NYCHA Resident Hired to Manage New Arts Program for the Community Fund

This article was posted on the NYCHA website, and I am reposting this to celebrate Kemi joining the Public Housing Community Fund. This is a positive step in the right direction.

Kemi Karim is a dynamic artist and community organizer deeply rooted in the fabric of arts and culture in New York City. As a longtime resident of Bushwick Houses, she brings a fresh perspective on public housing and a passion for storytelling to the newly created role of NYCHA Art Liaison at the Public Housing Community Fund, where she’ll manage a new Connected Communities program, From Roots to Arts: Celebrating NYCHA’s Cultural Heritage

From Roots to Arts is the first artist-in-residence program at NYCHA. Throughout the 20-month program, five artists will collaborate with NYCHA residents to conceive public art programming and installations that celebrate the cultural value at Astoria Houses, Bushwick Houses, Bronx River Houses, King Towers, and Richmond Terrace. Each artist will receive a dedicated program space and budget to create art programming that cultivates a deeper sense of community, redefining how art is created and featured in public housing. Funded by a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, the program is made possible through partnerships between the Public Housing Community Fund, NYCHA, and other City agencies. The NYCHA Art Liaison position was created as part of the new program. 

“My position is completely new, and I love how I’ve made it my own,” Ms. Karim said. “It’s been rewarding to work with the Fund, the NYC Public Design Commission, and community-based organization partners on new ways to connect with residents at each development. I look forward to working closely with the artists and our stakeholder advisory groups to ensure forward and impactful progress throughout the program.” 

Kemi Karim
Photo by Marlon Turner

For Ms. Karim, the position feels like the perfect fit because it creates space for honing her skills in arts organization while contributing to her practice as an artist. As an interdisciplinary artist specializing in film and photography, Ms. Karim’s work explores identity, womanhood, and experiences that form and define community. Her work has been featured in several publications, including The New York Times. In 2023, she participated in her first group show, IN MY BAG with the Cierra Britton Gallery, co-curated by Jewel Ham.   

Ms. Karim’s dedication to community development is exemplified through her creative collective, TRUTHIS Studios, which caters to the wellness and advancement of creatives of color. Through initiatives like the annual summer festival, A GREAT DAY IN BROOKLYN, she has built a platform for NYC artists that contributes to entrepreneurship, the arts, and community. The day is curated to celebrate connection, healing, and planning toward sustainable futures in creative industries. Ms. Karim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, where she majored in public relations and minored in photography. 

As the NYCHA Art Liaison, Ms. Karim has worked diligently to help establish the new program, transitioning From Roots to Arts from concept to reality. Once the artists are selected, she will guide them in planning and executing programming. She is eager to foster collaborative relationships with NYCHA partners, residents, community-based organizations, and City agencies throughout the program’s duration, ensuring alignment of artistic goals, community needs, and City standards.  

Ms. Karim with a NYCHA resident at a community day hosted by the Fund.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kemi Karim as the new NYCHA Art Liaison,” said Public Housing Community Fund Executive Director Alex Zablocki. “Kemi’s deep roots in Bushwick Houses and her passion for the arts and community organizing make her an invaluable addition to our team. Her innovative vision and dedication to storytelling will undoubtedly enrich our program, From Roots to Arts, and help us celebrate NYCHA’s cultural heritage in profound ways. We are honored and lucky to have her join our team.”   

Ms. Karim’s family has lived at Bushwick Houses — one of the participating developments of From Roots to Arts — for more than 60 years. And since starting her new position in February, she has learned a great deal about NYCHA’s history.  

“In my first week of work, I spent quite a bit of time going through the archives at LaGuardia,” Ms. Karim said. “I had no clue how much programming was embedded into daily life at NYCHA before all the funding was redirected. Like, who knew we had symphonies? I saw visual representations of stories my grandmother would tell me about the early days at Bushwick. It shows how communities thrived when similar programming existed, and while it hasn’t happened in a while, we’re turning a new leaf with From Roots to Arts, hoping to bring more joy and self-sufficiency to our communities. We have a unique opportunity to make NYCHA more than just a place to live.” 

