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Photo: Jeremy O. Harris
When, to his surprise, this playwright earned a windfall, he knew he had to share.

When I was 12, I was a playwright. I’d had a terrific gig as an actor in community theater at age 10 and just fell in love with the whole scene. At 12, I rounded up cousins to perform my play about a talking snowman outdoors for parents. We save things in our family. Not long ago one cousin sent me her tattered, penciled script.

Theater people are often very generous. Most are not celebrities and don’t make good money. The playwright in today’s story did have a successful show on Broadway, but the bulk of his money came from sidelines. When he saw how much it was, he decided to help theater people who were struggling.

As Michael Paulson reports at the New York Times, “Jeremy O. Harris is a playwright, a performer, and a provocateur. And now, he’s a philanthropist.

“The 31-year-old author of Slave Play, which is nominated for 12 Tony Awards, emerged during the pandemic not only as a vocal advocate for the beleaguered theater industry, but also as someone determined to model generosity.

“After years in which he earned very little making theater — he said his total commissions over four years amounted to about $22,000 — this year he made nearly $1 million, primarily from collaborations with the fashion industry and an HBO deal. (Fashion and television pay better than Broadway.)

So in the months since the virus shuttered theaters across America, Harris has:

“He has also used his bully pulpit to champion theater. He sent a letter to President-elect Biden, urging him to revive the Federal Theater Project, and then used an appearance on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ to push that show’s host to rally support for the idea.

“In a telephone interview, Harris explained why in dire times he believes everyone should be committed to ‘protecting, uplifting and sharing,’ adding: ‘Some might call it philanthropy, but I call it upkeep or maintenance.’ These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How would you describe the kinds of artists or works you’re looking to support?

“I want to make sure that we have a really fertile artistic landscape when we return to the theaters. And I think it’s been pretty evident that I’m really excited about work that’s challenging, that’s scary, that probably wouldn’t get support otherwise. …

“Even before the tumult of this year, you’ve had an interest in highlighting Black theater artists.

“It was so exciting to see myself in Tennessee Williams, in Beckett and Caryl Churchill. But there came a point where I was like, ‘Wait, have Black people never done anything like this?’ And when I discovered that not only had they, but so many had done it to wild acclaim, and yet no one I talked to remembered that acclaim or knew those people, I knew that something had to be done about this cultural amnesia. …

“The $50,000 commissions are above the norm for playwrights. How did you arrive at that amount?

“I wanted to give someone a living wage in New York. I wanted someone to feel excited about spending a year and a half, maybe two, working on one play, and not feeling compelled to work in a coffee shop.”

More at the New York Times, here

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Photo: Los Angeles Country Store
The Los Angeles Country Store, which sells LA-made products, is one small business benefited by a Covid recovery fund set up by local entrepreneurs.

I’m finding a surprising number of stories about people who have been successful — not in a Bezos way, but in a way that makes them feel financially secure — who want to do what they can for others.

But if like Anne Frank, who despite everything believed that people are basically good at heart, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s surprising.

Dorany Pineda has a representative article at the Los Angeles Times. “On a Tuesday morning in September, Raymond Wurwand was in his Southern California home sipping tea and reading the newspaper when he happened upon a story about struggling independent bookstores. The print headline read: ‘Spine-tingling bookstore woes: Some shops, including Diesel, are turning to fundraising to survive. Shelve 2020 as horror.’

“He turned to his wife, Jane Wurwand, and said: ‘We’ve got to do something.’

“In partnership with Pacific Community Ventures and TMC Community Capital, the owners of skin-care company Dermalogica decided to launch Found/L.A. Small Business Recovery Fund, a $1-million grant program to help small minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles County stay open during the pandemic. Among the eligibility requirements: Applicants must own at least 50% of a brick-and-mortar shop, employ fewer than 20 people, and provide evidence of profitability before the pandemic.

