Featured posts

By Mary Medium

Immigrants & refugees are the same thing, right?
No, they are not; not at all. And yet, a lot of people refer to them like they are the same, grouping them together like they are all piling through our “open borders.” We don’t have open borders.

Publishers Note: The names of our local contacts for this article have been withheld at their request.

An immigrant is a person who comes to live in a country foreign to them. They may have a variety of reasons to emigrate, such as being offered a job, or the rest of their family is already living there, or a famine, for example, is making life hard. A refugee is a person who is fleeing for their life; a person who is in imminent danger of being wrongly persecuted, imprisoned, tortured or killed.. They are not choosing to leave as a convenience. They usually leave all their worldly possessions behind, pick up their children and run.

For one example, a well-known group of individuals who are persecuted in Africa are albinos. African albinos have long been dismembered and killed because their body parts are thought to have magical powers, or because of the belief that albinos are bad luck.

Because of the brutality of human upon human, there are all sorts of vulnerable populations around the globe that would qualify as refugees if they were to flee their country. Many organizations that support refugees have arisen around the globe as a result.

The International Refugee Assistance Project
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is one such organization. Founded in 2008 by five students at Yale Law School, IRAP is a nonpartisan organization located in New York that organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce legal rights for refugees and displaced persons. Shortly after being founded, law student counterparts at New York University and U.C. Berkeley founded IRAP chapters.
What began at a single law school at Yale has bloomed into a legal movement. The law students realized the importance of engaging pro bono attorneys to provide direct legal representation to refugees over-seas who never had access to counsel. The unique model of partnering law students with pro bono lawyers allows IRAP to leverage every dollar contributed into ten in legal aid.

In 2010, IRAP joined the Urban Justice Center, a public interest organization headquartered in New York. Since that time, IRAP has established offices in Jordan and Lebanon. The network of legal represenatives has grown to 29 IRAP chapters at law schools in the U.S.A. and Canada, and is supported by over 75 international law firms and multinational corporations that provide pro bono assistance.

IRAP serves many different populations of refugees, but it serves Iraqi refugees because of the clear obligations of Western countries, and the U.S. in particular, to provide relief to unintended victims of the Iraq War. IRAP has expanded to assist refugees from Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. Increasingly, IRAP is providing service to more people from Syria because of civil conflict, and also many Somalis and Sudanese.

Their mission is to mobilize direct legal aid and systemic policy advocacy. IRAP focuses on and provides legal services to the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted individuals while empowering the next generation of human rights advocates and leaders. As a result of their impact, in recent years, the demand for IRAP services in the Middle East and North Africa has risen dramatically.

IRAP overseas fields a staff of lawyers, case managers, and interpreters who work in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, international government organizations and governmental partners to swiftly identify refugees in dire need of assistance. IRAP’s caseload expansion is frequently driven by the emerging needs of highly vulnerable populations in the countries in which they operate. Their presence on the ground coupled with their legal expertise and knowledge of local cultural norms, uniquely positions them to respond to emerging crises effectively and in real time.

The demographic groups that IRAP serves the most often include the most vulnerable, at-risk refugee women who have become the victim of gender violence, Iraqis and Afghanis targeted by militia groups, LBGTs who are targeted for their lifestyle, and any person whose safety and lives are in danger.

As the only organization that guides refugees through every step of the resettlement process, IRAP is often able to identify obstacles of which other institutional players are unaware. Their unique model utilizes lessons learned in individual casework to advocate for systemic changes that benefit broader refugee populations. While they never turn away an urgent case that has merit, they look for cases where legal work can create precedents that will benefit the wider refugee community.

IRAP builds untraditional, nonpartisan coalitions to advocate for the rights of refugees, ranging from veterans to religious groups to corporate attorneys. They also play a major role in including refugees in U.S. immigration legislation, drafting legislative language around issues such as access to counsel and formal appeals processes, special procedures for LGBT refugees, and expansions of the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for Iraqi and Afghan wartime allies.

The Process
When refugees arrive in our country, we only witness the very last step in the very arduous process of qualifying as a refugee. The eating process is intense and protracted, and can last anywhere from 18 months to several years after referral.

Refugee processing involves eligibility screening with paperwork, background cjecks, bio-data (fingerprints, iris scans, etc. are all checked through the FYI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense), interviews, medical screening, travel loans, flight plans and resettlement – which is another entire process.

Once a refugee passes all the security checks and is allowed passage to the U.S. , a Customer and Border Protection officer reviews their documentation and conducts additional security checks against its National Targeting Center-Passenger program and the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program. CBP ensures that the arriving refugee is the same person who was screened and approved for admission to the United States.

The Struggles are Real
The hurdles for refugees and their families are high and many, staring with language barrier, frequently being separated from their loved ones, terror of being sent back, the hunger, thirst, cold and exhaustion that comes with trekking and surviving the flight out of their country of origin. Many die and many more are on the brink of physical collapse at times. All this, just to get to the country of first asylum where they are often herded into fenced retention camps and live in flimsy tents and given very few freedoms. Many face prejudice and anger from the natives int eh country of first asylum.

