Reader’s Forum–Harriet Hoffman, Doug Balder and Carl Farmer

As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image.  This is our last installment on our way to our conference call with LaToya Ruby Frazier this evening at 7 pm EST (call in details at the end of this post). We will hear from Harriet Hoffman, Doug Balder and Carl Farmer.


Unless you’re from Braddock

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 104: UPMC Life-Changing Medicine, 2012

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 104: UPMC Life-Changing Medicine, 2012

I was a photographer in New York City from 1978-1988, during a period of budget deficits, high crime, boarded up buildings and poor city services.  What interested me a lot as a photographer was the solitariness of so many people I saw juxtaposed in various ways against the lonely streets of the communities in decline.  So I was immediately drawn to LaToya Ruby Frazier’s beautiful, emotional book chronicling her family’s three-generational relationship to the ultimate destruction of their city of Braddock, PA.

In 1980 I became the photo editor for the New York Alliance newspaper, covering the development of the New Alliance Party (the earliest forerunner of the NYC Independence Party) and a host of other community and cultural organizations, so I was on the scene photographing both the grassroots organizing activities and the many protests of that period.

When I saw this photograph of the sign, “UPMC Life Changing Medicine UNLESS YOU’RE FROM BRADDOCK” and the lone gentleman standing beside it, I thought immediately of the 1980 closing of Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital by then Mayor Ed Koch, and the huge protests that followed.  Mayor Koch ordered the hospital closed to fill a deficit in the city budget.  Sydenham was the first municipal hospital to allow African American doctors to bring in their own patients, and it had tremendous practical, political and emotional significance to the community and the Black doctors and nurses who worked there.

In response, the New Alliance Party started the Dump Koch movement, Dump Koch Buttonwith hundreds of people selling thousands of black and white Dump Koch buttons for $1 on the streets and subway cars all over the City.  Those little buttons became a symbol of a callous administration that put its self-interest ahead of the needs of poor people.  Institutions like UPMC in Braddock and Sydenham Hospital in Harlem can’t ever be replaced.

PS – Years later Ed Koch admitted that he was wrong to close Sydenham Hospital.

hoffman solo

Harriet Hoffman is a community organizer with the New York City Independence Clubs. She is the producer of the popular Talkin’ Independence series of monthly volunteer events.





The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 102-103: UPMC Braddock Hospital and Holland Avenue Parking Lot, 2011

Working, poor, destitute
Steel, layoff, outsourced
Home, rundown, shell
Groceries, package store, food stamps
Hospital, clinic, disease
Job, unemployment, drugs
Three, two, one

IMG_0777Douglas Balder is an architect and on the Board of Directors of the All Stars Project.







‘River Water Valley

They built the mill

The people came

We built the houses shops churches

They built a Library

We built a community

They closed the mill

And We did nothing

The houses shops and churches were boarded up

And We did nothing

They closed the hospital and tore it down

We now have….

Rust Pollution Desolation

When will we ever learn’

My great grandfather emigrated from Germany and worked with the Scot Carnegie translating English to German for the German-speaking immigrant workers. None of my family lives in Western Pennsylvania now…..the cousins that worked the mills became steel erectors; the last spinster lived on an island in the Allegheny. Western Pennsylvania is tough and mountainous. Industry has depleted the natural resources. The coal has been mined and stripped. The people have been thrown away. LaToya Ruby Frazier’s monograph The Notion of Family shows life in a de-industrialized steel town populated by community characterized by colorblindness and structural racism. I have looked at the photographs of Family in three different ways: People, Buildings and Organizations.


Frazier Family – Grandma Ruby, Mom, La Toya and Pee Wee. Braddock Community The intimate family photos are of the Frazier women while the community photos are of people demonstrating against the hospital closure. 15: Grandma Ruby Smoking Pall Malls 24-25: Mom and Me in the Alleyway 26: Grandma Ruby Holding Her Babies 81: Sergeant Frazier 120: Grandma Ruby, Mom and Me 100: Grandma Ruby and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue 101: Rally to Protest UPMC East ‘Grandma Ruby Holding Her Babies’ reinforces the importance of the Grandma in holding the family together and raising the grandchildren. Grandparents are usually more important than parents in defining social responsibility in us.


Domestic: housing and shops Institutional: mill and hospital 6: United States Steel Mon Valley Works Edgar Thomson Plant 21: Home on Braddock Avenue 38: Islay’s on Braddock Avenue 39: Bell’s Market on Braddock Avenue 51: Homes on Halket Street 71: Stamboli’s Poultry Market on Braddock Avenue 89: 1908 Eight Street Market on Talbot Avenue 102: UPMC Braddock Hospital and Holland Avenue Parking Lot 108: Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Hospital on Braddock Avenue 118: Former Braddock Hospital Site 126: Home on Sixth Street and Washington Avenue The buildings form another family. Unfortunately, it is a family falling apart. Houses range from ivy covered partial shells to outdated quality stock in need of repair and maintenance.

The commercial sector is all boarded up. The demolition of the hospital is criminal. It is very depressing for me as I have spent the majority of my career designing and building hospitals and housing including repurposing existing buildings for both the private and public sectors.


