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Being Queer When Noone’s Watching

EDITORIAL

Works From Home

@ARTpartmentNYC curates and exhibits queer art out of a Brooklyn apartment.

“We thought,

what can we do

to get through this pandemic?”

Says Michael Cruz, one-third of the organizing force behind @ARTpartmentNYC, a gallery space that he newly launched out of his home. Growing up in the Philippines, Michael pursued a singing career and enjoyed a successful run on Filipino singing competition series Star in a Million. After moving to NYC, Michael started an event production venture, settling in Williamsburg right above The Rosemont bar, beloved by Brooklyn queers. Then the pandemic happened. 

“Me and my partner Aaron thought, how can we do something productive and come up with a creative project involving the community while we are at home?”

says Michael.

“We thought about gathering some of the best artists that we knew and curating an exhibit.”

The couple has been working with Griffin Editions, an iconic full-service fine-art printing and processing shop that operates out of Gowanus in Brooklyn. That’s where they met Zac Thompson, a multidisciplinary artist and a drag performer.

“We ran into each other at the Rosemont a few months ago, that’s when Aaron and Michael told me about the idea of curating an art show out of their home, and it was a no-brainer. Our ideas were very similar in terms of creating a community and a space for the people that are close to us, in Bushwick specifically,”

says Zac about the origins of the creative trifecta.

“We are leaning into that feeling [of Brooklyn becoming a microcosmos for queer creativity] and embracing it and deciding to make choices and decisions to specifically create care, spaces, and opportunities for each other, instead of being in that weird Manhattan mindset of competing with each other. We can actually do it here, for ourselves and our community, instead of participating in a space that never included us in the first place. This is a different generation, where it feels like what we are doing here is similar to what they did in the ‘80s on the Lower East Side. Things have changed and shifted and it doesn’t work for everyone anymore, or they don’t feel safe or comfy in those spaces necessarily.”

“Sally” polaroid by Steve Harwick

Body and Sex Positivity

Their first exhibition is called Works From Home and the theme of the show is “Body and Sex Positivity.” Inspired by Gracie Mansion, who pioneered an art exhibition out of the bathroom of her East Village apartment in 1982, the trio decided to curate each exhibition “to be tailored to the history, vivacity, and perseverance of New York’s LGBTQ+ community.” Works From Home “celebrates the LGBTQ+ artists and photographers who have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic” and “who have been unable to physically show their work for months” due to NYC coronavirus guidelines.

“Being queer in Brooklyn is so much about visibility,”

says Zac.

“So what happens during the time of quarantine and COVID when people are not allowed to be out or visible, how do you represent or weave your queer experience when it’s just you in your apartment and you are not interacting with people? I think a lot of artists in the show have had to look inward like so many other people and deal with, what does it look like being queer for me, if no one’s watching? I think a lot of the works were made in a headspace like that. So it’s nice to acknowledge and celebrate that. Like sex and body positivity and other queer things and experiences can still exist even if we are not out and proud. But it’s just more personal and you can still celebrate it with yourself and be able to share it or articulate those feelings through visual art, and having an intimate space to look at those—it just feels very special. It’s nice to have different ways to think about what it means to be queer or have a queer body, especially now. You are going through a lot, this isn’t just free fun time, you are trying to survive, how do you incorporate all of those things in the way that there’s harmony and it works for your well-being? It’s not the same for everyone.” 

“Hot Buddies 69” acrylic on paper by Sean O’Connor

Michael discusses the exhibition’s theme focused on sex and body positivity:

“I’ve always been fascinated with the subject. It’s weird, uncomfortable, awkward, to some it’s painful. It’s part of who we are and we should give praise to that. So I wanted to touch on that in the beginning of our journey. I come from a conservative place in the Philippines, where we are Catholics and Christians. One of the things I had to face is my sexuality and embracing all of me. Whatever you feel about your body and sexuality, own it, it’s about being proud.”

The Artists

The space is a railroad-style apartment, where the kitchen and the bathroom are facing the backyard of The Rosemont, and the living room’s walls are bedecked with the physical artwork of seven (out of ten) artists. Video projections of the three remaining artists play on a loop on the back wall.