IRAP is one of the first organizations to support a refugee by helping them prepare their documenation and legal status. For refugees, access to this legal assistance is just as important as access to food and shelter. Legal assistance is literally life or death for them.

The world is facing a refugee crisis the likes of which we have not witnessed since Work War II. Refugees around the world continue to be neglected, victimized, and denied the procedural safeguards that are the hallmarks of a just society. IRAP is providing safe passage and new beginnings for the most at-risk refugees. A the same time, they are also providing crucial support and building capacity in their field.

They are always interested in finding more people to support them. If you are interested in learning more or supporting the noble work of IRAP, please visit https://refugeerights.org


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Story by Ellen Janisch

Jeff Montgomery Local Civil Rights Legend promoted into eternity 1953-2016.

Jeffrey Montgomery, early LGBTQ activist and co-founder of the Triangle Foundation, passed away in Detroit on July 18th, 2016, at the age of 63. This loss is profound for the gay rights community; Montgomery’s relentless drive, compassion, and desire for change will long be remembered by those who are continuing his noble cause for LGBTQ acceptance.

Born in 1953 in Detroit, Montgomery grew up in Gross Pointe and attended Gross Pointe South High School until his graduation in 1971. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in social science from Michigan State University in 1976. Following the tragic events of 1984, when Montgomery’s partner, Michael, was slain outside a Detroit gay bar, he began his crusade against anti-gay police sentiment and inaction. Montgomery founded the Triangle Foundation to assist the victims of anti-gay crimes.

Rudy Serra, prominent local attorney, former appointed judge for the 36th District Court, and longtime ff1461011_jm-trianglecolleague of Montgomery, was there from the beginning: “Triangle was the LGBT organization that stood-up to anti-gay police misconduct. Jeff was a very important influence on this issue because some members of the LGBT community disapproved of defending men who were ‘cruising for sex.’ Jeff understood that being ‘out-and-proud’ required unabashed understanding of sexual freedom. Under Jeff’s leadership, Triangle began collecting and compiling police reports and court documents from men who were arrested in gay bars and parks and who said they had [done] nothing illegal.”

Thanks in part to Montgomery’s work, Triangle was able to prove that hundreds of individuals were being illegally arrested and prosecuted for acts that were not crimes. Triangle represented some 700 men in Detroit who were arrested for being allegedly “annoying.” The law used to charge them was eventually struck down. “Jeff and Triangle were instrumental in defending hundreds of victims of anti-gay police activity in Plymouth, Pontiac, Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan,” Serra said.

What initially started as a small grassroots organization led by Montgomery, Henry D. Messer, and John Monahan, the Triangle Foundation grew to become a recognized Michigan-wide political tour-de-force that routinely took on challenging cases involving hate crimes, employment discrimination, anti-gay slander, and many other LGBTQ concerns.

“Although, initially, Triangle was dedicated to anti-gay/anti-violence, Jeff’s concern extended to everyone who needed help,” Serra said. “Accordingly, Triangle rapidly grew beyond anti-violence programs and grew into support for LGBT people in employment discrimination, transgender bathroom disputes, school issues, family law, estates and more. The Triangle Foundation was the primary voice of the LGBT community in Lansing. I personally went with Jeff Montgomery, Sean Kosofsky and/or Henry Messer on many occasions to successfully lobby about LGBT issues such as sex offender registration, amending the Civil Rights Act, local ordinances, and many other global LGBTQ issues.”

The Triangle Foundation, which has since become Equality Michigan, flourished under Montgomery’s leadership as president, interim executive director, and executive director until his departure in September of 2007. An exceptional public speaker, some were initially skeptical of Montgomery taking such a prominent position early on. “There were people who questioned whether Jeff was ‘qualified’ to be an executive director at first, and I think his initial hiring was considered a trial period,” Serra said. “He was exceptionally skilled in media relations and very quickly became the primary public voice of the LGBT community in Michigan.”

Montgomery went on to become a go-to authority on LGBT issues, frequently speaking with media outlets on high profile LGBT criminal cases, including the Matthew Shepard murder trial. In 2000, Montgomery delivered the inaugural Matthew Shepard Memorial Lecture at Brown University. Entitled “America…You Kill Me,” this speech further cemented Montgomery as an established authority on the fight for LGBT rights.ff1461011_jm_friends
“When I heard Jeff’s inaugural Matthew Shepard Memorial lecture, I thought it was one of the better speeches I had ever heard,” Serra recalled. “I recommended that it be sent to ‘Vital Speeches,’ and they agreed and published Jeff’s speech…Jeff was ‘the’ face of the LGBT community in Michigan. When an issue arose, he was the one the news media would interview.

In addition to his pioneering efforts with the Triangle Foundation, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and the WikiQueer Global Advisory Board, among others, Montgomery was also passionate about the performing arts. He worked tirelessly to restore Detroit’s Orchestra Hall in the 1970s and 1980s, which has since served as the home of the internationally renowned Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, he was public relations director for America’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Through all his diverse pursuits, Montgomery remained steadfast in his love for the city of Detroit. “Jeff was committed to stay in Detroit himself, to assure that Triangle Foundation stayed in Detroit, and to do everything possible to support the City of Detroit and the well-being of the residents of Detroit,” Serra said. Accordingly, Montgomery was the recipient of the “Spirit of Detroit” award three times and named a 2002 Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit News.

