Interview with Chad Shabazz (Central Sq Resident)

On Tuesday, I met with Chad Shabazz in the cafe of the HMart on Central Square. I know Chad through a friend, though this was our first time meeting.

He had just finished a training session at his job as a youth advisor at the YCMA. He was wearing a black motorcycle jacket completely covered in patches; “People look at me and they’re surprised that I work with children. And the parents are surprised. And I take pride in that,” he told me.

Chad’s 33 years old. He’s from the Cambridge Coast, and grew up in Cambridge around Central. He’s written a song about his experience growing up between MIT and Harvard.

His mom grew up in Boston, he tells me, around the Blue Hills area. Right now, he and his family live in in Cambridge Port. He spoke immediately and passionately about his experience, and struck me as someone with a sense of urgency—and at the same time, optimism.

He shared his observations, and also his experience being evicted by Wynn Management as a young adult. I’ve clipped and transcribed parts of our conversation that moved, frustrated, or interested me. (Read more…)

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Mr. Joy @ Zumix Firehouse Theatre

Today, I watched Mr. Joy, a play hosted by Arts Emerson and on performance at Zumix Firehouse Theater.

Adobuere Ebiama. Source:

Adobuere Ebiama. Source:

Mr Joy is a one-woman show written by Daniel Beaty, starring Adobuere Ebiama. The Zumix website describes it as this:

A Harlem community is shaken when Mr. Joy, a Chinese immigrant whose shoe repair shop has been a neighborhood pillar for decades, is the victim of an attack…[sic] Mr. Joy invites us to consider how we respond to violence as individuals and as a community, and the power of the invisible ties that bind us all.

More info here:

The Show

The sun was streaming through the tall Firehouse windows when we got there. My friend and I were ushered in by a Zumix high schooler named Angelina. The seats were about 80 percent full, and the audience members were a range of ages—from teens, to what I would guess would be 60s. A mix of ethnicities too.

Two Zumix emcees gave a quick intro, asked who in the crowd had come to Zumix events before. A few hands went up; most of us were here for the first time, and heard via word-of-mouth. The tone of the event invited relaxed participation; the emcees encouraged us to talk back to the performer and stay for a discussion after.


The set & costumes were minimal, and didn’t change throughout the whole play.

Adobuere Ebiama blew me away with her performance—she moved seamlessly about 7-8 characters in a 90 minute performance, without intermission. She captured each of the character’s nuances beautifully, from the way they spoke, moved, and interacted with the set. Three Zumix youth were also in the back of the room, controlling the sound and lighting.

The performance had everyone laughing, crying, and jumping to their feet by the end of it. Angelina and Jeeyoon (the program manager) came on-stage and followed up with a set of questions:

  1. Throw out one word, any word, that described what you felt from the performance. (“Responsibility!” “Hope!”)

  2. What parts of the play resonated with you personally? That you could relate to?

  3. What actions, big or small, do you feel like you can offer up, that you could extend into your community? It could be as simple as having a conversation that might be uncomfortable, or something bigger.

The discussion centered around the meaning of home, displacement, and how communities evolve. The audience members were warm and supportive, nodding emphatically, snapping, and even applauding after someone shared their thoughts. Really gave me a feel for the kind of communities & conversations around the Zumix space.

The Tour

Jeeyoon took us around for a tour of the building after, and we had a great conversation about the curriculum and Zumix’s vision. A few things that stood out to me:

  1. Zumix events are free. Zumix is well-aware of many barriers, whether financial, social, or age that might bar young people from even seeing their teachers perform at local venues. They try to invite teachers to play in-house because it makes the students’ practice seem “much more real.”
  2. Students really own their music and their classrooms. There were group code-of-conducts in every single room, which Zumixers write up and sign together. Students might also produce an entire CD that “an adult hasn’t touched at all.”
  3. Reactive curriculums. They emphasize adapting curriculums to student interests, and giving the student ownership over steering the class.
  4. Emotional support & growth. Jeeyoon described her close relationship with Angelina, who is involved in about 5 performance-related extracurriculars. It moved me how Jeeyoon was so invested in her best interest: “We really talk a lot… I didn’t want her to burn out.” We agreed that we were all impressed by the social awareness, public speaking skills, and vision of Angelina and her peers.

The show is playing again this Thursday and Friday, in the Strand Theater in Dorchester. You can get tickets here. The event was profoundly moving and I really encourage folks to go see it! I would be curious to hear how other organizations/venues present it.

Team Rainbow, Prototype 1

Team Rainbow is Sam, Jade, Aditi, & Kathy.

Our interviews were all sourced from the Boston/Cambridge area; this inspired our team to create a place-specific installation. Our aim with this project is to reveal the voices of Boston area youth activists, whose work and ideas might ordinarily go unnoticed by local strangers. The audio clips answer questions like, “What does the 2030 future look like, ideally?” and “How will we get there?” All questions that these people can answer with a sense of imagination, logic, and hope.

The tone of the audio tracks is optimistic and action-oriented. For instance, Gabby Ballard of MIT urges people to have conversations. In her interview, she notes,

“We have to educate ourselves… Privilege comes in many different ways. Having these conversations come with being open to your own vulnerabilities. Giving people room to make mistakes. Even if you are offended and angry.”


