Coronacast 9: Marcela

“The world’s in flames a little bit,” Marcela Betancur acknowledged at the outset of our conversation.

Marcela is executive director of the Latino Policy Institute. Preliminary data suggest that 45% of Rhode Islanders who have tested positive for COVID-19 are Latino. (Read more about that.)

I want to keep shouting: The coronavirus has laid bare inequities that already existed in our community. And Marcela said it best: “It’s not okay to ever go back.” Now that we all see the truth, now that we know it’s possible to better care for one another, we can’t accept the way we used to do things.


And I miss hugging my parents, too.

Coronacast 8: Jodie

Jodie Vinson is program manager at What Cheer Writers Club, a nonprofit that connects and supports “Rhode Island’s makers of the written, spoken, and illustrated word.”

(Side note: it’s really challenging for me to say What Cheer Writers Club.)

Jodie spoke with me about the impact of the coronavirus on the creative community (yes, the introverts among us do feel the ill effects of isolation) and the Club (“it lit a fire under us” to try out different ways of delivering support to members).

Her main takeaway from this time? “A renewed appreciation for the community and a renewed dedication to it.” Amen.

The team and members of What Cheer Writers Club have kept the creative content coming. When their space in downtown Providence reopens, I hope you’ll visit. (I’ve been known to drool over the nooks.)

Coronacast 7: Ian

The coronavirus crisis has reinforced the crucial role of local news outlets, and Rhode Island’s press corps has responded with robust reporting.

Ian Donnis is a long-time local reporter who has dug into many meaty Rhode Island stories. Way back when, Ian and I would grab lunch in downtown Providence (and, oh, how I miss that).

Ian spoke with me about what it’s like to cover the many ways in which coronavirus is impacting people across the state. He described it plainly, “There’s a lot of hurt and pain out there.”

We also talked about his old guys’ baseball league (Ian is unsure how social distancing will work in the dugout), the current supermarket experience, and his hat.

Follow Ian on twitter and look for his work on The Public’s Radio. And support your local news outlets!

Coronacast 6: Adam

I had the good fortune of talking with self-described sentimental guy Adam Greenman, CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, on his birthday.

The “how are you?” question is a struggle for everyone these days, and Adam coined a new response, declaring, “I’m good in corona-adjusted terms.”

He spoke about the paradox of feeling hopeful during this difficult time. “It’s hard to say this, because it’s such a hard moment, to acknowledge that there are good things happening in the midst of all this tragedy and in the midst of all this uncertainty,” Adam said. “I’ve been super inspired by how quickly society has been able to transition, and step out of comfort zones, to figure out how to keep going.”


And if you’re not into that kind of thing, hopefully you’ll enjoy the t-shirt banter. Happy Birthday, Adam! Thanks for doing what you do.

Coronacast 5: Max

Max Grinnell is a professor, speaker, artist, and former baker’s assistant, among other callings — all of which give him a unique perspective on what this moment might mean for cities. He goes by The Urbanologist on Twitter and Periscope.

“People make places,” Max said from his home in Boston. COVID-19 highlights many of the factors that shape the fabric of our places, like small businesses, automobile use, and outdoor spaces for humans. And we need to have tough conversations, he urged, that account for the lived experiences of our essential workers.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Max touched on what it’ll take to make change (spoiler alert: political restructuring and direct action), the daily rollercoaster of emotions that many of us are experiencing, and his affection for Providence. ⚓️

Coronacast 4: David

Hi Neighbor! David Dadekian is Rhode Island’s food laureate (credit to Phil Eil for that title).

“There’s connectivity everywhere,” David points out. He talked with me about the value of silly conversations, kindness, and takeout.

(And he knows a thing or two about takeout; check out David’s website for comprehensive lists of restaurants with takeout options, online local food and drink businesses, and breweries offering curbside sales. Whenever you can, buy local, Rhode Island!)

“We’ve got to be patient,” said David. “And kind.”

Coronacast 3: Toby

Toby Shepherd is executive director of the Nowell Leadership Academy, a public charter high school founded to serve pregnant and parenting young adults.

He talked with me, still early in the COVID-19 crisis, about how his staff and students were faring in the abrupt transition to our current reality. “There’s got to be a word,” Toby suggested, for everything is fine but also terrible. And he wonders how his 10-year-old son will look back at this time.

Coronacast 2: MK

Today I talked to the radiant Mary-Kim Arnold, dearest friend, exceptional writer, brilliant artist, big thinker, compassionate and thoughtful human, and the person who eats doughnuts with me.

(Enthusiastic plug: Tomorrow happens to be the official release of Mary-Kim’s new poetry collection, The Fish and The Dove, which you absolutely should read.)

“Hope feels a little complicated,” said Mary-Kim, speaking for many of us.

Introducing: The Coronacast

As the world reels from a global pandemic, I’ve been touched and gratified by the many ways people are coping and connecting.

Whether it is singing from the balconies in Italy, weddings performed on the street in NYC, “Knock It Off” t-shirts in my beloved Rhode Island, #getmePPE, mutual aid networks, or the zoom call my family attempted last week, our humanity is showing.

(I, for one, hope it sticks around for awhile.)

This had me thinking: What can I do? Coronacast is my attempt to extend the connection. I am one of the few, I’m guessing, enjoying the proliferation of videoconferencing. It brings me joy and comfort to see dear faces and have real conversations. In this moment of crisis, when you ask a genuine question, people respond with honesty, generosity, humor, wisdom, and love. Perhaps COVID-19 gives us an excuse to be just a tiny bit vulnerable with each other.

So here’s the first in what I hope will be a (time-limited) series of short video calls with interesting people. It’s part oral history, part small talk, part coping strategy. Informal and amateur, it’s meant to reflect the moment we’re in.

Episode 1 is Phil Ayoub of Beau Tyler & the Sly Dog Co., entrepreneur, songwriter, musician, and my cousin. “And now, I make a pretty good cup of coffee.”