The left wall has three black-and-white vintage prints – two of the photos portray a young man with a nice bubble ass prostrate on the blacked-out floor, with arms stretched out like Jesus on a cross. The third photo in the middle showcases the young man straddling a toilet seat with a raging hard-on. One of the people in the room approaches me and introduces himself as Joe Kaminski, the author of the photographs.

“Those photos are 30 years old. I did a series of all nude self-portraits. Sometimes I look at these and think, where is the ink?”

Joe shows his tattooed arms.

“I forget that I was not always like this. These prints are older than any other artist in this exhibition.”

Laughs.

“But sadly they are still controversial. I can’t post them on Instagram as is. I censored the full-frontal images, and I feel that it’s actually more provocative that way.”

Each print is listed at $200 and, if sold, will benefit the artist as well as @ARTpartmentNYC.

Joseph continues,

“In the late ‘80s erections weren’t allowed, so that was pushing an envelope a little bit. But just a being a gay man expressing yourself, and saying, ‘But male figures is what I love, why can’t that just be my simple subject matter?’ – it doesn’t have to be complicated, but it was still controversial then and still to some degree nowadays. But even an erection is not something you’d find a lot, particularly in fine-art photography.”

Self-portrait

by Joseph Kaminski

Still from “Me 2”

digital video

by Michelle Girardello

“Nip Slip” by Asafe Pereira

One of the videos that plays on the loop is of a female form straddling a chair covered in a crocheted blanket. The frame changes and the body is on the floor still covered in a blanket, but no chair this time. In the next frame the body is on its back, with limbs thrown up towards the ceiling, still covered in a blanket. Every frame is different, but the angle is always the same – a corner of a room. It seemed to represent restlessness and anxiety, being cooped up within four walls and not knowing what to do with yourself, an all-too-familiar storyline.

“At the beginning of the quarantine I started to crochet, so it’s kind of where the video came from,”

“In my work I’ve always dealt a lot with domestic space. Then in the past year I started to introduce the queer body to the space and then during quarantine I started making these blankets for my friends – it was kind of like the extension of me to them. And then I decided to do these photo shoots with the quilts before I gave them away. I’m a photographer, so the crocheting is weird and I’ve had conversations with my friends, saying ‘Oh no, I’m just crocheting, this is nothing’ and so I am just trying to be conscious that I am doing that. ‘No that is something Michelle, stop beating your fucking self up, you are making stuff and still getting shit out.’ I feel that it’s so hard right now and I’m beating myself up, because I am not making art, you know? So I feel like this kind of deciphers where I end and meet again and date again and then the space begins morphing.”

Being one of those creatives that started participating in the sport of “beating yourself up” for not lactating with your best creative juices during the quarantine, I’ve also found myself indulging in a cocktail of depression with a side of self-pity every now and then. In one of the looped videos, Shannon Stovall is luxuriously sprawled out on a satin pillow, repetitiously spewing out grapes out of their mouth hole.

“I feel that this video was my attempt at trying to find a way to be creative and indulge in a moment of playfulness while also really feeling the anxiety and tension that was going on during the lockdown,”

“Light Up” by Marianna Peragallo

Still from “Grapes” digital video by Shannon Stovall

Shannon shares.

“To be honest I was having a lot of trouble sleeping one night and I thought about how cute the raccoons are while they eat grapes with their little hands and I thought about how it brought me a lot of comfort. A raccoon has to really adapt and live their life in kind of a scrappy way and patchwork things together in order to live day to day, which is kind of how I also felt at the time. I was thinking about how I would eat grapes right now if I was resonating with that energy. Honestly it’s sort of a visual representation of a lot of emotions and feelings that I was having at the time and feeling really stuck in my own body and not really knowing how to tap into play. How do you tap into joy and play and creativity when you are so depleted all the time? To me the whole video, even though it’s really playful and kind of silly, just feels like it’s a big wrestling match with how to feel, how to exist, how to play, how to be sexual and how to explore that when you are isolated and depressed.”

Laughs.

A lot of us trying our best to continue to tap into this well of joy and creativity which is almost dry, there’s a couple of droplets down at that well, how do you take a little suction vial of that and turn it into something that can make you feel that you can keep on moving forward in the way of being productive?”