“The Wurwands received 2,430 applications for the first round of grants — from restaurants, salons and cafes as well as gyms, retail stores and day-care centers. Ten were randomly selected. Applications for the second cycle open Jan. 11.

“ ‘We built Dermalogica through selling to small salons, so we built our business through selling to small entrepreneurs who have been devastated by COVID-19,’ said Jane in a recent Zoom interview. … ‘Our salons were exactly like Diesel,’ she said. … ‘That’s who employs the neighborhood.’

“The longtime philanthropists typically offer minority businesses micro-loans through their Wurwand Foundation, but Diesel’s pandemic struggle put into sharp focus the need for direct, no-strings assistance — some small businesses just can’t take on any more debt. …

“Stores and restaurants represent the bulk of [recent] closures, with owners of color disproportionally affected. A university study published in May found that 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April. The number of shops owned by Latinos, Asians, immigrants and women dropped 32%, 26%, 36% and 25%, respectively.

“These closures are what worry Jane Wurwand.

‘The thing I’m fearful the most of after this is, when we lift our heads and look around our communities and neighborhoods, I think we’re going to see a lot missing. … I want to live near the local bookstore and the local salon. I don’t want to live next door to the Amazon warehouse.’

“One new beneficiary, Rice and Noodle, has been holding on by a thread this year.

“Lunch sales at the tiny Thai and Vietnamese restaurant fell by more than 60% after offices in the area closed. Owner Kwan Chotikulthanachai, 43, was forced to lay off all her employees. She hasn’t been able to pay full rent since May, and she didn’t qualify for Paycheck Protection Program or economic injury disaster loans. Cleaning and sanitizing supplies have added more costs. But with her partner and chef, Son Ongjampa, she’s managed to hang on, her 8-year-old son, Hugo, and 6-month-old baby, Ethan, at her side.

“When she found out Monday night via email that she would receive a $5,000 grant, she cried. … Hugo joyously jumped and screamed. She called her mother in Thailand — who cried, too.

“ ‘I’m working so hard,’ she said. ‘This time has been incredibly difficult, but I cannot give up. I don’t want to close my restaurant.’ “

Read, here, about another overjoyed small business owner who got a grant, a woman who was determined to keep staff employed. These are the people who actually are “good at heart.”

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Photo: CNN “The Good Stuff”
Guy Stanley Philoche, seen here with his own work, has helped fellow artists survive the pandemic by buying their art.

No one can solve all the problems of the world, but if we each try to address a problem we see in our particular corner of the world, we can move civilization forward. In today’s story, an artist saw other artists struggling in lockdown and knew what he could do to help.

Alaa Elassar, writes at CNN’s “The Good Stuff,” “Painter Guy Stanley Philoche, a New Yorker known for his colorful textured abstract artworks, has spent more than $65,000 buying work from struggling artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Philoche, 43, has dedicated himself to seeking out artists from around the world who are unable to make ends meet and has so far purchased more than 150 artworks for up to $500 each. His own pieces sell for up to $120,000, according to Cavalier Galleries.

” ‘The art world is my community and I needed to help my community,’ Philoche told CNN. ‘People say New York is dead, but it’s far from that. There’s an artist somewhere writing the next greatest album. There’s a kid right now in his studio painting the next Mona Lisa. There’s probably a dancer right now choreographing the next epic ballet.’ …

“When the pandemic began to affect families across the country, many people found themselves unable to pay rent, afford WiFi for their kids’ distance learning, or even put food on the table.

“As the ability to afford the basic necessities slowly diminished, art became a luxury not many could splurge on. In turn, hundreds of thousands of artists and independent creators were left without an income stream in the midst of the chaos.

“One of these artists was Philoche’s own friend, who just had a baby and had lost his job because of the pandemic.

‘I told him, “Don’t worry, we’re New Yorkers. We’ve been through 9/11, the blackout, the market crash, we’ve got this,” ‘ Philoche said. ‘But he was scared, so I bought a painting from him to help him get through it.’

