Your City Needs to Smarten Up

It’s here. On our streets and in our neighborhoods. From traffic control to CCTVs to water-monitoring systems, artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies are already among us. But, as the song goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. 

Many argue that smart technology is making our cities safer, with facial detection able to spot and locate wanted criminals or people who violate public health restrictions. Others believe the presence of near ubiquitous CCTV cameras on the streets of many modern cities, from London to Beijing, amounts to intrusion on a massive scale.

Either way, the role played by AI in shaping our urban environments is only going to grow and spread. In today’s Daily Dose, we look at global cities that are offering us an early glimpse of what the future might look like.

dubai and abu dhabi: safer streets

Put on Your Mask!

In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, if you’re not wearing a mask and hear a low buzzing noise above your head, chances are you’re in trouble with the law. Police in the city have been using drones equipped with facial recognition capabilities and loudspeakers to dissuade locals from congregating in large numbers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The drones reportedly detected 4,400 criminal violations, including 518 instances of people not wearing a mask, in the first three months of 2021. Among the other criminal activities recorded were sales of contraband goods, allowing law enforcement officers to make arrests without having to spend too much time patrolling some of the world’s hottest streets.

‘Emotion Recognition’

As a global crossroads for travel and trade of both legal and illicit stripes, border police in Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s neighboring city, face huge challenges in finding and stopping drug traffickers. But in November, three men were arrested for trafficking 100 pounds of heroin using Minority Report levels of AI. While details of the exact technologies used appear to be under wraps, “The dealers were caught using advanced policing techniques, including crime prediction and emotion recognition,” reports The National. The police force’s so-called Ghost AI system is also being deployed across the city in an attempt to predict what types of crimes will take place when and where. 

Police Cars With Facial Recognition

Last year, Abu Dhabi equipped its already outlandish fleet of law enforcement vehicles with live biometric facial recognition systems, according to news reports. How does it work? A “smart bar” attached to the roof of a police car can identify the faces of known criminals, then interact with the city’s central police command system to check for outstanding warrants. But will the mass-tracing campaign impinge on the civil liberties of citizens? The UAE already has a questionable human rights record. Deploying AI in the law enforcement sphere could add to those concerns.

Dubai Skyline

shenzhen: predicting pollution

The Cost of Air Pollution

It kills 7 million people around the globe every year. An estimated 1.24 million of those deaths occur in China, mainly in major cities. The huge growth in urban development across swaths of eastern and southern China has contributed enormously to the ill health not just of its residents, but also to the residents of other Asian countries. While air-monitoring systems have been around for years, China has been accused of misreporting air quality.

Predicting Bad Air

So what’s the solution? At the U.K.’s Loughborough University, researchers have built a program that can predict unhealthy levels of particulate smog in the air within hours by forecasting pollution events and their expected severity. Such advance notice is an urgent matter for vulnerable populations, with research showing that everything from coughs to cancer could begin with the ingestion of particulate matter. With the global urban population set to grow from 55% to 68% by 2030, this technology could well be the canary in our planet’s coal mine.

To Shenzhen

Scientists who initially used air pollution levels in Beijing to “train” smog-monitoring AI are now looking at another Chinese city 1,300 miles to the south — Shenzhen — to see if it can be rolled out on a major scale. A coastal city of 13 million people, Shenzhen has suffered bad air for decades, though in recent years the city has tried to clean up its act. As the city that spearheaded China’s economic drive four decades ago, Shenzhen is set to lead the country again.


markham, ontario: spot that hole

Pothole Predicaments

As a suburb of Toronto, the fourth-largest city in North America, Markham’s roads see their fair share of vehicular traffic on top of winter wear and tear. The local climate — a freeze-thaw swing that occurs dozens of times each winter — is particularly damaging to roads and fuels a major pothole problem. Across the country, subpar road infrastructure costs motorists an estimated $2.4 billion every year in vehicle repairs and maintenance. Markham, with 343,000 people and with 684 miles of roads, has deployed artificial intelligence to locate potholes before they get bigger — and costlier to repair.

The Solution

The City of Markham created an AI-driven fix called ROVER. Cameras are attached to municipal vehicles. Potholes are identified and mapped using GPS. Not having to stop and mark each missing chunk of road or pavement by hand saves time, the City of Markham’s Alice Lam tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, adding, “It also eliminates human error.” 

The Result

The technology, now developed as an app, has increased pothole detection rates by 200% to 400%. After the succes of the pilot project, ROVER is now being used in five vehicles. With it gaining recognition among North America’s more clever infrastructure advances, you can expect to see similar efforts on your own streets in the near future. And that, for car and driver alike, can’t come soon enough.

Dubai Skyline

barcelona: artificial intelligence for all

The Ethical Way

In a place where AI and la bona vida are set to collide, city authorities in Barcelona are putting together a plan for machine learning that supports their own management needs while simultaneously respecting citizens’ digital rights. Spain’s second city is constructing an open source, public access AI system that makes available all algorithms that impact or involve its 1.6 million residents. To monitor beach occupancy amid the COVID-19 pandemic last summer, for instance, the city deployed thermal imaging systems instead of using controversial facial recognition systems. And instead of counting the number of people hitting the beaches, it estimates the total area of sand that is absent of people.

Learning to Be Diverse

You might not be surprised to hear that AI as a field lacks diversity. Women make up just 15% of AI researchers at Facebook and 10% at Google. Barcelona’s leading the way in trying to make the field more representative by making machine-learning tools available to anyone through an initiative called Saturdays.AI. Barcelona-based developer Jan Carbonell co-founded the company, which now offers educational programs in dozens of cities around the globe.

Heavy Hitters Are Taking Note

If you’re a country trying to level up in the AI playing field, it helps if you can pique the interest of giants. After Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez traveled to the West Coast of the United States and met with Apple CEO Tim Cook in July, it looks like the one-on-one time has paid off. Apple is set to expand its existing AI investment in Barcelona. The tech conglomerate has reportedly acquired a Barcelona-based AI company, Vilynx, which has created technology that could potentially be applied to Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. Vilynx has made major advances in analyzing the audio, text and visual components of videos to identify their content.

Dubai Skyline

the global city: racist?


For all its advantages, AI has a credibility problem and for good reason: It’s been shown to misidentify people of color. According to a 2019 study by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, a plethora of top facial recognition algorithms suffer major inaccuracies when attempting to identify people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity and age. Some systems deployed in the U.S. report a rate of misidentifying Black people five to 10 times more often than white people. In July, a Black teen in suburban Detroit was barred from a roller-skating rink after being misidentified by facial recognition software. And in January 2020 in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Robert Julian-Borchak Williams was incorrectly flagged by facial recognition technology as a shoplifting suspect and detained for 30 hours. 

ShotSpotter: Nothing to See Here, Folks

ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system that uses microphones in public spaces to locate and notify law enforcement officers of gunfire, has recently drawn its own fire. The system, used in dozens of cities across the U.S., has become known for frequent inaccuracies. In Chicago, 86% of ShotSpotter-prompted “gunfire” deployments turned out to be wild goose chases. More than 40,000 “dead-end deployments” to shooting alerts were registered between July 2019 and mid-April of this year. Activists argue that such tech tools are ineffective shortcuts rather than long-term changes that will reduce gun violence.

The Answer Is Inclusion

There’s a reason AI-based surveillance tech is often racially biased: It’s built on data drawn from discriminatory systems. It’s replete with systemic racism, even when it comes to something as simple as soap and hand sanitizer dispensers that darker-skinned hands don’t activate. Yet there are potential solutions. One is to establish inclusive AI design in which algorithms are actually tested on people from various races, cultures and genders. And another is to be aware of implicit bias that could be creeping into the algorithm. 

The Looming Unemployment Benefits Cliff

A whopping 7.5 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits when the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expires on Sept. 6, which, ironically, is also Labor Day. The spread of the COVID-19 delta variant means the country’s economic recovery may now be tapering off, but one thing is for sure: With Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin saying he’s “done with extensions,” the financial support is living on borrowed time.

What should Americans expect when it ends? What about talks of an economic boom? What do economists say? Today’s Daily Dose delves into what happens when we drive off the “benefits cliff.”

post-pandemic boom?


Reasons to Be Optimistic

As the number of vaccinated Americans rises and a return to pre-pandemic living appears within reach again, many analysts are predicting the economy will surge. A JPMorgan Chase survey published last month found that 80% of business leaders are expecting higher levels of revenue and sales growth for the remainder of 2021. That figure reflects the most optimism the survey has recorded in 11 years. In fact, the U.S. economy has already made a full recovery by some measures. In the second quarter of 2021, economic output surpassed pre-pandemic levels of quarterly growth. But that does not mean all is well. With a possible surge of COVID-19 infections on the horizon, the economy could take yet another hit.

But for Whom?

While post-pandemic economic trends show promise, the majority of the wealth generated over the past 18 months has gone, and for the foreseeable future will continue to flow, to a select group of people. America’s winner-take-all economy is looking healthy for 2021 and beyond. Apple, Microsoft and Google parent company Alphabet reported combined profits in excess of $50 billion during the pandemic. Meanwhile, gig workers and freelancers, a vast cohort of the workforce that doesn’t typically qualify for state unemployment assistance, will be hit particularly hard once the federal unemployment benefits program ends on Sept. 6. Already, widespread job losses in low-income areas have been a feature of the pandemic.

Some Regions Up, Some Down

The amount of money Americans get from their unemployment insurance benefits changes depending on where they live. These benefits temporarily replace a portion of a worker’s wages when they have been laid off and are looking for a new job. Each state has its own process for determining how much of someone’s income should be replaced by benefits, the total amount of money a person can receive and how long the benefits will last — commonly 26 weeks. In March, Forbes Advisor ranked the best and worst states for unemployment benefits, analyzing the average weekly benefits, the duration those benefits can be received and each state’s cost of living index. Among the 10 “best” states, four are in the Midwest; of the 10 “worst,” five are in the South.

the question of race


The Race Reality

On average, Black workers face double the unemployment rate of white workers who share similar education levels. One reason is labor market discrimination against Black workers, as shown by studies such as the seminal 2003 work titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” This field experiment proved that white-sounding names on identical résumés received 50% more callbacks from prospective employers than Black-sounding names. The findings also suggest that this bias contributes to longer periods of unemployment and an increased likelihood that Black workers will be forced to take lower-paying jobs. RAND Corp. economist Kathryn A. Edwards tells OZY that, according to research, since it is on average more challenging for Black workers to secure work, “Temporary benefits being cut off is more likely to disadvantage Black workers.”