Montgomery’s life and career is the subject of a forthcoming documentary called “America, You Kill Me,” on ff1461011_jm-tuxwhich he was collaborating with his brother John at the time of his death. Montgomery’s legacy as a visionary, political activist, and indisputable leader lives on through the efforts of others in the LGBTQ community, who can draw much from his history and countless triumphs in policy reform and anti-discrimination action.

Serra sums it up: “Jeff did not have formal educational training in social work, community organizing or law. His accomplishments show that a person of passion and dedication can teach themselves how to do what is required and can build relationships that compensate for their own weaknesses…Jeff sacrificed for his passion. The staffs of many gay rights organizations were often little more than glorified volunteers. Jeff took time to prove his worth and earned more and more respect and a larger and larger role [in] LGBTQ social revolution.”

More on Montgomery’s work can be found at www.jeffreymontgomery.org as well as a link to donate to his autobiographical documentary, “America, You Kill Me.”

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand | Photos by Bernie Laframboise

Piping hot coffee, an eclectic collection of cozy couches and soothing jazz in the background — this reads like your everyday cafe. But you’ll notice something different about Ferndale’s newest coffee house. Those couches are covered in fur and the jazz might be drowned out by the sound of meows at the appropriately named Catfe, where live- in felines are available to cuddle and adopt.

The Catfe is a project of the Ferndale Cat Shelter, which offers visitors the opportunity to spend time with the cats for a suggested donation of $10 per hour. While in the first stages of operations, coffee and food will be self-serve, with hopes of turning it into a true coffee house if the next few months prove successful.

“The idea is that people come in, they can use the wifi, they can help themselves to a snack,” Deanne Lovan, Director of the Catfe, tells me at their grand opening on November 4th. “Little Bandit will sit on your lap, she will roll over like a baby, make you rub her belly.” As if on cue, Bandit, a grey and white domestic shorthair kitten, jumps right onto Lovan’s lap and starts batting at her necklace.

The idea for cat cafes have gained popularity in Europe, and are now popping up all across the U.S.A. Catfe is the first feline-friendly cafe in Michigan, but there are others right on their tail in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 6.10.16 PMBen Long, president and founder of the Ferndale Cat Shelter, has been pleasantly surprised with how quickly the Catfe and shelter have developed. Founded on May 20th, 2014, the shelter did not have a physical location — just a website and foster homes — until now.

“Honestly, I thought this would be ‘year four’ or ‘year five,’ and we aren’t even a year- and-a- half old,” Long tells me. “Deanne really took the ball and ran with it.”

The Catfe is open seven days a week from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., and has around ten felines living inside. The Catfe isn’t just for those looking to adopt. Anyone wanting to spend time with the cats is welcome.
“Some people can’t have pets for many reasons, some people can’t have a cat because someone’s allergic or they can’t afford it,” Lovan says. “Socializing these cats is really important, and visitors can help with that.”
Volunteers are on site to greet people, care for the cats, and help with adoption paperwork if a home is found.

“The idea is that they really are here on a rotating basis, cats won’t stay for very long,” Lovan says. “The right person is going to walk in the door and connect with them.”

The Catfe has plans to be more than just a coffee house too. Visitors can participate in cat yoga, euchre tournaments and even host a private birthday party with certain donation amounts.

Silke Rosenbaum-Pouliot is a Royal Oak resident who attended the grand opening with her husband, a Ferndale Cat Shelter volunteer. She was impressed with the creativeness of the idea and the opportunities the Catfe offers.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea; it’s so unique and something a lot of people haven’t heard of.” she says. “I love that all the cats are adoption-ready and you can really form a connection and keep coming back.”

To raise funding and gauge interest in the Catfe, the Ferndale Cat Shelter started a campaign on fundraising site IndieGoGo. Their initial goal was $2,500 which they quickly surpassed, raising $7,650 by the time of the grand opening.

Many local businesses have already contributed funds, building materials and space for fundraising, including Rust Belt Market, SoHo, the Ferndale Library, Durst Lumber and Pinwheel Bakery to name a few. Lovan hopes to get some more long term sponsors, who would get a tax deductible name plaque on the “Wall of Gratitude” inside the Catfe, among other perks.

“I think there are a lot of cat lovers and I think it would be a good thing to be associated with, positive advertising for a company,” Lovan tells me. Donations to the Catfe are tax- deductible.

For those visiting, donations can be brought in all forms; cash, check, website payments and even cat food and litter are accepted. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged, too, with a simple application and the commitment of a minimum of one four hour shift each week.

“I really love doing this because it’s as much a job about helping cats as it is about helping people,” Lovan says. “I love staying in touch with the people that have adopted. They’re like an extended family.”

The Catfe is located at 821 Livernois Street in Ferndale.

Story by Rebecca Hammond | Photos by Bernie Laframboise

George Tysh spent his early years in New Jersey, but he’s now firmly rooted in Ferndale and metro Detroit. And he’s recently received quite an honor: a 2015 Kresge Artist Fellowship.

