Everything Will Be Ok | A Year In Review (2020)

Everything Will Be Ok | A Year In Review (2020)

Dear Community,

Writing this year-end recap has probably been one of the most challenging tasks that I have had to complete in the last few weeks. Every time I started to write I just couldn’t seem to find the appropriate words that articulated the emotional roller coaster and conflicting nature of the past twelve months. To be honest, a post dedicated to sharing all of the highlights that we as a ‘540Team’ have accomplished over the year seemed rather disingenuous considering the fact that so many non-profit organizations, small businesses including restaurants, theaters, event spaces and others in Rochester and beyond are struggling to make ends meet and/or closing as the financial fallout from a devastating global pandemic sets in. All this doesn’t begin to encapsulate the loss of life, sickness, depression, isolation, and despair that has gripped each and every one of us, albeit in disparate ways. How could I talk about our successes amidst the sea of sadness in a way that didn’t seem disrespectful and self-congratulating to those that might not have had the same fortunes?

But then I kept going back to all the learning and reminders that I am receiving through my therapy; the thought that my framing and viewpoint about my life and its circumstances don’t have to live in the binary. Talking about 2020 doesn’t have to be black or white, good or bad, calamity or victory. Don’t get me wrong, this year has been one of unprecedented devastation, despair, and death. This is something that we need to document and be real about. Yet, this year has also seen great triumph, selflessness, kindness, joy, and hope despite the chaos and pain that remained at a constant lull always on the background of this year.

“How could I talk about the successes amidst the sea of sadness in a way that didn’t seem disrespectful and self-congratulating to those that might not have had the same fortunes”

Unprecedented seems to be the de facto word to describe all things 2020. When January 2020 rolled around, no one (including me) could have predicted how the world would literally be on the brink of transformative change merely eight weeks later.

What we accomplished

As a 540 monthly sustaining member, you join a community with shared values rooted in antiracism and social justice. We learn together, we have dynamic discussions, and we envision a cultural shift in our perspectives. We are here because we are committed to transformative work and we know that work can only happen when we come together. Our theme for 2020 was “Scaling Up” and little did we know that we would grow and stretch in ways that could have never anticipated.

A few of our accomplishments in 2020:

classes & membership

  • We shifted all in person classes to digital with relative ease, intention and success
  • Over 1,000 people attended our classes and events in 2020
  • Through these classes we have expanded 540WMain’s reach beyond the Rochester region and are now connecting with people from as far away as Australia including (but not limited to) cities like Buffalo, Toronto, Albany, Long Island, Columbus, Boston, Las Vegas, and San Francisco
  • We piloted our organizational membership model with the Partners in Service program at Nazareth College
  • Our sustaining members reached 190+

people & culture

  • We hired our first FT team member ~ Director of Community Engagement/Development
  • We hired our first contract Grants Writer
  • We hired our first PT Social Media Specialist
  • We expanded our team to 11 part-time and contract members
  • We worked with 5 interns over the course of the year

general

  • We left our brick and mortar space and pivoted to an all virtual organization
  • We celebrated our 4 year anniversary with our first ‘digital anniversary’ celebration in the month of June and raised over $25,000

All of this success, growth, and change was set against the backdrop of a devastating global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 592 people in Monroe County and 343,000 across the US (as of this writing). A resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement that saw unprecedented global moments protesting police brutality and murder against Black people and a corrupt criminal justice system. This corruption hit tragically close to home when the untimely homicide of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester Police Department was made public in September although the incident had transpired in March. All of this during this ominous omnipresent pandemic that saw many of us isolated and quarantined, which surviving sometimes felt like too much to bear. As someone that personally contracted COVID-19, dealing with this pandemic and navigating safety, and any semblance of work life balance was difficult and at times untenable to say the least.

Despite this tragedy, 540WMain not only grew but thrived over the course of this year thanks in no small part to your support. You liked, tagged and read our articles and social media posts, you donated your money to support antiracism education, and you volunteered your time. I am so very grateful for our community of supporters, our day 1 supporters that have stood by and stood up for our mission and watched my vision grow from a tiny seed into a glorious and thriving plant. In my darkest hours many of you have sent emails and text messages of support, paid for meals, sent flowers, prayed and celebrated.

I end this year feeling immensely grateful and thankful even with the pains and aches of chronic pain that plague my body and mind daily. I am blessed and thankful to have a career that allows me to do all the things that I Iove while tending to a chronic disease that affects how I exist every moment of every day. I find beauty in the madness and solace within the pain and feel hopeful for a fresh year. I implore you to continue engaging in the work of interrogating the bias and racism that lives inside yourself and the toxic systems that surround us even when the trend of doing so fades. My team will continue to share ways that you can practice antiracism in your every day life and hold the people and systems that you interact with to do the same. We will continue to provide the educational media and programming that helps you to do this and more and look forward to all that 2021 brings us. Here’s to new beginnings, new horizons, and a new year. Remember no matter how bleak things become, everything will be ok.

