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It's okay to have "curly hair."
Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.
Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.
Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”
However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.
Moricz told the audience, “I must discuss the very public part of my identity. This characteristic has probably become the first thing you think of when you think of me as a human being…”
“As you know, I…have curly hair,” he quipped, nonchalantly taking off his grad cap as the crowd began to clap.
If it’s not obvious now, it will soon become clear that “curly hair” is a euphemism for being gay. But it’s also about so much more.
“I used to hate my curls,” he continued. “I spent mornings and nights embarrassed of them, trying to desperately straighten this part of who I am. But the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure.”
A major criticism of Florida’s new law is that it potentially further discriminates against an already marginalized group. This can be especially damaging to mental health, and for young people in particular. It can be confusing to have a part of one’s reality so heavily politicized, not to mention at a time when that reality isn’t fully understood.
Moricz proceeded to praise a teacher who answered his questions when he didn’t have “other curly haired people to talk to,” highlighting the important role that an accepting community plays in shaping our identity and self-esteem.
“So, while having curly hair in the state of Florida can be difficult, due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was, and started coming to school as my authentic self,” he shared.
Getting emotional, Moricz lamented, “There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they will not have one. Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
The use of code words is sadly not a new concept for the LGBTQ community. And while Moricz made good use of clever wordplay, he still found the experience to be “dehumanizing.” Luckily, his speech was met with an outpouring of love from fellow students, who gave him a standing ovation.
Despite the disheartening challenge, Moricz considered the speech a “great finale” to his high school years and is more determined than ever to continue his advocacy by studying government at Harvard. Sometimes when you have something important to say, silence isn’t an option.
It's easy to feel helpless, but here's how to turn that helplessness into action.
Two mass shootings in less than two weeks. It sounds like some faraway land where citizens fight for their right to freedom. But it’s not some far off land, it’s here in our own backyard. America has a problem—it’s the only developed country in the world that has more mass shootings a year than there are days. We are 144 days into the year and there has already been more than 200 mass shootings, 27 of which were school shootings. Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, is the latest to join that growing list with 19 children and two teachers dying in an elementary school designated for second, third and fourth graders.
Parents and other adults who have lost children at the school are reeling from this unspeakable act of violence. And adults raising children in this country are joining those parents in their grief, but know that collective grief is not enough. People are feeling helpless and want to take action to combat those feelings. It gives our hands and minds something to focus on as our hearts heal.
Here are five things you can do if you’re feeling helpless about gun violence in America.
Many gun safety advocacy groups have local chapters or you can connect with them online. Everytown for Gun Safety is the largest gun violence prevention organization in America. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has chapters in every state and a bunch of resources on their website. Giffords and Brady are two other nonprofits furnishing statistics, resources and ways to get involved. All of these organizations are there to help people have a voice in creating gun laws that make the most sense for the safety of American citizens. No one wants another mass shooting, and joining the fight with one of these organizations can put your anger and frustration to good use.
Running for national office may be a privilege reserved for those who can afford to not work for a lengthy period of time leading up to the elections, but that's not so much the case with local elections. And a lot of change is enacted at local and state levels. You don’t have to run to become a member of Congress to elicit change. School boards, county commissioners and other local influential positions can be of great benefit to your community. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to run for an office, look for information on your state's secretary of state website. If you identify as a woman and are unsure of what office to run for, you should check out She Should Run. As well as having a starter kit, trainings and meetings, the organization also has a quiz to help you narrow down the office that would suit you best.
If running for office isn’t your thing, research your local and state candidates and find the ones who support the causes that are important to you and who share your views on preventing gun violence. Your support to their campaign can be in the form of monetary donations, helping with phone banks, texting, canvassing or helping put up signs. Any and every form of support helps for candidates who don't have deep pockets or big donors.
Active participation in politics may be a bit too much for some people. But you can always write your member of Congress or state senator. If you’re computer savvy, you can even create a form letter and share it with others to make it easier for them to contact their representatives. You can also call your state representatives and leave them messages so they know your voice.
Something that will help you move from a place of feeling helpless and stuck is to protest. You can organize protests in your area or you can join protests that are already scheduled. You don’t have to be a member of an organization to show up. Grab a piece of poster board and some markers and go exercise your First Amendment right. You have the power to enact change. Every action has a ripple effect and if enough people are speaking up and stepping up, change is bound to happen.
We have to do what we can as adults because active shooter drills should not be part of learning to write your name. Calls from school should be because your child has a tummy ache, not because they’re not coming home. Teachers should only need to worry about correcting minor behaviors and teaching math, not how to teach their classroom to barricade a door. America, we have to do better, and the best way to change outcomes is by putting in the work.
Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.
The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.
Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.
“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.
And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.
Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.
One day, Kinnear brought in some works from a friend by the name of Maud Lewis. Despite living in abject poverty and suffering from challenging health conditions, Lewis would create colorful, cheerful paintings using whatever materials she could get access to, be that leftover paint used for boats or discarded wooden boards.
According to Good News Network, Kinnear and Lewis had made their own trade: some painting supplies in exchange for a few of her pieces, which were brought to the restaurant.
A picture of Maud Lewis holding one of her works.
One painting in particular struck the then-pregnant Irene in a profound way—a cheery image of an old black pickup truck cruising through a neighborhood, complete with a bright yellow house with a flower-lined yard.
Because of the pure innocence expressed in the piece, Irene thought a child might have created it. She told the Guardian, “I just sat there in silence for quite a while. I’d never ever seen any art like that before. At first I thought they might be playing some sort of trick on me.”
Lewis would often repeat happy themes throughout her work.
Nevertheless, Irene selected the work and hung it in her expected son’s bedroom, where it remained for 50 years.
As an artist, Lewis never reached acclaim while she was alive, but over the years her art has made its way into the spotlight and there was even a romantic biopic made about her, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
The movie caused Lewis’ work to “double and triple in value” according to Ethan Miller, chief executive officer and auctioneer at Miller & Miller Auctions in New Hamburg, Ontario, who noted that the truck painting in particular was a rare piece.
Soon, the Demases realized that they owned the work of a now-famous painter and they put the work up for sale. It was subsequently auctioned off for $350,000. The letters written between Kinnear and Lewis—also sold at auction—were bought for $70,000. Not bad for free grilled cheese.
Painting swapped in 70s for grilled cheese sandwich serves up windfall https://t.co/LC0teC431o— The Guardian (@guardian) May 8, 2022
Not only do the Demases have an exciting new chapter of possibilities in their lives, but an artist has received long overdue recognition. Talk about a win-win situation.