When Tysh arrived in this area and eventually enrolled at Cass Technical High School, he found his classmates to be nice, and they found his Jersey accent amusing. His fields of study at Cass were theater arts and radio speech, and those helped turn his speaking voice “midwestern.” The development of his writing voice began at age 17, when he arrived home from school to find the house empty. He perused his dad’s library and found Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and an anthology edited by Langston Hughes called Poetry of the Negro. After reading some of each, he was inspired and wrote his first poems that afternoon. Though he wryly describes some of them as “horrible,” he knew they were the beginning of a new path.

Tysh, like most Cass Tech graduates, loved the school, and its focus on learning. “It was an awesome place,” he told me. “It was a place where you could try out things. One semester in one class we read 30 plays. It was a place where I could study literature and different forms of narrative.” It also let him experience directing, set design, stage management, even working with a puppet theater at the DIA. After Cass, Tysh attended Wayne State, and was invited to join an experimental college within WSU called Monteith, which existed from the 50s to the 70s. “It was a liberal arts college within Wayne State. It was a new approach to liberal arts.”

Ending up in Europe after the draft board gave him permission to study French in Paris, Tysh spent some time exploring. He met his wife Chris, a Paris native, in Poland, and they lived in Paris until 1973, then returned to Detroit. Since then, he’s taught English and film studies at Wayne, and at the Roeper School. He also began publishing his poetry.

“The main reason I retired from teaching is I wanted more time to write. I found myself wondering when the last time was that I had had a book out. I checked. It was 12 years. The next book came out in five.”

Tysh has collaborated with Ferndale visual artist Janet Hamrick, whose work graces two of his book covers and appears along poems inside one as well. He’s now turned out nine volumes of poetry.

The Kresge Artist Fellowship comes with $25,000 that allows him to “do anything I want for a year.” Kresge chooses artists from the tri-county area, alternating disciplines every two years. “If you have a record of your work, you can apply,” Tysh told me. “They emphasize emerging artists, often kids in their 20s. My stuff is experimental, but they have kids doing hip hop poetry and performance poetry.” They also offer seminars in things like organizing an artistic career.

Tysh describes writing as “making music with words” and enjoys classical music, and jazz and rock.


Tysh and Janet Hamrick will present an exhibit of collaborations at the College for Creative Studies Center Galleries at the corner of Brush and Fredrick Douglass, opening at 6:00 P.M. on January 22 and running until February 27.

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Story by Rebecca Hammond

Oakland County Commissioner and Huntington Woods resident Helaine Zack spent three weeks at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government this past July for what she called “very intense study.” Attending a program aimed at officials of state and local governments, Zack arrived at Harvard, having been awarded an A. Alfred Taubman scholarship. The renowned local philanthropist set up two scholarships per year for local attendees of the Harvard program. Zack said she was “shocked and honored” to receive the scholarship, and flattered to have been awarded it on her first attempt.

Recipients must serve on the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments board. SEMCOG is a partnership among seven counties, a “regional collaboration on issues like the environment, parks, and roads,” Zack said.

As part of the application process, Zack wrote two essays, one being on “How to get things done as a minority member” of elected government. Harvard screened applicants to create a sort of ecosystem, Zack said. She was selected along with 20 elected and 51 unelected officials from all over the world. It was a diverse group, Zack said, including an Alabama conservative and a police chief from California. She found herself part of a network that continues to this day, keeping up with each other in what Zack referred to as a “consultant group” on Facebook. The diversity of the group helped Zack address her goals for the program. What makes good leadership? How does one challenge assumptions, deal with differing opinions?

Attendees spent six hours a day in lectures. They began each day with an hour of discussion on topics from the previous day, or related to that day’s lecture. They were also assigned hours of reading.

Zack has a long track record of public service. Back in 2002, one of then-candidate Jennifer Granholm’s five platform issues was mental health. Zack’s social work background made this approach to government attractive. “I remember thinking, I know about that.” She ran for County Commissioner that year, won her race, and took office in 2003. She was elected to a seventh two-year term in 2014 and continues to serve the 18th District, which includes Huntington Woods, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak Township, and Oak Park.

Zack’s social work career began in employee assistance programs, something she still works at even though she retired from Beaumont a year and a half ago. The morning of our interview, she assisted employees who had just experienced the death of a coworker. She realized years ago that taking care of oneself in such professions must be a priority, telling me “You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help others.” So to relax and recharge, she walks and bikes, often bicycling to Ferndale. She’s a longtime gardener, having been part of a vegetable co-op as a student at the University of Michigan, and has raised beds in her front-yard garden to this day. She enjoys historical fiction and travel. And keeping Sabbath is important to Zack. She attends synagogue and unplugs from media and technology for the day, finding that unplugging “very healing.”

“Life happens to all of us,” Zack told me. “We have physical and emotional responses.” Part of her work for years was helping others deal with those responses. Zack describes herself as a person who “truly wants to help and make a difference.” With her dual careers of social work and public service, Zack continues to live what she preaches.