If you are engaging with us for the first time through this article do note that we have made some recent updates to our membership program, including new benefits, the ability to pay annually, and some new 540 merch. Take a look and consider becoming a sustaining member via the patreon platform, www.patreon.com/540WMain

little black boy wearing a yellow shirt holding a carrot
little black boy wearing a yellow shirt holding a carrot

Youth Activist Sarah Adams Is Hope for The Future

Youth Activist Sarah Adams Is Hope for The Future

I have faith in the future because of students like Sarah Adams.

At just 14-years-old, Sarah has made strides in Rochester with the school district and social justice. 

She was marching this past Summer for Daniel Prude. She has protested teacher cuts for the Rochester City School District. And she’s been elevating her voice and others for a very long time.

“I grew up protesting,” Sarah says. “As soon as I came out of the belly, I was at meetings and always at protests. The first protest I wanted to go to was when Trump got elected.”

In sixth grade, Sarah began to protest creatively through poetry. Sarah’s voice rings true in this art form, hitting points and notes that hit home in so many ways.

“Freeing us, but not freeing us was the intention.

They like to say things have changed with our descendants. 

But that’s just not true.

The new Jim Crow– mass incarceration. 

Mostly minor altercations.

Seeing this is so frustrating. 

Even when you think you free there’s legalize discrimination,

where may you ask?

The conviction check on applications.”

Sarah recited this poem, in part, at an action held earlier this year.  Much of her time as an activist has been spent protesting teacher cuts at Rochester City School District (RCSD) and calling for the district to do right by the students. Sarah says in hindsight, she would have changed her message, but in the end it still made an impact.

“I was just saying don’t cut teachers. What I should have been saying is ‘students over seniority’,” says Sarah. “You know the old heads who sit around making so much money off of us–we wanted those ones out, not the new teachers who look like us.”

Black teachers were the first to go when cuts came around. It just so happened that the district started an initiative to bring in more Black and teachers of color. When it was time to cut due to a crazy budget gap, the district implemented a last in, first out mentality. Therefore, most of the new teachers who actually represented the students were the first to go.

Sarah says through their protesting, they were able to save dozens of teachers, including the man who introduced her to poetry. 

“He could understand everything. He’s the reason I got into poetry,” says Sarah. “He was going to get cut if we didn’t fight. We couldn’t save them all, but we saved 50 teachers.”

Sarah also co-runs the Youth Advocacy Committee, a student led activist group. She wants one of the group to focus points to be addressing homophobia, transphobia, and racism in the district. Sarah believes the next generation needs to lead the charge on these changes.

“We need everything we can get because we have one of the poorest districts in the country. We have to reevaluate programs and youth need to be at the forefront of making those changes.”

It’s a new group, but I’m sure under Sarah’s leadership and the guidance of Free The People ROC, it will flourish and raise the next generation of activists.

“We must fight and overcome this crooked system so that my race doesn’t threaten my literal existence, so that before they see Black, they see human.”

About Brianna Milon

Brianna is local media professional who loves writing, watching Netflix, and playing with her dog, Weenie and her cat, Fancy. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at SUNY Brockport and was heavily involved in the campus radio station. Brianna also co-hosts a radio show, “Fat, Black, and Femme”, on 100.9 WXIR. You can find out more on Facebook and Blogspot.

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and so much more. 

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

 

 

540WMain’s Essential Reading List (Books You Must Read) in 2021

540WMain’s Essential Reading List (Books You Must Read) in 2021

Every year we love sharing the books that inspire our mission and programming. One of the first steps to dismantling structural racism is understanding the past and how the past affects the present. It is also important to prioritize the content of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) thought leaders as you learn about the depth and complexity of racism, how all of us are complicit (to varying degrees) in reinforcing its effects, and how you can have a role in unlearning through antiracism practice every day. So get into our essential list for reading in 2021, revisit our lists from 2019 and 2020, and let us know which books you are most excited to dive into. Oh; and be sure to read through to the end for a surprise announcement.

