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My Friend is a Superhero – The Story of a Free Children’s Comic Book About Diversity and Disability

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Sometimes we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. Philip Patson – Creative and social entrepreneur, writer, comedian, human rights promoter, and award-winning diversity consultant – is the very definition of a changemaker. He is the Managing Director of Diversity New Zealand, an organisation which offers facilitated discussions, consultations, keynotes and workshops about embracing and working with diversity.

Philip, alongside psychologist Barbara Pike, and artist/illustrator Sam Orchard, have created a free children’s book, My Friend is a Superhero!. The story is about Jack, a boy who uses a wheelchair, and the story is told through his friend’s eyes.

Here at Social Work Helper, we’ve had the privilege of an exclusive interview with Philip, Barbara and Sam about their book My Friend is a Superhero!

Firstly, thank you very much for taking part in our interview! To start, could you please tell us about the origins of My Friends is a Superhero? How did the idea come about?

Barbara: The book came about as a result of casual conversations between myself and Philip while I was working as Philip’s EA for Diversity NZ.  I remember we were discussing children’s reactions to seeing a person with a disability compared to that of their parents.  For example, a child might see a person in a wheelchair and rush up to them to ask questions, or be shy and unsure what to say, or ask their parents rather loudly why that person can’t walk!!

Parents mostly seem to be quite embarrassed or not sure how to respond. However Philip’s perspective, as a person who uses a wheelchair himself, was that he would welcome and encourage children’s curiosity and learning.  He mentioned even finding it refreshing, since kids will typically jump right into a conversation about disability with no prior assumptions!

These conversations evolved into the idea for writing a children’s book to explore how their natural curiosity and openness might view the experience of disability.  I’m very nerdy and into superhero movies, comics and related media – and there is also an element in many superhero stories of the ‘hero’ having some kind of disability along with their superpower (Professor X from the X-men being the most well-known example).  So I had the idea of the child in the book viewing his friend, who uses a wheelchair, as being a secret superhero in his spare time – as a way of explaining his ‘special’ (or different) abilities.

Philip: I remember sitting at the lights driving home, talking with Barbara and the idea for the book was formed. I remember thinking how much easier it would be to write a book for kids, rather than adults, because, as Barbara said, there’s no need to “undo” assumptions in order to create a positive lens around function. Barbara’s perspective was so clear as well, given our working relationship, which made her perfect to lead the writing of the book.

The book centres on the idea of diversity. What is “functional diversity”, and why do you think it is important?

Philip: Functional diversity presents a more dynamic and constructive paradigm than the current dominant ones (for example medical or social models), to describe and change the impact of impairment and disability. It proposes different thought patterns, new language and constructive behaviour, reframing the distinction between “normal” and “abnormal” function as “common” and “unique”.

The ideology was inspired by my personal and professional frustration with the existing polarized ideology of human function, which fails to adequately describe the diversity of physiological and psychosocial function amongst people. It aims to provoke and inspire dialogue about our current paradigm of human function in relation to value and capacity.

Can you tell us about the process of creating this book together – what was is like, what were the rewards and challenges?

Barbara: The process of creating the book was remarkably simple and organic (but then, most projects at Diversity NZ are!)  I pitched the general idea to Philip, then we had a ‘planning and writing’ meeting ie: went to a local cafe for coffee and lunch!  We pretty much wrote the entire book at that meeting.  I remember there was a lot of ‘back and forth’ regarding the phrasing of different lines, but in the end we banged out something that we were both happy with.

The next step was illustrating – I’ll leave Sam to talk about the process of that.

Sam: The illustrations is where I came in! Barbara and Philip sent me the words, and I came up with some basic characters. I’d never drawn a wheelchair before, and there was lots of discussion between Philip and I about what type of chair Jack would have – and to make sure it didn’t look clunky or antiquated.

After we had the characters set out we all met up for about half a day, with a big whiteboard, and went through making thumbnails of how we wanted each page to look. That’s where the little pukeko idea came from – we wanted to include some fun moments that went beyond the text, and have a New Zealand flavour to it, so the pukeko was perfect.

Barbara: And the final step was finding the funding to publish.  We used PledgeMe – a NZ version of Kickstarter – and thankfully were able to meet our funding goals.  Philip, do you want to talk a bit about Duffy as well?

Philip: During 2012 I did the Leadership New Zealand programme. I met the Manager of Duffy Books in Homes, who provide free books to over 100,000 New Zealand children, three times a year. Linda loved “My Friend is a Superhero”, so we donated copies and I went to several schools to talk to kids about the book, disability and diversity.