” ‘It was such a big deal for him at that moment, and that’s when I realized if he’s panicking like this, other artists are too.’ … So, Philoche took matters into his own hands.

“On March 20, he posted on Instagram a video asking artists who were feeling the effects of the pandemic to direct message him their work. Whenever he saw a piece he fell in love with, Philoche bought it and paid for it to be shipped to his East Harlem studio.

“Within months, artists from Los Angeles and Chicago to London and New Zealand — and even artists who were in prison — reached out to him with their stories and their creations. … ‘It meant a lot to me. I want to help as many artists as possible, to make sure they are able to buy groceries, or pay their rent, or get their kids diapers or formula.’

“For Tara Blackwell, an artist from Stamford, Connecticut, art is her sole source of income. The only way she can survive off her art is through showing her work to collectors at exhibits, galleries, and studio visits — all which stopped because of the pandemic. …

” ‘The struggle to make a living as an artist is something I’ve known from a young age. I’m used to the ups and downs, but this felt different. There were so many unknowns.’ …

“Philoche purchased ‘Free Speech’ for $500 from Blackwell’s ‘Corner Store’ series, in which she uses retro pop culture imagery from her childhood with graffiti influences and the incorporation of subtle social-political commentary. ‘His support meant the world to me at a time when things seemed really bleak.’ …

“When Philoche was 3 years old, his family immigrated to the US from Haiti with nothing to their name. ‘Leaving one country to come to another was difficult. I didn’t speak the language, I was awkward and weird and trying to find myself in a new country,’ Philoche said. ‘I learned the language by watching cartoons and reading comics, and found my voice by drawing Disney characters. It’s how it all started.’ …

“Philoche started off by sliding business cards under apartment doors and hopping from art gallery to art gallery in hopes of meeting interested collectors. ‘Fast forward twenty years, I’m in the game,’ he said. ‘But throughout those years, I had no one open a door for me. It was me going through the back door, the window, until I found a way in the room by myself. Now that I have a seat at the table and I actually have a voice, I vowed to myself to open that door for other artists.’

“After struggling for years to make a name for himself, the artist now has a philosophy: ‘Sell a painting, buy a painting.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: Don Anderson
From the Washington Post: “Almost 60 farmers in Divide County, N.D., showed up at Lane Unhjem’s family farm to harvest his crops after he had a heart attack.”

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are communities where everybody helps everybody, where one person’s emergency is a call to action. I imagine that the North Dakota farmers who gave up a day to help a neighbor feel as great as the family that benefited. What goes ’round comes ’round.

As Sydney Page reports at the Washington Post, “Lane Unhjem was driving his combine harvester across a field of durum wheat on his North Dakota farm [in September], when suddenly smoke began billowing from the machine. …

“Unhjem’s neighbors saw the fire and raced over, helping him extinguish the blaze and saving the field from ruin. But the shock of the moment, coupled with the thick plumes of smoke Unhjem inhaled, triggered the 57-year-old farmer to go into cardiac arrest.

“ ‘He flatlined three times in the emergency room,’ his daughter Tabitha Unhjem, 31, said.

“Lane Unhjem, who also had a heart attack several years ago, was airlifted about 100 miles from his farm near Crosby, N.D., to a trauma center in Minot, N.D., where he remains in critical condition.

“When other farmers in Divide County, N.D., heard what happened to Unhjem on Sept. 9, they immediately halted their own harvesting.

Nearly 60 of them showed up at Unhjem’s farm, equipped with a range of heavy-duty machinery, to finish his harvest for him.

“ ‘I made a couple phone calls and started getting equipment offered left and right, plus the help to go with it,’ said Jenna Binde, 28, a fellow farmer and family friend of the Unhjems. …

“Dozens of farmers and neighbors congregated at Unhjem’s farm on Sept. 12, bringing with them 11 combine harvesters, six grain carts and 15 semi-trucks. They spent almost eight hours harvesting 1,000 acres — an area comparable to 758 football fields — of durum wheat and canola. …

“What the group accomplished in one day would have taken Unhjem nearly two weeks to complete on his own, estimated Brad Sparks, a neighboring farmer.