Ways to Improve

How can the labor market be made more equitable for Black workers? One way would be to eliminate the differences among states’ unemployment insurance benefits. Edwards explains that this system is “more prone to unfairness and disparity” and exacerbates inequality “between Black and white workers.” For example, in the U.S., a quarter of Black workers live in three states (Texas, Florida and Georgia) and nearly 60% of the national Black labor force resides in the South. The example Edwards uses for an improved, standard system is that of Social Security, which is federally funded and unrelated to where people live or work. “Uniform benefits based solely on earnings and not location . . . would reduce some of that disparity,” she says.

What’s Next?

Although federal unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire on Labor Day, 26 states have already taken steps to ax them (of these, 11 are in the South). Alexa Tapia of the National Employment Law Project tells OZY that it’s been mainly states in the South (and some in the Midwest) that have opted to scratch the federal assistance. The result? Those states saw employment drop by approximately 0.9%. But for states that have kept them? Employment levels have risen by an average of 2.3%, according to research from Homebase. “It’s clear that unemployment insurance benefits allow workers to return to the right jobs . . . when they are able to,” Tapia says. “We really want to keep our foot on the gas, knowing that these benefits are working as intended.”

domestic bliss?


Renters in Need

Approximately 44 million households, roughly one-third of the U.S. population, rent their primary place of residence. This cohort tends to be less equipped to muscle through periods of joblessness without additional assistance. The link between having a job and being able to afford housing and its related costs is a close one. A March 2020 analysis from the Urban Institute showed that people who struggle to pay rent are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those who never or rarely face that difficulty. Low-income renters, in particular, tend to work in the five most vulnerable industries which, according to a separate Urban Institute report, are the same sectors that faced the greatest number of layoffs in the past 18 months: accommodation and food service; construction; arts, entertainment and recreation; other service jobs including hairdressing, dry cleaning and repair work; and retail trade.

Rent Moratorium to the Rescue — for Now

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued an eviction moratorium in September that expired on July 31. Three days later, however, it issued a new 60-day eviction ban that ends Oct. 3 for qualified individuals. For people who cannot afford rent and are losing or have already lost their weekly $300 pandemic unemployment check, the moratorium “will coincide with the unemployment insurance benefits expiring around Labor Day and early September,” Tapia tells OZY. “Just as food stamp benefits are also being cut down again . . . we’re definitely going to see another devastating crisis,” she adds. The best option to avoid a crisis is for affected individuals to apply for rental assistance, although the administration of this program has been “plagued by delays,” according to the think tank Century Foundation.

Parental Leave During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 lockdowns affected most of the workforce, but they hit working mothers hardest. America’s working moms — who are also shouldering the majority of domestic duties — have experienced a greater share of job losses during the course of the pandemic than men. These women were already in charge of household duties — work some equate to a $178,000 annual salary — before COVID, but the added pressure of child care shortages on top of helping kids with virtual school is forcing 1 in 3 to consider leaving the workforce or downsizing their career, moves that could stunt their income permanently. Yale economics professor Ebonya Washington co-authored a 2018 paper, “The Mommy Effect,” which asserts that women miscalculate the difficulty of balancing work and raising a family when they make decisions about their education. Her theories related to the impact of employment on motherhood, ideas that are pertinent today: If the delta variant does take hold in the coming weeks and months, what will that mean for working moms?

Tokyo Surprises: Expect the Unexpected

The Olympic Games are known for some surefire spectacles: an overdone opening ceremony, dazed athletes waving at no one in particular, tumbling records and tears of joy by the bucketload.

But they also throw up events and precedents that no one can expect. Shocking failures and miracle moments that need to be seen to be believed. As the Tokyo Games come to a historic close this weekend, we thought it apt to fill you in, dear reader, on the biggest, most outrageous surprises of the past two weeks. Join us in today’s Daily Dose as we toast the astounding first-time Olympians, the shocking mess-ups and other essential Olympic surprises that will leave you feeling smarter. And probably a little smug.

breakout debuts

Explosive Debut

Twenty-two-year-old wunderkind Luka Dončić started his Olympic career with a monstrous performance, one rarely witnessed in international basketball. The Slovenian exploded for 48 points, with 31 coming in the first half of Slovenia’s match against Argentina on July 26. Dončić also snagged 11 rebounds and dished five assists in his team’s 118-100 win. As the best scoring output by a European in Olympic history, Dončić’s achievement was sensational and stands joint second-best overall (tied with Australian Eddie Palubinskas) behind the 55 points scored by Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt at Seoul in 1988. Many basketball fans know Dončić is special, but this was an absurd first game in Olympic play that no one saw coming.

Stage for a Statement

Political statements by athletes have become popular in recent months, and that continued on the biggest stage of all in Tokyo. First-time Olympian Luciana Alvarado became the first Costa Rican gymnast to reach the Games, making her debut count with a memorable floor routine. But that wasn’t all. The 18-year-old concluded her routine by taking a knee and raising a fist in the air in a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in what was deemed an artistic element of her routine. She managed to skirt a rule forbidding political gestures, which some believe is outdated and which prevents Olympic athletes from political protests or demonstrations while on the awards podium or the field of play. Alvarado later told the Associated Press that the pose was intentional and that she did it to highlight the importance of equal rights, “Because we’re all the same . . . and we’re all beautiful and amazing.”

Canadian Softball Protest

One thing you don’t see every day is Olympians walking off the field. Well, that’s exactly what the Canadian softball team did on July 25 in protest of an umpire call during a 1-0 extra-inning loss to home side Japan. When the umpire chose not to allow Team Canada to switch pitchers, its coach, Mark Smith, pulled his team. Smith then submitted a formal protest with the World Baseball Softball Confederation. He got his way: The controversy was rectified when the substitute was later allowed to come on. Regardless, Canada lost, but did eventually nab its first medal of the Games, a bronze in softball, by later beating Mexico 3-2.

skateboarding: a brave new world


Enter Thrilling Skateboarding

Let’s all be glad that skateboarding is now an Olympic sport. For if it wasn’t, we’d have missed the wealth of incredible talent that’s out there. Some might have considered it an un-Olympic discipline. But we marveled as three girls performed near miracles and earned gold, silver and bronze in the women’s park event. At age 13, we were astounded as Great Britain’s Sky Brown became the youngest athlete and medalist for the nation. The self-taught Brown turned professional at 10 years old. Just ponder that for a moment. Skateboarding’s inclusion has inarguably brought a new dimension to the identity of the Games — and vice versa. Brazil’s Kelvin Hoefler, who won silver in the men’s street event, used to sleep with his board as a youth. Now, he believes that kids back home may start ditching the soccer ball for the skateboard. “It’s going to be mind-changing for them,” he said. Skateboarding may have a ways to go to catch up to the likes of soccer, but capturing the world’s imagination at Tokyo will do the sport wonders.

Kokona Hiraki

In what has turned into the Olympics of and for the youth, 12-year-old Hiraki became the youngest medal winner in Japan’s history and one of the youngest of all time at the Olympics after taking silver in the women’s park event this week. Momiji Nishiya, 13, who earlier won the street skateboarding discipline, became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport. It was another Japanese teen, 19-year-old Sakura Yosozumi, who won gold in the women’s park event. It’s a reminder that you’re never too young to have your name permanently etched in the record books. In a Games that has seen big names disappoint, teenage skateboarders have put smiles on the faces of millions of Olympics fans.

Japan and Skateboarding

For the longest time, skateboarding has been looked upon unfavorably in Japan. It was perceived as disrespectful and unseemly in public spaces because it was viewed as noisy and disruptive and was believed to damage public property. However, appreciation for the sport may be growing following the medal hauls from the aforementioned women, 22-year-old Yuto Horigome in a men’s event and others. Japanese pro skater Ryo Sejiri is counting on these prominent showings to change skateboarding’s reputation in the country. “I’m sure skateboarding has had a bad image up until now, because we do it out in public and people think of it as an inconvenience, but I think that will change now,” he said.

firsts for their country (or in a very long time)


From DIY Gym to Gold

Tokyo has shown us that defying the odds is not impossible. On top of becoming the first athlete from the Philippines to ever capture Olympic gold, Hidilyn Diaz set an Olympic record for lifting a combined weight of 224 kilograms. The 30-year-old attained the Philippines’ first gold since the country made its Olympics debut in 1924, and pulled it off even after having to deal with COVID-19 challenges. While in Malaysia, an outbreak forced her team to stay there for months, causing her to miss an Olympic qualifying event in Peru. Workout facilities were shut down, but Diaz continued to prepare and did it DIY-style: She built her own gym and trained with barely any professional equipment. She created lift sets using water jugs and bamboo sticks, an interesting full-circle moment to her days as a youth when she trained using plastic pipes and concrete weights.

The Table Tennis Miracle

History made. Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito have become the first non-Chinese athletes to win gold in the sport since 2004, defeating China’s Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen on July 26. After falling behind in the final, the pair then rallied to victory. Their secret? A chemistry and trust built from years growing up together, even though they are 12 years apart in age. Their nonverbal communication was a central reason why they achieved the first-ever gold for Japan in the sport. In the words of the 32-year-old Mizutani after the match, “a miracle happened.”

