John Forte Shares His Soul

John Forte performs at an intimate affair at Cooper Square Hotel

John Forte performs at an intimate affair at Cooper Square Hotel

John Forte may have been broken but the MC is putting the pieces back together.  Last night, the former collaborator and co-writer with the Fugees, who served over half of a 14-year sentence for drug possession, performed songs from his new seven-track EP StyleFREE.

The intimate affair made up of fairly wealthy, New York socialists and some D-List celebs, was held in the penthouse suite of the Cooper Square Hotel in support of Music Unites, a non-profit organization that supports music education in inner cities.

Perched on a stool in a small corner with panoramic views of the New York City skyline serving as the backdrop, Forte delivered introspective lyrics and candid thoughts about life.

Glancing at his set list scribbled on a paper napkin, Forte strummed his acoustic guitar, moving effortlessly between quiet rhymes and raspy sung verses.  In addition to admitting an old school tryst with Lauryn Hill, Forte offered up his life experiences to the crowd.  Some of the night’s best quotes went like this:

“Normally I have an elevated stool with my beverages because I suffer from horrible, horrible cotton mouth,” Forte said, taking a violent swig of Stella Artois beer.  “Not because I’m taking any sort of chemicals that would give me cotton mouth.  Seriously, I am on supervised release so that’s not even an option.”

Forte smiled sheepishly and said after singing a note in “Breaking of a Man” off key, “That’s the beauty of being a singer-songwriter.  You can hit an obvious bad note and just embrace it man.  It’s meant to be.”

“14 years in the feds for tryna cop me a label,” he rhymes in a prelude to “Life Has Just Begun.”  “So when the gates opened early, just guitar on track.  Life is just begun.  I’m back.”

Check out a short clip of John Forte’s performance

John Forte from Maya Pope-Chappell on Vimeo.

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Attica Burning, Athens in Danger

View of a high point in Athens.  Smoke from the wildfires nearby blanket the city.

View of a high point in Athens. Smoke from the wildfires nearby blankets the city.

By Anastasia Economides

As I walked out to the balcony of an Athens home, the smell of something burning caught my nose.  Thinking it was my friend and his bad habit with cigarettes, I yelled to put it out.  He pointed to the sky in response.

A thick, black cloud of smoke blankets the city tonight as wild forest fires continue to consume villages near the capital.  A total of 65 fires all over Greece have been reported to have started today, according to the Greek Fire Department.

Greece is no stranger to wildfires, due to its hot, dry climate and strong winds during the summer.

The temperature in Athens dropped to 27 degrees Celsius this evening, from the usual 30, as the heavy smog blocked the sun all day.  Satellite photos show the smoke to have almost reached Crete.

With reminisce of the 2007 wildfire disaster in Peloponnese, which killed over 70 people, the Greek government declared a state of emergency at noon Saturday.  Some fires at the outskirts of Athens have been blazing since the night before.

There have been no reported casualties so far.

Over 200 firefighters with 85 fire trucks and more than 50 water tanks, along with hundreds of volunteers are said to be battling the flames.

Officials are recommending minimal water usage at this time.

Evacuations

Fires are said to have started in Grammatiko last night, quickly spreading down towards Athens, consuming large villages such as Dionysos, Stamata, and Marathon.

As to how the situation is being handled, there are rising issues such as not having enough equipment, ground forces having difficulty approaching fires due to the rough terrain, water trucks not knowing where to refill for water, and planes and helicopters not flying at night because of lack of visibility.

All day, residents watching their homes burn reached out to news stations first to request help.

A mother from Rodopoli, a village about 25 miles away from Athens also drowning in flames, called one of the popular radio stations, Skai, asking for fire trucks to come and save her home.

“Where are they, what are they doing?” she pleads.  She is told to leave the area immediately.

Skai Media have been providing full coverage of the fires since this morning, putting aside their scheduled programming of the annual Superleague Soccer Championship.

Talks about how the fires started are likely to come about later on.   State officials are slowly acknowledging arson as the probable cause.  An investigation by the District Attorney of Athens has been ordered.

Helpless

Residents and customers at cafes in Athens can be found glued to televisions.  Many look on in silence, some with their hands over their mouths.

“This has to be one of the biggest fires here in the last decade,” warned Constantine Pirganas, 26, an Athenian who has witnessed ashes falling from the sky during the 2007 fires.  “It’s going to be a long night.”

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Fighting The Amphitheater In Seaside Park

The Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz wants to build an over 5,000-seat amphitheater in Asser Levy Park to rival the PNC Art Center in Central NJ and the theater in Jones Beach. If Community Board 13 and the City Arts Commission approve the project, construction will begin this year in August. According to the Borough President’s office, the amphitheater will cost $64 million in taxpayer dollars and will take about four years to complete. The problem, say area residents, is that borough hall created the plan without any input from the community.

Watch the slideshow here.

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Immigration Thingy

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As immigrant families struggle to keep in touch, video conferences bring hope

Despite all the talk that globalization has made the world smaller, keeping in contact with loved ones who live in another country can still be challenging.

That is especially true when your family lives in a developing country, such as Ecuador, where Internet use isn’t as prevalent as it is in the US.

According to Supertel, a telecom supervisory body, only 12.3 percent of Ecuadorians had Internet at home at the end of 2008. This means most people don’t have access to video chat programs such as Skype, where they could see their families face-to-face.