Ms. Karim’s excitement about documenting the impact of From Roots to Arts is fueled by her mission to inspire an expansion of the program that reaches all NYCHA residents. She said that people are often surprised to learn she grew up in a NYCHA development, and through this endeavor she intends to “reshape communities and public perception about people from public housing communities.” 

“In a way, I have an agenda to prove to people that we are so much more than what is portrayed in the media,” she said. “What you may see on the news is not a reflection of the vast majority of people living in public housing. This program is coming to our backyards, and it gives me hope for future artists and all residents regardless of age or cultural background.” 

That Didn’t Take Long

This past week’s survey shows that daily cannabis use has outpaced daily alcohol consumption. More people still drink, but these numbers reflect the vice changes taking place. Marijuana use grew almost 300% from 2008-2022, while daily alcohol use fell by 7%.

There is so much to say here. First of all, Americans have been smoking weed all along, but now that one can legally buy the plant in 26 states, add another 12 where medical cannabis is sold, and you get 38 states, which equals $24B in sales. We are watching the Federal Government figure this out, which is incredibly painful and ridiculous considering they were the ones that made cannabis illegal, created the 280E law, and did this all based on a false narrative created by the ones in power. Is it any wonder that most Americans do not trust the Government anymore?

Americans do not want to see cannabis become part of the pharma machine, tobacco, or alcohol companies. They believe, as I do that this industry should be given a fair shake and stay out of the hands of the big companies that rule our world. I also want to see people who partake in cannabis making decisions.

How can someone who has never puffed and experienced why people get stoned daily understand cannabis? They can’t, which is why the elder cockers in government are clueless about the legal decisions around the plant. It might spell out a new industry with ample opportunity, aka taxes, jobs, and medical research, but look past the numbers and understand the impact on a society that has been smoking illegally for decades—the havoc it has created in communities for zero reason.

Most importantly, cannabis takes the edge off; it creates a positive attitude adjustment if you know what works for you. Each state’s rollout has been a mess. Is there anyone in the Federal Government who is a closet stoner who can speak to their peers on why they should be paying attention to this data?

Fewer people are drinking, and that is not changing; the numbers will continue to plummet as weed smoking rises. Giving the keys over to the large companies who have brought havoc to our system, from oxi to fructose to nicotine, should not be allowed to take hold of this new industry as they have with others; it is time for some new leadership in new big business.

Mixed-Seed Upside Down Cake

This cake came through my feed from Savuer, and I tagged it immediately. It’s so good and not that difficult. I plan on making it again and again;

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 3 Tbsp. sunflower seeds, hulled
  • 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds

Preheat the oven to 350. Thoroughly grease a 9″ cake pan before putting parchment paper over the bottom. This ensures the seeds stick to the cake when it flips onto the plate.

In a small pot, melt the butter and then pour in the rest of the ingredients above. When this is fully dissolved and lightly bubbling, pour this into the cake pan. Use a spatula to evenly spread the mixture

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. poppy seeds

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Add the sugar and orange zest in a separate bowl, then incorporate the zest into the sugar with your hands. Then, whisk in the yogurt, orange juice, vanilla, and eggs. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and poppy seeds. Pour this into the cake pan and bake for 35 minutes. Make sure the cake is thoroughly baked. Take it out of the oven and let it cool before flipping it onto a plate.

Voila!

China Tariffs

Back in the early 90s, I built a schmata business. I was the sidekick to this hustler whose father-in-law, aka Jewish mobster, backed him. It was quite the experience. I grew the business from the two of us and a part-time designer to a full-time designer with a staff of one and three more salespeople, including a receptionist, and a new office. The revenue grew by 85% in a few years.

The experience was defining and short-lived. We made all of our products in Long Island City. It was around this time that making products in China began to soar. I had been a buyer at Macy’s before this job, and we were beginning to make huge bets on merchandise from China because the margins were so good. It changed forever how department stores operate and where clothing is made.

Then came the roar: Make it in America. The politicians have all jumped on this bandwagon. 75% of Americans opt to buy a product that is made in America vs. China. It sounds good. Let’s start making all our clothes in America and return to the factory jobs. There will be more robots than humans, but it will benefit the USA. Now, your t-shirts that cost, on average, between $20-30 will cost $70 because the labor cost is much higher, including medical insurance, and the materials cost more to make. Remember that buying clothing, regardless of where it is made, fuels our economy.