Industrial – USS and BOC Healthcare – Braddock Hills Medicine Shoppe and Braddock Hospital 36: The Bottom 111: Detox Braddock UPMC BOC manufactures and supplies industrial gasses; both these processes cause pollution of the air and soil. USS manufactures steel; both these processes cause pollution of the air and soil. However, the medical services needed to treat the resultant medical conditions have been removed from the Braddock community. My great Uncle was required to wear a white shirt to the office every day; by the time he returned home in the evening his shirt was dark grey. That was the pollution we could see. Now the pollution is less visible, but it is still there. The photos showing air being polluted and the results of the ionic foot detox procedure are frightening. The procedure may have its skeptics; but the results show a significant quantity of pollutants in the body. As a society we need to do more to provide a healthy environment.


John Fetterman was raised in York, Pennsylvania and moved to Braddock in 2001 with AmeriCorps. He was elected mayor in 2005 and has instigated youth and arts programs. This has led to various artists and small green businesses moving to Braddock (also sometimes spelled with two c’s instead of ck – Braddocc). However, colorblindness and structural racism still seem to exist. Ten years of progress?     

IMG_5967Carl Farmer is a designer and political activist now living in Rhode Island




Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–June Hirsh, Rick Robol and Tiani Coleman

As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image.  Today we hear from June Hirsh, Rick Robol and Tiani Coleman.



The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 45 Mom Holding Mr. Art, 2005

When I first saw the photograph “Mom Holding Mr. Art” I saw sadness, stoicism, hopelessness – defeat. I saw a loss that was palpable to me. Yet I also saw resoluteness and strength. In The Notion Of Family Mr. Art appears more than once. He is part of the fabric of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s life, her mother’s and her family’s life.

Each time I re-visit the photograph, each time I see it, new feelings and thoughts emerge. I see intimacy and love – a strong bond between Mr. Art and Frazier’s mother. Yet this is not an embrace. How “Mom” is holding Mr. Art says to me – I care for you. Somehow I will protect you. We are in this together. There is sustenance here. Frazier’s mother’s expression is sad, it’s resigned; yet it also says to me – we will make it through.

Frazier’s family had migrated from the South and lived in Braddock for 4 generations. They “escaped” along with 6 milion other blacks from the early 1900’s to the early 1960’s  from the brutally racist Jim Crow south. They re-settled in Braddock, PA to build a new life. But with the close of the steel mills, life as they knew it – the life that they had built –was ripped away from them.

To quote Frazier,

“Some people remember, Braddock was the place that had all the theaters, had all the bars, had all the shopping centers. That’s why people came here. They came to shop and for entertainment in that period.

The steel mill was the center of the town, and most of its residents worked there and lived in Carnegie-built row homes. That area, the way I see it historically, was the right of passage for black and white steelworkers. At one point we all lived there. But as the steel industry declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the area lost much of its vitality. White residents moved away from Braddock, leaving behind communities of color who were frequently barred from getting loans to buy homes elsewhere.

Through discrimination and racial and systemic oppression, you see how black people were entrapped in that area — through redlining, and not being able to get loans from banks to move to the suburbs, how they were left behind.”

When I see Mr. Art in the photo I chose and in others he is depicted in, I also realize that the look in his eyes and his demeanor bring to my mind and heart my Father, Irving Hirsh.  He was a loving man, angry, depressed, sad. He saw himself as a failure because he couldn’t provide more for his family. He had a hidden shame that he shared with me when I was grown about the abuse he experienced from his father, a seemingly pious man, who brutalized him, his mother and his sisters.

Mr. Art and my Father come from very different histories, cultures, races. Yet there are threads – a commonality of

Irving and June Hirsh

Irving and June Hirsh

exclusion and persecution and a humanness too – that bind them. My father was a working class Jew, first generation of a family that emigrated from Romania in the early 1900’s to escape the murderous pogroms against Jews. We lived in New York – in Brooklyn. He worked his whole life in the garment district in Manhattan, which produced women’s and men’s blouses and shirts. Long hours – backbreaking work, bending over the massive cutting and pattern making tables in a unionized sweat shop – freezing in the winder – and broiling hot it the summer.  One day he brought me to work with him in the factory. We always called it the Place – “Daddy’s at the Place.”  He was introducing me to the other workers –some dong similar work, some hauling in fabrics – and women  – many women working at the sewing machines. I remember how proud my Father was to introduce all of us to each other. Suddenly his boss plowed into the space and began berating and yelling at him. I have no memory of why or what was said but I knew that my dear Father was so humiliated – devastated. I was frightened and ashamed.  We never spoke about it after that.  My Father never took me back to the factory.

When my Father was older he studied a lot. He became proud, stronger – less beaten down. He urged me to stand up for what I believe in – to not turn away from injustices. There were times that he talked to me about how blacks and Jews were oppressed people and how both fought back against the terror of oppression.  He learned about the great migration of blacks out of the South, how courageously blacks fought and died to abolish slavery – he likened the anti-black murderous acts in the south to pogroms. He showed me how Jews were not cowards who walked meekly into the gas ovens – they were fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and in the face of death fought back in so many other valiant ways  – and that blacks and Jews walked and organized side by side during the Civil Rights movement.

