WATCH: ‘Don’t Clip Our Tails,’ a Pittsburgh poet’s reflection on racial justice



In late May, as Pittsburgh activists were planning the first of many protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, rapper and poet Shyheim Banks received a text from local organizers. Their request: Could he speak or recite a poem at an upcoming demonstration? Banks, who performs under the name Treble NLS and is the head teaching artist for 1Hood Media, wrote a poem called “Don’t Clip Our Tails.” The piece  stems from a conversation he had recently had with a white woman on the topic of race in America, specifically how she felt young Black men should act in the presence of authority figures. PublicSource visual storyteller Ryan Loew, who met Banks at a demonstration this summer, collaborated with him to visualize the poem. This video is the result of that collaboration.

Arnie Newsome, 67, stands at his shoeshine station in the Grant Building. He is one of the few shoeshiners remaining Downtown. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

My neighbor’s sole business is ‘closed until further notice’

I remember the day in late May when my neighbor Arnie went Downtown for the first time since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. “It’s a ghost town,” he said. For the past 27 years, Arnie has operated a shoeshine station in the Grant Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. “All of my customers are working from home. The shops where I get my supplies are closed,” he said. “ I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Ketaki Desai stands indoors looking into the camera.

For more than a decade in Pittsburgh, we lived the U.S. immigration nightmare. The pandemic sealed our move to Canada.

My husband and I lived in the United States for 18 years and proudly called Pittsburgh home for most of them. We’d built our lives and careers there: I worked as an entrepreneur, consultant and, most recently, the director of strategy at UPMC Enterprises, developing cutting-edge healthcare solutions. My husband worked for the University of Pittsburgh as a software engineer, then at UPMC Enterprises as the senior director of product management. 

Yet despite our love of Pittsburgh and our contributions to the region, we couldn’t find a way to stay. After 12 years of unsuccessful attempts to become permanent U.S. residents — applying for green cards and visas, petitioning Congress to pass fairer immigration laws, even twice accepting invitations to the White House — the pandemic finally sealed our decision to leave. 

In March, the Department of State stopped processing visas altogether, a sign that it was time to move on. We finally did what we’d been trying to avoid for years: we left Pittsburgh and moved to Canada.

Sally Hobart Alexander with her guide dog, Dave. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

COVID-19 is bringing about the end of touch as we know it, and touch has been my imperfect substitute for sight.

Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests that COVID-19 may end the era of the handshake. Others predict that the world of touch outside intimate loved ones is over. Should this come to pass, I will adapt. But as someone totally blind for the past 50 years and moderately deaf, I am already grieving the hugs and handshake restrictions. Disability has fed my appreciation of touch.

Jessica Benham is the cofounder of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy and the Democratic nominee in PA House District 36. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Disability justice is not just ramps and curb cuts; it spans health, education, the environment and more.

This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act and I, both, turn 30. The ADA is one of the pieces of legislation that provides a patchwork of civil rights protections for people with disabilities. Many of these disability civil rights laws, including the ADA, create an incomplete quilt of protections only enforceable through lawsuit. I want to live in a region, state and country where you don’t have to sue for basic rights. And, for me, it’s not just a political pursuit — it’s personal.