(NEW YORK) — Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center on Roosevelt Island in New York City is the foundation of where the Open Doors NYC project came to be. It was founded by Jennilie Brewester, a former volunteer at the hospital, who saw a need for more creativity among black and brown people in wheelchairs at the facility.
Vincent Pierce, the Director of Open Doors NYC, said what started as a writing workshop, turned into writing their own poetry, which would eventually turn into the Reality Poets, “being that most of us that was involved with injured due to gun violence. We told her that we wanted to go to schools and talk to kids about gun violence and the consequences of it. She’s got us doing that. Then we started doing these slam poetry workshops. And we started writing poetry and realized we was writing about our lives. One of the members came up with the name Reality Poets.”
Pierce, now 36, became paralyzed a decade ago, after being shot in the neck, saying he initially felt like his life was over after being confined to a wheelchair. But Pierce saw the bigger picture, “Thank god I had a four-year-old daughter at the time. That’s what really steered me straight and gave me a reason to know why I’m still alive… being blessed to be placed in a place where I had. People dealing with the same thing as me. People around my age, and people younger.”
Open Doors NYC hosts Freestyle Fridays, a virtual session where they invite artists as guest speakers, and all are encouraged to join and learn more about the project as well. Guns Down Mic Up! Is held bi-weekly, and is an open mic and discussion for those looking to share their stories about systemic and personal violence, including gun violence.
ZING! Is another one of the many programs under the Open Doors NYC umbrella. Pierce launched the program as a way to try and keep kids off the street and give them access they may have been initially denied, to showcase their talent and creative ability.
“Who knows? I could be saving lives by having here at that point in time, and actually paying them to come learn. I got a grant to start the program… It was just important to just keep kids off the street and give them something positive to do. Something I never had.
In March of 2022, New York State comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, released an audit showing that Health Department officials underreported nursing home deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic, by nearly half for almost a year. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August 2021 over allegations of sexual harassment, and his administration also could not account for about 4,000 nursing home deaths during the 10-month period.
Pierce launched the #NursingHomelivesMatter campaign in July 2020, in response to how they felt the pandemic was handled when it came to residents in long-term care facilities. Pierce in a message on the site saying, “We were fighting for our lives—COVID patients were brought into our home, no safety precautions were followed, and bodies piled up in two refrigerated trucks parked outside. Then as the lockdown dragged on for more than a year, we were fighting to see our families or just to get beyond the iron gate and yellow tape that corralled us in like convicts or animals at the zoo.”
The movement contains a Bill of Rights which includes being treated as an individual, families never being locked out, safe staffing ratios, decent wages for staff, and more.
When asked what he hopes the future of Open Doors NYC holds, Pierce said “I want to see us grow. Especially that this pandemic is dying down for us to get more out there again… doing poetry shows and basically growing in the social justice field. Disability justice and being more known.”
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