Perhaps technology will make products made in America less expensive so that we can make more products here; that would be amazing, and maybe that is happening. My guess is we might be creating a huge tariff with China to protect our workers, but the cost for the consumers is going to be gut-wrenching unless, of course, we move everything to Vietnam.

Unions

Supposedly, only 25% of adults say their workplace promotes a supportive environment. Some other supposed stats are that almost 50% of adults say their job is fulfilling, 20% are overwhelmed, and 30% are stressful.

I can understand the 50/20/30 information. Yet, I wonder how each generation feels about their workplace compared to all adults. Millennials and Gen Z have different expectations or perhaps desires from the workplace.

Unions were formed to stop exploitation and protect employees’ rights. They have been ensconced in the car industry since 1935. Last week, the UAW lost unionization in a Mercedes factory in Alabama. Company unionization has gone from 20% in 1983 to 10% in 2023. That speaks volumes.

I can think of multiple reasons why unionization has ebbed, although the power it holds in certain states is mind-blowing based on these statistics.

We have read and witnessed that unions are always knocking on opportunity doors. They are currently infiltrating the cannabis industry when the size of each store is not that big. Someone needs to keep the Union brass making the big bucks. I think employers should be held accountable for how they treat their employees, and if the fear of unionization is the catalyst, so be it.

Treating your employees right will make them happier, and happier companies make for better business. It isn’t that hard.

Finally, Celebrating Female Athletes

Say what you will about the Kardashians, and I could say a lot, but Skim’s new ad campaign highlighting badass female athletes feels good. The first thing that popped into my head when the campaign popped up in my Instagram feed was, “damn, it’s about time.”

It has taken 50 years since Title IX was enacted into law to see women’s basketball have the crowds it deserves. These women are playing at an exciting level. The NCAA championships this year took on another level of excitement with star athletes who have been drafted to play in the WNBA.

These women are not being paid the same amount as their male counterparts. Let’s not forget that the NBA is a serious business. The athletes get paid based on salary caps, which affect the amount of capital being made in the entire NBA business machine.

Everything else these athletes do, such as sponsors, is their own personal added bonus, and finally, women are getting their due here, too. Athletes seem to be the latest actors in all the advertising during the games.

Now that the WNBA has packed stadiums and owners who are focused on building a female powerhouse sports arm of the NBA, we will start to see higher salary caps. Stephen Curry has a salary cap of $135M for 2023/2024, whereas Jackie Young, who signed with the Las Vegas Acers a few days ago, makes $252,450 a year. These two make the most money playing ball.

I hope it doesn’t take another 50 years for WNBA players to make the type of cash Curry is raking in.

The Flower Is Female

 Buy Weekly: The Flower is Female

I rarely post another post, but I love this one so much. I proudly wore my Future is Female t-shirt, and I still do. Read the piece. You can follow Gotham’s blog here.

Buy Weekly: The Flower is Female, from the one and only Rachel Berks, Founder of Otherwild and VP of Creative and Merchandising @ Gotham.

Back in 2015, our VP of Creative + Merchandising, Rachel Berks, remade “The Future is Female” t-shirt, based on a design from the 70s for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City. When she learned that the cannabis plant is most prized in its female form, she had a new idea…

In 2015, I was scrolling Instagram and found myself captivated by a 1970s-era photograph of a woman wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “The Future is Female”. It was posted on Herstory’s instagram account, which was run by a friend, and celebrated herstorical imagery of lesbian, queer + GNC folks. I reposted this photo, and that the shirt had been created for the first women’s bookstore in NYC called Labyris Books. People loved this photo immediately – the slogan clearly resonated widely, and many commenters begged me to remake the tee.

Photo by Liza Cowan

Due to the overwhelming response to my post, I redesigned the shirt and offered them for sale through my store Otherwild. I made an initial run of 24 tees which sold out overnight, and thanks to a perfect storm of concurrent event — defunding Planned Parenthood, the relentless attack on a woman’s right to choose, and a woman running for president — a viral cultural phenomenon was born.

