Liza Jessie Peterson by Yoshinori Hashimoto
By Sharon Pendana 

Liza Jessie Peterson is an "artivist," her art and her activism conjoined. With a deep sense of justice, it is her Libran calling to balance its scales. "I’m an artist, but my advocacy is channeled through my art," she says. "Everything I write about, everything I perform is through that lens." Her decades-long entrenchment in the carceral system spans from making the trek upstate from her Brooklyn home to visit her jailed former lover to teaching incarcerated youths at New York City's notorious Rikers Island Correctional Facility.

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These experiences inform her profound one-woman show, The Peculiar Patriot,exploring the human impact of mass incarceration, not just on inmates, but their intimates who brave the cramped, hours-long bus rides to prison visits in revolutionary acts of loyalty and commitment, "navigating love between barbed wire." She toured the show to over 30 prisons across the country to standing ovations and black power salutes before premiering it to the general public in a sold-out run at Harlem’s National Black Theatre.


In All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island, Liza mines her old journals and indelible memories to deftly chronicle her experience of being the classroom teacher, all day from 7:50 am - 2:30 pm to adolescent boys locked in a system more punitive than rehabilitative. With humor and pathos, she gives voice to these young men swept into the penal maelstrom and exposes the glaring disparity in corrections approaches between kids of color and white.

She started working at Rikers Island in 1998 to conduct a poetry workshop and was surprised to discover "the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of Black and Latino adolescents" incarcerated there. She says, 
"It was astounding! I wasn't aware of the prison industrial complex— it was not in the zeitgeist— this was 1998. Mass incarceration was not even a phrase that people used back then. I was going in without any context. I had no idea about the cash bail system; I had no idea about the privatization of prisons. A corrections officer pointed to the boys and referred to them as the ‘new cotton’– that I was working on the plantation and the boys were the crops."
She would learn that Black and Latino children are targeted for arrest and criminalized for typical adolescent behavior. 
"Adolescents are always going to buck up against the system; they are still going to challenge authority. They are going through a stage of psychological differentiation separation, where they are exerting their independence, moving away from family toward friends and testing boundaries. It's a natural phase of adolescent development."
While working with incarcerated adolescent girls, she learned that most had histories of sexual abuse. "A lot of their acting-out comes from the unhealed wounds and unaddressed trauma in their lives," she says. As rampant revelations of sexual assault surface in this country, Liza hopes that "this heightened national dialogue will give young girls the courage to come forward and speak out about what has happened to them and know that it isn't their fault; their cries are valid, and they have support." She says that although women who have spoken out about it have been "dismissed, ignored, denied, chastised, threatened and attacked, now we’re seeing the tide turning, and men are being called to task and being held accountable for their reprehensible behavior."

She remains hopeful that the social justice pendulum will swing toward what is right and just—that the normalization of sexual misconduct will reverse, and prison reforms put an end to race-based arrests and draconian sentencing. She shares how others can effect change: "first people need to get educated on what white supremacy is — what it looks like and how it works. And vote, not just in the big elections, but the smaller local elections, too." She adds that many community-based organizations rely on donations to keep their doors open. "There are organizations already on the ground doing the work. If you have money, find out who they are and support them. Of philanthropist Agnes Gund's recent endowment she adds, "Be like Agnes; write a check."


An "interrupter of recidivism," Liza stays in contact with several of the kids and works to help them once they are released. "I’m always going to have that connection to the youth–helping them to stay alive and free and out of the grip of the criminal justice system. But I’m an artist first. I’m creating; I’m writing plays, I’m writing books, I’m writing content for television that will encapsulate my advocacy."

Photo: Garlia C. Jones-Ly


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Sharon Pendana is the creator of THE TROVE, author of Secret Washington DC and on a relentless quest to discover treasures, human and otherwise. Find her on Instagram, Medium, Twitter or binging on Netflix and Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps.

Colin Kaepernick: The fashionisto.com
By Nikki Igbo
Despite the fact that Colin Kaepernick has become a household name whether a football fan or not, it’s amazing how most people don’t really know the former 49er quarterback’s background. Besides leading what can be easily described as the civil rights and social justice fight of current times, Kaepernick is pretty badass in general. Here are seven interesting facts about the kneeling freedom fighter.


Kapernick's Older Siblings
Kaepernick has siblings. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kaepernick was adopted by Teresa and Rick Kaepernick when he was just a few weeks old. He has two older siblings, his brother Kyle and sister Devon. His adoptive parents lost two other babies due to heart defects before being introduced to Heidi Russo, Kaepernick’s biological mother.

He was a very sickly kid. As a child, Kaepernick suffered from chronic ear infections. He had such constant illness that his parents had him tested for cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disorder, twice.

Colin Kaepernick in high school
Kaepernick excels in baseball. Though he’s played youth football since he was eight years old and always dreamed of playing for either the Green Bay Packers or the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick could throw a 94 miles per hour fastball in high school. He received baseball scholarship offers from Arizona State, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
 
Colin Kaepernick playing for the University of Nevada

He’s made history in more ways than one. As a quarterback at University of Nevada, Reno, Kaepernick became the first in the history of the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards.

Colin Kaepernick tatted up
Kaepernick has two Biblical verses tattooed on his body. On his left triceps, he has Psalm 27:3 which is, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” His right arm bears Psalm 18:39, “You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me.”
Colin Kaepernick playing with the San Fransisco 49ers
His vegan diet is said to be a reason for his free agency.
In 2015, the quarterback who led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in 2012 became a vegan. Following Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice, a San Francisco Bay Area sports reporter Matt Maiococo tweeted, “At season’s end, Colin Kaepernick stated he was fully committed to football. But some teams are unconvinced and wonder about his vegan diet.” Such athletes as Philadelphia Cardinal Tyrann Mathieu, Houston Texan/Miami Dolphin Arian Foster, and New England Patriot Tom Brady are all vegan.


Colin Kaepernick in Harlem
Kaepernick has pledged $1 million to charitable and community-building causes. Kaepernick stated, “I will donate one million dollars plus all the proceeds of my jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities, 100k a month for 10 months.” He has made good on that pledge since October 2016, having donated to such organizations as Urban Underground, Meals on Wheels, and Lower East Side Girls Club. Kaepernick also fully funds Know Your Rights Camp which is free youth campaign promoting higher education, self-empowerment and knowledge on how to properly interact with members of law enforcement in various situations.

What interesting facts do you know about Colin Kaepernick?

Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.