Story by Jeff Lilly | Portrait of Kerri, Paul, and Miranda by Jeff Lilly | Other photos courtesy of BNektar

Drive along Wanda Street, on Ferndale’s East side, to Jarvis Street. There, among the aging industrial buildings, a beehive of activity has taken root. BNektar has been brewing exquisite alcoholic potables since 2006; mead (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey,) wines, and recently, small batches of beer. A spacious and comfortable tap room is open five nights a week, serving the company’s products and offering bottles for sale.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.54.34 PMBNektar’s beginnings were humble enough: Ferndalian friends experimenting, brewing mead in their basement. Brad and Kerri Dahlhofer and Paul Zimmerman, however, had no idea what they were uncorking at first.

“I was home-brewing with Brad in his basement.” Paul (now director of product development) recalls. “But (selling it) was Kerri’s idea.”

“I don’t think they thought I was serious, at first.” Kerri laughs.

Out of a job at the time, Kerri decided to take the leap. After heavily researching liquor laws and licensing, the search was on for a place to call home.

“We were originally looking to open in Royal Oak,” Kerri says. But a newspaper article mistakenly stated that they were looking in Ferndale. “So the City contacted us and said…’Hey, we’ve heard of you.’”

The City of Ferndale helped them to find a space and assisted with the intricacies of the paperwork, and the facility opened its doors in August of 2008.

Originally housed in one 1100-square-foot building, BNektar now boasts 16,000 square feet of floor space at the main building, plus the beautiful and spacious tap room, plus a second facility under development down the street that, once it comes online, will triple BNektar’s capacity.

So how does a meadery that begins in a basement get their products noticed in what’s become an extremely
competetive microbrew environment?

“We’re in 23 states now, as well as several countries in Europe.” Says Miranda Johnson, BNektar’s marketing director (her business card titles her “Ambassador of Buzz”). “We look at markets that actually want us. We work with our distributors.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.56.09 PMPlus, we offer something that’s unique.” But the biggest weapon seems to be word-of-mouth, and the enthusiasm of the people running the many web sites dedicated to the appreciation and review of potent potables. “We get e-mails from everywhere. The cool thing is…people going to visit their aunt in the Carolinas, and they’re like, ‘They have Zombie Killer (BNektar’s flagship cider) and I live in Iowa. Where do I get this?’ and they call me. It allows us to engage with future customers.”

“There’s also a lot of trading.” Kerri chimes in. “People get unique brews from different areas, and then they trade with people in other areas who have stuff that we can’t get… word spreads.” BNektar had reviews of their products coming in from Belgium, for example, before any of their products were offered for sale there.

BNektar began with six different flavors of mead. Now, at any time, there are at least 20 flavors available in the tap room, and they’re always adding new ones. Paul gets a question about their flavor experiments.

“I don’t usually want to make a mead with just one thing… I want some more depth to it,” He explains. Part of the inspiration comes from a love of cooking in general and knowing what flavors go together.

Necromangocon, for example, is a mead brewed with mango and black pepper, which is “a classic combination.” The naming seems to be half the fun; you can also try “Kill all the Golfers” (a black tea and lemon-juice mead) or “The Dude’s Rug” (a hard cider with chai spices) among many other choices.

Sometimes the experiments backfire, or run into unforeseen straits. Paul recounts the story of a certain mead that ran into trouble when the supply of citrus used to flavor it first fluctuated wildly in quality, then dried up altogether. Though he loved the results, “I have no desire to make (that one) again!”

With BNektar’s expansion, will this whole industrial area east of the train tracks soon become a sort of Alcohol Alley? The three busy Bs laugh a bit, then smile in a way that tells me that the thought has already occurred to them…so let’s raise our glasses high, to the future!

BNektar’s Taproom is located at 1511 Jarvis Street in Ferndale. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own food. Tipping is not allowed; BNektar pays its workers a living wage. The Taproom is open Thursday through Monday.



Check their web site for operating hours and for more information: www.bnektar.com

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By Ingrid Sjostrand | Portrait of Ron Marshall & Illustration by Arthur Wright

Ferndale has lost a true friend. When I asked those who knew Ronald (Ron) Marshall Jr. about his personality, the same characteristics were repeated again and again; intelligence, motivation for the success of others, infectious humor and a sometimes infuriating honesty.

“Ron was brilliant and humble about his intelligence. He was hilarious, and enjoyed laughing at what other people said even more. He was empathetic, yet pushed people to find their own success. Every day with him was a crazy, special adventure,” Heather Coleman-Voss says of Marshall, one of her best friends.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.41.08 PMMarshall passed away on Sunday, November 15th at St. John’s Providence hospital in Southfield after suffering a stroke the previous Thursday.

Larry Miller, a friend and business partner of 3 years, builds on Ron’s character.

“Ron’s enthusiasm is, and was, extremely infectious – even those days… when he was exasperating,” Miller reminisces. “His love of people and the world… will forever impact me and how I interact with (them.)”
Jorge Sanchez calls Marshall his best friend of 27 years, having attended high school and lived together for
some time after.