I have been an independent political activist, a progressive Jew, for close to 45 years now. I do my best to stand up for what I believe in. Organizing with Cathy Stewart and with many, many others, my commitment is to building community, to creating a more fair and decent world, so that all peoples can live in dignity and to do all that we can to bring an end to poverty. I thank and have  a lot of respect for Latoya Ruby Frazier for what she has co-created with her Mother and by using her “camera as a weapon” against injustice. I share a kinship with her, with her family, with her community – with all poor and working people, white and of color who were left behind in Braddock – for people of color, of all nationalities, races, and religions, Jews, Muslims, people who were and are at this very moment being destroyed or left behind in all the Braddock’s in the US and around the world.

junehirsch soloJune Hirsh is an organizer with

She lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.




The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 113: Grandma Ruby on her Bed, 2007

“Grandma Ruby On Her Bed” (gelatin print, 20” X 24”), 2007, is a striking image of a magnificent woman, Grandma Ruby, in her golden years. The brass bed frames the stunning beauty of this strong, wise, courageous woman who has seen many decades of joy, pain, humor and love. The play of light on her face and body bathes the goodness of her entire being. Pillows, soft sheets and a velveteen pleated bed skirt enthrone Grandma Ruby with regal warmth and comfort. Through it all, she has endured– and is symbol of the strength and hope of her family, of her people and of humanity.

Rick Robol is an attorney and activists for the Independents movement. 

Rick Robol at a Voting Rights are Primary informational picket outside the Ohio Secretary of State's offices, 2014.

Rick Robol at a Voting Rights are Primary informational picket outside the Ohio Secretary of State’s offices, 2014.

He currently serves on the National Electoral Reform Committee of, as well as Vice President of Independent Ohio.


The Notion of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 36-37: The Bottom (Talbot Towers, Alleghany County Housing Projects), 2009

The Notion of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 36-37: The Bottom (Talbot Towers, Alleghany County Housing Projects), 2009

Feeling profoundly transformed in a short period of time, I honor LaToya Ruby Frazier’s ability to capture through photography and only a few words, a vivid story that paints a compelling declaration – personal, familial, historical, sociocultural and political!

With a book entitled The Notion of Family, I was caught a little off guard as I opened the pages, and the family I was beholding had very little in common with my own.  I’m number eight of nine children, where faith, family and community were always interwoven, and we never felt alone or alienated.  Though my family’s gender roles were traditional, my father and mother had a genuine, loving, respectful relationship, and my father was fully engaged in our lives.  My childhood memories are only positive, bright and joyful.  I spent some of my childhood in sheltered, predominantly white communities in Utah, and some of my childhood in Mexico and Colombia.  I went to high school in Texas’ lower Rio Grande Valley, where at least 80% of my graduating class was Hispanic.  So while I had interactions with poverty and some minority cultures, my home was always a haven from the storm outside.  Though I was accepting of everyone, my young innocence internalized very little of the difficulties that people outside of my home were experiencing.

Going through the book, I focused on the art of the photography, appreciating the exposure I was getting to something different.  Grandma Ruby was intriguing, and I was feeling sympathy for LaToya and her family – but I wasn’t really personally connecting or empathizing . . . until everything changed at page 36.  When I read the words at the end of page 37, “Day and night, BOC Gases emits an industrial hissing sound that reverberates throughout the borough,” my mind returned to a conversation I recently had with a member of my community.

I’ve spent most of the last year fighting a proposal by Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, to construct a huge, high pressure natural gas pipeline from the fracking fields of PA to Dracut, MA (most likely for overseas export).  We found out last December that it was slated to cut right through my neighborhood, with our home in the “incineration zone” if there were to be an accident.  It will permanently clear-cut many forested areas; cross numerous rivers, streams, conservation lands and residential properties; and bring in compressor stations and other unsightly noise and pollution-producing facilities that will destroy the beauty, cohesiveness and way of life of numerous communities along its path.  It’s been a living nightmare of sorts for all of us impacted; we’ve had to spend all of our excess time researching, writing reports, attending meetings, waving signs, writing letters to the Editor and to public officials, informing other members of the community — doing anything and everything to fight a system that rubber stamps the agenda of the big corporations and gives them the benefit of eminent domain for their profit-making ventures.  We can feel so helpless as common citizens against the collusion of big money and elected officials.  My street has doctors, lawyers, respected businessmen, renowned scientists and involved members of the community.  We got the attention of our Board of Selectmen, and they formed a pipeline task force comprised of many of us, including a member of our conservation commission.  We raised such a stink, and understood where the most effective ways to put our energy were, that we were able to make a small change for the better.  If we had not gotten involved, the pipeline would have surely torn across our neighborhood and the river behind us and other town conservation land.  We haven’t been able to stop the pipeline yet, but we’ve influenced them to move the route enough that it won’t come through our neighborhood or the conservation land, and will be far enough away that we won’t be so deeply and personally impacted by its negative effects.