Since I had borrowed the slogan myself, I never considered trademarking it. Before I launched the tee, my internet research yielded literally nothing with or referencing “The Future is Female” on it. The original photo didn’t even surface because of its near total obscurity. Once I launched and found tremendous success with my own version of the t-shirt, the slogan became ubiquitous. During a pop-up during the fall of 2016, I sold two sweatshirts to Annie Clark aka St. Vincent for herself and her then girlfriend, Cara Delevigne. Shortly afterwards, both celebs were photographed wearing the sweatshirt, and The New York Times published an article titled, “A Feminist T-Shirt Resurfaces From the ‘70s” in which I was quoted saying:

“It’s thrilling to see people embrace something that came out of the ’70s lesbian separatist moment,” Ms. Berks said. “The shirt is about a reaction to a misogynist and patriarchal culture that affects a lot of people. People are recontextualizing it: trans women, men, moms who have sons.”

The Future is Female Shirt

In the weeks after the article was published, a couple very non-feminist things occurred. First, a woman named Suzanne Sizer filed a trademark application for “The Future is Female” one week after the NY Times article came out. Second, Cara Delevigne posted an identical knockoff of my sweatshirt on her Instagram to her many millions of followers. Luckily, Otherwild had an army of feminist supporters who would not stand for a celebrity capitalizing off of a queer woman-owned small business, and my following and business skyrocketed after the scandal.

Cara Delevigne The Future is Female

Since I released the tee, I’ve seen countless renditions worldwide in the forms of apparel, jewelry, baby items, book titles, magazine covers, political slogans, print and broadcast headlines, beer, phone cases, fundraisers, nail polish, protest signs, other endless merch, and so on and so forth. The words were uttered by Hillary Clinton post-election, there was an SNL skit about the shirt, and musician Kiran Gandhi wrote a song, called “The Future is Female” in which she calls out her ‘black, Otherwild Future is Female t-shirt’.

The Future is Female

It’s a very strange and somewhat unsettling experience to have a hand in resurrecting what became such an important slogan in feminist herstory, and then to simultaneously lose control of the narrative of that slogan. Regardless, the shirt gave me the opportunity to grow my business and support artists and designers within my community, which had always been the most meaningful and significant purpose of Otherwild.

Almost ten years have passed since I first saw and remade the t-shirt, and when I learned that the cannabis plant is most prized in its female form, because that is when the psychotropic compounds are most potent, I had a new idea…

The Flower is Female

“The Flower is Female” T-shirt by Gotham, $38

The Future is Female

“The Flower is Female” T-shirt by Gotham, $38

“Female cannabis is what consumers know as ‘cannabis’ in that we consume the female flower and the respective cannabinoids that the female flower produces..”

  • Ian Dyshe, Head Of Operations at MFNY

“In a literal sense, the cannabis flowers we know and love are female, as they tend to produce more trichomes rich in the active cannabinoids and terpenes.”

  • Miri Gregor, VP Cannabis at Gotham

As a celebration of this plant we love, on the first birthday of our female-founded company, we are thrilled to offer a limited edition drop of “The Flower is Female”.

Shop “The Flower is Female” limited edition t-shirt now at Gotham!

Are Weight Loss Drugs the New Opioid?

I have been on countless diets my entire life. What goes into my mouth is never cavalier. I do not have an unhealthy relationship with food; I love food. I have worked hard not to have an unhealthy relationship with my body. They are very different things. Unsurprisingly, I am fascinated with the new weight loss drugs.

The family was at the Knicks playoffs this week, and I watched at home on the couch. Next year, Knicks! This ad came on the television. It is gorgeous, well done, and captured my attention immediately. As the ad played, I knew it was a pharma company, and it was Eli Lily.

There is much to unpack about these drugs. First of all, it appears to work. People lose weight rapidly, their hunger changes, and I would gather that if they have diabetes, the sugar levels in their blood drop. That is a good thing as diabetes is a silent killer, the eight leading killer in the US having multiplied in the past thirty years. It was inevitable that a drug would eventually be found in pharma land.

What are the long-term effects of taking this drug for those who are in real need, such as obese people with diabetes? Do you have to stay on it forever? What is the correct dosage? Do they know enough about this drug and how it affects one’s organs?

The price of this drug is not cheap. The pharmaceutical companies have not been forthcoming with how much they are actually selling. I read that 25,000 people signed up for this revolutionary weight loss tool from one pharmaceutical company in the first three months of the year, and that is only one company. Many companies are providing this drug under different names. Supposedly, there are 500,000 weekly prescriptions for ozempic.