Books You Must Read in 2021:

  1. Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes The Mind, Body, and Spirit | Mary-Frances Winters
  2. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America | Ijeoma Olu
  3. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents | Isabel Wilkerson
  4. The Vanishing Half | Brit Benett
  5. The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love | Sonya Renee Taylor
  6. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migrations | Isabel Wilkerson
  7. Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot | Mikki Kendall
  8. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower | Brittany Cooper
  9. What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat | Aubrey Gordon
  10. Black Women, Black Love: America’s War On African American Marriage | Dianne M. Stewart
  11. Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man | Emmanuel Acho
  12. The Likely World | Melanie Conroy-Goldman
  13. The Color of Money Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap | Mehrsa Baradaran
  14. How The Word Is Passed | Clint Smith
  15. The Black Friend: On Being A Better White Person | Frederick Joseph
  16. I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir | Malaka Gharib
  17. Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy | Talia Lavin
  18. The Undocumented Americans | Karla Cornejo Villavicendio
  19. The Making of Asian America: A History | Erika Lee
  20. Finding Latinx In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity | Paola Ramos
  21. The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence by Laurence Ralph 
  22. Dear White Women, It’s Not You. It’s Me. I’m Breaking Up With You by Hannah Drake
  23. Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi
  24. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir | Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele
  25. Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting In America | Nefertiti Austin

book collage

And now for our announcement…
Our Unpacking Book Discussion Club is now an exclusive perk for our monthly sustaining members. We will meet 4x throughout 2021 (1x per quarter) and consider the following titles:
  1. Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes The Mind, Body, and Spirit | Mary-Frances Winters
  2. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America | Ijeoma Olu
  3. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents | Isabel Wilkerson
  4. The Vanishing Half | Brit Benett
Learn more including our meeting dates by becoming a monthly member at the listener or learner tier at patreon.com/540wmain.
About Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a virtual non-profit organization and antiracist education brand that promotes justice for all. The organization encourages individuals to broaden their horizons and learn more about multidisciplinary issues and topics that impact the world. 

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with making all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters.

Become a monthly sustaining member at patreon.com/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain

Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts of 2020

Dear Community,

Our blog was buzzing with a diverse array of content throughout the year. When we kicked off 2020 we had a goal and tagline to “Scale Up 2020”. Little did we know how much the world would change in a way that we could have never predicted. We scaled up in 2020 and then some. This year had no shortage of headline making stories and events to write about and we are so thankful and grateful for the care and time that our bloggers put into every single one of their articles. Despite the unprecedented nature of 2020 our online reach grew bigger and farther than we could have ever expected as we pivoted from having a brick and mortar space in the historical Susan B. Anthony neighborhood to now being completely virtual. This shift allows us to truly scale our brand and reach a following that is no longer limited to any one place and allows us to grow into our mantra of “education without borders.”

The Stats

  • 540Blog was viewed 54,527 times in 2019 
  • 540Blog was viewed 63,515 times in 2020
  • This is an increase of 86% in viewership 

These views came from 36,544 people from all over the world (but mostly from the United States) 

  • 540Blog had 36,544 unique visitors in 2020 

540Blog content is reaching people from 158 countries (up from 60 countries in 2019)

For this year’s “list” there were several blogs that held users attention from 2019 and even 2018 and we look forward to even more dynamic content in 2021.

Top 10 Most Viewed 540Blog Posts of 2020

#1.  28 Days of Little Known Facts About Black American History | Paul Downing | 2/5/2018 (1,549 views )
#2. Dear White Led Organizations by Chris Thompson | 6/19/2020 (1,429 views)

#3. Phillis Wheatley: The First Great American Writer by John Strazzabosco| 2/16/2020 (1,239 views)

#4. Despite Taking Precautions I Still Contracted COVID-19 by Calvin Eaton | 6/17/2020 (1,196 views)

#5. Rochester’s Curfew: A Modern Day Black Code and Racist Nuisance Laws by Chris Thompson | 7/28/2020 (1,082 views)

#6. 28 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History | Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner and Mildred Davidson Austin Smith | 2/15/2018 (1,044 views)

#8. White People, What Are You Doing To End Racism by Calvin Eaton | 5/28/2020 (872 views)

#8. Jose Peo’s Racist Rant About Black Folks is the Abysmal Status Quo by Chris Thompson | 4/15/2020 (870 views)

#9. Sit Down, Randy: The Myth of Bootstrap Pulling Chris Thompson | 5/24/2019 (865 views)

#10. Vivian “Millie” Bailey | 2nd Annual Digital Black History Month Education Campaign 2/24/2019 (826 views)


Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with maiking all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters.

1) Become a monthly sustaining member at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain

 

“Defund the Police” Means “Defund the Police”

“Defund the Police” Means “Defund the Police”

“Defund the Police” means “Defund the Police”. Folks don’t need to “rebrand” the phrase. We don’t need to make it palatable for a broader audience. I don’t care what prominent Negro you cite who thinks the phrase is too “harsh”. It means what it means and the creators said what they said. 

You likely already know how I feel about this phenomenon of tone-policing activists’ phrases, since I previously wrote about tone-policing activists. You also likely know that I have no qualms reiterating this sentiment, as even my essay about tone policing was TONE POLICED IN THE COMMENTS.