Yet, back to the conversation with the member of my community.  A retiree, she and her husband’s property was directly in the line of fire.  The new map now has their property out of the direct route, but they will still be in the “incineration zone,” may likely have a new gas-fired power plant erected by their home, and will be close enough to feel many of the negative effects of the pipeline.  Our taskforce had lobbied the company to move the route further away from them as well, but to no avail.  My friend said to me, paraphrasing, “We live closer to the industrial area, on the other side of the tracks; we’re not as affluent as your side of town; nobody cares about what happens to us.  Now the rest of town will go about their life and let our neighborhood and lives be completely destroyed.”  I felt for her, but I had already lost so much of my time, fighting.  We did what we could, and it could be worse . . . most of the other towns didn’t even accomplish that much.  But when I saw that picture on page 36, and read that line on page 37, “an industrial hissing sound that reverberates throughout the borough,” the whole book took on a personal meaning, and I knew clearly that I have a moral obligation to keep fighting on her behalf, and on behalf of all of the others in neighboring communities.

To me, BOC Gases on page 36 is a symbol of the nature of political change . . . when enough political pressure builds up, change happens, but because it’s done due to pressure and not out of a deeply rooted inner change and moral desire to altruistically improve human lives and create greater equality, the change is really a façade.  It may put out a temporary fire, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem, and creates new problems or even greater problems for others, usually those without a voice.  We must use our power to bring about real, systemic change that gives everyone a meaningful voice.  I thank LaToya Ruby Frazier for what she’s doing, and for influencing me to keep fighting, too.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Dr. Lenora Fulani (l) with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

Dr. Lenora Fulani (l) with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#


Reader’s Forum-Juliana Francisco

This was such an amazing book! Thank you for picking it for the book
club. I love it and I’ve loved reading everyone’s stories on the blog.


Lately I’ve been in search of art and literature that I can find solace in when faced with the cruel realities of the world. The Notion of Family has, without a doubt, been, simultaneously, the most painful yet comforting book I’ve yet come across. Ms. Frazier’s sincere and unapologetic look into her community, family, and personal life deeply resonates with me. The manner in which she documents and displays her pain and sadness is in direct opposition to how I handle everything about myself but her story has profoundly inspired me in so many different ways. I’ve long felt my mission in life was to help make the world a better place for the most vulnerable members of society. Yet I’ve now come to the realization that unless I stop running from my reality and confront my past directly I can never truly make an impact on other people’s lives.

Me and Mom in the Phase Pg 13

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 13: Mom and Me in the Phase. 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 13: Mom and Me in the Phase. 2007

This image of LaToya and her mother really speaks to me. The beautifully adorned surroundings, Mrs. Frazier’s countenance and LaToya, ghost-like, almost as if she’s hiding waiting for you to find her…

Truthfully the thing that struck me most from LaToya’s story was the progression of her relationship with her mother through art. Their relationship seemed distant at first but through creating photographs of one another and the world around them, they seem to get closer. I’ve never doubted that my mother loves me but I have always been conscious of the fact that their is a distance between us. I know it’s my fault: I’m too afraid to let anyone in. I’m afraid that people, even my own family, won’t like who I really am if they got to know me.

There is also an uglier truth hiding underneath: I’m afraid of what I may find out about her. My mother left the Dominican Republic when she was my age, 22 years-old, and left behind everyone she loved – her mother, her grandmother – and came to the United States in search of a better life for herself and everyone she left behind. Lured with the lie of the American Dream, she arrived in a country where she worked like a slave to make the rich richer, where she and other immigrants like her were treated like shit for having the audacity to not speak English, and for committing the crime of being brown and poor. Through all of this she had to stay brave for her three kids, while facing the unknown – all alone. I’m afraid of what I may find if I tear down that wall between us. All I wanted growing up was to preserve the idealized image of myself that she still somehow held onto. I wanted her to believe I was happy and had tons of friends and was doing so well in school because I figured the reality of my life would make her feel like all that she suffered was for nothing.

Between my background and my foreground I am not sure where I stand. Impacted by the Cosby effect society looked away in contempt while the Reagan administration sent its troops, cops, and K-9s to raid my home and classroom. pg 64

Growing up I mastered the art of hiding. A child of the Dominican diaspora, poor, underprivileged: all I inherited, unrequested, beat me down and imprisoned me to the point where I genuinely felt like my life had no value and I came to believe I had nothing to offer the world. Friends, family, and most frighteningly, myself – I’ve spent my brief lifetime hiding who I truly am. I was a shy and quiet kid from the start and I learned, as all children do, primarily through observing all that surrounded me. Hyper-aware of the world around me, I internalized everything – for better or worse.

I was born and raised in Bushwick back when it was still the very opposite of cool and trendy. The conditions were all too similar to the images I saw of Braddock – broken down and destitute. Almost everyone I knew was stuck under similar conditions: we were all poor, people of color, living in dilapidated, rat-infested houses on both section 8 and welfare, slaving away at minimum wage jobs with little to show for it. It was bleak but in spite of all of this the community still found a way to thrive and unite. This was especially true for my family. It was just my mom, my two older brothers and myself and there was so much love and unity- we had each other and that’s all we needed to be happy. It truly was wonderful but of course it didn’t last.