Alicia Craven, 26, of Oregon taught English in Cuenca, Ecuador in 2007-2008. She said she noticed that Internet ownership “was very low” in Ecuadorian homes. Internet cafes, instead, were the norm.

“Though most places had Skype, the video cameras weren’t as prevalent,” she said. Also, Internet cafes present privacy issues if you try to have a meaningful conversation.

“There’s a certain degree of awkwardness since you are surrounded by other strangers, and you’re not in a booth,” Craven pointed out.

Visits back to the homeland are often not a possibility for those immigrants who are in the US illegally or for those waiting to get their paperwork in order, as the US imposes travel restrictions on green card applicants. In addition, the cost of travel is another problem. Due to these reasons many families must go for a decade or longer without seeing each other.

This is where video conferencing comes into play, such as the service offered by Austro Financial Services in Jackson Heights in Queens. Manager Diego Pinto said some 200-250 families and individuals now use the six-year-old technology service per month. Out of South Americans, the service is so far available only for Ecuadorians.

Many people like video conferencing because of its obvious benefits: it is fast, easy and more personal than a phone call. The recipients don’t have to own a computer –they just need to go to one of Banco del Austro’s operating locations in Ecuador. Unlike with Skype, you can see the whole conference room at the same time, and can squeeze even 10-20 people in the room.

Pinto said that Mother’s Day is an especially popular day for conference calls, one that sometimes includes even mariachi bands playing in the rooms.

The calls aren’t cheap at $1.25 per minute on weekdays, and $1.50 on Sundays, but neither is the technology that makes them happen. According to Pinto, the camera costs about $5,000-6,000, and the plasma TV another $1,000-2,000.

The usage costs are also pricey for the company, as the system needs to function in two countries.  “You have to pay the system here and there,” Pinto said. The customers, though, only pay in the New York end.

Despite the price of the calls, the service keeps getting more popular among Ecuadorian families, many of whom return every month.

“It’s a very beautiful experience,” said Ecuadorian immigrant Jose Flores, whose family recently used the service for the first time to talk to their relatives back in Cañar, Ecuador.

“It’s especially beautiful for the family that’s in Ecuador,” he said.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Alana Rigal contributed to the reporting of the article. Video by Alana Rigal and Mirva Lempiäinen.

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LGBT and Latinos Unite Against Hate

Brooklyn residents squeezed into a packed room at Make the Road by Walking in Bushwick. It was April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination more than four decades ago. Appropriately, the forum was on hate crimes but the gathering was organized to another violent death– of the Ecuadorean immigrant Jose Osvaldo Sucuzhanay.

Sucuzhanay was bludgeoned by a metal bat by one of four men who jumped out of an SUV. He later died in Elmurst Hospital in Queens. He had been walking down Bushwick Avenue late at night with his brother. The men screamed racist and homophobic slurs at both Sucuzhanays.

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As NYC Public Housing Turns 75, One Resident Remembers 50

As the New York City Public Housing Authority turns 75 this year, one of its residents will be celebrating her 50th birthday next week, which is also her 50-year anniversary living in the Van Dyke Houses of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Despite five of her childhood friends dying before age 30 and others leaving for greener places, Lisa Kenner has stayed in Brownsville and watched her neighbors slip into violence and apathy. From the public housing development where she was born and still lives, Kenner decided to take action.

She first ran for vice-president of the Van Dyke Houses tenant association, then president, then as the female leader for her Democratic assembly district. She has fought city government when she believes it steps on her residents, and she’s taught Brownsville’s young adults how to lead productive lives. She chose to leave politics in 2008, though, to spend more time with her granddaughter, whose mother was then killed in a shooting.

Kenner says that she took the lessons she learned in politics – how to make connections and how to take a stand – and has applied them on behalf of her tenants. Most recently, she convinced a local nonprofit organization to create a support group for Brownsville’s young men and women.

“She is extremely representative of her residents,” said Rasmia Kirmani, the program director at The Brownsville Partnership, a newly-formed group dedicated to preventing homelessness.

A heavy-set African-American woman with a shaved head and orange angular sunglasses pulled above her eyes, Kenner describes her motivations for Brownsville activism and for her brief political career:

On Brownsville Activism
[audio:http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/michaelreicher/files/2009/04/motivates_1-2.mp3|titles=Kenner on Brownsville Activism]

During her career as an activist, she’s most proud of the time she and her tenants marched on City Hall to protest a proposed parole center in her complex. They won the fight against the New York City Housing Authority and the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator—the plans were shelved. Here Kenner describes the experience as she sits her office, located in the basement of one of the 22 buildings at Van Dyke:

Her Parole Center Victory
[audio:http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/michaelreicher/files/2009/04/parole_1-2.mp3|titles=Kenner on her Parole Center Victory]

She says that in order to keep her neighbors out of the criminal justice system, Kenner councils young men who become self-absorbed and stray towards crime. She tells them about her own earnest experience – about the example her father set raising seven children on a pittance.

On Brownsville Men
[audio:http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/michaelreicher/files/2009/04/males_1-2.mp3|titles=Kenner on Brownsville Men]

Changing a community’s mentality will take more than just a few courses in self respect, Kenner realizes. In the meantime, she’s satisfied with her own actions—representing and motivating her neighbors, trying to get them to bring back the Brownsville of her youth:

On her Legacy
[audio:http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/michaelreicher/files/2009/04/legacy_1-2.mp3|titles=Kenner on her Legacy]

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