“ ‘There were guys there who had their own harvest to do, and they just quit and came to help,’ said Sparks, who was there with his machinery that day. … ‘In this part of the country, any time anybody needs a helping hand, everybody will stop what they’re doing at the drop of a hat and come help.’ …

“ ‘If we hadn’t done it, I don’t know if he would have gotten the crop off in time,’ said Binde, adding that weather affects the quality of the crops. “It was crucial to get it off when we did. It’s one less thing for the family to worry about.’ …

“If the fellow farmers hadn’t stepped up to help, Tabitha Unhjem said, it would have been devastating for them. ‘This farm is our livelihood,’ she said.

“Lane Unhjem grew up on the farm, which has been in his family for more than six decades.

“ ‘This is the farm our dad was raised on and we were all raised on,’ [Unhjem daughter Toni White] said. ‘He has dedicated his whole life to this farm and to this community.’ …

“ ‘He has a long road ahead,’ White said. “We are looking at months of recovery. This is going to be a marathon. She called it a blessing that the other farmers were able to get to her father and the farm so quickly. ‘We were so thankful for that,’ White said.

“But for the farmers, ‘this is just something that comes naturally. This is the farming way of life,’ Binde said. …

“ ‘You can’t truly appreciate it unless you were there,’ [local photographer Don Anderson] said. ‘The ground was rumbling. It’s not only something you felt emotionally, but it was also a physical feeling. It was really something to be proud of.’ ” More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Ferg Horn via Associated Press
Two rabbits sat on the back of sheep to avoid rising flood waters on a farm near Dunedin, New Zealand, in July.

As we have all seen recently, a silver lining to hurricane devastation is that people who otherwise would never meet reach out instinctively to help each other in the rising waters.

Here is a story of animals helping other animals, albeit unwittingly. It took place in New Zealand, before either Hurricane Harvey or Irma.

As Nick Perry reported at the Boston Globe, “Three wild rabbits managed to escape rising floodwaters in New Zealand by clambering aboard sheep and surfing to safety on their backs.

“Ferg Horne, 64, says he’s been farming since he left school at age 15 and has never seen anything quite like it.

“He was trudging through pelting rain to rescue a neighbor’s 40 sheep from the floodwaters [at] their South Island farm near Dunedin when he spotted some dark shapes from a distance.

“He was puzzled because he knew his neighbor, who was away in Russia attending a nephew’s wedding, didn’t have any black-faced sheep. As he got closer, he thought it might be debris from the storm, which had drenched the area and forced Horne to evacuate his home.

“Then he saw the bedraggled rabbits hitching a ride — two on one sheep and a third on another sheep.

‘‘ ‘I couldn’t believe it for a start,’ he said.

“Nobody else would believe him either without proof, he thought, so he got out his phone to take a photo, an image he figured his grandchildren would enjoy. In fact, he inadvertently shot a short video. …

“Horne herded the sheep to a patch of dry ground on the farm about 50 meters (164 feet) away. The sheep didn’t like it.

‘‘ ‘As they jumped through the water, the rabbits had a jolly good try at staying on,’’ Horne said.

“He said the rabbits appeared to cling onto the wool with their paws. As they approached the higher ground, the rabbits fell off but managed to climb a hedge to safety.”

More.

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I learn some really cool things from the Christian Science Monitor. (I’m on their listserv for stories about people helping people, the CMS Change Agent newsletter.)

A recent newsletter highlighted an initiative by successful Mexicans living in New York who have decided to offer practical support to poor immigrants from their homeland.