The prices are high, and many pay for it out of pocket. There is a shortage, and pharmaceutical companies are boosting production with new facilities. Does this sound familiar to the opioid crisis? I hope this is not the case, but I admit it happened quickly, and I do not fully trust pharma, although I want to. I believe in vaccines and Western medicine for many reasons, but they are publicly traded businesses that spend billions on lobbying the government; enough said.

The long tail of this is how this changes the food industry. What will happen to all those lo-fat products? Will people consume and buy less food? Will food waste go down? Will people eat healthier? Will there be a push to produce products here, similar to Europe, where they do not allow many manufactured products to go into their food? Maybe all of this could be a good thing and positively impact our environment. Perhaps this is a reach, but I’m just saying.

I have watched the ad a few times. I am obsessed with these drugs, and for some, I am all for it. But my friends who told me a few years back about the drug and began taking it when I never even once considered them overweight concerns me. The media has wanted us all to be thin for a long time, yet were these drugs meant for the slightly chubby or the person who always wants to lose the last 5 lbs. and wants to look like Kate Moss? I am not so sure, but it appears we will find out.

An American Endless Cycle

My Mom was really into the health food store when we were kids. They had the best oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m not sure why she got on this kick, but it was the 1970s, and she believed in healthy eating. We took cod liver oil pills every day!

When I grew up, nobody was obese and not overweight either. Now, over 42% of Americans are obese. Maybe it was because we had more freedom to run around, but more than likely, this generation was the first generation to grow up on significant amounts of processed food. I remember coming to school with my lunch and high-end deli meats, and my friends would have processed meat in a package. It is unclear which was worse, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t the deli meats.

When we look at other countries also beginning to put on poundage and get sick, it is from their intake of Doritos, not Udon noodles. The other day, I saw the ingredients in Heinz ketchup for France vs. the US. That was eye-opening. In France, the ingredients are tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, onion powder, and natural flavor. In the US, we eliminate sugar and add high-fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup. Fructose can elevate diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease.

Somehow, it is okay in the States to have products that are killing us on the shelves even though we have an obesity issue, which leads to illness that the insurance companies would prefer not to pay for, so instead, we came up with Ozempic to fix that problem, less eating. Hmmm. There seems to be a problem here.

My Mom decided to frequent the health food store and put us on cod liver oil pills from wherever she got her information. She taught us to eat healthily. She would make comments about chips or fake foods that we were eating shit, and she was right. Today, information is everywhere. People can see what I am writing about in black and white, but somehow, we build new products to combat products that have made us unhealthy instead of fixing the core issue. I assume this is lobbying 101 to keep the large companies producing these products and churning them into our daily diet.

The food companies are killing us. When I return to Paris, I may bring an entire suitcase just for savory condiments.

How Communication Works Today

I am old enough to have witnessed and experienced massive changes in technology.   

The tech moguls of today secured capital to build their ideas. They wanted the world to be more efficient. They were entrepreneurs and engineers: Bezos, Page and, Brin, and, of course, Zuckerberg. I might be going out on a limb here, but I do not think they realized that making things more efficient would change how we shop, how we market to people, how we communicate, how we discover, how we work, and how these platforms would change society. 

The other night I was DMd on Instagram from someone saying he loved the brand (Gotham) and we should collab.  I checked his profile; he had many followers and was a Knicks fan. I texted him back that I would send his info to the team. It ended up he went to camp with someone on our team. Crazy. Within seconds, I am texting him, and so is the team. 

This exchange took place over text and Instagram. Incredibly, anyone can reach out to someone they have never met, get a response, and start to think about ways to work together. That feedback from a business perspective is key.

Twenty years ago, if you had moved to a different city, the chances of staying in touch would have been slim. Perhaps the first year or so, there would be phone calls and then, over time, an annual card, but unless that connection were so intense with a continuation of spending vacations together, it would be lost. That is not the case anymore. Staying in touch is not hard, and people seem to work harder to keep up those connections.

Technology will continue to evolve. Ignoring it is not advised, but figuring out how to use it in the best way possible can be good for business or who knows what else.