For Marianna Peragallo, who contributed three anthropomorphic polymer-clay sculptures to the exhibit, the stay-at-home orders were all about paying attention to little things, like love and dust pans.

“I’ve been making these works that are anthropomorphic sculptures, these objects that are morphed into bodily things. It’s a cross-section of love, endurance, and support. I like to say they are almost overbearing in a way, they are physically transformed to become the object.”

A severed clay hand is propped up on a small red shelf, the pointing finger is transformed into a light bulb, a lone thick cord comes out from the chopped-off wrist and stretches itself into an electric socket; a small mirror on the wall looks like it’s holding itself up with its own fingers; the dust pan has a finger that’s supporting it in place, and the bristles of the broom have become fingers as well.

“I started to think a lot that we have a very clear definition of what hate looks like. Love is sort of an amorphous thing where people think that it’s just soft, fluffy, and sentimental but it’s actually this very radical thing, it’s like an action, it’s something that you have to do. It’s something that I had to define for myself and turn it into sculptures. These are all bodies that are trying to perform some small loving gesture. That’s kind of what these works are about.”

When I first looked over the objects, “taking things into your own hands,” was resonating in my mind.

“Haze” by William Donovan

“It’s polymer clay that I used when I was a kid,”

says Marianna,

”they are sort of childish, a little cartoony, they are reminiscent of children’s books, that’s where we learn or mislearn about love. We’ve all been spending a lot of time in our houses and these are kind of like guts of our spaces, these sort of mundane daily quotidian things that we kind of take for granted but they are really essential, so I think about how love is kind of that way too – we just continue to take it for granted.”

Still from “Those Big Brown (Almost Black) Gay Eyes” short by Jason Elizondo

Jason Elizondo explored the relationship with their mother and almost taking her love for granted in a 6-minute 35-second video titled “Those Big Brown (Almost Black) Gay Eyes.” The digital art piece priced at $800 is entirely narrated by Jay’s mother Missy and is part of a bigger piece called, well… “Missy.” The performance was filmed in Jason’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

“Essentially the work is me performing as my mom to better understand how my queerness has strained yet deepened our bond, you hear her going through the trials and tribulations of my coming out and how it affected her. I asked her to read passages from her diary and record her voice doing it. She cleans houses for a living so there’s always Lemon Pledge in the house, so I bedazzled it. Those objects appear in the video as I’m performing, which was another way of clearing the way for her to talk about this queerness that was brought upon her that she didn’t ask for, but had to embrace because her child was queer.”

Jason brings the video full circle with a powerful ending, their mother says that Jason has become very judgmental of the people that were judgmental of “him,” and that “he” was a hypocrite. The last line of the short is

“That being said, there’s more to the story. Sorry buddy, but gay doesn’t define you.”

There is so much more to all of our stories than what we are willing to see in ourselves – it must have been very cathartic for Jason and their mother to mend their relationship in such a powerful way. 

“Crimson” by Ish Peralta

Check artpartment.nyc for any more future exhibits.

Special thanks to all of the artists (Asafe Pereira, Ish Peralta, Jason Elizondo, Marianna Peragallo, Michelle Girardello, Joseph Kaminski, Sean O’Connor, Shannon Stovall, Steve Harwick, and William Donovan) for allowing Sidewalkkilla to use the images of their work for this article.

Alexey Kim

Founder

Categories
EDITORIAL Timeline

Untitled (America) Is Our Future (?)

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Untitled (America)

Is Our Future (?)

Brooklyn-based drag artist Untitled Queen offers a glimpse at a new America, through her July 4th digital fundraiser.

07-04-20

Illustrations by Paco May

No one could have predicted

That the new decade

Would start off the way that it did.


As most of the world was put under coronavirus-related lockdown, the landscape of our day-to-day lives started shifting. It wasn’t a “free” world anymore as we knew it – perspectives on what’s important started changing, and it seemed that the value of human connection finally started outweighing the value of clout and material things. People started missing things that they had taken for granted, like seeing your abuela or walking down a crowded street.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed so many elderly and immuno-compromised lives, another pandemic has long been present in the US for over 400 years which has also claimed countless lives. A pandemic that doesn’t care about your age, gender, or the status of your immune system – it only cares about the color of your skin. It’s not that systemic racism was news, like the outbreak of this strain of the SARS virus that was named COVID-19, it’s just that a combination of unfortunate events happening all at the same time made people say, “Enough.”

The shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery while out on a jog, the killing of George Floyd by a cop kneeling on his neck, and then a video of a white woman, Amy Cooper, calling cops on a Black man and pretending she was attacked, fueled the fire that has yet to be stopped. Large-scale protests and rallies, some of which turned violent, erupted all over the country, sparking the conversation about racial injustice not only in the US, but all over the world. It’s a month into the protests and there is no end in sight. People are demanding real change. Even though the mass outrage has yielded some fruitful results – such as the arrest of all 4 cops involved in George Floyd’s murder, NYC’s section 50-a repeal, and Colorado’s police reform bill signed into law – the officers that killed young EMT worker Breonna Taylor in her own home are still walking free, and there are many other police officers on the job that have yet to be held accountable for their abusive actions. And while certain municipalities have promised to defund and/or shift police budgets (LAPD slashed by $150 million, NYC slashed by $1 billion), in general the local and federal government have yet to meet the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands regarding defunding the police.

Enough

For the most part of the spring it was all about supporting LGBTQIA+ creatives that were suddenly out of work due to the coronavirus, with no means to apply for unemployment; right now it’s all about supporting Black and grassroots organizations. Even though it’s still far from possible for NY nightlife to resume with the normal pace of operations in physical venues, nightlife hosts and performers have carved out an online niche as the means for raising money for needed causes. For example, one of NYC’s nightlife impresarios, Susanne Bartsch, collected $32,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement during one of her On Top virtual parties. Ceyenne Doroshow, the founder of G.L.I.T.S. (Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society) secured over $1 million in donations for permanent housing for Black trans people, all thanks to the power of the internet.

Untitled Stitched

Amongst the sea of virtual fundraisers promoted all over social media, one particular event, hosted by drag artist Untitled Queen, stands out on its own. Brooklyn-based Untitled has a master’s degree in fine arts and puts on meticulously executed poetic performances that are as profound as they are beautiful. On July 4th, she will be hosting her own version of a fundraiser, an all-captioned digital drag show named Untitled (America).

“We’re doing this fundraiser on the Fourth of July because it denotes the mass genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples and then of course enslavement and oppression of Black people in the creation of this country,” says Untitled on why she chose that specific American holiday as the date for the show. The show’s lineup is fully composed of drag artists of color, each representing the US state/territory in which they currently reside. There are four indigenous drag artists amongst the 52 scheduled acts.

A charity that Untitled decided to benefit is the Navajo Water Project, which is an indigenous-led, community-managed utility alternative that brings hot and cold running water to indigenous communities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Untitled adds, “Every year I do this one big fundraiser called the Brooklyn Ball, for Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. They do get a lot of funding but it’s still a really important cause. Some of my smaller fundraisers are for more local organizations that are lesser known, and that are not getting any national aid or big corporate sponsorship, and the Navajo Water Project is one of them.”

Lynn Troller

It seems that for Untitled, it always came as second nature to be a patient learner and a compassionate advocate for inclusivity. Untitled Queen is adamant about adding captions to all of her videos and encourages others to do the same, “I became more aware of deaf and hard-of-hearing communities as well as accessibility, because I went to the drag scene in Rochester. They have a huge deaf community because of their deaf interpreter school. And so when I went to do their show, their shows were completely live-interpreted all the time and they had a big deaf community in their queer club. They were interpreting and signing and I was like, whoa, I’ve never seen this before. That night I met a deaf drag queen. I’ve never met a deaf drag queen before. I was so stunned by that. I feel like in New York we think we’re really ahead of the curve in a lot of ways and we’re not. So then I started to learn more about deaf culture. Deaf culture loves drag, loves queer culture, just as much as anyone else. I realized, why would you go to a drag show or any live event if you’re not being encouraged to be welcomed there. So that’s when I started to get really passionate about it.”