Tyler J. Kelly writes, “The view from Carlos Valverde’s 38th-floor office tells a story by itself – New York stretching below, the mighty skyscrapers of the World Trade Center rising all around.

“Mr. Valverde is the construction manager of the World Trade Center’s Tower Three, responsible for 2 million square feet of real estate, and the vista from his office is, in many ways, the realized vision of many immigrants’ dreams.

“From Brooklyn’s workaday Sunset Park, however, the view is quite different. There, at classes put on by a nonprofit, the Mixteca Organization, six to eight immigrants sit in folding chairs around plastic tables struggling to spell tarea, Spanish for ‘homework,’ or trying to understand the concept of the hundreds’ place in math. …

“In Mexican culture – both in Mexico and here in New York – there’s little tradition of people bridging these two worlds. But that is changing. Valverde is part of a slowly growing effort to bring the resources of New York’s Mexican-American 1 percent to bear on the problems of the 99 percent.

“The benefits for the immigrant community here are plain. Edgar Morales, for one, has gone from being a construction worker to getting a college education paid for by a Mexican philanthropist. He’s now a computer science major with dreams of interning at Google or Microsoft.

“But it has also changed Valverde, who volunteers at Mixteca in Sunset Park, and others like him. In Mexico, the wealthy travel with bodyguards and live in houses surrounded by electrified wire; in the US, some are reaching and gaining a new perspective.

“After spending hours talking with clients about every conceivable detail of an elevator’s interior, Valverde says, ‘I go to Sunset Park and talk to a graduate [at Mixteca] who just finished English 3 and is a baker.’

“Compared with the baker’s reality, he says, the elevator issues seem ‘minute, minuscule.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Carlos Valverde (standing outside 3 World Trade Center in New York) helps new, less affluent Mexican immigrants go to school and find work.

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Sometimes I wish I lived closer to where the migrants are pouring into Europe. When I read, for example, about all that Germany is doing, how organized the country is about getting people acclimated, helping with housing and language, it makes me want to sign up. In Samos, Greece, Suzanne’s friend’s family spent weeks buying and distributing food, diapers, and other necessities.

Mark Turner writes at UNHCR Tracks about a chef who acted on his impulse to do his bit. He “packed his knives, drove to Croatia and started cooking.

“After serving up 6,000 piping-hot meals for refugees, the Swedish chef’s big wooden spoon is looking worse for wear.

“ ‘It wasn’t broken when I began,’ says Victor Ullman, a 27-year-old from Lund, displaying a large wedge-shaped hole as he pulls it from a simmering pot.

“But long days and nights serving stew to thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and many others have taken their toll. ‘As long as I am awake, I am cooking,’ he says. …

“We’re in Bapska, Croatia, a few hundred metres from the border with Serbia, where tens of thousands of refugees have [crossed], seeking safety in Europe.

“They arrive by foot, in baby strollers, in wheelchairs, hour after hour, day after day, wet, hungry, exhausted, on an epic trek towards the unknown.

“And all along the way they are met by an army of volunteers from across Europe, drawn by an overwhelming desire to help.

“There’s Florian, the small farmer from Austria; Ghais, a Syrian who made it to Europe last year; Livija, a trainee pizza maker from Berlin; Stefan, a long-distance walker (‘3,200 kilometres in 82 days!”’); Danjella, a former refugee from Bosnia.

“There are activists and BMW workers, students, sociologists and physiotherapists, sporting fluorescent yellow waistcoats marked with their name and spoken languages, reassuring the crowds, united by a sense of shared humanity.”

Victor “also feeds the aid workers and the Croatian police, who he says are good guys doing their best. ‘They call me the crazy Swede,’ he adds.

“Victor shows me a pair of boots given to him by one policeman, after he’d given his own shoes away to a refugee. ‘I love these shoes,’ he says. ‘They’re like a memory from here – one of them. Spread the love!’ ” More here.

(Jane D: thanks for the lead on twitter.)

Photo: Igor Pavicevic

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