Barbara: In terms of challenges there really weren’t too many.  We initially had another person volunteer to illustrate but it didn’t quite work out as we had different ideas about what we trying to achieve with the book.  Then we discovered Sam, who works professionally as a comic illustrator and whose drawings are incredible and really brought the story to life.  Figuring out how to raise the money to publish was probably the other big challenge.  We initially went down the route of applying for funding grants, but eventually stumbled upon crowdfunding – which was still a relatively new thing at that time, and luckily had great success with it.

Overall, I found writing and publishing this book to be a hugely rewarding process.  It was great that a little idea I had got turned into a reality, and that it was well-liked enough for people to crowdfund the publishing of it.  It  also amazing to know that physical copies went to so many homes and schools.  Again, working with both Philip and Sam is always wonderful and organic and easy.  Philip is someone who would take this idea and say “yep, let’s do it!” which is a great quality to have in a boss.

What factors did you have to consider when designing the character of Jack?

Barbara: We wanted to make Jack’s disability as “true to life” as possible.  That is, not to show him as an amazing kid who is good at everything, or as a kid having a terrible time of it – but to show him as a real kiwi kid, facing the ups and downs of growing up (and who happens to have a disability).  I also remember a lot of conversations about how his wheelchair would look!  We wanted it to be as accurate as possible, as any children (or parents) using a wheelchair would know exactly what we got wrong!

Philip: And while we wanted Jack to be “real”, we also wanted him to be cool, too, We hoped that, after reading the book, kids would be curious about functional diversity and feel freer to engage with kids who live with unique function.

The book shows Jack and his friend in a range of settings and scenarios. How did you pick these scenarios, and why?

Barbara: We picked scenarios that would be typical for school-age kids in NZ and tried to show both the positive and negative aspects of what life might be like for a child who uses a wheelchair.  So when walking home from school being able to power fast up the hill might be an advantage.  But having to leave class for lots of therapy appointments might not be so great.  We also wanted to be as inclusive as possible.  Jack goes to school, is in class, and plays at lunch with his friends, who don’t use wheelchairs.

Philip: A lot of the scenarios were based on my own experiences at school. I was lucky to be outgoing and confident as a kid, so I was pretty well included. I didn’t play on skate ramps and things, but I did have good networks of friends and mostly enjoyed school, at Jack’s age anyway!

In the story, we see Jack supporting others, such as exercising patience and helping his friend to study. What is the significance of showing these aspects of Jack?

Barbara: We didn’t want everything about Jack to be about his disability, so we tried to show other positive qualities you would want to see role-modelled in a kids book, like Jack helping his friend with maths in the classroom.  We wanted Jack to be seen by his friend as more than his disability (even though that was the main focus of the story) and of course for us to find out in the end that in fact Jack sees his friend the same way.

Philip: I think “disability” is portrayed so negatively generally. It was really important to show Jack in a reciprocal relationship with his friend, rather than perpetuate myths that having unique function makes kids needy and helpless.

The front cover of the book is beautiful. Could you tell us more about  how this design came about, and why it was selected?

Barbara: Sam, please take it away : )

Sam: Oh thanks! In terms of style Philip and Barbara pretty much gave me free reign to do what I wanted. As I talked about earlier, getting the type of wheelchair for Jack right was a big one, but everything else just flowed quite easily.

We wanted the colours to be bold, and the style to be simple and child-like so it was easy to absorb. This was the original sketch we did on the whiteboard…

Which became this:

And then this:

As we know, parents will often choose their children’s books or read to their child. What do you think makes My Friend is a Superhero useful for parents as well as for children?

Barbara: Parents (and society as a whole) shape how their children learn about the world, as well as their attitudes and values towards others, as they grow up.  We wanted to encourage more open conversations between parents and their children about disability, as well as challenge some negative stereotypes.  Disability is something with both positive and negative aspects – it’s just another human experience and we will all have a range of physical (and other) function throughout our lives.  We wanted to promote the idea of people in general (not just children) approaching others with curiosity and openness to difference.  We hoped that if parents were reading the book to their children, that it might encourage broader conversations about diversity and perhaps change how parents think too.

Philip: We’ve had tremendously positive feedback from kids and adults alike. I think people, in particular adults/parents, find the book refreshing. There’s something about the story’s simplicity and Sam’s vibrant images that reframes an issue that we really struggle with as a society.

My Friend is a Superhero is available online for free (although a hard copy can be purchased!) – what led to this decision, and what impact are you hoping this will have?

Philip: I read the other day that selling kids’ books, especially a first one, is incredibly difficult. We’ve sold a few but mostly we’ve given them away. As it was crowdfunded so generously it felt right to pass on the generosity. Adding the free download is, hopefully, another way to get the book out there. It’s doing no good unless it’s being read, after all!

