features their revolutionary compositions. Stillman cites her inspiration to create the film as part of her ongoing dedication to giving voices to the voiceless. The incredible ways these women changed music should have earned them recognition and acclaim, but instead, their music has been routinely forgotten when it should be lauded. Previously, she has also created projects addressing the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, refugees, artists of color, and the climate crisis. 

The film begins in Constantinople with the 9th century Byzantine composer Kassia. “She became an abbess, and that ensured the longevity of her music for twelve centuries,” Stillman said. “Hers was a calculated career choice. Many of her hymns are used in the Orthodox Church liturgy to this day.” 

She added, “Women composers had to be quite clever. For example, several of the featured composers [in the film] married music publishers to secure the survival of their music. Some adopted male pseudonyms. It took a lot of ingenuity.” 

She also emphasized the importance of recognizing Florence Price, another composer featured,and the first Black woman to have her compositions performed by a major symphony orchestra.

 “In Western music history, women were permitted to be the interpreters, but not the creators,” Stillman said. “They were not encouraged to pursue music professionally. Gender inequality has been rampant throughout the industry.” 

The world is still not close to redressing this historic imbalance, but progress is slowly being made. “The climate for female composers is still problematic as the dominance of male composers remains strong, but the tide is shifting. Slowly,” Stillman explained. “Statistics confirm that only a handful of male composers comprise the majority of all programming. We need to encourage and empower women and women composers and make a concerted — pun intended — effort to redress the historic imbalance and harness momentum for change. Many [women] should have earned a crucial place in Western history and should be household names, but are merely in the process of being fully recognized and celebrated.”

While COVID-19 caused difficulties in made producing the film challenging, it also gave her opportunities to build connections resulted in opportunities for building connections for Stillman. “The pandemic created the necessity for a remote platform,” Stillman said, which afforded me the opportunity to work with artists from all over North America. Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Chicago, Vancouver, Hartford, in addition to Boston and Providence. ,” says Stillman. She adds, “I am filled with so much gratitude to all my amazing colleagues who joined forces with me to be a part of this groundbreaking film and help bring the project to fruition.”

The film will premiere for the public on November 4th at 7:30 PM in Sapinsley Hall. Presented by FirstWorks and Artists & Activists Productions, it will be followed by a live concert featuring the works of both historical composers featured in the film and contemporary women composers as well. Admission is free, but registering for tickets in advance is mandatory because of social distancing and contact tracing protocols. Unregistered guests will not be admitted. Tickets can be obtained through the box office at Rhode Island College, by emailing boxoffice@ric.edu or calling (401) 456-8144.

Fly Away: A myth for the moment

Actor Charlie Thurston is a deep thinker, overlaying emotions with reality and connecting thoughts and actions through metaphors, making him perhaps the most likely to pen a “modern meditation” on the ancient Greek tale of a boy who flies wax wings too close to the sun and dies.

His 80-minute play, “Lifted,” opens October 21 as a Wilbury Theatre Group production outdoors at WaterFire Arts Center in Providence. Set in a dystopian, environmentally ravaged near future, the story might not seem any more relatable to modern audiences than the ancient myth of Icarus, but the themes and emotions it conjures could prove timeless.

“A lot of this will resonate right now,” Thurston explains. “Audiences can’t help but wrestle with large systemic issues like climate change, gun violence and the opioid epidemic.”.

Jim O’Brien from Lifted. Credit: Erin X. Smithers

Written in 2011, “Lifted” arose from Thurston’s disappointment over the demise of the hope that marked President Barack Obama’s first term in office.

“I was all excited for Obama’s first term and the theme was ‘Hope.’ By 2011, we saw how effective the opposition was in squashing that,” he says.

The feeling reminded him of Icarus, who held onto hope that he could fly out of Crete but was dismantled by forces greater than he.

“I look for a central image when I’m writing, and the Icarus tale always captivated me,” Thurston mused. “The wings are a metaphor for the lengths to which we will go to escape.”

“Lifted” is not an adaptation of the myth, but Thurston’s transference of similar themes to a family drama he dubs “theatrical fantasia,” as characters struggle after witnessing a 16-year-old boy carried away by birds.

“This is not your high school English class interpretation of Icarus. We were taught that it’s a tale about hubris, but I’m not interested in perpetuating that theme. The point is to push against things, and to understand that tragedy often happens to the most innocent among us,” Thurston explains.

Thurston’s characters — including the boy’s twin brother, girlfriend and father — face wide-ranging emotions after the boy is taken and the mounting tension comes in waves broken by singing chorus scenes that rouse the audience.

“The three remaining characters deal with their different responses to loss – should they rebel? seek out the birds? – sending them on different trajectories for moving forward,” Thurston said. The father grapples with the guilt of parental failure. “The teenagers [respond by]  trying to be adults but they’re still children.”

Throughout, there are threads of humor, which the playwright believes is necessary to heighten the impact of sadness and heartache on the audience.

“I’m hoping the audience will interpret the liftings in ways unique to their experiences,” Thurston says.

The outdoor performance also lends an expansiveness to the experience of “Lifted,” as city sounds play in the background and stars shine overhead.

