Hood Code

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to Jason Gibson, the founder of Hood Code. Jason grew up in Queens in the New York City Public Housing buildings (NYCHA). Like many of his peers, he found himself making plenty of cash, as he said, “working business on the streets”. Eventually, he found himself arrested and sentenced to 5 years in jail.

He served 35 months and made the best of his time figuring out his life, himself, and how to never return. He told me that jail is jail, nobody helps you there, you are just locked up. Painful but true. He started reading about the titans of today and how their access to technology at a young age was key. He taught himself to code, found a non-profit organization to give guidance when he got out.

His guiding light was to return to the NYCHA community and give kids (8-14) access to a computer and learn how to code through Scratch. Most parents have no access, and no idea about writing code, and neither do the kids. He hopes that this opportunity of learning to code will empower the youth of his community to subvert the school to prison pipeline to the school to career.

Jason works as a developer 50 hours or more a week with a pro-bono law office acting as essentially an agent to help formerly incarcerated people stay out of jail. Jason wants to see Hood Code (great name btw) get into every NYCHA building (they all have community centers) in afterschool and summer programs right next to the basketball and art classes run. He is spot-on; there should be a coding class too. The big picture is to help the kids who can get into college do so, and the ones that can’t help them secure developer jobs.

Jason is amazing, inspiring, and making a serious impact in his community. He even texts the parents of the kids he teaches now every night to make sure they show up the next day. He got his 5013C and is now a full-fledged non-profit organization. Being able to give him the full amount he needs right now at the end of our call made my summer. Gotham Gives will connect him to the organizations we have been supporting for years through our family foundation with hopes to fulfill his dreams.

Just like any industry, disrupting from the outside is the key. He grew up in NYCHA, he understands the reality of his community, and there is no doubt he will change many kids’ lives.

If you are inspired, please give. Every dollar truly counts. He is making lemonade every day.

Condo Mayhem

What happened in Florida shouldn’t happen, period. A building shouldn’t fall down. Someone said to me, who was not born here, said this happens in third-world countries where corruption is rampant. Remember watching the YouTube video of major buildings in China being put up in a few days. Would you want to live there?

I shudder to think about the people who live in Florida in the condominiums still standing.  Building regulators and insurance companies are swooping in to look under the hood. Undoubtedly there will be repairs needed, and the cost will be high. What happens when you can afford to buy the condo, pay the monthly fees, but when there is an assessment, it throws off your money management to the wind?

As the story unfolds, and it will take time, the cost to fix the structural problems associated with the building was delayed due to the massive cost. The question is always, who is to blame and who should pay for this? Should the developer? Why me? What happens to people who are now homeless, must continue to pay their mortgage and were living their best life, and now find themselves living on the edge in a hotel?

There will be tremendous debt to fix the buildings still standing. It needs to be monitored, or it will become a serious problem ten years from now when the gig is up.  We have watched that in our history through the mortgage crisis.  But this is what we do.  We leverage.  It is very American.  We live beyond our means, and the banks take full advantage of that.

Many years ago, we were in Madrid and met up with an old friend from high school. Her father was a diplomat, so she and all of her siblings spread out around the world. Her husband, who was a Spanish banker, was shocked that she had credit card debt. In Spain, at least at this point, they did not have credit cards. Credit card debt was unacceptable. They lived vastly different than Americans.

Millennials are not into debt, and Generation Z is definitely not. We might all take a lesson from this. The desire of the next generation to live within their means will force housing to change.  Developers leverage themselves with banks. They usually put down only 10% to buy a building or a plot of land and take the other 90% in debt to build the property with the hopes that they can then sell it, pay the bank back and make some money in the transaction. When there is a downturn in the economy, and when you only have very little skin in the game, it isn’t such a big deal to walk away.

Many lessons to be learned in Florida. I hope that we do not repeat lessons that should have been learned from our past about highly leveraging our bank accounts to live lives that teeter on the edge. I have never understood living large with debt. We had nothing for years and lived hand to mouth; the thought of seeing a huge credit card bill would have given us too much anxiety.

Panisse

King is one of my favorite spots in NYC. A restaurant run and owned by women. Love peeking in the kitchen and see only women cooking up a storm. One of the best treats is the Panisse to kick off the meal. I could go through a few plates myself. Then I saw a recipe from David Leibowitz, who I have been following from the start. I had to make Panisse.

Panisse is a chickpea fry. The key is getting them crisp on the outside and stay soft on the inside. Definitely making them again and again. These were a bit over-fried although still good!

2 1/4 cups chickpea flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1-quart water, olive oil for frying, and sea salt and for serving, including sage leaves, although they can be optional.

Oil a 9″ rimmed sheet pan.

In a medium saucepan, mix the chickpea flour with salt and olive oil.

Pour the chickpea flour in a medium saucepan along with the salt and olive oil. Then half of the water and stir with a sturdy whisk until the mixture is smooth. Then whisk in the rest of the water.

Bring the mixture to a boil, frequently stirring with the whisk until it begins to thicken. Then reduce the heat to low-to-medium and stir with a spatula until the mixture thickens and begins to hold its shape, and begins to pull away from the side of the pan. It should look like thick mashed potatoes. It took me about 5 minutes.

Immediately scrape the mixture into the rimmed sheet pan with the spatula, evening out the mixture to make the top smooth. Let this cool to room temperature.

Cut the mixture into the size of thick fries.

In a heavy skillet, fill the bottom with olive oil, about 1/2 inch. Once the oil begins to shimmer, drop the fries in the pan, do not crowd them. Let them get browned on one side, then slip and brown the other side. Use tongs much easier. When they are ready, set them on paper towels or brown paper to drain. I also tossed in some sage leaves (like King does) and put them on the top. It also adds to the taste of the oil.

Salt and serve. A fried sage on top of a fry is delicious!

The Non-Vaccinated

Los Angeles has brought back the mask. I am pissed. Why should the vaccinated have to suffer because of the stupidity of others?

In France, Macron said enough is enough. It is mandatory to get vaccinated if you want to do anything, basically. A digital health pass would be required to get into a bar, restaurant, amusement park, shopping center, trains, buses, planes, and any public space. We should do the same thing.

This isn’t about freedom. This is about keeping us all safe. Safe from each other. That is the role of the Government.

It isn’t about them; it is about us, the vaccinated.

We are lucky that the US bought enough vaccinations so that we can all move past the pandemic. Look at India, Africa, and other countries that continue to have lockdowns. Have you seen the photos of their hospitals?

Just when we thought we were moving past the pandemic, a new variant shows up, creating havoc on non-vaccinated people who are returning to the hospitals and getting sick. When kids go to school, they have to have proof of their vaccinations as they should, or they don’t get to attend school. Do we really want a rise again of polio, smallpox, and other deadly diseases that have supposedly been eradicated through vaccinations?

If you don’t have a digital health passport proving you have been vaccinated, stay in your house forever and never come out. Enjoy the life that you have chosen for yourself so the vaccinated can enjoy the life that we all want to live.

Just an added bonus, my friend Tracey wrote a post called “I Assumed” on the same topic. An absolute worthy read.

Changing Publishing, Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau, Podcast # 153

Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau are the founders and CEOs behind the new independent publishing house, Spiegel & Grau. We got together over zoom to discuss their entrepreneurial journey, the challenges of creating an independent publishing house in the pandemic age, and the release of their first title, Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship

To learn more about Spiegel & Grau, you can visit the website

You can also listen to the podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Our next guest on PGG will be Andrea Schneider, the brilliant academic and driven negotiator at the head of the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Marquette University Law School.

Drugs

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) tweeted, “Heartened to hear that @SenSchumer and the Senate will soon take up marijuana decriminalization. Marijuana policy has long been used as an agent of racial discrimination, with its effects reverberating through nearly every sphere of American life.”

California’s attorney general said he thinks psychedelics policy reform is now where marijuana was a few years ago.

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) tweeted, “Excited to join my colleagues in the fight to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. Now is the time to fix our antiquated drug laws!”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted, “Decriminalize cannabis now.”

I have shared my thoughts on drugs as long as I have been writing this blog. It is time for each state and the Federal Government to move forward with a major change in the laws around cannabis and, quite frankly, psychedelics.

Schumer, Wyden, and Booker unveiled a bill yesterday hoping that cannabis’ drug status changes, including sweeping reform. High hopes, no pun intended. Biden isn’t that excited about it, but he is from a very different generation. This will happen; it is just about when.

The daily tweets from our representatives, congresspeople, senator, and CEOs of public companies vocalize their desire for change. As we talk about reparations, Evanston, Illinois is the first city to vote for a reparations bill, and talk about teaching children the reality of systemic racism in our country; the war on drugs is just another series of bad decisions by our leaders.

The narrative must change. It is time.

History is the key to the Future

Critical Race Theory has become a new topic of creating division in our country. I’d love to ignore the nonsense, but you can’t because people truly believe that we shouldn’t teach that racism has been baked into the foundation of this country. But it is.

These days we are watching an uprising of citizens debase educators hoping that their protests will force history to be taught with blind eyes. It is similar to watching helicopter parents. It all goes under my disdain for micro-managing.

It is the fear that our children will grow up in a more equitable world where we acknowledge that systemic racism has occurred from day one? Or is it the fear of change? Or is it an embarrassment to us to tough Americans that are hell-bent on patriotism at any cost? What is it?

I get it, but I don’t get it. Change is underfoot, in a new way, and in a better way. We evolve as a nation, maybe we are teenagers right now, and we will eventually get to the other side. Teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, from the time our children are in nursery school, is the only way to move our nation forward. What is the point of creating a divide? It just creates anger and frustration.

In the end, change always wins, whether you like it or not.

Jed Foundation

Katherine Duncan, the Director of Foundation relationships at the Jed Foundation, reached out to me. She read the blogs I wrote on mental health, something I am passionate about, and reached out. We have been talking ever since. Gotham Gives, the public foundation that Fred and I began, and our team Jennifer Klopp and Sarah Holloway made our first gift to the Jed Foundation. Part of Gotham Give’s mission is to bring partners to the table to work with impactful organizations together.

Below is the case study from the Jed Foundation. We are quite excited about working with Jed.

Youth mental health, substance misuse, and suicide are major, long-term public health issues in the U.S., negatively impacting communities, schools, and families. The  COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health stressors and reduced access to care for millions of teens and young adults. 

The impact on New York City’s high school students is significant. Many New York City students have lost parents/caregivers to the pandemic, causing grief and creating instability. Others live in families that have been pushed into poverty as a result of pandemic-related job losses, resulting in financial insecurity and parental anxiety, and stress.

Gotham Gives is partnering with The Jed Foundation (JED) for the rapid implementation of a public health initiative to protect the emotional health and wellbeing of New York City’s youth. 

JED is an established and respected leader in advancing evidence-based strategies to support and improve mental health in youth. JED combines deep subject matter expertise —  in youth mental health and suicide, school systems change, program design, implementation, and evaluation — with local, school- and community-based knowledge. JED works with the schools to assemble a diverse team made up of administrators, educators, students, parents and caregivers, and mental health professionals to develop a strategic plan that guides all work.

The support from Gotham Gives will allow JED to significantly expand its work in New York City within public high schools attended by higher-risk youth through rapid scaling of its JED High School model. JED will be available to support the New York City Department of Education on system-level strategies and work with school districts and individual schools on a range of youth mental health and suicide prevention topics.  

In addition, JED will expand its community workshops for youth, parents, families, and other community members in New York City and engage in communication campaigns in New York City to support and complement its in-school work. 

Over the next 3.5 years, Gotham Gives’ support will substantially help JED reach its goal of implementing the JED High School program at 75-100 New York City high schools, directly reaching an estimated 60,000-80,000 students and indirectly reaching additional schools and students through advising engagements and district level campaigns.

Examples of past communications campaigns led by JED include “There’s Help All Around You,” which JED developed in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. The second phase of this campaign, “Let’s Talk,” launched in May 2021.  

Space?

What is up with space? In the Summer of Soul, my brother reminded me of a movie produced by our friend Dave Dinerstein, the scene he called “Whitey on the Moon.” Just noting, an incredible must-see film. At this time, Gil-Scott Heron, an unknown Harlem poet, was at the event and spoke to newscasters covering the concern. He said, “I can’t pay no doctor bill (but Whitey’s on the moon) / Ten years from now I’ll be paying still (while Whitey’s on the moon.”

Now that the rich entrepreneurs have decided to monetize space or others such as George Lucas, that insanely creative Seth Rogan wrote about in his laugh-out-loud book Yearbook. George was going to escape from the world on his rocket, and nobody was coming along.

Let us remember, the entrepreneurs will be taking that first flight because they can. Is space more important than saving our planet? It seems pretty nice here. We haven’t taken great care of planet Earth, but it seems that if all that money that went towards the spacecraft went to public housing or massive education shifts and saved our earth through climate change, it could be quite game-changing.

I wonder if women had that type of cash, what would they do? MacKenzie Scott rules. She is spreading it out in so many good ways. Melinda Gates has already made an impact; what is she going to impact next? There are others. Those women should all be using this platform that they now have to change the world and amplify what they are doing. They are role models for the next generation of young girls and boys.

I am pretty sure that any of the female entrepreneurs I know, no matter how much money they made, wouldn’t build a spaceship. Just saying.

Are We All Just Going to Slow Down?

There are a few game-changing post-Covid changes taking place. People are slowing down. Some people are deciding that they don’t really want to work. Unclear how that pays for the rent. It is how we want to live that is changing. It is about mental health. Pre-Covid, we were running at full speed, and many felt like a hamster on a wheel, then everything changed.

We were all going so fast, pretending that our infrastructure was working until Covid hit. We were at the height of wealth, bringing corruption and allowing places like Hudson Square to be built. Why not public housing? All those tax breaks, for what? Now nobody will go back to work as they did, and I am quite confident desk life at 100% capacity it will never return. It goes back to the reality that we all want to slow down, change the world we came from. It was time, and now it is time.

Slowing down is good for communities, friendships, families, all those parts of our lives that deserve more time. I am still working, creating new businesses, but I am not frantic. I felt frenetic before Covid. I don’t believe anyone wants to go back to frantic. It is also ok, to be honest about our mental health. Someone said that pre-Covid she would tell her team that she had a locked-in meeting every week at 5 pm that she had to go to. Now she would say, I have my therapist every week at 5 pm in my calendar. It is subtle, but it is huge.

Every person in the entire world has been affected by Covid. We will see a major social change from this historical experience called Covid perhaps sooner than later. The overlying question is how will this change our global economy that has built on some shaky ground.