The Smartest Cyclist You’ll Meet

Ever seen someone with a Ph.D. in mathematics win gold? If you haven’t, meet Anna Kiesenhofer, who stunned the world with one of the biggest cycling upsets in Olympic history. The 30-year-old Austrian took gold, making it her nation’s first cycling win since the inaugural 1896 Athens Games. “It feels incredible. I couldn’t believe it,” Kiesenhofer said after the July 24 race. “Even when I crossed the line, it was like, ‘Is it done now? Do I have to continue riding?’ Incredible.” She hasn’t been cycling professionally for long, either: She has ridden just one season with professional Belgian team Lotto-Soudal, in 2017, and since then has only raced for her country. Despite the inexperience, she has come out triumphant, doctorate and all.

Olympians From Everywhere

San Marino has become the smallest country in Olympic history to win a medal, and it’s thanks to 33-year-old Alessandra Perilli. The Sammarinese shooter scored a bronze medal in the women’s trap competition for her country, the third smallest independent state in Europe. “This is the first medal for me and for my country. We are a small country but very proud,” she said following her medal ceremony. “They [her fellow citizens] are for sure going crazy, crying.” The tiny nation then went on to win a second medal, also in shooting. The 34,000 people of San Marino are definitely proud.

american woops

Turning Point for U.S. Soccer?

Are we witnessing the end of an era for the U.S. women’s national team? The No. 1 ranked team coming off back-to-back World Cup victories and 44 consecutive wins before traveling to Tokyo has, incredibly, been beaten two times in the past two weeks. The squad had been aiming to become the first women’s soccer team to earn an Olympic gold medal as reigning FIFA World Cup champions. What happened? While the inquest has yet to fully start, one theory centers on the team’s age. Of its 18 players, half are over 30. Superstar players Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe are 39 and 36, respectively. A rebuild is now a must for one of the greatest soccer teams of the modern era. But for now, the team celebrates winning bronze after a 4-3 victory against Australia yesterday.

There’s a Team Without Simone Biles

During the 2021 Olympics, we learned that the U.S. women’s gymnastics team can still be successful — even without the best gymnast in the world among its ranks. The team pulled off six medals, including two gold, courtesy of Jade Carey and Sunisa Lee. Earlier in the Games, the 24-year-old Biles withdrew from four individual finals, citing mental health reasons. She was experiencing “the twisties” — a sense of feeling lost in the air due to the mind and body not being in sync. Her decision to withdraw was not simply due to the immense pressure placed on her. She chose to do what was in her best interest by not competing to avoid a potentially serious injury. Fortunately, the four-time Olympic champion did make a return for the balance beam event and took home bronze, two days after a family member passed away.

Missed Medals?

Sure, lots of countries saw their athletes miss out on the Games due to COVID-19. But how many were on course for glory like the Americans who missed out? Take the world’s No. 7 ranked golfer, Bryson DeChambeau. The Californian, who has chosen not to get vaccinated, caught COVID-19 and was forced to miss out on potential Olympic glory. Seventeen-year-old tennis sensation Coco Gauff last month caught the virus and was thus forced to sit out the Games, as did men’s pole vault gold medal contender Sam Kendricks. In total, around 100 U.S. athletes have traveled to Tokyo unvaccinated. Are they to blame? Neither the International Olympic Committee nor the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee required athletes to be vaccinated prior to taking part. The jury’s out.

Her Name’s ‘French.’ Her Humor’s Universal.

  • Joyelle Nicole Johnson has opened for Dave Chappelle and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
  • But the Atlanta-based comedian is also using her unique ability to make people laugh to counter vaccine skepticism and advance female reproductive rights.

What was the first illegal thing you ever did? If you’re like most people, it was probably underage drinking or illegally downloading music. Joyelle Nicole Johnson’s first offense was going to a New Jersey school that was in a different district than the one she lived in, so she could get a better education. 

“It’s like the first gangster sh*t I ever did,” Johnson says. She got caught and even had a private investigator following her for a while. Her mother then hired a lawyer who managed to ensure that Johnson could continue studying in the school of her choice. 

Now 39, the Atlanta-based Johnson has taken that lifelong appetite for taking risks to the comedy stage. There, she’s a fast-rising star with a rare gift: She doesn’t take herself too seriously. Moreover, she doesn’t take things that really matter — like gender rights and public health — lightly. 

She has opened for Dave Chappelle and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Comedy Central’s digital series Comics to Watch. She also acted on the final season of HBO Max’s Crashing and will be on the fifth season of Search Party. Yet when a post on Twitter promoted a show describing her as someone seen on Fallon & Meyers, she was quick to quip that it sounded like she had been seen “at a personal injury law firm.” 

Johnson’s mother, Joyce, always wanted to visit Paris. So she decided to give her daughter a French-sounding name, Joyelle. But the curse of having a one-of-a-kind name is that it is almost sure to be mispronounced. 

“I think my favorite is Julia,” Johnson says. “I’ll say my name and people will be like ‘Julia’ and I’m like ‘you just don’t listen.’”

Johnson’s debut comedy album, YELL JOY, is an inversion of the syllables in her first name. It was released this year on Juneteenth, the recently named federal holiday and a special day for her and many Black people throughout the United States. Choosing June 19 — which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865 — for the album drop was intentional. 

It is OK to talk about race, every single moment of the day.

Joyelle Nicole Johnson, comedian

The record label, in fact, preferred to drop it on a Friday. But Johnson knew it would be significant to set the release for the Saturday of Juneteenth. “I am a descendant of slaves, and . . . not that far back,” Johnson says. “We’re talking about a great-grandparent. That’s crazy.” 

Johnson is proud of her Blackness and loves that it reflects in her jokes. “It’s how I feel, I can make it funny,” she says. “[Comedian] Paul Mooney taught me that it is OK to talk about race, every single moment of the day.” She is content with having her routine exude her Blackness because “America is always reminding” her of it. 

She is also passionate about female reproductive rights. Johnson is a part of Abortion Access Front, a team of comedians and writers who use “humor to destigmatize abortion.” The group was formed by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show.

“I wanted my comedy in some way, shape or form to inform people politically of something,” Johnson says. “This is exactly what I wanted in life: to be able to use comedy to tell people [to] not make women feel ashamed about having abortions.”

She’s also been using her witty social media presence to push back against vaccine skepticism, especially within the African American community. Following news reports of zoo animals receiving experimental COVID-19 vaccines, she wrote on Twitter: “Dear Black people, white people are giving it to animals. It’s safe.” 

Yet Johnson’s comedy style isn’t geared toward topical subjects in general. Her storytelling strategy primarily involves telling unique, personal accounts that people will find humorous. “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, if you’re talking to someone and you’re making them laugh, you should write it down because you could probably use it on stage,” Johnson says.  

On her comedy album, YELL JOY, expect to be enthused by her off-beat anecdotes. Say, the story of a former roommate, who was a dominatrix, bringing a patron with a foot fetish to their home. There’s also a joke about the time Johnson was on a plane with a “chatty” 90-year-old white woman naming old Black people from her past or as Johnson calls it, “throwblacks.”

Comedy and acting are her priorities in life. But if she wasn’t telling jokes for a living and in front of the camera, she says she would still want to be in entertainment, behind the scenes in production. Next, she has a commercial with Subway on the way. “[I’m] going from 0 to 100 real quick,” she says. “I mean, I never related more to a song.”

This OZY Genius Is Looking to Level the Playing Field for All Content Creators

What’s in a name? Well, if you ask Brandy Star Merriweather, a heckuva lot.

“I love my middle name. It’s my grandmother’s, the first part of her name, [which] is Starlet, so it’s a legacy name.”

A legacy that Brandy has more than lived up to, most recently being named a 2021 OZY Genius Award winner for her Creator Equality project. Launched with the help of YouTubers Kahlen Barry and Seth Francois, Creator Equality is a union for digital creatives who are Black, Indigenous and people of color that is designed to amplify their stories, set standards and practices and provide legal, financial and publicity support free of charge.

“Almost every industry has some type of union to support the people who work within it, except for digital creators,” Merriweather says. Take, for instance, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, which both support the film and television industry. But digital creators — a term that encompasses people who create content for digital properties, such as YouTube or Instagram — have gone without an organized body to advocate for and protect their interests. “Digital creators kind of just get thrown out there,” she says. “And so I saw it was a need.”

That need was something Merriweather identified while running her public relations company, BStarPR. One of her clients, Keara Wilson — the creator of the viral TikTok dance set to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” — initially received no credit for her choreography. As she worked with Wilson and learned from content creator friends that they too were being exploited and mistreated behind the scenes, Merriweather realized the degree to which nonwhite creatives do not get proper recognition for their talents. 

“We need a solution,” the 22-year-old says. “I was tired of seeing even the digital creators that I worked with feel like they are operating at a deficit.” 

Born in Indiana, Merriweather moved several times throughout her childhood and knows what it is like to be the “token Black friend” or not properly respected. In 2017, she started BStarPR, after one of her mentors told her: “You need to get started in what you’re doing now to help your generation with PR.” Looking back, she says it was an experience that left a few scars.

“I like to say I had the Disney kid trauma,” she says. “When you start working in this industry kind of young, and I mean, I started in high school . . . I permitted a lot of things behind the scenes that I’m not necessarily proud of,” she says. “It definitely made me reflect on how I grew up as the only Black girl in situations and how I navigated through this industry.” She adds, “It inspires me to create solutions . . . so they don’t have to experience some of the things I experienced.”

Starting a business as a teenager takes grit and motivation — qualities Merriweather traces to her mother, Pamela, who is the director of environmental services at Wellstar Health System and has worked in health care for more than 30 years. For the younger Merriweather, doing PR for multiple clients, being a senior at Clark Atlanta University and running marketing and communications at Creator Equality is only possible because she inherited her mom’s “workaholism.”

Three women and two men in a business meeting.

Creator Equality is a union for digital creatives who are Black, Indigenous and people of color that is designed to amplify their stories, set standards and practices and provide legal, financial and publicity support free of charge.

Source Getty

“I’ve got to see my mom literally be a boss my entire life,” Merriweather says. “She operated our household like we were an organization. My brother and I make the joke that she treated her employees better than she treated us sometimes.” 