“It’s so exciting to do it outside, because the entire play takes place in a backyard, and the sky offers the feeling of freedom, like Icarus sought,” Thurston says.

“Lifted” plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 through November 13. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and are available at www.wilburytheatregroup.org

All That Happened Was Nothing: Right Wing Recall Fizzles

Earlier this month, Motif reported on a recall measure against North Kingstown school committee member Jennifer Lima. So what happened? Nothing: October 12 came and went and the committee petitioning for the recall didn’t turn in any signatures at all. The rumor around town is that they only gathered about 700 signatures, fewer than a quarter of the 3100 they needed. They had ample financial backing, from the Gaspee Project and their extensive dark money network of donors. Despite the money that littered the town – all-town mailers, glossy flyers, polished website – the record was of total failure.

Jennifer Lima – relieved to not be recalled

But no matter, the bullies pivoted on a dime, and they were out in force at the School Committee meeting that very evening. Nobody mentioned the recall at all – what recall, what are you talking about? Instead, they were there to protest terrible things found in school library books. (The two that are getting the most attention are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Gender Queer: a Memoir by Maia Kobabe.) Of course we didn’t even get to that because shortly after the public comment began, the meeting was totally derailed by people refusing to wear a mask. 

No police were on hand to enforce the mask mandate, so the chair adjourned the meeting and that was that. Of course that made the bullies angrier because they were going to be denied their moment to complain, so they shouted more. I thought it was good to leave the pro-covid crowd alone and didn’t stick around, so I didn’t see that much. But one of them posted video of the disruption on social media where an attentive high school student copied it before   he thought better and deleted it. My favorite moment on the video was a guy in the back shouting “Free speech! First amendment!” over and over. I’m not sure what he thought he meant by that.

Lesson of the whole episode: These people are nothing but bluster and their financial backers are paper tigers. They simply do not have the clout they claim. They can certainly be disruptive, and they are bullies, but they can’t accomplish or change anything because they don’t have the votes. They’re like a four-year-old throwing a tantrum. He learns he can disrupt the family and get attention, but the attentive ones learn that their parents’ plans don’t actually change. They still leave him with a babysitter, but now everyone’s in a bad mood.

Psycho Sister: Dealing with the irrational

Dear C and Dr. B:

My sister is an inflexible person and she flies off the handle if we are discussing a topic and I don’t agree with her. She tends to have very negative opinions based on her own social prejudices, like, “EVERYONE on unemployment now is just a lazy freeloader, there’s tons of jobs.” If I try to offer perspective, she always ends up getting angry and yelling. 

I used to get angry back, but I have been making an effort to remain calm instead. I thought this would make things better, but it is weirdly backfiring – the calmer I am, the nastier she gets. She’ll end up calling me a bitch and accusing me of acting superior. 

I guess that when I deliberately control my anger and remain calm when I really feel like slamming her head into a wall, I am in fact acting. But what am I supposed to do? I’m getting sick of constantly placating her to keep the peace, and I refuse to engage in a fight.    – Not Mother Teresa

Dr. B says: You can’t reason with an unreasonable person.  It isn’t about the information for her, it’s about the emotion, so you aren’t ever having the same conversation anyway. She may communicate via intense emotion but it will only ruin your own health to try to meet her there. It is better to have other people in your life you can communicate with on a reasonable level. Inflexibility can be deadly – I have some clients dying at this very moment because they refused to get vaccinated. No amount of reasoning or scientific data could overcome the emotional hold that Fox News and the Conservative media had on them.

If you want to keep up with your sister’s life you can just let her talk, but you will get emotions, not a data narrative, so you will need ask others to tell you what’s really going on. It is probably unrealistic, but conversations with this type of person would work better in song. Music is emotional and doesn’t need to be data driven.

There is no need to argue with her, certainly no need to “educate her.” There are now places you can go to either throw paint, break things, or even shoot stuff. These might be good family activities for you both.

C says: I too have an inflexible sister. She’s bipolar and a paranoid schizophrenic as well, and she’s nearly impossible to deal with. I’m not sure how extreme your sister’s reactions are, but with mine, If you push the wrong button, she practically froths at the mouth. When we’re in the same room I feel like I am trapped with a rabid animal. I do my best to never let her in my house.

I used to try very hard to be the better person and yield to her idiosyncrasies because I felt sorry for her. After all, she is a lonely old cat lady, living in a one room apartment in NYC. But I finally realized something – she’s alone because she’s a nasty, critical bitch, and trying to be nice when she’s mean as a snake doesn’t change anything. She will still seize any opportunity to jump all over me and criticize. She’s a bully. Your sister is a bully too, and letting her have her way to keep the peace only convinces her that being a bully is the best way to win. 

Life is too short. From now on, keep conversations on the phone, and tell her that if she starts yelling, you’re hanging up. Just say NO. Don’t try to reach her with music, don’t placate her, don’t let her get to you. Nothing will make her change if she doesn’t want to. Simply tell her that you don’t want to get yelled at every time your opinions differ, and if she keeps it up, you two won’t be talking anymore. Just because she’s your sister, it doesn’t mean you have to be friends. Would you put up with this crap from a friend? Don’t put up with it from her.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com