July is Disability Pride Month, commemorating the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and celebrating one billion people with disabilities worldwide. As July draws to a close, I feel conflicted about the label Total and Permanent Disability (TPD), even though it is something that, in many ways, has saved my life.
I first started to struggle significantly with mental health during my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. By my first semester at Minnesota Law, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have had multiple major life disruptions as my mental and emotional stability shattered and I slipped into depression and mania.
In 2019, I overcame my own stubbornness and applied for Social Security disability. Receiving a regular benefits payment has provided housing and food security — and a peace of mind necessary for my well being. After two years on disability, I qualified for Medicare, which is significantly less expensive and more comprehensive than private insurance I had to pay for through the Healthcare Marketplace. Although nearly three years have passed since my last hospitalization, it has only been these past months that I have been able to live fully and work to thrive rather than merely survive.
As much as I have had to focus on my own health, helping others is deeply ingrained in who I am. This spring, I started YGazm Art. Registering as an LLC may have only taken a couple of hours and $50, but it felt like a giant step toward harnessing my own self work for the benefit of others. My vision for YGazm Art is to balance profit and philanthropy. In just the past few months, I have collaborated with a variety of groups to help raise money for their causes.
One recent undertaking was to fundraise for World Central Kitchen. Among the 25 million people WCK feeds are the Ukranians whose world has been turned upside down this year. My sister lives in Dnipro and my nephew lives in Lviv. My father and stepmother and generations of family lived and were laid to rest in Ukraine.
To raise money for World Central Kitchen, I painted my largest piece to date, titled Slava Ukraini. I did a limited run of 40 prints and signed and numbered each. All the proceeds from the sale of the prints have gone directly to World Central Kitchen. There are only four prints left. To date, YGazm Art raised $3,294 toward the goal of $3,600 for World Central Kitchen.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022, I was seeing red. I turned to art, rummaging through my acrylic paints and separating out all shades of red. I processed my feelings onto the blank canvas. I envisioned a hamsa with an eye centered on the palm. I knew little else about where the exercise would take me. I recorded the painting process to show the stages from a mess to a complete, complex design.
Without the red coursing rapidly through my veins and coloring my vision, I turned to the next two canvases and interpreted an all-seeing hamsa in blue and another in green.
Selecting the cause for the Red Hamsa was easy — Reproductive Freedom For All. This is the Michigan campaign that successfully gathered a record breaking number of signatures to put women’s reproductive rights on the November 2022 ballot.
For the beneficiary of the Blue Hamsa I chose the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. On June 15, I graduated from the ADL Glass Leadership Institute. I am proud of the work the ADL is doing to, as they say, fight hate for good.
With the Green Hamsa, I knew I wanted it to benefit a group focused on sustainability and environmental responsibility. I reached out to my friend Tessa Benzinger — owner of Ferndale’s Walking Lightly, the first zero waste store in Oakland County — who nominated The Greening of Detroit. And so the three beneficiaries were set.
For each design there is a print, stainless steel water bottle, and tote bag. (I have not yet listed the original paintings.)
On Monday, August will be here. And I will throw myself into fundraising for Walk4Friendship and ADL Walk Against Hate. And I will keep thanking G-d everyday I wake up able.