As children you can’t understand why things are the way they are. All I knew was I was I was poor and I had been taught by the media, through politicians, and even right in my underfunded classrooms at school to buy into the acerbic lie of the “American Dream” – anyone, no matter what race or class or gender can be whatever they want to be if they just work hard enough, and if you’re poor it’s you’re own fault for being lazy and a burden on society. I learned that lesson very early on.

Everyone I knew at school was in similar situations but even by those standards I was still weird and poor. I always felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve always felt like a stranger, like an Other: I was an other in America, my brown skin, Dominican heritage and socioeconomic background made sure of that; I was an other in DR, since I was born and raised in the states I was way too gringa and Americanized to really relate to and communicate with my relatives (including my father) who were still over there; and I was an Other at school with my peers, whom with I shared a somewhat similar background but still saw me as an oddity, someone to either ignore entirely or just laugh at. I remember being seven and utterly hating everything about myself: my hair, my brown skin, my dark eyes, my shyness, the fact that I was dirt poor. I didn’t see anyone like me in  television, movies or in the books I cherished so much. I had nothing and no one I could turn to for solace. I hated myself and desperately wanted to be someone else. I felt I couldn’t turn my to my mother because I didn’t want to hurt her with the reality of who I was and how I felt. I wanted, and still want, to protect her. But I was drowning and I desperately needed
someone, anyone to help me. As a preteen I remember trying to talk to my friends about all I was going through and I remember being mocked and bullied for it. Reflecting on her own experiences growing up, my fellow independent Michelle McCleary wrote this:

I had also begun to learn an ugly truth: You don’t talk about your suffering because no one wants to hear about it and no one really cares.

This ugly truth is one I learned early as well. It taunted me: you are alone.

By high school I had completely retreated from everyone around me. I didn’t even bother with friendships: I was a loner, I barely came to school because I realized that the public inner-city schools I had attended all my life were deliberately set up to fail us and for us to fail, completing our role at the bottom of the capitalism totem pole. I had no friends, and I knew I wouldn’t amount to anything so I saw no point in being there. My classmates made the best of their situation and found comfort in their shared experiences. Meanwhile I was left alone. I was alone at school and I was alone within my family, I became a total stranger – a ghost of who I used to be.

I’m twenty-two now and still in Bushwick. Realtors have slapped band-aids on the broken down houses and have long begun marketing the influx of white young professionals and coffee shops as “trendy” and labeling the remnants of the community us poor people of color built up around us as “authentic”. Even still, everywhere you look the effects of systematic racism are loud and clear. Slowly but surely everything I’ve known is being phased out but I’m still here, living
on the same block I’ve lived all my life with my family. But I am different now. I’ve learned so much and I see things in a new light. I am not powerless and I have so much to offer the world. I can help the vulnerable people and change the world for the better. I’m so grateful to have been able to hear LaToya and Braddock’s story. I have been forever changed by The Notion of Family.

A fire has been awoken inside of me that has laid dormant for far too long. It’s time I stop hiding myself away from the world around me and, most importantly, the people I love. Beyond the words I cannot find and the things I’m afraid to say, art can succeed where words have failed. I realize now I can begin to tear down the walls of secrecy between my mother and myself. We can reclaim both of our stories through the process of creation, like LaToya and her mother.

Growing up I wanted desperately to disappear but I’ve learned now that there is no comfort in alienation. I must stop allowing capitalism and systematic racism to write my story for me. I must regain my agency and make my story my own and I want to thank Ms. Frazier for showing me that I too can do this through art, something I already love so very much.

Juliana Francisco (2nd from R) with her mother (r), Cathy Stewart and Harriet Hoffman (l) at the 2015 New York City Independence Clubs' Anti-Corruption Awards

Juliana Francisco (2nd from R) with her mother (r), Cathy Stewart and Harriet Hoffman (l) at the 2015 New York City Independence Clubs’ Anti-Corruption Awards

Juliana Francisco is an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs.  She is a 2015 recipient of the Nicholas S. Johnson Independent Spirit Award for outstanding volunteerism.  


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Cathy Stewart


I am a political activist and community organizer.  I am also a photographer and a passionate lover of the photobook as a way to tell stories, give the viewer a new set of eyes, an entry to a new world or a look at something that is hard to comprehend.

I first met LaToya Ruby Frazier when I was taking a class at the International Center for Photography.  My professor, Carrie Schneider brought the class to a group exhibit where LaToya had several pieces in her Braddock series. We spoke briefly, I loved her images for their intimacy and their demand that we own Braddock and see what has happened to the African American community.

When I saw The Notion Of Family, I knew that I wanted to share this book with the Politics for the People membership.  For 12 years, LaToya worked on this project, bringing the camera into her family and hometown of Braddock.  What was once a beacon of hope and a thriving milltown…now is yet another city of economic decline and abandonment of the African American community.  In her images, LaToya not only asks the viewer to see Braddock and the impact of environmental racism, poverty and the lack of health care; she also gives us her family, and the beauty of forbearance and creativity.

It is also the story of LaToya, her mother and grandmother.  Her mother became her collborator in making many of the photographs in the book.  There is a daring honesty in their work together.  And they played, they created together, they told stories.  I fell in love with them, could not wait to turn the page to see where next they would take us. I can’t wait to talk with LaToya on our Dec 6th conference call about how this process changed and impacted on their relationship.