“He taught me what a great friend was,” Sanchez says. “All I can tell you is that whether I needed to be told I was right, wrong, overreacting, whatever, he was there to tell me, walk me through it and help me. He was the Angel and Devil on my shoulder, always there with me.”

Marshall’s personality made him an exceptional entrepreneur. He studied journalism at the University of Michigan Dearborn and went on to build his own company, Ron Marshall Consulting and Management (ROMACOMA), for over 18 years.

Miller saw the power of Marshall’s mind while working with him.

“His brain worked at a million miles a minute. He was able to… articulate (ideas) and focus his massive energy. He would give you great ideas and some awesome motivation,” Miller says.

Coleman-Voss met Marshall through a mutual friend, which is a common theme when speaking of Ron, who connected hundreds of people. She began working with him at Ferndale Michigan Works! in 2010 when she suggested him for their role of Assistant Training Facilitator.

“Back then, we’d teach workshops to approximately 800 people each month; the impact he had on our career-seeking clients was incredible,” Coleman-Voss says. “He made them laugh, showed them how very
important they were, and he was invested in their success… and they were very successful!”

Coleman-Voss tells of one day at Ferndale Michigan Works! when they were giving a presentation on social media and the internet was down.

“I said, ‘So, how do we present social media with no social media access?’ He looked at me, whipped off his glasses and said in a hilarious voice, ‘We IMPROVISE!’ Which is exactly what we did, and the event went over very well,” she says. “There is always a positive to be found, always a reason to laugh.”

A memorial Facebook page was created in Marshall’s memory, which has over 250 members. Friends have also created a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the family during their grieving time. At press time, 126 friends and loved ones had donated over $5000.

Coleman-Voss sums it up. “Ron taught me to love your friends with everything in you, because your friends are also your family. We all miss our best friend.”

Marshall is survived by his wife Tamara and sister Heaven, whom he raised after the passing of their mother. His funeral was held at James Cole Funeral Home on Saturday, November 21.

Story by Jeff Lily | Illustration by Gary Bedard

Imagine that your occupation involves being in dangerous situations, with strangers in strange homes, late at night, and for the purpose of providing sexual gratification. Sound like a really gritty crime drama?

Welcome to the “glamorous” world of escort work. This was reality for one Ferndale resident, who came forward to tell her story. Her name, and many details, have been changed to protect her identity; the pertinent facts, however, are all true.

This is Alice’s story.

She tells it to me while sitting on the sofa in the small, neat front room of her friend’s house. She’s younger than you’d think, and looks it despite all she’s experienced. She’s petite, willowy, almost fragile-looking. That last is an illusion, though, which disappears when you look into her eyes. They’re dark, sharp, and intelligent; they measure and weigh you, objectively calculating, cautious. There’s strength there, too, the kind that comes from facing down tough situations and coming out alive.

“I got out of jail. Two felonies and a misdemeanor, all drug- related.” She says. Not ashamed, and not flippant, either. Just the facts. “I had about $2500 in debt that needed to be paid. I was working three jobs, and still not making it.” They were waitressing jobs, she explains when I ask, because after jail there’s not many places that will hire you. One night, a friend of hers who worked as a stripper suggested stripping “as a joke.” Alice declined, but when she heard about escorting, it sounded appealing.

“All you do is go on dates, and they pay you,” is how she says it was described. It turned out to be more complicated than that.

Looking at Alice now, it’s difficult to believe that someone like her — smart, good-looking, charming — would need to go to these extremes. But anyone can have a bad start in life.

“I have the perfect background for it.” Alice explains. She was adopted, bounced around in a series of foster homes, and suffered abuse. “No one becomes a stripper because you were loved too much as a child. No one escorts because their daddy told them they were the best. Everyone in the business is broken, one way or another.”

So it was that she found herself in a hotel room one night, photographed in lingerie, and advertised. The money was more than she’d ever made before. But after a couple of months she’d had enough, and quit.
But she still needed money, so she went into stripping. The hours were long, the work exhausting. She still has side effects from wearing her costume shoes, which made her feet swell and bones
curve. There were other dangers as well.

“We (the dancers) all drank pretty heavily.” Alice admits. She didn’t get into drugs, but some of the women she worked with did MDMA, cocaine, Xanax, and others. At the very least, “You’d go home drunk and wake up the next day hung over. Every day.”

The work also affected her personal life. “My boyfriend couldn’t tell his friends what I did for a living.” Alice recalls. “He couldn’t tell his parents. That put (a lot of) strain on our relationship.”

Finally, she reached her limit. “I watched this documentary about girls in the porn industry. I never did porn, but they were saying the same things, the exact same things, that I said to justify stripping. Things like, ‘It makes me feel beautiful. I get paid to party. I’m having the time of my life.’ Hearing them say that scared the life out of me. I couldn’t do it any more.”

Despite everything, she won’t condemn the whole adult entertainment industry, or try to tell anyone how to run their life.

“It’s not the industry that’s bad. What they do to the girls is,” she says. Because so much of the business is illegal, it operates undercover and can’t be regulated. “I’ve talked to a couple of girls since I got out, and they asked if I could help them get started.” So she told them the truths that the pimps and the club owners won’t. Bottom line: You’ll lose too much of yourself for a paycheck. It just isn’t worth it. The girls she talked to decided not to take the leap.