The book is intended to promote a child’s “natural curiosity”. How do you think people usually respond to a child’s curiosity, and how could we do things differently?

Philip: Kids are so naturally curious and as they grow, that curiosity is often replaced by adults’ fears of difference, getting things wrong, sense of guilt and shame etc. “My Friend is a Superhero” intentionally shows that it’s ok to be curious and that uniqueness is interesting. As adults we need to be more aware of our fears, work through them and be intentional about not passing them onto our children.

And of course, I must ask – Who are your superheroes, and why?

Barbara: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before!  I work now as a Psychologist, and to be honest, my superheroes these days are the everyday people I work with.  People who are facing (or have faced) overwhelming difficulties in life and work so hard to overcome them…many even going on to start groups and programmes, or volunteer, to help support others who are struggling.  I find anyone who faces huge challenges in life – be it mental health difficulties, disability, abusive relationships, poverty or other unhealthy situations – and battles through to make a better life for themselves, to be an inspiration.

Sam: Oh! Gosh! Yeh, I’m on the same page of Barbara – my kind of superheroes are not necessarily the ones who you would know the names of. I’m always in awe of people who work steadily in the background, and who don’t need a lot of praise (because I love praise and I’m trying not to rely on it too much!) I think people who persevere, are resilient, and are generous are pretty phenomenal too.

Philip: I’m going to be shallow and just say my favourite superhero has always been Spiderman!

Is there anything else you think we should know about My Friend is a Superhero?

Barbara: Not that I can think of!  The book was published a few years ago now, so it’s lovely to remember the creative process behind it and know that it still generates excitement and interest : )

Philip: I agree – it’s been great to reminisce. We keep saying we should do another one. We should stop saying it and do it instead!

Here is the link to the download page to get your free copy: http://dnzl.nz/free-kids-book

Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

          
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Entertainment

New Release – ReMoved 3: Love is Never Wasted

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Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Wasted.

Kevi’s story, though fictional, allowed me to paint for you a visual picture of how much it hurts to have a mother leave you all alone. It invites you to yearn with him—to share his longing to capture a woman that you know you probably never will. It shows how wildly untameably beautiful such an enigma is to her son, with her hair dancing in the wind and the scent of her teasing in and out of his existence.

Mostly, it helps you understand that there’s more to the story than just her. For kids like me, who were raised by many parents, it’s not just about our bio moms, you see. Sometimes, it isn’t even mostly about that mom. It’s also about this foster mamma who feels warm and soft and safe. It’s about how you never want to live without those feelings or her arms around you again.  

Maybe it’s about that foster daddy that you just aren’t sure about. He might hurt you like all the other daddies you’ve ever known. But, maybe he won’t…

Through the Author’s Pen & Own Experience of Foster Care

My mother’s purse was her survival kit. She never forgot it.

She often forgot us. But she never forgot it.  

Inside that purse, she carried an envelope. The envelope held all the things one would normally file away in the safety of their home. Instead, she carried those things—the few markers of our meager existence—in a manila in her handbag.

I suppose this was the only way for her to hold onto anything in a life where change usually happened in a moment’s notice. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ditch all of our possessions when the police discovered us living in a condemned or abandoned building. Also, as a battered woman, Mamma always had to be prepared to run on the days it seemed Daddy might actually kill her.

The purse and the envelope may have been an insignificant thing to anyone else, but for a kid like me, it proved that everything outside of it could be taken in an instant. It signified my mother, how she’d come to be, and the struggles of her life.

That’s why I made the biological mother’s purse a significant part of the story in ReMoved 3. As I wrote “Love Is Never Wasted,” I tried to infuse it with those things that would make it feel real to others who had walked a similar journey. I sought to put in specific feelings and moments that kids in foster care would really connect to.

As a foster kid, you often find yourself torn between families because each one holds a piece of what you need. You long to understand your biological parents and to know what it was like when you were budding in your mother’s womb. You have to know because, on some level, your body still remembers. The body can’t forget the place it was first fed.

Let’s not overlook, though, that you need more than roots to grow. Our bodies instinctually know this as well. We must also feel that we are safe, that nourishment is always available, and that the sun can shine most every day.

Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Waste

Ideally, our kiddos would get all these needs met from the same person. Sadly, that is not always the case. For the 400,000 plus kids in the U.S. foster care system a solitary caretaker will not be found to meet all their needs. Our best hope for these kids is that love can be absorbed from multiple sources. We hope that, collectively, they get enough of what they need from the world around them to grow healthy and strong.

Like Kevi’s story, my own life was changed by having multiple temporary parent figures. Though not ideal, this piecemeal parenting experience is what taught me how to love.

There were the moments that my birth mom snuggled me in bed. In the submission of sleep, she would occasionally relax and offer some warmth. These memories of cuddling my mom inspired the scenes of Kevi snuggling his birth mom in the film. Even the direst situations usually have some moments of bonding.

When my mother didn’t have any affection to give, my big brother stood in the gap. He frequently acted as a caretaker, comforting me, protecting me, and feeding me on the days everyone else forgot to. Because of my big brother, when my new little brother entered the world and cried out for protection, I knew how to answer that call.

Unfortunately, I could only answer it slightly better than our mom did.  You see, I was only six. Then seven. By eight, I felt like I was dying. My enchantment with my mother began to wither, along with my body and soul. I called out to the universe for something to take me from the daily pain that she and my father put me in.

Foster care was the answer I received.

Sadly, foster care brought more pain. It’s difficult to describe the feelings that come from being ripped from one’s life source, especially when that life source is also robbing you of life. Regardless of her failures, though, she was still the first person who had held me. Now, I found myself miles from her familiarity. I frequently asked myself if anyone could love me in this strange new place, where nobody looked or acted like me and Mamma.

Some of them couldn’t love me, it seems.

Yet, some of them could and did. Some of them even did without any expectation of return. Most of them who loved me were only able to hold me for a moment in time. No matter how fleeting my time with them was or how heartbroken I was upon leaving, these people became the beautiful springtime of my memory. From each moment I got with them, I would continue to flourish and grow; although, I wouldn’t necessarily see that at the time.

Thousands of uncertain days would pass under the gloomy cloud that we call foster care. Though I acted it out differently than our character Kevi, I was a mess during most of those days.

But a new day would eventually come!

I would grow up. Slowly, I would discover that my life had been changing. As an adult, I would finally find that it was all my own. With my newfound sense of freedom and control, I would choose to become the wife to a husband who loved me selflessly.

Of all the guys I could have chosen, including the kind who may have felt more familiar, how did I know to settle on one like him? The faces of several good foster fathers smiled distantly behind the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

After years of being loved in a way I’d never felt loved before (by my husband Doug), I would become a mother. Despite the years of worry that I’d be a parent like him or her, I found that I was actually more like her and her and him. Tortured childhood and all, I was brimming with love to give, thanks to those who had poured love into me.

This forced me to ask an important question: How could a girl, who had been miserably failed by the people who gave her life, find herself building a completely different world than the one she grew up in?

The answer was clear. I had gotten to this place because an alternate reality had blown into my childhood. It had changed me. Its name was foster care. For me, foster care wound up carrying the faces of seven different homes over seven years. When I was 15, its name became adoption.

Ironically, this system of child protection that had starved me is also the very thing that helped me thrive. Foster care brought so much internal destitution, but it also brought moments of witnessing healthy, selfless, loving, human interactions.

I hope “Love is Never Wasted” reveals that even small moments with a child can show him he has a choice in how he lives his life. Because of my time in care, I now knew that there was not just one possible way to be. Throughout my foster care experiences, I had, here and there, tasted the essence of something sweeter and more fulfilling than my past life. I became hungry for more of it.

I now exist as living proof (hidden behind my stories) that love always offers nourishment and that a little bit of it can go a very long way.

A lot of it can make miracles.

A little bit of love carried me out of my tortured childhood. A lot of it led me to the place I am today and a little boy named Kevi.

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Culture

Under Pressure to Hide Your True Self

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As it turns out, the behaviour of people around us is contagious. This is truer the closer these relationships are – we are much more influenced by the attitudes of friends and family than we are by those of strangers.

We often think of peer pressure as a bad thing we should resist, but it can also be a powerful influencer in terms of shifting social attitudes for the better as well.

I recently read an interesting article in Scientific American about the power of social pressure and how it can influence our behaviour.  For example, one 2003 study found:

  • If a person gains weight, the likelihood their friend would also gain weight is 171%
  • When smokers quit, their friends are 36% more likely to also quit
  • Having happy friends increased the likelihood of an individual being happy by 8%

It’s also true that fitting in feels good.  We all want to feel a sense of connection and belonging and these things are hugely important to our personal wellbeing.  The difficulty is, of course, when fitting in means feeling pressured to change parts of ourselves in ways we are not comfortable with.  And feeling under pressure to force yourself to be something you’re not can cause a huge amount of psychological distress.

It’s a no-win situation – we either change (or pretend to change) for the sake of fitting into the group – and feel awful and uncomfortable about not being able to be who we really are – or we stay courageous about our convictions, but experience ostracisation and pay another kind of emotional price for that, too.

So what’s the answer?  I’m really not sure, to be honest. When I was younger, I felt huge amounts of pressure to hide my nerdy and academic interests because they didn’t seem to be shared by the people around me.  I didn’t talk about my love for sci-fi, comic books, and video games with anyone. I share the shows I loved or my love for attending classes and soaking up knowledge anywhere I could. I simply never seemed to have any friends who had the same interests.

But through my 20s, I became a lot more comfortable in my own skin and more confident that being different in some way was okay.  Just the other day a colleague pointed out a nice, but expensive piece of jewelry online.  She asked, “Wouldn’t you like to own that?”  I replied, “Actually, I’d rather have a new Xbox!”  We laughed about it.  I didn’t feel like an outcast.  I felt like I was being genuine and appreciated for that.

And maybe this is the key.  Sometimes a lot of the pressure to conform is external, but I wonder how much of it is internal as well.  I wonder if my friends in my younger years would have accepted me for who I was if I had given them the chance to.

Or maybe my hard-won comfort with who I am helps other people to feel more comfortable being themselves around me, too.  We’ve removed that pressure, together.

But I’m curious – how affected (or unaffected) do you feel by social pressure?

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Entertainment

The Tonight Show Makes Television History

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Alyssa

On Thursday, September 13, 2018, Central Park was buzzing with more than just insects and birds. The SummerStage was bright with lights and music, and filled with 1,500 people. Jimmy Fallon, the host of The Tonight Show, partnered with T-Mobile to make television history.

As local New Yorkers and fans alike took their seats at Central Park SummerStage the anticipation for the beginning of the show built. This was no ordinary show – this was the first ever late-night show in Central Park. Fallon had promoted the event earlier in the week with People TV and even took Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie behind the scenes.

The show began with ear-blasting cheers and applause from the audience as Jimmy Fallon took the stage. His energy radiated through the audience as he welcomed the crowd.

“Welcome to The Tonight Show at SummerStage in Central Park!”

As the crowd settled down, Fallon jumped into his monologue, introducing his guests for the night. Country music superstar Carrie Underwood and promoting her new movie “A Simple Favor”, actress Blake Lively would be joining Fallon, along with a few other surprise guests throughout the show. Playing alongside The Roots are members from none other than the New York Philharmonic.

“New York City is here tonight, ladies and gentleman!”

Like the rest of The Late Night Show’s tapings, tickets are free. Fallon kindly reminds guests who got tickets to the taping that if they paid for them, “I’m sorry, and welcome to New York City.”

Although Fallon has grown up and lived in New York all his life, he’s only been to Central Park once before. For those who weren’t familiar with the park they took some time for a quick tour and to introduce the must-see sights. The highlights?

  • The Ramble – also known as where all the bodies on “Law & Order” are found.
  • Hamilton Statue – or the only other place in New York City you can see Hamilton without spending $1,000.
  • Strawberry Fields – where every bad guitar player in New York goes to ruin Beatles songs.
  • Boathouse – where bad dates get stuck because they’re on a boat.
  • Great Lawn – or as New York City dogs call it “The Master Bathroom”.

Before Fallon continued the show he took some time to thank T-Mobile.

“I wanted to thank T-Mobile for helping to make all this happen. Really, thank you, guys. They’ve been so great to us, and so, so great and fun to work with. They have so many amazing artists that work with them. You guys may have heard of one of them… Justin Beiber.”

The crowd exploded in applause again. Turns out, Fallon and Bieber were in Central Park earlier that week and decided to do a skit of their own. Dressed in disguise with wigs and mustaches, they used earpieces to dance to Bieber’s hit song “What Do You Mean”.  The duo made their way through Central Park dancing, singing, and photobombing the park’s visitors. The catch? Only they could hear the music.

In addition to the skit with Bieber, Fallon introduced a new game called Name That Song Challenge. Fallon and Blake Lively went up against Carrie Underwood and surprise guest appearance, Henry Golding. The pairs faced off in a music challenge – whoever could name the song played by The Roots and The New York Philharmonic the fastest won each round.

Fallon interviewed Lively about her new movie “A Simple Favor“, her outfit the night of the movies premier, and some throwbacks including a picture of her dressed as Baby Spice. As Underwood took her spot on the couch, Fallon excitedly asked her about her new album, “Crying Pretty” which was released the same night at 12 am.

To finish off the first-ever late night show in Central Park, Underwood took the stage, performing “Love Wins” off her new album. The audience stood with pink flashing batons and bracelets in the air in honor of T-Mobile. The energy between Underwood and the audience radiated through SummerStage, Central Park.

After the taping, Fallon and Underwood performed a fun karaoke duet of “Islands in the Streams” just for the audience to enjoy. The episode aired at its usual 11:35 timeslot and was a huge success for the first of its kind. Check out clips, pictures, and tweets on #FallonCentralPark and T-Mobile’s #AreYouWithUs for additional fun clips.

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News

Colin Kaepernick’s Eternal Vigilance

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Aldous Huxley said, “The price of liberty, and even common humanity, is eternal vigilance.” Huxley was letting us know that democracy isn’t easy. Democracy doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s a constant struggle to maintain a society in which all citizens, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights under the law.

From time to time we are fortunate enough to have an individual who reminds us of this, even though we may not want to hear it. Colin Kaepernick has assumed this role in American society and Nike has given him a stage to act it out.

Nike’s new commercial ends with Kaepernick saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was criticized almost instantly. “Sacrificing everything,” they say, should mean sacrificing one’s life, whether it be during war or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The underlying argument is Kaepernick and Nike are insulting those who died for our country.

There is no doubt the War on Terror has taken the lives of too many US soldiers. Since 2001, roughly 2,300 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that losing one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t make the war in Afghanistan any less tragic, but in 2016 and 2017 Chicago saw almost 1,500 murders. Around 76% of the murder victims were black. When you add in all the murders that occurred since 2001 the number is well over 5,000. This is just one of the types of tragedies Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to make the comparison, but Muhammad Ali was met with similar criticism when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Ali was called everything from a nigger to a traitor. He lost three years of his prime as a fighter, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to get his conviction overturned.

Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick, while earlier this year he sought to pardon Ali. And even more ironically, President Trump did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam.

In 1963, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting racial inequality, he penned a lengthy response to an article written a group of moderate white church leaders, criticizing the way Rev. King went about protesting. Rhetorically, Rev. King asked the clergymen, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, and marches and so forth?” His answer, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Kaepernick is criticized for confronting America about its racial inequality at the wrong time.  The clergymen also questioned Rev. King’s timing. He responded, “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”

It’s true that Kaepernick hasn’t had to deal with police armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. His house wasn’t bombed, and obviously he hasn’t lost his life like those courageous members of the armed forces who selflessly went to war to protect the United States.

Kaepernick also didn’t lose his life like Rev. King fighting inequality. Does that make his point any less relevant? If Rev. King was to say, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” would you tell him, “You can’t say that because you didn’t die in war”? Probably not.

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Entertainment

Up and Vanished Season 2: A New Town, A New Case, A New Mystery

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Alyssa

Up and Vanished Season 2 – Kristal Anne Reisinger (L) Payne Lindsey (R)

On August 7, 2015, Payne Lindsey released the first episode in his first-ever podcast. What started as an interest in film and documentaries became an inspiration after watching Netflix’s series Making a Murderer.

In an interview with Atlanta Magazine Payne says, “Watching that show, something clicked. I said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Payne’s interest in people and storytelling expanded after taking a cross-country road trip. He and two friends traveled through 20-30 states starting from Atlanta, Georgia to the West Coast and making their way back to the East Coast. The 13-minute documentary focused on the lives of local people and trying to discover what makes them happy. Once completed, they took the film titled “Our People” on the festival circuit and won the best documentary short of 2015.

As Payne began research on his next big project, he took inspiration from Making a Murderer and Googled Georgia cold cases. That’s when he found Tara Grinstead a young woman who went missing from her home on October 22, 2005.

Authorities found her front door was locked, and her cell phone was sitting in its charger. Tara’s car was found sitting under the carport, the doors unlocked, and the front seat pushed all the way back. However, her purse and keys were missing. The last time anyone heard from Tara was Saturday night at 11 pm. She was 30 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Tara was an 11th-grade high school teacher from Ocilla, Georgia, and a former beauty queen. At the time of her disappearance, there was little to no evidence found except a single latex glove in her front yard and a broken necklace inside the home.

Family, friends, and investigators had no leads. Over the last decade, law enforcement was never able to identify a suspect, creating the largest criminal case file in Georgia’s history. When Payne came across the case, investigators and law enforcement were no closer to solving the case than they were in 2005.

Payne reached out on Websleuths asking about the case and was contacted by Maurice Godwin, a private investigator hired by the Grinstead family shortly after Tara’s disappearance. From there, Payne’s Podcast began.

Maurice shared leads, contacts, and his own theories with Payne as he collected research, reached out to Ocilla locals and gathered as much information about Tara as he could. In August of 2015, episode one of Up and Vanished launched, clocking in at 5,000 downloads in the first day.

From there, Up and Vanished (UAV) took off, quickly jumping from a small side project to Payne’s full-time job as new leads, evidence, and tips sprouted. On February 24, 2016, Ryan Alexander Duke, a former student of Tara’s, was arrested with charges against Tara’s disappearance, with another arrest on Bo Dukes made in the days following. Bo Dukes is another former student from Tara’s high school and Ryan Duke’s best friend. Though Payne doesn’t take credit for the arrests, the GBI did thank all the media for keeping the case in the spotlight.

Season one concluded with Payne conducting interviews with Brooke Sheridan, Bo Duke’s girlfriend, on details of the night Tara went missing, possible motives, and the aftermath of her disappearance. The trial for Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes is still ongoing, and Payne promises updates on the trial as he moves forward with season two.

On July 31, 2017, Payne aired the last episode. In the last few minutes, he played a recording of a conversation between him and Maurice Godwin. This is what it said:

Payne Lindsey: Hello?

Maurice Godwin: Hey Payne, Dr. Godwin here.

Payne Lindsey: Hey, what’s up, man?

Maurice Godwin: I’ve been thinking. We did some really good work on Tara’s case. There’s another case I had in mind. I’ve been looking to it for years. Maybe you and I should take a look into it.”

There has been radio silence on the upcoming season two until recently. A teaser trailer released on the UAV website for season. Viewers see choppy video footage with voice-overs from different people.

“She’s gonna turn back up. She’s gonna come back. She just went on one of these journey’s,” says one voice. “Maybe she’s in a cult somewhere and she’s just fallen off the face of the Earth and doesn’t want anybody to find her.”

“There’s just something really, really strange about this whole deal,” says another.

“Apparently there was this one guy that seen her walking off alone into the forest.”

From the clues suggested in the trailer, listeners can expect an investigation on another missing person’s case, but with fewer clues and more speculation. With the help of Maurice Godwin, Payne will likely be investigating the cold case of Kristal Anne Reisinger in the hopes of finding more answers. Season Two was release on August 20, 2018.

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Deadpool, Gaymers and Girlfriends at London ComicCon

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10 Video Games for Gay Gamers

Being gay and being a geek are, you might think, quite different things. But sometimes these two aspects of identity collide, creating a wonderful spectrum of possibilities. London ComicCon 2018 raised the rainbow flag and became a sparkling example of one such space for the  LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.

Glittery linguistic stereotypes aside, London Gaymers presented a funny, intimate and hopeful panel about LGBT gamers and the video gaming community at large.

They started with startling offline statistics from the LGBT charity Stonewall which found over 60% of university graduates return to the ‘closet’ and over a quarter are not ‘out’ at work. Conversely, the panel was comprised of Charley Hodson, Ashely Spindler, Izzy Jagan, and Nathan Costello all work in the gaming industry and all are ‘out’ in their workplaces.

So, how can we continue the good practice, and ensure that more geek workplaces are queer-friendly?  “We need people leading organisations to be supportive, to be open, to be kind most of all – from the top to the very bottom”.

Working in small firms, where one is known and appreciated as a person, was seen as a Good Thing with regard to sexuality representation. At some points, the positive storytelling had an almost bashful edge – perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that this is counter to the dominant narrative of hardships.

That is: It is much more effective if someone from a dominant (or privileged) position espouses the values and principles of equality. In addition to the usual impact of management/leadership positions, a privileged individual is not subject to a fallacy of vested interest when they promote equality. Allies have “access to cultural capital, and cultural power to change the world” (well said, Ashley!).

Doesn’t that sound just like a superhero power?

Of course, some gamers in online communities may need help to adjust their belief in the ‘post-homophobic era’. That era, sadly, is currently as much of a fantasy as a crocodile shooting out bananas from its Kart in order to trip up a pink-clad princess (ten points for getting the reference). It may seem as though LGBT persons have ‘enough rights’, but the sobering statistics say otherwise.

Whilst the London Gaymers panel was in agreement that true equality is on its way, it is still in its infancy. It needs nurturing, and time, and effort… and, yes, the occasional time-out. Ashley was candid regarding the online abuse aimed at her, purely for being trans, leading to necessary banning. Likewise for times that people need to shut their comments sections or step away from the gaming community’s occasional toxicity.

A soft hug of an idea to address this comes from Overwatch. The popular first-person shooter game translates unsavoury phrases into, for example, “It’s past bedtime. Please don’t tell my Mommy” and “I feel very, very small… Please hold me”.  A nudge into nonviolent communication – with humour.

Indeed, the voice actors who play Genji, Mercy and Zarya noted in their panels that the popularity of the game it partly its inclusivity and diversity – not just within the game but within its community – “There is something for everybody”.

London Gaymers suggested the Overwatch model “holds people accountable” without necessarily stepping into the shaming, combative dance which can so often play out. Banning users from chats can ‘work’ in the short term – in order to remove hate or bigotry from online spaces – however, in the longer term, change will be created by supportive re-education.

Well, that, and visibility: the old adage we’re here, we’re queer still has its place. The fact of the matter is that gay people game. “We support the industry, and the industry needs to support us too…. We deserve this respect – if we’re not getting it, demand it.”

There are, of course, different kinds of representation. It is not all about mere presence. There is the bells-and-whistles flounce of a queer archetype, whose one discerning feature is their sexuality. However, there is also the happens-to-be-gay character, whose queerness is part of ordinary – or extraordinary! – human richness.

We have seen this in television with shows such as The Wire, The Walking Dead, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are already games which allow same-sex romantic interactions, such Dragon Age, The Sims and more recently The Last of Us and (author favourite) Life is Strange.

The number of Gaymers who explored their gender and sexuality through The Sims (Nathan helpfully chimed in, “I’m gay, so I could make lesbians!” compared to actual lesbian Izzy, who unfortunately couldn’t) was cute to the extent of heart-warming. True sandbox play.

In short, as Nathan stated: “You can put gay characters in the game, and if the game is good, people will want it”. If an audience is interested in the story, the game will be popular.

However we must be careful about how we cater to online spaces: “It’s not a bonus if someone isn’t homophobic, transphobic, racist”. We must expect better from our online communities. Most importantly, “Sharing the positivity, enthusiasm, passion, and love we have, speaking up against injustice and misrepresentation, pulling people up to our level rather than going down to theirs” are all ways that the Gaymers think we can make a difference.

Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool) (R)

Indeed, it isn’t just video games that are changing to represent audiences. Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool and the more recent Deadpool 2) noted that she was respectfully asked by bigwigs (or biggish wigs) in the industry whether she wanted to keep quiet about her own sexuality, given the presumed response from audiences.

Brianna did not want to ‘keep quiet’ although she didn’t want to shout either. Her sexuality emerged in the public eye quite casually in a tweet which has been covered extensively elsewhere (not to be sensationalised as a ‘reveal’, mind). Responses have been supportive, and Brianna said that ComicCon 2018 had provided a platform for queer kids to talk to her about the importance of herself and her character in representing queerness in geek pop culture.

And it didn’t stop there. Not only is Brianna officially gay, but so is her character Negasonic, who was ‘outed’ in the same lowkey style. Ryan Reynolds – the characteristically ‘sweet guy’, the eponymous anti-hero, and co-writer of Deadpool 2–asked Brianna, “Hey, would you mind if we gave Negasonic a girlfriend?”.

(It is important, of course, to ask first).

Brianna claimed, with a wry smile, that she responded, “Mind?! I’m ecstatic!”.

And so, love of a feminine and lilac-becostumed variety struck the teenage warhead. Brianna discussed how they thought it would be more impactful  if Negasonic’s love interest was mentioned, but ‘not a thing’. (This, by the way, has been considered by some theorists as the mark of ‘true diversity’; a celebration that neither erases nor exotifies difference).

When asked how Deadpool 2 covers such tender and sensitive issues amidst its swearing, sexuality and gratuitous violence, Brianna and Stefan Kapičić (who plays the well-mannered, gentle giant Colossus) said it’s because of the “Magic of Deadpool”. It’s the use of humour, the fact that these issues are treated as if they’re “Not a big deal”.

And it is magic. It’s the magic of fun, and fantasy, and play. It’s the fun about engaging in media that represents you – or gives you empathy to understand someone who is different to yourself.

It’s putting equality as a casual thread, not as a snazzy sideshow, the same way that the many queer vendors at ComicCon’s Comic Village market were just.. there. Not in a special LGBT section, but integrated with all the other talented artists. (Pride comics, and Joe Glass in particular, I have to give you a mention because you expertly encompassed the superhero realm with the adage, I didn’t see anything like me, so I created it. Allow me to share your creation.)

It short, pop culture is evolving, and much like an Eevee (ugh, too dated?) it comes with a range of elements. It is okay in the modern era to get your geek on. It is becoming steadily (or sporadically) more acceptable to get your gay on. And of course, at ComicCon, you can even get your gay geek on.

Call for the change you want to see – and if you can’t see it, be it. Rainbows for the win.

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