There have also been other mentors Merriweather has relied on for advice and guidance, including Karen Civil, a digital media marketing strategist, and Angela Bundrant Turner, head of marketing and public relations at Revolt.

David George, another of Merriweather’s mentors who works in multicultural marketing with Allied Global Marketing, believes that her energy, resolve and character are what set her apart.

“I think she truly just has a passion for people and connecting people to brands,” says George. “But, I think second to that, I think she’s just truly passionate about seeing this media landscape change.”

She may still be a college student, but Merriweather is already an inspiration to her peers, including Dazayah Walker, who she worked with in public relations in 2017 at One/35 Agency before Merriweather started BStarPR.

“Brandy has an amazing personality, and I believe that’s one of the things that have carried her so far,” Walker says. What does she think of Merriweather winning an OZY Genius Award? “I think you guys made an amazing choice selecting Brandy because she’s definitely a rock star.”

Merriweather has always loved her middle name; now it’s safe to say she’s living up to it.

Back to School, Ready or Not?

While you’re enjoying the summer fun, behind the scenes a school experience like no other is ramping up. Masks or no masks? In-person or Zoom? Vaccinations or masks, or just stay home altogether? These are some of the many choices students and parents alike are pondering over as the clock ticks down to the first day of school. Colleges and schools in the U.S., flush with federal funding, find themselves hard at work figuring out ways to facilitate productive and fun learning experiences in a post-COVID-19 world. 

All the while, for many college students, the excitement of traveling to campus and finally seeing friends after 18 months away is building. International students are on the move again this summer. Sports tournaments, thankfully, are back.

In today’s Sunday Magazine we’re offering a window into what’s shaping up to be a transformed school ecosystem, the changes education institutions are facing, and the must-have safety gear for your backpack once class returns.

back to class


A Different Campus Life. A return to a semblance of normalcy is on the horizon at many college campuses across the U.S. New York is not obligating students who are vaccinated to wear masks outdoors or in classrooms. It has mandated, however, that the over 1 million students who attend the 64 schools that are part of the State University of New York System get inoculated. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 583 colleges (and counting) have made vaccines a requirement for at least some cohorts of students or employees. Other institutions such as the University of New Mexico, which has a student body of more than 22,000 at its main campus, will not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students and has instead set the aspirational goal of achieving a 100% vaccination rate.

How Schools Are Keeping COVID Out. Clearly, the best way to stay COVID-free is to have everyone on campus fully inoculated. Many schools, from K-12 to third level, have set up vaccination clinics on site for optimal convenience. The University of Pennsylvania is requiring vaccinations and will continue testing its more than 26,000 students, who will also be expected to use a symptom monitor app called PennOpen Pass and abide by a student compact. Another way to keep school life safe is to ensure good ventilation, which can reduce the number of virus particles and the spread of disease. To this end, school administrators around the world have moved to install mobile air purifiers with tremendous success

Nature Calls. One upside to the pandemic? More students are taking classes at outdoor learning institutions. Ethan Knight of the Gap Year Association, a nonprofit that encourages students to gain experiential learning before heading off to post-secondary school, told OZY last year: “As a benchmark for outdoors, we are seeing a boon of new programs that are largely filling quickly, as well as established programs now having to create waitlists.” The Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain in North Carolina is one example of a learning community that provides outdoor and wilderness courses for people aged 18-28. For some students, these opportunities can often be more liberating and meaningful than classroom learning. Read more on OZY.

Campus Control. In this digital age, it’s no surprise that track and trace methods are being widely deployed to keep tabs on COVID-19 cases. However, this can compromise our privacy. A couple of weeks before students arrived to start the 2020 school year at Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, the school announced that all students would be required to install Aura, a contact tracing app that tracks students’ real-time locations 24/7. The college claimed the move was necessary to decrease the spread of COVID-19 but has since stopped using the app.

a new world for campus life


Community Colleges Hit Hard. It’s no secret that enrollment at many colleges and universities tanked during the pandemic. The biggest decreases occurred at community colleges, which are critical to serving lower-income families and students of color. Enrollment at those institutions declined by 9.5% this spring compared to the same period last year. More broadly, the percentage of high school graduates who went to college straight after graduating high school fell from 60.5% in 2019 to 56.5% last year.

But HBCU Enrollment Surged. While there has been a drop in applicants to most institutes of higher education, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are one of the few exceptions, with their application numbers on the rise. Howard University for the third consecutive year has seen a double-digit increase in applications and Morgan State University in Baltimore reported that it had received nearly 15,000 applications for undergrad programs this year, an all-time high. This may be partially due to increased exposure of these schools due to alumni such as Vice President Kamala Harris and NBA star Chris Paul, who has outwardly supported HBCUs through his fashion choices. Furthermore, the social uprisings of 2020 likely had a positive impact on application numbers, reminding some students that these schools can provide a greater sense of safety and comfort. Read more on OZY.

Has the Campus Experience Changed Forever? For most students and faculty, it’s starkly clear that fully remote learning has resulted in a suboptimal experience. In a study by Cengage of 1,469 college students and 1,286 faculty and administrators across 856 schools in the U.S., however, 73% of students polled said they would favor having some classes fully online after the pandemic. In a Survey Monkey poll from May, 48% of students polled said they were at least very comfortable showing up for in-person classes in the upcoming school year and 21% are extremely comfortable. And if given the option to take classes virtually, 43% said they would take very few or no online classes.

Straight From the Students’ Mouth. Susan Guo, a senior majoring in global business, tells OZY that she was initially unsure about returning to college in person at New York’s Fordham University this fall. But she’s decided to take the plunge. “I have a few safety concerns — the new COVID variants, anti-vaxxers and crowded classrooms. I’m also a commuter so public transportation during rush hour is also a concern,” she says. Mahlet Sugebo, a graduate student in public relations at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, says she is also apprehensive about returning to campus. “The fact that masks aren’t required makes me a little nervous to go back [because] vaxxed people can still transmit the virus.” David Hill, Quinnipiac University’s senior medical adviser to the college’s COVID-19 taskforce, tells OZY the university understands that students will have some anxiety, but with higher vaccination rates, a safe campus is achievable. Regarding the delta variant, now the most dominant strain in Connecticut, Hill says the university expects that transmission rates will be “far below” levels of the spring semester. “We will be proactive with case detection and response, so that the community remains protected,” Hill tells OZY.

your essential post-covid gear


Kill That Virus. Constantly wiping down your phone screen is an annoying but necessary measure — the average phone is, after all, much dirtier than a toilet. But never fear, companies such as OtterBox and Corning displayed cutting-edge bacteria killing screen protectors at CES 2020. Given that teens spend about seven hours a day on their phone, these tools are destined to be a hit. Another gadget shaping up to be a hit is the Kinsa Smart Ear thermometer that can sync with your phone and will alert you if you need medical care. You might also want to consider a UVC wand to help disinfect surfaces, but be careful because there have been warnings that cheaply made UVC products carry risks from ultraviolet exposure, such as skin damage

Quarantine Kit. College students heading back to campus should be armed at all times with a quarantine kit, just in case. It might include anything from essentials like cozy blankets, Tylenol, or a thermometer to items to help them stay busy, such as a journal, coloring books, or even a needlepoint project. One can only watch so much Netflix, afterall. Of course, good snacks are also an essential part of the kit, as students will have to rely on college-provided meals, which range from decent to horrible, for the duration of any quarantine.

Friendship Facilitators. Making friends is always challenging, whether you’re a kindergartner, a freshman in high school, or a college freshman. But, being a college freshman is harder than ever when you’re trying to make friends through online classes or in accordance with your college’s distancing guidelines. Some students are turning to apps like Amigo, which launched at Stanford in December. Set up a bit like a dating app for friends, you can find fellow students’ profiles, and message them based on common interests. While apps work for some, others looking for a less-techy route to friendship can buy mini-projector to host movie nights. A mini-projector, a white sheet, some popcorn, plus a burgeoning group of friends equals a COVID safe and super fun night in. 

Anxiety Busters. Anxiety is on the rise among college students, and it’s no wonder why, when you factor in the pervasive uncertainty of going back to school a full 18 months after this all kicked off. Students must preserve their mental health while facing an unprecedented challenge in managing the ebb and flow of COVID-19 regulations, paying for college without job security, and dealing with scary news and economic uncertainty. Experts recommend keeping a journal, seeing a mental health professional, and taking full advantage of school health resources. Encouraging your fellow students, colleagues or friends to get help might just be the best accessory of the 2021-2022 school year. 

kappa to delta: lots of change


Hello, Goodbye. The pandemic has left the educational fate of thousands of international students up in the air. Those who are planning to enroll in an American university must attend at least one class in person, otherwise they won’t be allowed to enter the country. However, some students who otherwise cannot travel to the U.S. due to restrictions by either their home country or the U.S., but have already enrolled, may be exempt. For example, the University of Houston is allowing its international students to begin their semester online from their home country if they’re facing U.S.-imposed travel restrictions. The Biden administration in May made it easier for students from a host of countries to enter the U.S. to study. While citizens of China are banned from entering the U.S. due to the pandemic, Chinese students, who make up 35% of the international student body in America, have been allowed a special exemption to travel from August 1. 

Colleges Cash In. This fall, colleges have found themselves flush with cash provided through federal COVID-19 relief measures. Tertiary institutions in California have received a massive $9.5 billion in federal aid (Michigan, for its part, received less than $2 billion). Where will it all go? Half to new scholarships and to provide supplemental assistance for students who were economically affected by the pandemic. The rest goes toward replacing lost revenue streams such as in-person sports programs, helping campuses become COVID-proof and salaries for faculty and staff. 

Child care. Parents of children younger than 12, a cohort of the global population yet to be approved to receive any form of inoculation, are wrestling with whether or not to send their kids back to elementary school and day care (pre-pandemic, 60% of families relied on child care centers). Child care centers in the U.S. have been struggling for decades, and the pandemic has exacerbated their problems. If the delta variant continues to spread, parents who planned on returning to the office next month may well have to change their plans.