Our team initially banded together because we were all interested in creating a site-specific installation. We chose the Graffiti Alley in Central Square, Cambridge, because of how inspiring it is as a site of community conversation.

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People walk by the space during all hours of the day; it’s very visible and is constantly updated, painted over, and admired. We noticed how thick the spray paint was– you could peel off parts and still, you would be more than a centimeter from the underlying brick. Having a space where a variety of people walk into is important to our goal for our project. We want diverse responses and ideas in order to send messages to the public; what is really important in the world? Or, what means the world to one individual?

For us, it was important that we created dialogue, instead of just passive listening. For this reason, Central Square also seemed like the perfect location. During our first meeting, we explored the site. We noticed how frequently people came through, and we discovered funny artifacts hidden in the walls.

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We got excited when we saw these small, sculpted faces embedded in the wall– something you normally wouldn’t see if you were walking through quickly. We thought, What if they spoke to you as you passed? We could invite people to slow down, listen, and be curious.

With this form factor, we could reinforce that these voices came from local people who shared the same city spaces as you. We imagined many more faces— planted along the walls at various heights, so that many ages and differently-abled people could hear easily. Initially, we were interested in creating molds of young childrens’ faces, to echo our theme of “building 2030 futures.”

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Our first prototype is mounted on a 19” plywood disk, which would be accompanied by a Sharpie to invite people’s thoughts and responses. We used a plastic party mask and Bluetooth speaker to simulate the “talking heads” effect we wanted.

If we were to continue this project, we would test our prototype in the space itself. How might people react to it? How would people want to dialogue with the piece, and would they feel comfortable writing or drawing? In the future, we would love more realistic face molds that represent the diverse demographics of our city.

Interview with Mary Pelletier

I interviewed my friend Mary Pelletier, who advocates for plant-based eating and animal welfare. She’s also been engaging people in conversations online and face-to-face for the past year, and she spends her free time volunteering at a farm animal sanctuary. She makes beautiful artwork as well:

Live and Let Live. (Work-in-progress, courtesy of M Pelletier.)

We talked about the challenges of engaging people— who to approach, and how to approach them. Especially in face-to-face engagement, there was opportunity for people to shut down, and take information personally.

Food is such an integral part of everyone’s life… It’s almost like attacking the very core of who they are.

She mentioned she’s found success when tailoring an approach to the individual and their motivations.

I listen to see if people—if they give any indication that they’re looking to clean up their diet, or be more environmentally friendly, if they’re interested in other social justice movements. I try to build repertoire with them and work that in.

For her, face-to-face is the one of the most effective ways to start a conversation. She finds this approach works way more powerfully when combined with documentary media:

It’s one thing to have a conversation with someone, talking about the ethics of animals. But if they never go, find a video, or look at pictures, or listen to the audio of the inside of a slaughterhouse… It can’t be understated how much the impact of that.

A few other things that stood out to me:

  • There is so much resistance built into government, fed into education, and reinforced by money and power. Mary imagines reducing resistance into the vegan conversation by aligning her motives with movements people already care about—feminism, reducing community hunger, or the environment.
  • On a plant-based future: what societal conditions will this create or require? By the time we get to a world without animal products, we will already be in a world without conflicts with human beings, “[because] we wouldn’t be practicing classifying others as commodities.”


NYTimes hack:

Link to the audio:

Link to written transcript:

Interview with Food Not Bombs Member

I interviewed an 18-year-old activist involved with Food Not Bombs, as well as Black & Pink and a few other groups. (They have asked me not to disclose their name, although they did consent on tape to the interview.)

Their work at Food Not Bombs involves cooking and sharing vegan food with the broader community. As a whole, Food Not Bombs is a self-organized (anarchist) chapter “dedicated to nonviolent social change.”

That Saturday, they had a table setup in Central Square like this, with a giant canvas banner that said: “ALL WAR IS CLASS WAR” in black paint. In front of it, they had written messages in colored chalk in different languages; for example, an Arabic: “Down with the regime!” In Spanish, “No human being is illegal.”

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About me: Kathy

Hey everyone! My name is Kathy Wu. I’m somewhat new in the world of design justice, and design activism. I’m excited and curious to learn from everyone here.

I graduated from RISD in 2015 with a background in Graphic Design/Literary Arts and I’m now working as a software designer. My skill specialty is visual design and interaction design; I’m also generally stoked about design futures. I have a little brother who goes to MIT and he is a big inspiration for me. We’re both passionate about education; together we make a very complementary STEAM pair.

These days I am looking to move my practice from one in a corporation setting to one in the community. For me, this means taking this studio class and maybe returning to school in the fall to learn more about media studies, research, ethnography. I’m especially passionate about education, pedagogy, and platforms for self-expression and learning. In my spare time, I’ve been volunteering at a kids’ science museum, which is fun.

One campaign that I’ve been following from my own school community is called Sad Asian Femmes. It was a class project by two graphic design seniors that is starting to have legs of its own! I admire their use of media to create a community and a platform that gives Asians in western spaces an artistic voice.