Ricky Rosé

Cherub Borne

Untitled has also become very interested in learning more about community-organizing aspects such as fundraising and charitable efforts. She says that uplifting and focusing on brown and Black voices has always been a part of her community in the Brooklyn drag scene, “I’ve always tried to challenge myself to widen the understanding of what community means, what it looks like and how to increase accessibility on lots of different levels, and I always realize how much more you can be challenging yourself to really understand what those ideas are about. Lady Quesadilla is a friend of mine and is another amazing drag queen and she’s been saying this stuff for years. In her pre-show speeches she’d always say, ‘We need to question what our community boundaries are, your community doesn’t look like you. Your community is the homeless, people with disabilities, the incarcerated. What are you doing for your community?’ And now its resonating with me even more hardcore. I want to also be an example for people to really acknowledge their complicity, acknowledge that you have something to work on. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I just do these parties so I’m exempt from this conversation.’”

Anya Knees

In a recently resurfaced clip from a 1992 episode of Golden Girls, Blanche Deveraux is challenged by then up-and-coming actor Don Cheadle, when she proudly hangs up a Confederate flag at a party and defends it as a family heirloom and a reminder of the good ole days. After a few rebuttals from Don Cheadle’s character, Blanche finally concedes,

“…Everything that I grew up believing in, all of my wonderful memories, they are tarnished now by the truth.”

Fragility seems to be another topic associated directly with people’s resistance to change and progress, and is something that Untitled is familiar with as a light-skinned Puerto Rican and Filipino descendant, “Everybody who’s not Black and who’s not indigenous is in some proximity to white supremacy and white privilege. I feel like people of color that are non-Black often feel defensive because it feels like it diminishes our struggles or our shared feelings of oppression. I feel like I felt that in other people and even in myself. I feel like I’ve come to the realization that it’s not the same at all and that is the big distinction. I think that we are not exempt from the white supremacy machine. The only people that aren’t in proximity to whiteness are Black people and indigenous people. So that’s where I feel like we should recognize that we have the advantages, because of how we look… Being a non-Black, non-indigeous PoC doesn’t exempt you from having to work to dismantle white supremacy. I think it’s often an assumption that being a PoC means we share the same struggle as Black and indigenous people. We don’t, because we still benefit from white supremacy, and therefore still have privilege and work to do.”

A fine arts background served as an inspiration to Untitled’s name, and it also makes perfect sense why the show was named Untitled (America): “Untitled comes from just like the sort of a beginning as an art term, sort of a blank slate and an empty line that you can fill and project and create from what’s really not a fixed point of view. I’m really interested in constant deconstructing and constructing identity that is completely fluid and that understands that all these things are fluid. To me, that is what drag really is – it’s finding that kind of a light that brings all these art forms together. Drag for me is like the quintessential form of this construction, deconstruction, challenging labels, ideas and binaries. Drag does it constantly and on a big level, in lots of different ways and with lots of different approaches. Then you realize, wow these things are everywhere – you don’t have to be any certain way. But I think drag really emphasizes that because it’s made up of all these moves that you manipulate… I think that’s what’s so exciting about the show is that there’s this whole assumption of when people say ‘America’ and they mean ‘white.’ We’re always answering the questions, ‘Where are you from? No, really. Where are you from? Where are your parents from?’ because if you are a person of color, they don’t understand that you’re an American. The assumption is that America is white and so this show is talking about that.”

Untitled (America)

“I did a vampire show and I did a whole poem number about a Filipino vampire that looks herself up on Wikipedia. She basically begins to understand who she is based on what other people have told her on the internet and there’s really not that much. There’s not many images, there’s no video and so this is a parallel about what it means to be a Philippine X, because a lot of it is told identity. Not necessarily what I reflect out.”

– Untitled Queen

America ≠ white

Untitled (America)’s casting was pretty specific. Untitled Queen says that local drag is her favorite thing. She feels that what makes it so political and punk is its response to the immediate place that you are in with the people that you make that space with. She wanted to make sure that all of the participants would be PoC and that they didn’t have nationwide recognition or a following that other drag artists might have. Untitled really wanted to focus on people who were really doing something in their communities, like creating art in direct conversation with people in America, but then also not having had the chance to tell their stories. Untitled emphasizes that the show is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive, “There are so many different ways of gender and drag expression. This is why I say ‘drag artists,’ it’s because so many people only want to talk about drag queens and it’s so nauseating, so not wide, not a conversation. This is not just about drag queens, and the drag scene has never been just about them as much as we want to talk about them. The show is not exhaustive as in it doesn’t represent everybody, but it is a challenge for everyone, and myself, to expand what our community looks like, discover new artists, and uplift their work.”