The Beauty of Black Photography

We all know the importance of having representation in front of the camera, but what about behind the lens? In this time of social upheaval, when images of the historic events and tragedies unfolding on our streets shape our daily conversations — and our politicians’ actions — who, and where, are the Black documentary photographers?

The reality is that African American photographers have not always been valued and recognized for their artistry. In May, singer SZA turned down a magazine cover shoot after the unnamed publication allegedly refused to hire a Black photographer to take her portraits. That may be shocking, but it’s nothing new. Legendary model Naomi Campbell revealed that a 2019 cover shoot with TheGuardian newspaper was the first time in 33 1/2 years a Black photographer had shot her image for a mainstream media outlet. In that spirit, today’s Fourth of July Sunday Magazine profiles the rising Black stars of photography, salutes the trailblazers who’ve gone before and lifts the lid on the enduring racism afflicting the photography industry to this day.

who’s shooting who?

1. Snap Out of It. Overlooked. Ignored. These are some of the sentiments Black photographers are reporting. Some are frustrated that they do not receive the same opportunities as their white counterparts, especially in instances when, in the eyes of many, a Black person has been photographed poorly as a result of bad lighting. When Vogue hired the famed Annie Leibovitz to photograph superstar gymnast Simone Biles for its August 2020 issue, the move was slammed in many quarters. “Vogue couldn’t idk hire a Black photographer to shoot this cover of Simone Biles?” wondered Polly Irungu, the founder of Black Women Photographers, on Twitter. Critiques from prominent photographers and photo editors charged that the lighting was crudely done and that ethically, a Black photographer would better understand how to properly light another Black person’s skin. Leibovitz and Vogue had previously faced backlash for a 2008 Vogue cover that featured LeBron James — the first-ever Black man to appear on its front — and supermodel Gisele Bündchen. Witnessing mishaps from established non-Black photographers can be disheartening for those who know they are capable of doing better. But just as important, Black photographers say they don’t want to only be hired only for Black work when their passions and interests lie outside their race.

2. Sidelined Shooters. Sadly, the photography world is no different from other occupational fields when it comes to race. True, it may be balanced in terms of gender equality: Of the 186,000 photographers recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020, 52.1% were female. But when race and ethnicity are factored in, the disparities become more prominent — much more. The same stats show the most common race within photography was white (non-Hispanic) at 84.9%; the second most common was Hispanic or Latino at 10%. Black photographers, for their part, were significantly underrepresented at just 6.7% (the percentage of Black people employed in the U.S. on the whole is 12.1%).

3. The Specter of Historic Racism. “The whole reason why there is so much racism, sexism, ageism, classism in the [photography] industry,” Danielle Scruggs, a picture desk editor for Getty Images and a freelance photographer, told Aperture magazine in 2020, “is because all of that exists in society.” Like many fields, the photo industry is a mirror reflecting back on the public and its ills, and thus finds itself ingrained with the same systemic racism as society on a wider scale. For example, racial and skin tone bias dates back to Kodak’s “Shirley Card”, an image of a white woman that served as the rubric for printing a perfected color image in the for decades, starting in the 1950s. Photographer and English professor Syreeta McFadden explained to NPR’s Tell Me More that much of the design of film and motion technology was intended to provide the best possible representation of white people — likely due to willful obliviousness.


how George Floyd changed everything

1. A Critical Visual Voice. Shot, beaten and profiled — all on camera. Black photographers have been deeply pained by the constant images,still and motion, which serve as triggers, as well as the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers. Many have acted to document the movement for Black lives. Many have taken on the role of storytellers during the social uprisings of the past year, especially due to the history of Black voices being excluded, or their stories being told dishonestly by others. Black photographers say they want ownership of their people’s experience so that it can be preserved and framed accurately. Baltimore-based Devin Allen, who approaches his conflict photography by putting his own activism at the forefront of his work, is one to watch out for.

2. The Complexity of Protest Photography. Should non-Black photographers take pictures of Black Lives Matter protests? Should those images so easily attain front page prominence and acclaim? There is no consensus, but there is obvious tension. New York Magazine chose a white conflict photographer’s image for the cover of its June 8, 2020, issue. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, now the editor-in-chief of Vox Media’s audio magazine The Cut, responded on Instagram: “Now I’m not saying all work about black people has to be shot by black people,” she wrote. “But as someone who used to work at nymag and is married to a black photographer this is beyond a shitty thing to do.”

3. Hire Black Photographers. All the while, the protest movement fueled an awakening around the importance of hiring photographers intimately familiar with issues experienced by Black people, wherever we are in the world. Photographers have raised concerns around the incidence of parachute photography. Whether traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo or South Chicago, the idea of producing a prescripted “shot list” rather than focusing on the significant, organic scenes that are happening naturally is a trap many fall into. Editors often have a preconceived idea of the type of images they want, and that carries over to photographers and the work they produce. Last year, concerted efforts were made to illustrate to publications the wide range of talented Black photographers available and ready for the moment. One is a database established by Diversify Photo that includes over 1,000 Black photographers from around the world.


stars of tomorrow

1. Shon Curtis. Freelance photographer Shon Curtis is a storyteller at heart. He views his photos as extensions of his authentic storytelling, which is tied closely to his identity as a Black man from the unheralded city of Dayton, Ohio. Mainly a portrait photographer, Curtis is often tasked with taking pictures of people as their best selves. He views this responsibility differently, though. “I think what’s more important about my job is, I have to show them that their truest self is their best self,” Curtis tells OZY. He has gone on to produce photos for The New York Times and was named on Diversify Photo’s Up Next photographers list. Looking ahead, the 32-year-old is working on building up a Black-owned photography agency in his hometown. 

2. Sianeh Kpukuyou. “Everybody can take beautiful pictures, but if there’s not a story to that image, why [are] you taking the picture?” Sianeh Kpukuyou tells OZY. Kpukuyou, 22, and based in Accra, Ghana, focuses much of her work on telling African stories and featuring dark skin, which she views as significant due to the prominence of colorism. “I need to use this talent to change the media’s perspective on us as dark-skinned people,” Kpukuyou says. The accomplished documentary and lifestyle photographer and collage artist is currently working on an exhibition that draws attention to the professionalism of Black hair and African attire in the corporate space.

3. Polly Irungu. “You know what they say, [if] you don’t have a seat at the table, you build your own table.” That’s what Irungu tells OZY . . . and that’s exactly what the 26-year-old did. She specializes in fashion documentary-style photography and portraits, is a digital content editor at New York Public Radio and is the founder of Black Women Photographers — a global community and database of Black female and nonbinary photographers. The database is more than a networking tool. It’s also a resource to help companies hire more inclusively. Like the best photographers, Brooklyn-based Irungu has a sharp altruistic focus: She wants to make sure she leaves the profession in a state “better than I found it.”

4. Donavon Smallwood. With the pandemic restricting travel, many turned to the nature around them for respite amid lockdowns over the past year. New York-based Smallwood turned Central Park into his canvas, with Black visitors his muses. The 27-year-old, self-taught photographer wanted to explore “what it’s like to be a Black person in nature.” Surprisingly, he found many people willing to take part in his photoshoots. Unsurprisingly, his stunning portraits won the Aperture Portfolio Prize in May. 

5. Aisha Seriki: Millions of college students around the world had their graduation ceremonies taken from them over the past year. For many Black families, the inability to watch their loved ones be celebrated by their peers was particularly difficult, since African American graduates are much more likely than their white counterparts to be first-generation students. Across the ocean in London, Nigerian photographer Aisha Seriki recognizes a similar issue among ethnic minorities in the U.K, which moved her to shoot a collection of graduation pictures of women of color who finished university in 2020 but didn’t get to participate in a ceremony. Of the project, titled “Undergrads,” she told U.K. based visual arts publication Yellowzine: “For first-gen women of color, education is a particularly important accomplishment: one which I believe deserves a proper commemoration.” 


trailblazing photographers across history 

1. Florestine Perrault Collins: A trailblazer defined. As a child in the early 1900s, Collins found herself forced to lie about her race simply to learn photography by working as an assistant to white photographers. But the New Orleans native made sure she paved the way for future generations of Black women. Early on, as the eldest of six children, she found herself forced to give up school to help with her family’s finances. By the time she opened her own photo studio, she no longer needed to claim to be white. In the 1920 U.S. Census, Collins was listed as one of only 101 African American women photographers in the country — and the only one in her city of more than 500,000 people. Ever the rebel, she moved out of her parents home before getting married. Her images captured life for Louisiana’s African American and Creole families at a time and in a place where being Black was far from easy.

2. Gordon Parks: Where to start? He’s a filmmaker, writer, musician and humanitarian but above all, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. The son of a struggling Kansas farmer, Parks smashed the color barrier as the first Black staff photographer at Life and a regular photographer for Vogue, photographing icons like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Before hitting the big time, Parks worked at the Farm Security Administration, where he employed his camera to capture the poverty and racism faced by African Americans. The camera, he said, was “a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs.” It was a weapon he wielded with power and verve until his death in 2006.

3. Elizabeth “Tex” Williams: A Black female war photographer, Elizabeth Williams was drawn to the idea of capturing the battlefield during World War II. But in 1944, the 20-year-old found herself up against race and gender barriers when trying to join the Army. Undeterred, she was eventually able to join a group specializing in photography training. That allowed “Tex” to serve as a lab technician and an official Army photographer, capturing a unique point of view as a Black woman in a segregated military. She continued her photography after the war while working for U.S. defense and intelligence agencies — holding positions rarely obtained by women, let alone Black women, in those days.

4. Malick Sidibé: From Bamako to Cosmo. The pop culture of Mali was uniquely captured by one of its own: Malick Sidibé. Born in 1936, Sidibé worked as a documentary photographer known for candid images that showcased youth culture and the raucous party culture in Mali’s capital, Bamako. He opened his own studio in 1962 taking photographs of weddings, baptisms and surprise parties, and would also travel to clients’ workplaces and homes to shoot portraits. From 1998 to 2008, he shot fashion photos for magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan, mixing urban symbolism with daring patterns and theatrical compositions, and has inspired photographers and designers worldwide. In 2003, he became the first African photographer to receive the Hasselblad Award for international photography.