The images below, Momme Silhouettes are among my favorite in the book.  They are a break from the harshness of poverty and the slow abandonment of Braddock…LaToya and her mother create a beautiful play for us, asking questions, showing attitude, grace, longing and all behind the sheet.

Hope you will join me in conversation with LaToya this Sunday at 7 pm EST.


The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 129: Momme Silhouettes, 2010


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Lowell Ward, Phil Safern and Richard Patik

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem. Today our next installment is from Lowell Ward and Philip Safern.  Phil wrote about the book as a whole and Lowell chose one photo to discuss.

Lowell Ward:

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. pg 100 Grandma Ruby and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue, 2007.

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. pg 100 Grandma Ruby and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue, 2007.

As a black man who spent many years on the streets of Boston and in MA prisons and who finally is trying to change his life around, I can certainly identify with this photo of two people who are probably experiencing the oppression and poverty of inner-city life like the rest of us.  Despite the daily struggles of living in poverty, unemployment, and living in run down and dangerous neighborhoods, they are determined and proud to be who they are as individuals.  Defiant and unwavering, they both appear to be looking in different directions for a similar solution to all pervasive problems and a way out of the misery and pain we as working class people of color experience on a daily basis.  No matter what the obstacles and challenges are, we are determined not to surrender our individuality.  It’s the only thing the powers that be have so far been unable to take.  One of the ways I do this is to work with independent voters in MA and around the country to build a better life for myself and other Americans and hold Democracy’s feet to the fire!

Lowell Ward (r) and his grandson Amaree.

Lowell Ward (r) and his grandson Amaree.


Lowell Ward is a school site liason with Victory Generations and a mentor and tutor for Greenwood Shalom School.  He is an activist with the Massachusetts Coalition of Independent Voters.





Philip Safern:

The Notion Of Family by Ms. Latoya Ruby Frazier

A Reader Responds

First, let me say that this beautifully done work by Ms. Frazier deeply moved me; her beautifully done photographic images conveyed her unique perspective on the subject of family –  our human family.

Second, given the current human condition of our nation, it reminds me – Ms. Frazier’s book reminds me – that we are all brothers and sisters living on this very small planet, who only want to live in peace, with respect, with dignity and with human compassion – that we are all family.

Third, I so appreciate Ms. Frazier’s profoundly moving imagery, with an authentic artistic eye, unfiltered, genuine, bold, provocative, depressing at times, yet heroic and completely honest – I rejoice in her unique vision, and share in her own celebration of these unique and powerful images; let her be fruitful with more such breathtaking images – that we are all one family, always…

Yours truly and in solidarity,

Philip Safern

Dr. Lenora Fulani, Cathy Stewart and Phil Safern at the 2015 Anti-Corruption Awards

Dr. Lenora Fulani, Cathy Stewart and Philip Safern at the 2015 Anti-Corruption Awards

Philip Safern is an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs.  Phil is a retired postal worker and lives in Far Rockaway with his wife.


Richard Patik:

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 48-49, Me and Mom's Boyfriend, Mr. Art, 2005

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 48-49, Me and Mom’s Boyfriend, Mr. Art, 2005

 By: Richard Patik

In my stark reality, remote in hand

Five feet from Art, a remote too
I watch other people doing
Watching defiantly what goes on
Mr. Art, rounded down, having seen how the promises play out
Resigned not to be asked or expected or allowed or shown

Not in this reality

I turn my back on that dying fire, the fight gone out

‘Cause I can’t stand that degradation so close
It’s a contagion I don’t want to catch in God-forsaken Braddock
There’s a hollow wall between us a foot thickMany layers of solid walls between us thicker still

Constructed of history and experiences and powerless faces

I don’t want to look but LOOK I must

If I want to get out of here
‘We gotta get out of this townIf it’s the last thing we ever do’
I so want to jump out of my skin

It shouldn’t be so f’ing hard

I could say hi (or better yet he could)

But I want to dream while I still can
Before this millstone town gets a grip and drags me under
And strangles my soul
Give me access to the tools to build — as seen on TV

I won’t settle for a virtual smooth edge

I don’t want another powerless generation

To come along under me
Don’t want me nor they told what we can be
Because of who and where we are
This is no place to dream big — or at all

Here you try to survive — but not live

Give me (us) a chance — that’s all anyone needs

A chance to develop, to become
We have enough inside of what it takes
Just give more than an ‘as seen on TV’ promise
For a slice of this American Dream

In this god-forsaken steel town

Yes, and — in this reality

image1Richard Patik is an Oracle eBusiness Consultant, Musician, and Actor.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum— Sue Davies, Pei Ying Spirito and Jarell Corley

As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image.  Today we hear from Sue Davies, Pei Ying Spirito, and Jarell Corley.

Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby, 2007,  pg 131 (the night table)

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

A lamp

A pack of cigarettes

Olive Oil


An ashtray and a lighter

Three framed photos—a baby, a child and a young woman

A night table

And the edges of two beds

Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby. We walk into someone’s world. Braddock, PA.