Alice is putting her life together. She has steady work now, still too close to the industry for comfort, but no longer in it. She finished her high school education, all AP classes, with honors, and is looking forward to starting college.

She’s also determined to take the hard lessons she’s learned and educate other young women who are considering working as strippers, escorts, or in adult films. Her eyes light up as she talks about her project, joining with a large group of former adult entertainment workers to collectively develop a blog.

“All you do is go on dates, and they pay you,”

“It’s called ‘Married to the Money’ because so many girls have trouble leaving, because of the money.” Alice explains. The blog will tell the stories of adult industry workers, with the goal of educating others about the realities of working in the business. What anyone does with the information, and if they choose to believe it, will be their choice.

Creating the blog is painful work. It dredges up a lot of memories, and of course the stories hit close to home. But that the point. “I want something honest. Almost too honest. If I can make even one person stop and say, ‘Wait a second. Maybe this isn’t as good, as healthy, as I think it is…” She pauses. One of her jobs while stripping was to recruit other women into the business. “I wasn’t very good at it. It hurt me to tell them, ‘Oh, you’ll just be waitressing.’ Because I guarantee, if we recruit you, within a month you’ll be on the pole…”

I see then that the blog will have a lot of uses. I understand that it’s not just helpful information, or a public service. It’s also therapy.

As of press time, the blog isn’t quite ready. Ferndale Friends will publish the address when it goes online.
Meanwhile, Alice is busy with her studies, dreaming and planning.

“The best feeling in the world is leaving that stage for the last time, knowing you’re never going back.”

At that, she finally cracks a smile. The stage is behind her now. Her life is just ahead.

Story by Jason Shubnell | Photos by Bernie Laframboise

The LGBT community, with its growing acceptance in U.S. society, has made big strides over recent years. Both celebrities and the federal government have played a part in this progressive wave. However, remedies for the unique challenges the trans community faces in the healthcare system have lagged behind. Sex reassignment procedures and hormone therapy are just a few of the services the trans community needs; unfortunately not every doctor and physician can (or will) provide these. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 banned sex discrimination in most healthcare facilities and programs, so it’s not always a matter of lingering bigotry but also a lack of familiarity and training.

“Finding safe and affordable healthcare providers who are respectful and knowledgeable regarding transgender healthcare can be a huge challenge pretty much everywhere,” said Daniel Herrle, who runs FtM Detroit, a transmasculine activism and support collective. “Ferndale has a lot of resources available that fit this description. However, transgender folks aren’t always aware of what is available to them.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.28.42 PMEnter RAD Remedy, a virtually-operated nonprofit collective with team members and data entry volunteers located across the country.

RAD, which stands for Referral Aggregator Database, was launched in 2014 to help bring a solution to one central problem: connecting transgender people with healthcare providers that can meet their needs.
“I kept consulting referral lists from community organizations only to find them inaccurate or out of date,” said RAD Remedy Executive Director Riley Johnson. He was looking to connect with others in the trans healthcare space. “In one memorable example, the provider in question was a friend of mine who had passed away two or three years prior.”

Johnson eventually found the Trans*H4ck, a transgender hackathon, speaker series and code school based out of Chicago.

“We began as a team of strangers: two social workers, two developers, and me,” Johnson continued. “Twenty- seven hours of work later, we won top honors at the event. We felt it was important to seek as many perspectives as possible, so we later decided to attend trans conferences and do a needs assessment so we could develop the tool to be most accessible.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.28.31 PMAlong the way, Herrle joined the team. He is a Ferndale resident and the organization’s design director.
“I had been looking for ways to start up something similar, and through my searching, I found that RAD was just getting started,” said Herrle. “They had a booth set up at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference in 2014. I attended the conference, found them there and immediately got involved.”

Herrle, who along with Johnson and many other RAD team members is transgender, hopes more providers in the area will connect with the organization: “This can become an even more valuable resource if local residents review these providers and suggest more. Participation of residents sharpens and refines what is available through RAD.”

The RAD Remedy database has over 3,000 providers nationwide, with new providers added each day. Johnson said the organization would ideally have reviews available for all providers so people “can know what they’re walking into before they access care. However, we don’t measure success by vast amounts of providers in the system…We prefer to empower users, work to improve capacity for organizations, and work with providers to improve their services, forms, and systems.”

On the medical and insurance side of things, Johnson says, “It can be challenging when necessary surgeries and treatments are deemed ‘cosmetic’ or ‘experimental.’ Such procedures have been practiced for decades and are necessary and responsible treatment for diagnosed conditions, but all too often blanket exclusions prohibit insurance coverage, making access to such treatment impossible for most folks. Trans health is something untaught in most U.S. medical schools, so it should be no surprise that many doctors have no clue as to how to proceed. We at RAD Remedy want to take the guesswork out of things by providing clear and low-stakes consulting so providers can improve forms, systems, and practices with the clients they serve.”
RAD has a volunteer team and board comprised of people across the country in areas such as Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, New York City, Portland, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio. According to its website, there were 37 providers within the Detroit area at time of writing.

RAD has been working with Affirmations, and seeks to expand the partnership.

“Affirmations currently hosts a network of LGBTQ- affirming healthcare providers that are located throughout southeastern Michigan and are accessible on our Health and Wellness Network.” Explains Kelsey Hug, Affirmations’ Community Resource Manager. RAD Remedy hosts a similar network at a national level. We haven’t completely sorted out the details of what that partnership will look like, but we’re excited to find ways to best serve transgender community members across Southeast Michigan in the best way possible in partnership with other LGBTQ+ serving organizations.”

RAD has not been without its struggles. “For many on our team, paying work must be prioritized, so if we are able to secure organizational funding, we may be able to have team members work more actively on RAD and thus get more aspects completed,” Johnson said. A crowdfunding campaign can be accessed at www.rockethub.com/projects/61520

“We also face an obstacle in that the communities we serve often have trauma around getting care, so it can take time to earn their trust, both for us and for the providers who work with us to improve their services,” Johnson continued. “We strive to be both a community project (where many people contribute) and a community resource (where many people benefit), so we feel it is important to build our networks and prove our worth over time.”

The organization is always looking for more help. RAD is hoping to boost its tech team, along with adding a development person, although Johnson said they can always find ways to make use of all sorts of people and all sorts of skills they may have.

Speaking on the makeup of the RAD organization, Herrle stated: “While our team is mixed, it was important for us to maintain a level of, ‘by the community, for the community.’”


Check out RAD Remedy online at www.radremedy.org

Story by Jeff Lilly | Photos courtesy of Designhaus Architecture

The old Save-a-Lot store, at 430 West 9 Mile Road, sits silent and vacant, an eyesore. The parking lot yawns, a dull desert of asphalt. Wasted space on a busy street.

But soon, work will begin to demolish the old store and convert it and its parking lot into something much more useful and beautiful.

Uh-oh. The subject of redevelopment on 9 Mile can be a tricky one, especially when development plans grow too large or complex. The recent failure of the 3-60 Project is a case in point. Too large for the space, too much disruption of business during construction, and an end product that just wouldn’t have fit the character (and needs) of Ferndale. So, when Ferndale Friends got word of plans for this new development, we looked into it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.14.37 PMAt the Rochester office of Designhaus Architacture, Peter Stuhlreyer, AIA, Chief Architect and CEO, lays out the plans. The illustrations reveal a striking, L-shaped, four- story structure with a varied facade. It will run the length of the current lot, hiding the building’s parking behind and underneath; parking sufficient for the residents and businesses in the building, plus a tiny bit extra.

“We’re trying to build a high quality housing project… for anyone.” Peter says, over a constant background whir of power tools. Designhaus, too, is in the process of being upgraded. “Ninety units, about half single- bedroom, about half two-bedroom, with a few larger units on the corner. Businesses on the ground floor. Elevators, stairs, workout facilities, a common room, gathering spaces. There’ll be a small public patio on the roof.”

How do you fit a new building into an existing street?

“You don’t want to pander to history, to create some kind of phony pastiche of old buildings.” Peter explains. “On the other hand, you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, either. There’s a strong tie to context. You don’t want to introduce something foreign, but you also don’t want to try and appease everyone, to make them comfortable just to get approved.” The world, he says, is full of buildings designed with the latter philosophy in mind, and it shows in the general sameness and dullness that abounds in shopping centers and housing developments. He smiles, and adds an important caveat. “You also don’t want to shock them.”

On the nuts-and-bolts side, there is a lot of modeling, 3D rendering, and street viewing. The new structure is designed to do more for 9 Mile than just provide more living and business space, though.

“9 Mile starts to fizzle out as far as its pedestrian energy at that point. This (building) says, we’re still part of that energy.” Peter says that research showsthe effects of “holes” in the urban landscape, namely features like surface parking lots.

Studies show that once pedestrians hit an area with an open lot, they tend to cross the street and walk back the other way. 430 West 9 Mile will fill in that hole.

“We have open storefronts and businesses. There’ll be public art (to be placed by the DDA.) On the east side of the building, there’ll be a small musical performance area, facing into the vest-pocket park that will go there. It will really energize the area.” Peter talks about other ideas, such as shuttle buses that will run to the planned rail line on Woodward to reduce traffic.

Designhaus has been around for close to 20 years, focusing on mixed-use projects and things that Peter calls “difficult sites.”

“People are moving back to the cities,” He says. “The properties (that are there) are troubled… problems with space, zoning, environmental issues… it’s much harder than developers going out, buying five acres, and putting up a building.” They’ve worked on projects as diverse as student housing, microbreweries, and converting old offices and schools into living space. “We have a reputation for getting things done in (challenging) situations,” Peter smiles again, “and coming out the other side without the public coming to our office with torches.”

Peter says there wasn’t any difficulty with the process in Ferndale, though. Designhaus worked very closely with the City of Ferndale and gave them exactly what they asked for; something suited to the scale and feeling of the neighborhood, yet moving it upward and outward, too.

Construction is slated to start in April of 2016.