The Pandemic Heroes Saving Lives & Winning Smiles

How about a little good pandemic news? While Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — getting sick, losing family members, suffering unemployment — there have also been those in the community bringing strength and hope. To celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day when enslaved people in Texas were freed — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — today’s Daily Dose shines a light on the pandemic heroes serving Black American communities. From health care workers on the front lines to local leaders delivering on food security, from people working to reduce vaccine hesitancy to those offering much-needed comic relief, these pandemic champs are helping Black communities weather the COVID-19 storm.

health care heroes

Dr. Florencia Greer Polite Sometimes setting a strong example is the best way to motivate others. Polite rolled up her sleeves as soon as the vaccine was made available at her hospital in December. She understood that her participation as a Black woman could send a message of reassurance to others about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety. “If I actually do this early on, I have the potential to influence a number of people to get on board sooner,” Polite explains. The chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine was one of the Black doctors who launched a program called COVID Acceptance Vaccine Education and Adoption Taskforce (Caveat) soon after the vaccine became available at Penn Medicine. Caveat was created to educate and promote the COVID-19 vaccine to hospital staff, especially departments that employ higher numbers of people of color. Polite reports the program was such a success that other medical centers have expressed interest in replicating it. 

Sandra Lindsay It’s only fitting that the first person in the U.S. to get vaccinated was Sandra Lindsay, after she served tirelessly on the front lines as a registered nurse and the director of patient services at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center’s ICU in New York, one of the country’s first COVID-19 hot spots. Today, she’s one among more than 100 million Americans to have gotten the jab, but in December, Lindsay’s vaccination served a deeper symbolic purpose. As a Black woman, she set an example for the rest of the country, and especially the Black community, to trust science and get vaccinated. Another upside to being vaxxed? No longer worried about transmitting the virus, Lindsay could finally meet her new grandson, Avery, who was born in March 2020. 

Dr. Eric Griggs A little education can go a long way. Known as “Doc Griggs,” the city of New Orleans health and wellness ambassador and an assistant professor at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine has championed health and well-being for Black New Orleanians for years. Since the pandemic began, Griggs has focused on informing and educating NOLA’s minority communities about the virus and vaccinations as they face outsized risks from COVID-19 and greater vaccine hesitancy. His efforts have included weekly coronavirus updates on local news and radio stations, as well as leading a virtual town hall in March to discuss the vaccine with community members. 

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett Black health care leaders have not only been instrumental in educating others about and promoting the vaccine — they’ve also been essential in its development. Corbett, a leading scientist with the National Institute of Health, has played a vital role in the research and formation of the Moderna vaccine, serving on an NIH team that collaborated with the pharmaceutical company. The North Carolina native’s work has earned high praise from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who hopes that Corbett’s role will ease concerns of Black Americans who are reluctant to sign up for the vaccine. 


basic necessities

Ietef Vita Beets and beats have defined the career of Vita, aka Chef Ietef and DJ Cavem. He’s spent the past decade pioneering eco-hip-hop, working to make the rap worldthe forefront of sustainability and food justice.” When the pandemic hit, the veteran vegan had already secured thousands of packages of seeds (kale, beets and arugula) to sell at shows during his upcoming tour to promote his album Biomimicz. When the concerts were canceled, Vita saw the Black community’s struggles to access fresh produce –– from Detroit, where his grandfather was unable to buy seeds, to neighborhoods in Minneapolis that had turned into food deserts following last year’s riots over the killing of George Floyd. “It gave me the idea, you know, why am I hoarding 40,000 packets of seeds?” Vita says. After launching a huge fundraising campaign with shout-outs and donations from Cardi B to Mark Ruffalo, Vita has been “seeding in spades,” shipping the packages to urban gardens and farmers across the country. 

Emery Wright Access to COVID-19 testing has been absolutely crucial to maintaining public health throughout the pandemic. Emery Wright, co-director of Project South, a racial and economic justice organization based in Atlanta, recognized that — and got to work early. In May 2020, Project South organized 32 days of drive-through and walk-up testing in the city –– free for anyone who wanted it, with or without insurance and regardless of whether they were experiencing symptoms. Later, the group’s mobile testing and education units visited residences, churches, libraries and senior centers, as well as polling sites on Election Day.

Jewel Hayden “Our youth are not our future, they are our now,” says Hayden, co-founder of Project BOLT (Building Outstanding Lives Together), a nonprofit dedicated to recidivism prevention, housing outreach and food distribution in Charlotte, North Carolina. To advance those ends, the organization in August partnered with the Charlotte Hornets and Blue Cross NC to donate 300 meals per week for six weeks to children in the community. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve been focused primarily on addressing the community’s basic needs, like providing meals, Hayden explains, but “as we move closer to our new normal, we plan to refocus on the youth.” The nonprofit plans to hold its youth organizing program again this summer.

Tanya Debose Over the past year, Houston’s historically Black neighborhood of Independence Heights has suffered on several fronts in addition to the pandemic. Residents continue to deal with the aftereffects of Winter Storm Uri, while also battling gentrification that is “erasing our culture and erasing our history,” explains Debose, executive director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council. The organization has provided water, hot meals and supplies in the wake of the recent natural disaster, and continues its work to preserve homes, build affordable housing and support community members. 

heroes_inline_2 copy

spreading awareness 

Cynthia Finch, LMSW, CCM, CMCE Three Vs –– that’s what Finch needs to help hundreds of African Americans in Knoxville, Tennessee, receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “If I get that vaccine partnership, if I get volunteer partnership, if I get venue partnership, I can have a vaccine clinic,” Finch tells OZY. After a 30-year career as a health care clinician, the now-retired Finch works with the nonprofit CONNECT Ministries and the Faith Leaders Church Initiative to help residents of Knoxville get jabbed, hoping to increase the vaccination rate in a state that’s lagging well behind that of the U.S. as a whole. Finch says she is driven to help her city by a sense of duty and responsibility. As an African American woman who has received educational and other opportunities, Finch says she feels obligated to give back. “And I knew that by me being a Black woman, by me being a person in the community, that is what would help it be more believable.”

Dr. Stephen Thomas Black barbershops are so much more than simply a place to get your hair cut. A hub of the Black community, they are a place “where social norms are established and where lifelong relationships are created . . . a sacred space where no topic is off-limits and people can disagree without being disagreeable,” Thomas tells OZY. Through his Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) campaign, the University of Maryland professor is using Black barbershops to promote vaccine sign-ups among the Black community. HAIR partnered with The Shop Spa barbershop to form the first barbershop COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Hyattsville, Maryland, an experiment Thomas calls a “smashing success.” The White House soon took notice and teamed up with HAIR to launch Shots at the Shop, an initiative to recruit barbershops and salons across the country to support local vaccine education and outreach efforts. “It is my hope that we move forward together to a new future where the new home for health care includes barbershops and salons,” says Thomas. “Working together today, we can make a better tomorrow.” 

Michael Walrond Jr. Who wouldn’t join a congregation whose pastor is willing to text or FaceTime its members? Meet Michael Walrond, affectionately known as Pastor Mike, the senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, a church he says is known for its inclusivity and for “challenging anti-queer beliefs and practices.” Walrond understood that the COVID-19 pandemic could take a long-term toll on churchgoers’ mental health, and was prepared to address it. “Where it can take two weeks to recover from the virus, it can take two years to recover from trauma,” he told The Wall Street Journal. To better help members of the congregation who’ve lost friends and family members to COVID-19 — Walrond lost his aunt and uncle — he has been providing additional trauma training to leaders in the church.

Joe Wilson Among those helping homeless people, there aren’t many who have walked in their shoes. But Joe Wilson, executive director of Hospitality House, has. His nonprofit is a progressive, community-based organization in San Francisco that provides resources and programming to the local homeless population and neighborhood residents. Wilson, who became homeless after dropping out of Stanford to care for his ailing mother, has helped people throughout the pandemic by providing hygiene kits, emergency supplies, employment and more. Last year, Hospitality House took the initiative to move people from its emergency shelter to safer accommodations in hotels. On the organization’s website, Wilson says, “We at Hospitality House believe in the transcendent power of our humanity as the ultimate weapon alongside science in battling COVID-19.” 


keeping things fun

Joel Baraka This 2021 Ozy Genius Award winner has found a way to make learning fun. COVID-19 forced schools to shut at the Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Uganda, where Baraka grew up, and online learning was not an option. So the University of Wisconsin engineering student responded by supplying schools with an educational board game he created, 5 STA-Z, and it became a lifeline that kept schoolkids engaged and learning. Having made the board game available to more than 4,000 Ugandan students while shouldering rigorous coursework of his own, Baraka tells OZY, “It’s so amazing to know that you’re helping children from home who previously couldn’t access learning.” 

Shay Moore Not all heroes wear capes, but some can make you laugh. Shay Moore is a 21-year-old content creator and musical artist from Arkansas who has posted funny, authentic videos throughout the pandemic. Many of them revolve around Black culture, with ideas drawn from her own childhood experiences. Moore told Sheen magazine, “I like to shine the light on my people in a positive way. I use my platforms as an opportunity to create relatable and fun content in a culture-centered way that shows my love for all of my people.” Moore’s popular videos include “When Black people leave” and “How Black moms be on the phone.” Her plans for summer? Creating more original music.

Druski From plumbers to car salesmen and frat boys to football coaches, social media sketch comedian Druski has been providing laughs and solace throughout the dark days of the pandemic. With his wacky, yet somehow familiar, characters and witty persona, the Georgia-based creator has shot to stardom, boasting millions of followers and amusingly turbulent friendships with A-listers Drake and Lil Yachty. 