The home of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill. It was also the place the Carnegie open the first of nearly 1,700 public libraries across the country.

Once a booming steel town. Now population of 2,139.

One of thousands of abandoned cities. Poor African American communities that have been used up and thrown away.

And yet, the photo shares love, generations, life in the midst of that. People live and love. Brush their hair and sleep. Raise children. Get Sick. And take photographs that invite you but also challenge.

In 1988, I spent time in Pittsburgh doing grassroots organizing for Dr. Lenora Fulani’s first campaign for president. The first woman and first African American on the Ballot in all 50 states. The old steel mills haunted the town. Driving through town, we saw hundreds of men, mostly white, standing around. No jobs. No hope. The mayor was intent on turning Pittsburgh into the next Silicon Valley. None of those guys on the street corner would belong in the new Pittsburgh of Apple and Google and Carnegie Mellon University.

There would be no second act for Braddock. 10 miles away. Just like Philadelphia and Chester, PA. The miles are short but the worlds are very far apart. And the towns have been left.

But not by us. Not by Dr. Fulani. Not by Ms. Frazier. Not by the thousands of independent and progressive activists that still work in their own ways to create an world that gives Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby’s children and grandchildren a voice, a chance to develop and to create new stories and futures for themselves and their communities. L’Chiam to Braddock.

100_1439Sue Davies has been an independent political activist for nearly 30 years. She worked on both of Dr. Lenora Fulani’s campaigns for President (1988 and 1992). She is currently on the National Board of Directors of the All Stars Project which transforms the lives of youth and poor communities using the developmental power of performance, in partnership with caring adults. Sue is the Associate Vice President for Development at Montclair State Univeristy and is an Adjunct Professor at NYU.

Mr. Jim Kidd, 2011

Forward the world keeps moving,

leaving more and more people behind struggling in the poverty.

Deep in fear I care and hope to see the sweet light of better humanity.


Pei Ying Spirito is the Director of Website Development, Studio Spirito.  In addition she has been a volunteer with the All IMG_5864Stars Project since 1997 and the Assistant House Staff Director at the Castillo Theater.




The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 72-73 The World Is Yours, 2009

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 72-73 The World Is Yours, 2009

My photograph of choice was “The World is Yours” on page 72. This photograph represents an empowering message of hope in a desolate area of hopelessness. To the inhabitants of Braddock, this message is written off; it is a joke. The members of this community are the exploited victims of a power structure that has written off the poor black working class. Most of the residents in this town see no hope in this message. To them, this message is a reflection of what most see as the lies of an American Dream lost. An American Dream, that is just that, and in most cases something that can’t even be obtained in a dream.

To me, this photo reinforces something I believe, something I know all too well, is attainable. What will be achieved is the result of a mindset some are unable to reach. Those unable to reach this mindset are victims. Are they dually victimized through the efforts of others as well as their own efforts? Who is indefinitely to blame is subjective; it depends to whom you are speaking.

The role of the victim is a segment of the black experience unknown to me and this is why I see – how I see – what I see. Do I suffer a plight resulting from my Blackness? Yes. And, yes, it is different from the popularized images of the black plight, however, it is not to be discounted, as every man’s plight is nevertheless a burden he must deal with. Although one looking from the outside in may say it’s nothing, that does not give them the right. Do I think I’m better? No. Do I know I am different? Yes.

My sympathies extend to the victims of this devastated community and it would be rewarding to lend a helping hand, however, that hand comes at a price. My hand is not one to be clenched into a fist and dapped, but one that is to remain open, seeking that of another similar to it. One looking for another like it to grab hold of, to grasp. One with the understanding that together, we can work to make “The world, Yours.”


Jarell Corley is a student at The University of Chicago in the Masters of Liberal Arts program.  He is an Administrative Assistant for the Six Grand Corp and a community organizer and activist with Independent Voting.




Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reflections on Reflections on The Notion Of Family


By Omar H. Ali, Ph.D.

I first saw images of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s riveting book of photographs, The Notion Of Family, in an NPR article about six months ago entitled “A Rust Belt Story Retold…” I wasn’t sure what to make of the images, as they felt a little distant at the time, despite my being familiar–as a historian of black labor and politics–with some of the history of those communities living “in the shadow” of Carnegie steel mills.

And then, this week, after receiving and reading through Latoya’s book, I read the reviews and commentaries by Michelle McCleary and Dr. Jessie Fields, among others, on P4P.

I’m not sure which impacted me more–the book or the commentaries. This is not to detract from Latoya’s truly extraordinary book (few artists capture, which such honest detail, poor people’s lives by poor and working people themselves–making their stories their own). But reading through the snippets of Michelle and Jessie’s lives as part of their reflections made the images in the book feel closer.

You see, I know Michelle and Jessie. They are two of my long-time political colleagues–extraordinary women–who have spent many years building an independent political movement in the United States to empower ordinary people, poor people, the outsiders, the forgotten, the survivors. I don’t know Latoya. But Michelle and Jessie are helping me to better understand her work.

While each of their experiences are different from the other’s, there are similarities in their experiences and the roles that women played in each of their lives–their mom’s, grandmothers, aunts, or great aunts–in helping each of them thrive.

Michelle writes, “I had come to realize that the feelings of pain and shame that I and millions of people experienced were manufactured and NOT in our heads nor were our fault.  Those manufactured feelings were designed to keep us in our place.”

I then see one of Latoya’s photographs …

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

And I hear (read) Jessie’s words “Ordinary people, though poor and abused are leading and fighting.” Part of that leading is giving expression to the plight of the voiceless, nameless, and unseen–here voiced, named, and seen through new performances.

Thank you, LaToya, for your book of photographs; thank you Michelle and Jessie, for your beautiful, painful, and moving words; thank you, Cathy, for giving us P4P and a space to reflect and support those who “stand in the rubble and fight,” as Jessie poetically writes, as Michelle explains, and as Latoya photographs.

Omar H. Ali, Ph.D., selected as the 2016 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year in North Carolina, is a historian and community organizer who teaches black labor and political history at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. E-mail: 
image (1)

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Dr. Jessie Fields reviews The Notion Of Family


The book, Notion Of Family touched and engaged me deeply in so many ways.

I grew up in the Black working class communities of South and West Philadelphia. Like Latoya Ruby Frazier I was raised by multiple generations of women. From a very early age I lived in the country in New Jersey with a great-grandmother, Cora Sparks who was a midwife. My mother was only 15 when she had her first child, my sister and 17 when I was born. Eventually I was brought to Philadelphia and lived for some years with a “grandmother” we called “mom”, really my great aunt, Adel Chandler, who had taken my mother in when her own mother lost custody of her children due to neglect. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles have often been life savers for young children, offering a level of support and stability that is difficult or impossible for a teenage parent to provide.

Adel Chandler in front of Del's Restaurant Photo by Dr. Jessie Fields

Adel Chandler in front of Del’s Restaurant
Photo by Dr. Jessie Fields

Mom Adel did that for me, she had migrated north from Florida to Philadelphia, part of the Great Migration, and came to own and operate a 24 hour soul food restaurant in the heart of the South Philadelphia Black community. It was she who worked endless hours, employed and fed people in her restaurant and supported the civil rights movement. She brought that spirit of climbing and aspiration of millions of African Americans leaving the south to build a better life.

The relationship between Latoya Ruby Frazier and her mother so beautifully captured in the book made me think especially of my own mother who grew up poor under the most abusive conditions and died in 2012 of metastatic uterine cancer that had spread throughout her body.

It was my mother who pushed me to work hard and it was because of the determination and discipline she and Mom Adel inspired in me that I became a doctor and community organizer.

Jessie and Kay

Jessie and Kay

Photographs in the Notion of Family, such as the photos: page 94, 97 and 106, 110, 111 expose in a very intimate way how the environment of Braddock manifest on the human body, the author’s own and that of members of her family and community.

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier pg 111: Video Stills from Detox Braddock, UPMC, 2011

I practice medicine in the Harlem community where I am very close to the community and to my patients.

Dr. Jessie Fields with patients in Harlem

Dr. Jessie Fields with patients in Harlem

The book speaks of how important Braddock Hospital was in the lives of the people of Braddock, and tells the story of the demise of this hospital, the only medical facility in Braddock. The people of the town fought, but the local political process did not respond to allow the hospital to be saved.

As a doctor and independent I felt proud of how the people of Braddock stood together and strongly protested the closing of their hospital.





The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier, pg 78: UPMC Global Corporation, 2011

Ordinary people though poor and abused  are leading and fighting.

I believe hospitals and medical professionals can build partnerships in independent efforts to create innovative programs that help empower communities.

This I dedicate to my mother and all who stand in the rubble and fight.

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#



Reader’s Forum-Kathleen Delaney

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem. Today our next installment is from Kathleen Delaney.

The Notion Of Family, LaToya Ruby Frazier pg 15 Grandma Ruby Smoking Pall Malls, 2002

This image of Ruby, caught unposed, surrounded by her dolls and anticipating the pleasure of a cigarette, offers some relief from the brutal images of poverty and hopelessness. Perhaps her strength brought relief at other moments not depicted.

FullSizeRender (3)~Kathleen Delaney is an emergency department physician and educator in Texas and New York City.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

LaToya Ruby Frazier Makes Moving Pictures | ART21 “New York Close Up”

A Documentary Series on Art and Life in the City

Released February 10, 2012

In this video from New York Close Up, LaToya talks about her collaboration with her mother.

<p><a href=”″>LaToya Ruby Frazier Makes Moving Pictures | ART21 &quot;New York Close Up&quot;</a> from <a href=”″>ART21</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

If the video does not appear, click on this link or visit the blog.

From the video, some thoughts from LaToya:

People think that families struggling economically don’t add value to society.  It became about making a family album of images, day to day that defies what I see in the media….”

I was combating stereotypes of someone like my Mother and I who are often depicted in the media in the most dehumanizing was, as poor, worthless or on welfare. We found a way to deal with these types of problems on our own through photographing each other.  I realized it’s important to give the camera to my family and also become the subject of the work….

I’ve always been in the shadow of the steel mill.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#


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