Catch Untitled (America) on Untitled Queen’s Twitch account, at 5 PM EST on July 4, 2020. Half of the donations will be split between the performers, while the other half will be donated to the Navajo Water Project. Sidewalkkilla has collaborated with incredible illustrator Paco May, who was kind enough to contribute the beautiful illustrations of Untitled Queen, Cherub Borne, Ricky Rosé, Anya Knees, and Lynn Troller that accompany this article. All of the proceeds from the print sales of the drag artists’ illustrations will additionally benefit the Navajo Water Project. Please visit Paco May’s Etsy store and support the inidigenous grassroots organization and the incredible artists involved in the production of this show and the article (Untitled Queen and Paco May.)

Alexey Kim

Founder

Paco May

Illustrator


If you enjoy Paco’s work, plese consider donating:

If you enjoy Alexey’s work:


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Art During Quarantine

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Art During Quarantine

NYC-based artist Mike Sullivan uses his time during the lockdown to create and give back.

04-21-20

Last month on March 7, a group of friends came over to celebrate my last moments of being 25 years old. In NYC the threat of the progressing coronavirus was certainly on our radar, but with no advisory guidelines to isolate ourselves we gathered like everything was normal. Looking back, it is truly jarring to think how quickly the situation with COVID-19 became so universal and serious. The thought of having a group gathering now, only just over a month later, seems otherworldly.

Shortly after my birthday, the city started to shut down. Restaurants, theaters, schools, and retail shops all began closing their doors in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus. Of course with that came the concerning result of many people out of work. During this time I was traveling to Ithaca, NY, to work on costumes for a production at The Cherry Arts. Like the work of so many other theater companies and creative outlets, the production had to be put on hold for the safety of the community. When I learned that the production and my job in NYC were no longer available, I went to my hometown in CT to stay with my folks. Throughout this past month I’ve been experiencing many polarizing feelings of fear, uncertainty, gratitude, and hope. I am beyond thankful for my parents and friends, those in the city working hard to keep the arts and queer community alive, and the many essential workers who are protecting the foundation of our society and keeping the vulnerable safe.

New York has been hit hard with the pandemic, and as a result I’ve seen many friends and peers leave NYC as I did. It is understandable many of us wanted to avoid the strain of the confining city; however, not everyone has the means or the access to a comfortable place to stay outside of NY. Although the circumstances of the virus are very concerning, I’m feeling incredibly grateful and fortunate to have my family to get through this with. While in isolation I’ve been feeling stuck regarding how I can provide aid to those who aren’t in a place of comfort. Thankfully there are places like the Ali Forney Center. The AFC is an organization that protects LGBT youth from the harms of homelessness. With the launch of their campaign “COVID-19: Caring for Homeless Youth,” they are dedicated to help those who are feeling the pressures of the virus and the quarantine.

With the help of my parents, we have photographed the masks I made throughout isolation. I am putting the photographs up for sale as 11 x 17 inch poster prints. Any print of your choice can be shipped to your address for a total of $40, and 50% of that purchase will be donated to the Ali Forney Center. Since accommodating for the pandemic, the center is experiencing financial strain due to providing additional meals, cleaning supplies, and essential care items for those in need. If you are able to, please consider donating and supporting AFC and other organizations that are providing aid. If you are interested in purchasing a print, please get in touch with me through Instagram DM or my email at mailto: 3michaelsullivan@gmail.com.

This is proving to be an unforgettable moment in our history. Despite our different personal circumstances, we have all been affected by COVID-19. It’s important for us to find our unique definition of peace and comfort while remaining isolated and safe. I have hopes that, although the start to 2020 has been unexpectedly difficult, we will have gained a greater understanding of what it means to push forward once this is over. We may be isolated, but we are not alone. Have trust in your personal strength, in the brave health workers fighting for our safety, and lastly, have trust that our future will allow us to embrace and celebrate human resilience.