Journey to Juneteenth: New Black Literature

Speaking to the moment. Elevating awareness. Amplifying and educating. Throughout history, Black writers have strived to share the Black experience through their own powerful voices. Today’s Daily Dose highlights some remarkable reads from Black authors that speak to a broad range of audiences. From uplifting children’s books to thought-provoking anthologies, and from gripping political thrillers to descriptive nonfiction, these books crystallize what it means to be Black in a world grappling with issues of racial justice and equality.

children’s/young adult fiction

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas: This prequel to Thomas’s bestselling debut and subsequent feature film, The Hate U Give, focuses on the turbulent life of 17-year-old father-of-two Maverick Carter. Concrete Rose, released earlier this year, is peppered with themes of drug use, gangs and teenage sex –– the kind of mature topics that resulted in its predecessor being banned from Texas schools. However, these are real challenges facing young Black men, and Thomas works to illuminate them in her prose. Hoping to reach the real-life Mavericks with her book, the author says, “I want to make sure that they walk away feeling hopeful and inspired and with more love for themselves.” 

The Bench by Meghan Markle: Inspired by a poem Markle wrote for her famous royal husband on his first Father’s Day as a dad, The Bench is a warm and vibrant children’s picture book that explores “the special relationship between father and son, as seen through a mother’s eyes.” The Duchess’ book is illustrated with rich watercolor paintings by Christian Robinson, who started drawing as a child to cope with his mother’s mental health struggles. Markle says she hopes the book will resonate “with every family, no matter the makeup” as much as it does with her own.

C Is for Country by Lil Nas X: Markle isn’t the only A-lister recently debuting as a children’s book author. Country/hip-hop sensation Lil Nas X can now add “bestselling writer” to his resume with his country-themed alphabet picture book, C Is for Country. The book’s format isn’t new (A is for adventure, B is for boots, etc.), but the message is unique. The artist says he never felt like the children’s books he read growing up really enforced the mantra “be yourself,” and he hopes his will resonate with kids from all walks of life. 

Roman and Jewel by Dana Davis: The title might look suspiciously Shakespearean, and that’s for good reason. This young adult romance centers on a stage interpretation of Romeo and Juliet and also includes star-crossed lovers. In this third novel by author and actor Davis, protagonist Jerzie Jhames thinks she will finally get the chance to realize her dream of starring in a Broadway play, namely Roman and Jewel, a hip-hopera rendition of the Shakespeare classic. However, the teen (with skin “the same tone as Lupita Nyong’o . . . dark brown and incredibly beautiful”) winds up as the understudy to superstar singer Cinny. And of course, both Jerzie and Cinny fall for co-star Zeppelin. A dramatic classic in the making.

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman: We witnessed the inspiring young wordsmith make history with her poetry and performance during the presidential inauguration in January. Now, 2017 OZY Genius Award recipient Amanda Gorman is speaking to the next generation of writers, poets and thinkers with her children’s book Change Sings, featuring illustrations from Loren Long. The lyrical picture book, described as a “musical journey of hope and inspiration that will remind us all that change is good and necessary,” will be released this September alongside Gorman’s The Hill We Climb and Other Poems


new books on the social justice front 

Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons by Kaepernick Publishing: You already know NFL star Colin Kaepernick as a catalyst for the protest movement against racial injustice in American professional sports. Kaepernick is now expanding his activism beyond the end zone by starting his own publishing company, which is set to release its first book this fall. The anthology, Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons, is a collection of 30 essays, edited by Kaepernick, that will introduce readers to “abolitionist concepts, theories and practices.”

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs: Great leaders are often molded, influenced or created by those closest to them. Like their moms. Tubbs shares compelling portraits of Louise Little, Alberta King and Berdis Baldwin, mothers to three of  America’s most important civil rights activists. The book, highly recommended by OZY editor-at-large Christina Greer, not only digs into how these influential matriarchs helped to shape their sons into great revolutionary leaders, but also looks to remedy a historical wrong: the erasure of Black women in American history. Tubbs, a new mother herself, opens the book with an inclusive dedication: “This is for all the mamas.” 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain: Events of the past year have called into question the history of the foundation of America –– more specifically, whether it was founded on freedom or oppression. To author and respected intellectual Ibram X. Kendi, it’s both. In this extraordinary anthology, Kendi and co-editor Keisha N. Blain have assembled 90 unique voices. Each writer tackles a five-year period in history, writing in essay, short story and personal narrative about topics like America’s earliest slave voyages, the Black Lives Matter movement and many events in between.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar: Many celebrities write books about their personal journeys and paths to success. Not Amber Ruffin, comedian, writer for Late Night With Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show. Her book is about her 47-year-old sister (and co-author), Lacey Lamar, and her everyday encounters with racism –– like while shopping at J.C. Penney and working as retirement community director in Omaha. And it’s hilarious –– “like a delicious (and horrifying) group chat you can’t stop checking in on.” The duo deftly tackles uncomfortable truths in a balanced dialogue that is funny, horrifying and eye-opening all at the same time. 


just for fun 

Reading books that chronicle the hardships of being Black in the world can be educational and liberating, but also quite weighty. Here are some less heavy but equally engaging options.  

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: Author Harris knows this scenario all too well: A Black woman navigating a predominantly white workplace. The 28-year-old author lived it herself. Harris’s debut novel follows ambitious editorial assistant Nella Rogers, who happens to be the only Black employee at her publishing company. No sooner has Nella started to bond with Hazel, a new Black woman hired in a similar position, when the story takes a sinister turn, reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s thriller Get Out. The initial manuscript, an instant hit with publishers, sold for over $1 million after a bidding war. Harris is now writing a pilot for a Hulu television series with Rashida Jones. 

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour: Can a novel about racism in corporate America be funny? Yes, when it’s in the hands of Brooklynite writer Askaripour. His debut work, a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of a young and smart, but somewhat unmotivated barista who lands a corporate job at a startup and is the only Black person on staff. Drawing on his very similar personal experience, Askaripour weaves satirical tropes and astute observations about racism and startup culture into a “hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America’s workforce.” Wired calls it a “doozy.”

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson: This young adult novel is about so much more than falling in love –– it’s about falling in love with yourself. Best-selling author Watson tells the story of 17-year-old Nala Robertson, a plus-sized, dark-skinned girl, who’s crushing on a young activist. In order to impress him, Nala tells a few lies, which become increasingly more challenging to maintain. However, while navigating that path of deceit, she discovers her own truth and “all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.” It’s an intimate, funny love letter about self-love and Black joy.

Sure, I’ll Be Your Black Friend: Notes from the Other Side of the Fist Bump by Ben Philippe: How much Beyoncé is too much Beyoncé? If you embrace Ben Phillipe as your Black friend, he’ll tell you. Because he “takes his role as your new Black friend seriously” –– as long as it’s equally reciprocated. In this candid and sometimes hilarious memoir, Philippe shares his experiences of being the BBFF (Best Black Friend Forever) and all the complexities that these relationships and his own Black identity involve. The first page begins: “The Blackness that follows is purely Ben shaped.” 

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams: This bestselling political thriller is actually Stacy Abrams’ ninth novel (the previous eight are romances published under her pen name, Selena Montgomery). The tension-filled tale focuses on a young law clerk, Avery Keene, who unexpectedly becomes the legal guardian of her boss, a Supreme Court justice, who has fallen into a coma. But that’s just the start of this “sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters.” 

some all-time favorites 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Fans of the acclaimed poet will  already be familiar with Angelou’s debut memoir (1969) chronicling her coming of age as a Black girl in the South in the 1930s and later in California in the 1940s. Among the stories, she tells of how she lived with a group of homeless teenagers for a month and later defied racist hiring policies to become the first Black streetcar conductor in San Francisco at 16. Fellow author and activist James Baldwin praised the book, saying, “Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.” 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X: Based on multiple interviews conducted by Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X paints a vivid picture of one of America’s most influential human rights activists. It covers all aspects of X’s life — from a childhood rife with racist encounters to his years spent as a drug dealer and his subsequent transformation into a militant activist. It provides insight into the events that pushed X to turn his life around, starting with his arrest for a home burglary, after which point he stopped using drugs and eventually joined the Nation of Islam.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: This book by legal scholar and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander has been described as “the bible of a social movement.” It powerfully and convincingly takes on the implicit racism in the American criminal justice system that has resulted in the incarceration of millions of African Americans. It also debunks the notion that the United States has become “colorblind” after reaching the milestone of electing the first Black president. 

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde: Much of the potent, “thorny” prose in this book is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1984. Across the collection of 15 essays and speeches, Lorde, a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” examines how exploring differences in race, sexual preference, age, gender and class can lead to action and change. In this hard-hitting yet lyrical read, the author reminds us that “revolution is not a one-time event.”

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis: Gloria Steinem calls it “a small book that will be a huge help in daily life and action.” This collection of thought-provoking essays, interviews and speeches deftly draws connections between liberation struggles of past and present. Davis, a world-renowned activist and scholar, dives deep into topics like police brutality, systemic racism, and international solidarity with Palestine, pushing the reader to “imagine and build the movement for human liberation.”

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois: Originally published in 1903, the theories presented by Du Bois in this work set the foundation for subsequent Black protest movements in the U.S. In the book, Du Bois proposes that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” For more than a century, this collection of essays has fueled key conversations about race in America and it remains a touchstone for African American literature.

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How George Floyd’s Murder Sparked Change

This is a moment for solemn reflection across America. One year after the murder of George Floyd, we can see progress in the fight for racial justice, as well as the long road ahead to achieving true equality. To mark this tragic anniversary, today’s Daily Dose offers a collection of important ideas we’ve seen from various communities, intellectuals and activists in efforts to help Reset America. Please share your thoughts on how we can stamp out police brutality, systemic racism and the wealth gap by emailing me.

real changes on the ground 

George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The sweeping police reform bill was introduced last June and is now making its rounds through the Capitol. Though legislators were  supposed to be ready to vote by today, the bill will not meet this deadline, but chief architect of the bill Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) believes the legislation could be passed in the coming weeks. The proposed bill includes key reforms of policing practices. It bans dangerous chokeholds at the federal level, overhauls qualified immunity for officers and creates a national police misconduct registry to prevent police departments from unknowingly hiring officers who have been fired for misconduct at another department. 