Absolutely NO ONE, especially people who have been sitting on the sidelines while others have been organizing, lobbying, petitioning, marching, and risking their lives and jobs for this cause, has any business suggesting how to re-word anything related to the Movement. Besides that, “Defund the police” is not a snappy slogan, as a certain former President described it. It is a simple, direct demand. Police budgets keep inflating as other municipal budgets shrink. Despite that, police resolution rate of violent crimes is abysmal, and they continue to criminalize people trying to get by for minor infractions, especially Black and Brown folks. 

The second I heard Barack Obama say that he was not a fan of the phrase, “Defund the Police”, I knew that so-called progressives would latch onto it. And the Audacity (no pun intended) of a president whose first campaign boasted vapid phrases of “Hope” and “Change” is galling to say the least. As much as they claim to be not racist, many progressives are as guilty as open racists of thinking that Black folks are Borg and must all conform to one thought. Forget the fact that Black folks in America come from all corners of the African Continent, we all have been raised in different ways, have been taught different values, and live our lives in different manners. Despite the stereotypes, we are as diverse in thought and upbringing as white people, so to think, “Well Obama says..”, is derisive. 

I have much respect for what President Obama endured and achieved, but he is not above criticism. The only thing he achieved this time was to give “well-meaning” white folks a much needed token to check and excuse their admonishing of folks who have been threatened, beaten and killed on their path to equality. Before Obama, there were memes circulating that start with “Instead of ‘Defund’, Say…”. None of them hold weight with me. People who are okay with police blinding nonviolent protesters with tear gas and exploding pepper pellets and then believing the next-day city press conferences full of lies about protesters throwing cans of soup and frozen water bottles will not be swayed by any flowery wording. Defund the Police means what it means. The police have too much money, and actual measures that have been shown to reduce crime, like fixing roads, investing in public transportation, funding public education, investing in art and culture, are losing money. 

Since the summer, there had to have been at least 50 articles a month explaining exactly what “Defund the police” means, how it can be executed without compromising public safety, and examples of how it has worked in the real world. There is no excuse for Barack Obama, or anyone for that matter, to admonish the organizers of today for their elocution of phrases, especially since this generation of activists is so direct. 

  • Black Lives Matter. 

  • Yes All Women. 

  • Me Too. 

  • F*ck Hate. 

Words are not minced, yet for each of these phrases, people have over-interpreted and misconstrued their meanings in order to demonize the movements. Even with a phrase as simple as “Black Lives Matter”, “well meaning” white people told me that it would be more “palpable” if maybe we added “Too” at the end. When people see just “Black Lives Matter”, they see, “ONLY Black Lives Matter”, and “White Lives Don’t Matter”, and “Black Lives Better”. Adding “Too” at the end wouldn’t change anyone’s mind. These egregious misinterpretations don’t stem from the phrase, but from years of socialized and codified hatred of Black people, and the fear of collapse of white supremacy. The only thing that “Black Lives Matter” means is that Black Lives Matter. 

Perhaps this distortion is a form of projection. Progressive phrases today are direct and to the point. However, phrases like “All Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again” are so full of dog whistles and doublespeak by design that the folks who use them likely think that all phrases have double meaning. Since the 1950s and 1960s, outright saying that you don’t like a certain group of people because of their skin color was going out of fashion, so regressives used code words to mean what they say. The Southern Strategy turned all the conservative Dixiecrats into Republicans, able to rest on the laurels of Lincoln’s accomplishments while still belittling People of Color with abandon. Lee Atwater summed it up best: 

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” Lee Atwater

This method yielded us not just phrases like “states’ rights” and “black on black crime”, but also suppressive actions like “voter ID” laws and “stop and frisk”. Interestingly, it is a method of rebranding that David Duke and Don Blake harnessed to make white supremacy mainstream again. Conversely, “Defund the police” means just what it says. 

The justifications for giving police more money every year are questionable. Ijeoma Oluo recalled on the Politically Re-Active podcast how she and a group toured a Seattle police station, and they explained that they needed more money to house their SWAT gear and for more space to house underage suspected offenders and a larger gun range. The simple alternative would have been to NOT shoot people or arrest children or beat them with para-military equipment. Imagine if I demanded that I have an extension built on my house because there is so much stuff in my room that I cannot see the floor. I could easily just clean my room. If I am bad at doing the job that I advertise I do, I don’t get a raise every year to continue to do a poor job. Defund the police. We said what we said. 

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life? 

Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with maikng all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters. 

1) Join our growing membership base at patreon.com/540wmain
2) Contribute to our ongoing annual fund at rally.org/540wmain

  1. Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
  2. Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.

Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain