by Emily Ness
Political as she is poetic, and charming as she is fierce, Sonya Nayar is not only an artist — she is an activist.
Born and raised in Woodbury, Minnesota, Nayar comes from a rich cultural background. Her father is from New Deli, India. He came to the United States as a 19-year-old in pursuit of the American Dream. He decided to attend The Ohio State University after seeing it in a movie.
Unfortunately, the American Dream is not as glamorous as the movies make it seem. For a nation flying its flag of freedom with pride, race continues to be one the most visible sources of division in America.
A Graphic Design major at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Nayar’s art not only reflects the American Dream, but redefines it.
Recently, Nayar was awarded “Best in Graphic Design” at the Tweed Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibition for a project titled, “Trump’s America.” The 12-foot-long piece, which Nayar wrote while sobbing at three in the morning, is far more successful than she could have ever imagined. So successful, in fact, that the Tweed requested to purchase the piece for their collection.
“There are a couple of reasons we would buy student artwork,” Ken Bloom, Director of the Tweed Museum of Art, explained. “The first is if the student has a lot of potential and we believe that they will carry on in the field. The second is if the student has a lot of potential, as well as, hits the mark on the piece.”
Bloom believes that Nayar’s piece did both. And he is not alone.
“When you see it, you cannot help but stop and read it,” John O’Neill, an assistant professor of graphic design said.
O’Neill has taught Nayar for two years. He’ll never forget the day that she turned in a draft of what would become “Trump’s America.”
“I knew that it had potential,” he said. “After all, it captures the essence of the times that we are living in.”
Written from a first person perspective, the piece opens as follows: “I’m tired. I’m sick of ignorant people. I’m worn out from trying to be understanding, the bigger person, the one responsible for enlightening those with less world experience. It seems like it’s every day, all the time, everywhere I go. I currently reside in Duluth, Minnesota, and I can’t (obscenity) do it anymore.”
A census conducted in Duluth for 2016 and 2017 revealed that whites make up 90% of the population, followed by American Indians and African Americans at 2%, and Hispanics, Latinos and Asians at 1%. The other 3% consists of some other race, or two or more races.
Nayar, who has olive-colored skin and dark hair and eyes, is often mistaken for all of the above.
“It shouldn’t matter what race someone is. All races are beautiful,” she said. “I feel like I am constantly defending everything that I am and everything that I am not.”
In her piece, Nayar explains, “I am a 21-year-old, mixed race young woman about to live in Trump’s America. I’d like to just describe myself as a young woman, but my looks seem to be very important to everyone I come in contact with.”
At times, Nayar's struggle with intolerance has made the city of Duluth unlivable.
“It was bad before, but it got even worse after the election,” she said. “I have had people follow me around in stores, question me for using my mom’s credit card and call the police on me for using my ID to buy alcohol, even though I am of age.”
Unlike her Indian father, Nayar’s mother identifies as white. Often, when people see Nayer with her mother, they ask if she is adopted.
Nayar describes one particular instance from elementary school in “Trump’s America” when she got into a fight with her peers over whether or not she was adopted.
“I cried to the teacher who told me not to be embarrassed about being adopted.” Nayar recalled. “I’m not, I cried. There’s nothing wrong with being adopted,” Nayar continued. “Maybe I’ll adopt a child one day, I don’t know. But why would a teacher tell me I was? Why would she leave me crying…”
Nayar hoped that things would get better in junior high and high school. At 16, she got her first job at Dairy Queen, decorating cakes. She includes an excerpt about this experience in her piece: “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas never looked so pretty. I say this not to boast; but to acknowledge here that I focused on those details because the women who already have that job sure like to talk about immigrants stealing jobs… Especially those Mexicans!”
When Nayar came to the University of Minnesota Duluth in the fall of 2013, she was assigned two counselors.
“At first, I thought that everyone had two counselors. Later, I realized that one of the counselors was meant to help me transition from India to America. They assumed that because I was Indian, I was from India. Didn’t they think I’d have an accent?”
College students weren’t much better. One male student told Nayar that she was “pretty for a colored girl.” Another told her that he strives to reproduce a child with naturally blonde hair and green eyes because that is "ideal."
Female students, on the other hand, have told Nayar that she is foreign and exotic. “What do you think of when you hear the word exotic?” Nayar asks in her piece. “I think of an animal in the zoo.”
The worst of the worst came on voting day, when Nayar was walking outside with a friend of hers. Nayar had worn a pantsuit to school to show support for Hillary Clinton. Her friend identifies as gay. Nayar’s pantsuit and her friend’s flamboyance attracted unwanted attention. A group of male students pulled their car over, yelled some vulgar words, and then spat on Nayar from out the window.
“I drove home sobbing,” Nayar said. “And, I mean home, home. I skipped school for a week.”
It was around this time that Nayar wrote her 12-foot, 3000-word piece.
“I wanted it to be really long,” she said. “I wanted people to have to walk to read it.”
Images of Nayar are included throughout the piece.
“In many ways, I walk with the reader,” she said.
Additionally, Nayar chose to use the color pink because she didn’t want to choose a skin color.
“You cannot actually decipher the girl’s race,” Nayar explained.
Finally, Nayar chose to disappear at the end.
“I also chose to disappear at the end to portray my rights disappearing.”
Activism, such as Nayar’s art, has the potential to improve the livability of cities like Duluth and beyond — for this generation and the next.
“‘Trump’s America’ will outlive all of us,” Nayar said. “ I hope that someday my children and grandchildren get to see it.”
Correction: Assistant professor John O’Neill's name was spelled incorrectly in a previous version.
By Cheyenne Vavrina
Community members came together to celebrate, connect, and learn about one of the aspects of Duluth that makes this city more livable for its residents. The eighth annual Herstory Luncheon took place on April Sixth as one of PAVSA's events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
It was a full house in the beautiful Greysolon Ballroom in downtown Duluth. People shuffled in, chatted a bit, and took their seats to enjoy a lunch with some of the hard working individuals from PAVSA.
You can hear the sound of silverware clanking as people eat lunch and listen to Board Chair member of PAVSA, Briana Von Elbe, explain what PAVSA does for Duluth:
PAVSA is a non-profit organization, and along with that comes a group of dedicated, passionate volunteers from the Duluth community. Candice Harshner, PAVSA's Executive Director, explains what their volunteers do to help:
Organizations around Duluth contribute to PAVSA to help in their efforts of making Duluth a more livable city. Erin Naughton is the volunteer coordinator at PAVSA, and she talked about these contributions at the luncheon:
It takes a dedicated group of people to make one city more livable for others. PAVSA's Herstory Luncheon gave some insight on how they work to educate the community, support victims, and advocate to end sexual violence in Duluth.
by Emilee Wolf
"March for Science in Duluth Minnesota." A recap of Saturday's March for Science along Duluth's Lake Superior Lakewalk.
by Emily Ness
For Richard Howell, West Fourth Street is much more than a street. It is an echo of his evolution. Listen to Reporter, Emily Ness, profile Richard's journey in this podcast! Or
by Emily Ness & Emilee Wolf
It was on March 15th, 1982, that the Damiano Center’s soup kitchen served its first meal.
The building’s faded brick exterior and stained glass windows reflect the time that has passed.
A statue of the Virgin Mary sits at the front of the building. Over the years, she has watched many come and go.
Today, 34 years later, the Damiano Center has grown to be the largest emergency meal provider in Northeastern Minnesota.
To walk into the Damiano Center at lunch time is to enter one of the city’s defining public spaces. Chances are, you’ll leave feeling humbled. After all, it is places like the Damiano Center that make the city of Duluth livable for everyone — Including its most vulnerable residents.
The center’s soup kitchen fills quickly — bringing sounds of chitchat, the scraping of chairs on floor tiles, and the thud of trays being knocked against the inside of trash cans.
Men, women and children stand in line where they accept trays that quickly fill with roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, milk and chocolate pudding.
The guests eat and finish, and rise and leave — most without a word, and often times getting back in line for seconds. Newcomers settle in beside them.
Sandy Bennett has been the Food Service Manager at the Damiano Center for 17 years. She has long had a passion for serving others.
“People can eat until they are full,” Bennett said.
The soup kitchen’s portions are generous. The menu for each meal has been designed to provide a person with enough calories to last twenty-four hours. Most people who eat at the soup kitchen look like anybody. If you sat across from them on the bus, you would never guess how hungry they are.
According to Katherine Mueller, Development Director, the center typically feeds 50 people breakfast, 200-400 people lunch and 100-200 people dinner.
“We rely heavily on donations. We often receive day old bread and food close to its expiration date from a number of grocery stores, restaurants and so on,” Mueller said.
As a result of donations, The Damiano Center is able to provide meals five days a week, feeding the masses.
“In addition to the meals that we serve, we keep a number of food items on hand.” Bennett said. “If someone comes in hungry, we don’t turn them away.”
Since serving its first meal, The Damiano Center has evolved to include a multitude of programs.
Like the Soup Kitchen, The Kids Cafe is another one of the center’s sought after programs.
Similarly to a classroom, The Kids Cafe is adorned with artwork, name tags and books. Here, children are provided after school care.
The program includes tutors, nutrition education, activities and so on.
“We have a garden in the backyard where kids are able to plant seeds and grow food,” Mueller said. “Just last week, they made carrot cake with the carrots that they had planted.”
In addition to teaching children about food, The Kids Cafe celebrates a variety of holidays. This past October, they even had a Halloween party.
“We try to recognize all of the kids’ cultures,” Mueller said.
Two more notable programs at The Damiano Center are The Clothing Exchange Program and The Clothes That Work Program. The first provides individuals with everyday wear and the second provides individuals with formal wear.
“I am so happy to be here,” Donna Verhel, Clothes that Work Coordinator said.“I think that I found my calling. You know how places sometimes find you? That is what happened here.”
Jackets, hats and mittens of all colors and sizes hang neatly around the room. The Damiano Center receives a number of donations — especially during the cold season.
“We have one anonymous donor who knits hats of all sizes and colors,” Bennett said. “Each year, she donates over 100.”
Warm clothes are available to whomever, whenever.
"If someone does need a coat, gloves or a hat, they are welcome to stop by at any time, as we keep our winter clothes in the lobby.” Mueller said. “They are welcome to come, take whatever warm item that they need, and go on their way.”
Finally, The Community Service Program, like other programs, is appreciated by many. It provides individuals with advocacy, gas vouchers, bus tokens, telephone lines and connections to other community resources.
“My job is incredibly rewarding,” Doug Happy, community services specialist said. “The people that we help are so appreciative. Sometimes, I will see people that I helped in the past walking down the street. They always greet me with a smile.”
Based on all that it does to help members of our community, The Damiano Center is most definitely a necessary asset in a livable city.
by Emily Ness & Emilee Wolf
A livable city must be livable for everyone — Including its most vulnerable residents. In this podcast, Reporters, Emily Wolf and Emily Ness, visit the Lincoln Park Boys & Girls Club. Part One features interviews with kids.
Or listen to Part One here.
A livable city must be livable for everyone — Including its most vulnerable residents. In this podcast, Reporters, Emily Wolf and Emily Ness, visit the Lincoln Park Boys & Girls Club. Part Two features interviews with volunteers and staff.
Or listen to Part Two here.
by Max Reagan & Ben McDonald
Duluth Mayor, Emily Larson, mentioned in her State of the City address last month that tackling the opioid addiction problem is a priority for the city. “St. Louis County has the highest per capita rate of opioid-related drug overdoses in the state,” said Larson during her address. “Higher even than Hennepin and Ramsey counties.”
In response to this endemic ravaging the Northland, Larson announced the creation of an opioid withdrawal unit, stating that Duluth will work with St. Louis County, the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, and the 6th District Judicial Court. The unit would support users and make sure resources are available for recovering from addiction as a way to make Duluth a more livable for its citizens.
St. Louis County is just one of many areas following this nationwide trend of increasing deaths from opioid overdoses due to legal prescriptions such as Oxycontin and Dilaudid as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. But how did this happen? Why have opioids become such a problem not only for Duluth but the nation as well?
How Opioids Have Become Such a Problem:
Prior to the 1990s, the majority of opioid prescriptions were given for severe post-surgical pain or end-of-life treatment. According to an Associated Press article, Painkiller Politics, during the 1990’s, opioids began being used to treat chronic pain after pharmaceutical companies and some medical experts claimed they could be used without addiction — these claims proved to be misleading.
Justina Brusacoram, a emergency service technician at Essentia Health — St. Mary’s Medical Center, witnesses the destruction of opioid misuse on a weekly basis.
“The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has created an addiction to opioid pain medication,” Brusacoram said. “Which has led to patients further seeking of drugs like heroin.”
Brusacoram attributes the increased use of heroin in this area as a result of prescription medications. When patients who have been receiving opioid pain medication for chronic pain can no longer receive these pain medications they turn to illicit drugs such as heroin. It may be easier and cheaper to obtain.
“The people that we are seeing having overdoses in the ER, which are a very frequent thing, they are not the typical junkies that you’d expect to see on the street using heroin. It is your everyday mom and pops, grams and gramps coming in with overdoses,” Brusacoram said.
This is a problem that is not restricted by social barriers, but runs rampant in all social classes and all parts of society.
Another part of the problem is the over-prescribing of these medications by physicians. Brusacoram says this could be due to a negative outcome of the Affordable Care Act that switched compensation for hospitals based on services provided to compensation based on outcomes and patient satisfaction surveys. One component of this patient satisfaction survey is pain management.
“Now doctors are rated on their quality based on their patient satisfaction scores,” Brusacoram said. “We are seeing increasing pressure on doctors to prescribe pain management medications to avoid negative scores on HCAHPS.”
Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is the name of the patient satisfaction scores that determine the amount of funding a hospital receives.
How Big is the Problem? What Are the Numbers?:
As of April 2017, Duluth has seen 13 reported overdoses. According to the statistics provided by the Duluth Police Department, there has been a 329 percent increase in reported overdoses from 2013 to 2016 (Fig. 1).
With the increase in reported overdoses has also come an increase in the use of Narcan (Fig. 2), a medical injection that has the powers of reversing an opioid overdose. The percentage of time that Narcan is administered in overdose reports has also increased from 11.8 percent in 2013 to 84.6 percent through March of 2017.
Also on the rise has been the number of search warrants issued and executed by the Duluth Police Department Drug Task Force as they have been searching to eliminate the source of the heroin (Fig. 3). From 2015 to 2016, there was a 97 percent increase in the number of search warrants executed by the Task Force, increasing from 62 to 121 — more than doubling the previous year’s totals.
The amount of heroin seized in Duluth has also followed this trend (Fig. 4). Task Force heroin seizures have increased from 2010 to 2016, having seen a 6493 percent increase in the amount of heroin seized from 2010 to 2016, from 15 grams to 989 grams.
A Look at the Opioid Withdrawal Unit:
The opioid withdrawal unit would be a joint venture between the city of Duluth, St. Louis County, the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, the 6th District Judicial Court, and local hospitals. The unit would be a safe place for those who overdose to receive immediate care. Currently it can take sometimes up to a week for a user to be admitted into a hospital. It would also aid those who wish to medical intervention to assist in the withdrawal from opioids. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the opioid withdrawal unit would provide a connection to other support and resources for those battling addiction.
Recovering addict Simon Ramirez-Williams discussed his experience with opioids and the creation of an opioid withdrawal unit.
“Oh I’ve done just about any substance you can think of,” Ramirez-Williams chuckled. “But heroin is the one that really took me down.”
A native of San Antonio, Ramirez-Williams said that his experiences with heroin withdrawals were the worst thing he has ever endured.
“I’ve been shot and sliced, but when I first went through [opioid] withdrawals that was the worst shit of my life,” said Ramirez-Williams.
Simon wishes he had access to a resource like the opioid withdrawal unit during his battle with opioids.
“The first time I was really off the stuff [heroin], was when I was in jail,”said Ramirez-Williams. “I went through the whole withdrawal experience alone in a cell and I told myself I would never go through this again.”
Unfortunately for Simon, this was not be his last encounter with heroin.
“So I was off it [heroin] for about five months until I got out [of jail] and right when I got out I went back right on my bullshit,” said Ramirez-Williams. “Doing the same stuff, hanging with the same people and sure enough within a couple weeks of being out I was right back to using.”
An all too familiar story says Kira Sheldon, a social worker with the St. Louis Public Health & Human Services Department.
“Without some sort of support system, relapse is almost a certainty,” says Sheldon. This is where the creation of an opioid withdrawal unit could find its greatest effect. Within a unit like this Sheldon says, “users could find support and have access to other resources for recovering from addiction.”
How can Duluth become a more livable city? A livable city doesn’t just entail food diversity, walkability, or a strong local economy. Perhaps the biggest thing that makes a city livable is the residents. A factor of livability can be a community of people who are willing to help out a neighbor in need, which is at the heart of the creation of this withdrawal unit.
Duluth has been hit by the opioid endemic, which has brought addiction, crime, overdose and death to shores of Lake Superior. There are people in this city struggling with addiction because the resources they need are not available to them. The creation of this unit would add to Duluth’s livability in a much more literal way — it would change lives. Livability at its foundation means a city taking every necessary step to ensure the health, safety, and survival of every one of its inhabitants.
by Cheyenne Vavrina
It is no lie that sexual assault occurs around the globe, but it may seem more like a secret in Duluth, Minn. This is why April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. An important aspect for many within a livable city is safety. Safety consists of more than police officers and firemen, it’s the services that help people feel safe within a city.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Nation Network (RAINN), 321,500 Americans over the age of 12 are sexually assaulted each year. Professionals are needed to help victims of sexual assault. This is why PAVSA (Program for aid to victims of sexual assault) is available to people in the Duluth area.
Sam Madsen from PAVSA said, “we try to provide the most holistic services.”
PAVSA will be hosting three events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Event One: April 3rd
At this event Mayor Emily Larson dedicated April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event took place on the fifth floor of the Duluth Courthouse at 12:00 p.m.
This was a ceremonial type of event as PAVSA’s way of kicking off Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So there’s no need to worry if you missed this event because there’s still plenty more to do in the upcoming days.
Event Two: April 6th — Herstory Luncheon
This event is one of PAVSA’s main events for the month. The event is free and takes place at the Greysolon Ballroom by Black Woods. It will start at 11:30 a.m. and end at 1 p.m.
At the event, members from PAVSA will be reflecting on the work of their employees and their volunteers. It is also an awareness event for PAVSA to get a chance to talk more about the things they do for the community.
Madsen said, “it’s a great way to talk with community members.”
To attend the event you must RSVP with PAVSA by calling 218–726–1442. Though the event is free, donations are welcome.
Event Three: April 21st — I Heart Consensual Sex Party
To conclude PAVSA’s events for Sexual Assault Awareness month, they will be hosting a party at the Red Herring Lounge. The party has a cover charge of $5 dollars that go straight to PAVSA as a donation. The event starts at 6 p.m. with a social hour until 8 p.m. This is when the live music gets turned up a notch… or two. The live music will feature DJ Path Annu, Black River Revue, Chasm of Czar, 100 Nights, The Medical Underground, and The Fiasco. The I Heart Consensual Sex Party is a great way to get out and support a Duluth organization that has helped many people.
Other Sexual Assault Awareness Month Events
Consent Week at UMD:
Monday 4/3: BDSM Kink & Consent Workshop 6 p.m. in Kirby Rafters
Tuesday 4/4: “The Hunting Ground” documentary screening + Q&A with UMDPD and Student Conduct 7 p.m. in Bohannon 90
Wednesday 4/5: “The Hottest Policy You’ve Heard: Affirmative Consent” Brown Bag with Kristi Beaver 12 p.m. in KSC 268
Thursday 4/6: FIY (Frost It Yourself) Cupcake Bake Sale 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in Kirby Commons
Friday 4/7: “Stand Up Against Sexual Assault” Stand-In 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Kirby Garage | “Best Party Model” presentation by Men As Peacemakers followed by a social (fun, friends, and Free Food) 7 p.m. in Kirby Ballroom
by Scott Longaker
The chorus of jobs, jobs, jobs that comes from the White House as of late seems to be ringing hollow in Duluth. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics puts preliminary reports of January’s unemployment rate in Duluth at 6.7 percent.
That’s up more than 2 percentage points since October.
While such a jump could be due to a variety of factors — one factor could be that those looking for work may be facing barriers keeping them from work.
Daniel Stanton is one of those who has trouble finding work.
“My wife and I only own one car, which she uses to take our kids to and from school, daycare, and other things they are involved in,” he said. “So I either need to work on the bus line or take a cab to work.”
Stanton also explained that those options severely limit his choice in finding work.
“Most the jobs I can get to on the bus pay no more than $10 per hour with no benefits,” he said. “Making that much we still need to rely on different assistance programs, there is no future there.”
Instead Stanton found a job outside of the bus line, but must rely on rides from co-workers or pay for a ride service that operates under the table — which makes Stanton nervous that it could disappear any time.
“Its a risk worth taking,” he said. “At the job I have now I have already been considered for a small promotion and it comes with benefits, which my family and I need.”
Betsy Harmon, regional manager for Minnesota’s Department of Employment & Economic Development says some of those barriers are real.
Specifically the barrier of transportation to and from work.
“A lot of these jobs are where the bus doesn’t go,” she said referring to some of few manufacturing and factory jobs in the area. Cirrus Aircraft is one major employer that lies outside the bus routes.
While plenty of jobs exist in Duluth’s healthcare industry most require specialized training and licensing — two requirements that may not be easy to obtain for someone who has experienced long-term unemployment.
Another barrier that stands in the way for many seeking employment in healthcare is the presence of a criminal record. According to Harmon, a criminal record would prevent a person’s ability to work in healthcare.
“We do offer vocational rehab,” she said. “But criminal records can be a problem.”
The City of Duluth has instituted a new policy as reported in the Duluth News Tribune. The policy aims to ease at least one barrier people face — some entry level positions in the city’s utility department will no longer require a valid driver’s license for employment. Instead, the new policy will allow a person to work with the goal of obtaining a valid license within one year.
The new policy will also apply to some seasonal workers the city employs.
While this new policy may open up a few doors, many will remain closed unless more is done, and according to Harmon it needs to be done by those doing the hiring.
“Talk to businesses,” she said. “It’s not just up to government — they need to — talk to some businesses.”