Department Defunding. Although the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is still up in the air at the federal level, there has already been some police reform at the municipal level. “Defund the police” has become one of the rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement around the country. While the slogan has been controversial and often misunderstood, activists have successfully pressured local lawmakers into reallocating police funding toward public programs that better address the root causes of crime and poverty, such as housing, mental health, education and food access. Though historically ignored, calls for defunding over the past year have prompted more than 20 major U.S. cities to reduce their police budgets. According to research by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, U.S. police departments collectively lost $840 million in funding in 2020, with at least $160 million ploughed into community programs.  

No More No-Knock. After a botched police raid resulted in the death of 26-year-old Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor, Kentucky’s largest city passed “Breonna’s Law,” effectively banning no-knock search warrants. Its implementation prompted greater movements to limit and ban the controversial warrants around the country, including a federal ban of them included in the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Though not a complete ban, the Kentucky governor signed statewide legislation last month significantly limiting the use of the warrant with exceptions only under very specific circumstances, such as when the alleged crime committed would qualify the person as a violent offender, or situations when giving notice of entry would endanger someone’s life.

Banking Breakthrough. Countrywide, changes are extending beyond police reform. Initiatives are also in place to encourage companies and institutions to implement reparations for Black communities disadvantaged as a result of slavery and its lasting effects. Amalgamated Bank, the largest union-owned bank in the U.S., became the first major American bank to endorse HR 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to study and develop reparations for African Americans. The Bank of America is also answering calls for reparations, providing grants of up to $25,000 for entrepreneurs of color through the Sweet Auburn Works Retail Accelerator Fund, part of their greater $1.25 billion pledge to advance racial equality and economic opportunity. 

Higher Education Equity. Universities are also feeling the pressure, as students and community members are calling for academic institutions — including Brown, Georgetown and the University of Georgia — to atone for legacies of slavery and discrimination through reparations for slave descendants, programs funding their surrounding Black communities and greater efforts to establish racial equity on campus. Virginia also recently passed a bill that mandates five of the state’s universities to fundraise or allocate endowment funds toward scholarships and economic development programs for the descendants of slaves who worked at the schools and other members of their communities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have also long struggled with discriminatory funding from the state, though Maryland last year voted to pay reparations worth more than half a billion dollars as compensation to its four HBCUs.  


big ideas

Embrace Big Data. It’s commonly said in business that, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Government needs to follow suit. Uncle Sam really doesn’t know how often police use force, much less why they do so or even whether the force used was justifiable. There’s no data for high-speed car chases; only one state, Utah, tracks forcible entries by police. Even worse, police officials have no idea how many people are arrested but later proven innocent or released without facing a single charge. The Department of Justice has already been granted the right by Congress to require use-of-force data tracking, but it has never wielded that lofty power, content to leave the tracking to news outlets and academic institutions. Some police departments, though, are beginning to open up their use-of-force data for external scrutiny: San Francisco law enforcement shares the numbers with Seattle University academics for analysis. Will other departments follow suit?

Bail Out Protesters — and End Cash Bail for Good. Change, whether incremental or widespread, wouldn’t have happened at all without protesters putting themselves at risk and braving the possibility of police brutality to push for change. The past year has seen a shift in how such activists are treated. Businesses are increasingly throwing their support behind activist causes, and celebrities from Jameela Jamil to Harry Styles have banded together to pay bail for demonstrators who were imprisoned during protests. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty and exacerbates the cycle by putting the accused at risk of losing their jobs, families and homes in the process. Read More on OZY

From Barbers to Life Savers. The American health care system has disproportionately poor outcomes for patients of color, as OZY explored in a special episode of The Carlos Watson Show segment “Real Talk, Real Change.” Meanwhile, Michael DeVore, who earned an OZY Genius Award in 2017 to work on his app connecting college students to cheaper haircuts, has responded by helping barbers on his Live Chair platform connect Black customers with basic medical screening checks that can be hugely important in preventing deadly conditions that African Americans are more prone to, from colon cancer to high blood pressure. 

Eliminate the First Two Years of College. Let’s stop pretending those two years are significant to a student’s academic competence or workplace readiness. Student loans are crippling the finances of many Americans, and Black Americans are hit particularly hard with a quadruple whammy: They are more likely to take on student debt, owe more debt on average, are still less likely to finish with a degree and earn less when they do graduate. The vast majority of classes done in the first two years of college are focused on general education, with little direct career application. What’s worse, a recent study has shown those classes deliver little in terms of intellectual gain — with no statistically significant increase in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing ability. The Biden administration’s shift toward financially emphasizing two-year community college programs — by planning to offer them tuition free — is a meaningful step toward acknowledging the weaknesses of the current four-year system. 

Rethink School Rankings. Writer Malcolm Gladwell recently joined us for OZY Fest, where he talked about the power of historically Black colleges and universities. “We basically are measuring all of the wrong things,” he says, referring to U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. “[HBCUs] are doing amazing things that are getting dissed by the rankings … [they] essentially tell you that HBCUs are at the bottom, and fancy, expensive, small liberal arts colleges in New England are at the top. And that is not a reflection of what they actually do as educational institutions …. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a reflection of our values.” His solution? Rework ranking parameters so that they capture attributes such as the community spirit that HBCUs build, or their high graduation rates with low funding. By giving them more love, society would guarantee that HBCUs do even better in the future. Watch Now.

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interesting people in the justice conversation

Nupol Kiazolu. 2036. That is the year 20-year-old social activist and community organizer Nupol Kiazolu says she will become the president of the United States. The Brooklyn native has already served as the president of the Youth Coalition of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and has organized hundreds of marches in the more than eight years she has been an activist. Kiazolu is from the poorest congressional district in Brooklyn and uses the challenges she has faced and continues to experience to inspire her to push through and to be a voice of change. Kiazolu is a political science and pre-law major at Hampton University, an HBCU, and has managed to take 18 hours of classes a week while still organizing demonstrations. 

Kendrick Sampson. You may recognize Kendrick Sampson from his acting roles in shows like HBO’s Insecure and ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. But he is also an activist and the co-founder of BLD PWR (pronounced “build power”), a nonprofit, personalized training program meant to help entertainers, artists and other creatives use their platform to advance radical social change. The organization is also geared toward community building. As an actor, Sampson has been inclined to portray Black male characters who showcase nuance and complexity. Offscreen, he uses his influence as a public figure to voice his opinion on intersectional oppression, spread resources and build solidarity among inspired change-makers. 

Stacey Abrams. From bestselling Harlequin romance novelist and Georgia house minority leader to the face of voting rights, Stacey Abrams, 47, has done it all. After unsuccessfully running for governor of Georgia, in a 2018 election rife with electoral irregularities and questionable voter purges, Abrams, who helped flip Georgia blue in the past year, has become an eloquent advocate for fairness in America’s political system. 

Coleman Hughes. Not too many people can say they testified before Congress at the age of 23. But Coleman Hughes can, having argued against reparations in 2019 opposite pro-reparations writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Now 25, Hughes is a contributing editor at the City Journal specializing in race, public policy and applied ethics and was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is also the host of the podcast Conversations With Coleman and last year was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Last June, the northern New Jersey native wrote an article for the City Journal entitled “Stories and Data: Reflections on race, riots, and police” in response to the unrest after the death of George Floyd.

Worth Your Attention. There are many more people working at the front lines of activism across America and the world today, from Alicia Garza and Jalen Thompson to Assa Traoré and Charlamagne Tha God. Read More on OZY 


how the world has changed

Indigenous Lives Matter. Police officers try to arrest a man. They say he resists. Soon after, he is dead, a victim of police violence. It was the story of George Floyd, and it was also the story of Kumanjayi Walker, an Aboriginal Australian who was killed in police violence in November 2019. Like dozens of similar cases, this one sparked outrage that was soon overrun by other news . . . until Floyd’s murder and the global protests that followed ignited an “Indigenous Lives Matter” movement. Now, discriminatory treatment of native communities has gained prominence in Australian politics. Yet acts of discrimination rose dramatically in 2019, research shows. Experts argue the rise was due in part to the growing polarization against minority communities in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

European Reckoning. For generations, an 18-foot statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England had served as a reminder of his “philanthropy.” But Colston’s charity was always tainted by blood: He made his wealth as a slave trader. After 125 years on a pedestal, Colston’s statue was yanked down and dumped into the channel last June as the U.K. grappled with its historical blindness to its racist icons. The University of Bristol, in particular, has promised a deep review of the city’s ties with transatlantic slave trade, led by Cameroon-born Olivette Otele, Britain’s first Black female history profesor. The demand for change is also echoing in France, where Black Lives Matter protests erupted last year, seeking justice for young men like Adama Traore who have died at the hands of the police.

#EndSARS. The protests in the U.S. against police violence echoed around the world — and nowhere more so than in Africa, especially in the continent’s most populous nation: Nigeria. A yearslong campaign by Nigerian activists against a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), notorious for kidnapping and murdering people, finally reached a tipping point. After weeks of protests and clashes, Nigeria’s government last year decided to scrap SARS, a rare instance of the country’s administration buckling to public pressure. The state government of Lagos has also set up a panel that’s probing allegations of human rights violations and crimes committed by SARS officers. 

Brazil’s BLM. Brazil’s Black population has long faced police violence and racism — even though about half of Brazilians identify as Black or have African ancestry, according to the 2010 census. But the wave of anger that swept the U.S. after Floyd’s death also hit Brazil, fueling a powerful Black Lives Matter movement there that is refusing to tolerate systemic racism anymore. That movement led to the country’s Supreme Court banning police raids on the country’s favelas during the pandemic unless necessary — though President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has disregarded the ruling.Diplomatic Consequences. But the impact of Floyd’s killing — and other police attacks on Black Americans — isn’t limited to the streets or the courts. It’s also playing out in the hallowed halls of global diplomacy. Long pilloried by the U.S. for their problematic human rights records, China and Russia have returned the favor over the past year, using America’s terrible record on race to question its credibility as a moral force.