Women of Yale Lecture: Art and Disruption by Quiara Alegría Hudes ’99

Women of Yale Lecture: Art and Disruption by Quiara Alegría Hudes ’99


– So, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here, and it’s really a pleasure to welcome you to this semester’s Women of Yale lecture. We began this series a couple of years ago to showcase the accomplishments of women who graduated from Yale, and our guests, including our
distinguished speaker today, Quiara Hudes, represent the
very best of this university, and they reflect the remarkable success of coeducation at Yale. My wife Marta Moret, who
is also a woman of Yale, a 1984 graduate of our
public health school, she’s actually the who
first proposed the idea of a speaker series that
would bring back to Yale some of the most inspiring women and to do it in this year,
or leading up to this year, the year in which we
celebrate the 50th anniversary of coeducation in Yale College. And it’s been a fantastic
way to meet and hear from some of our most brilliant
and accomplished alumni. These events have
allowed us to commemorate the legacy of women at this university, to learn about their leadership, their contributions to society, and you’ll recall our
first speaker was Maya Lin, a pioneering architect who graduated from Yale College in 1981, earned her masters degree from
the School of Architecture in 1986, and returned a year later to receive an honorary doctor of fine
arts degree from Yale. After that, we welcomed Vera
Wells, who is here today. Sitting right here. She was a member of the class of 1971, the first Yale College graduating
class to include women, and she was the recipient
of the Yale Medal for service to the university. Then we honored Anita Hill,
a lawyer, trailblazer, scholar, and advocate for women’s rights. She graduated from the
Yale Law School in 1980. And then last year, we heard from Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson. She is the first Native American woman to graduate from the
Yale School of Medicine and she earned her masters
degree in public health from Yale as well. So, as we celebrate these women pioneers, we need to remember that actually, women have been at Yale as students longer than the 50 years in Yale College. The School of Art, when it first opened
its doors 150 years ago, women and men studied together, so it’s fitting that we
welcome today Quiara Hudes who was a 1999 graduate of Yale College, but is a playwright, an author from West Philly with roots in Puerto Rico and Boriqua, and she shows us, because she
studies it and practices it, the importance of arts in our world. Her plays and musicals, I don’t
have to tell you about them. They’ve been performed around the world. They include “Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, “Water by the Spoonful,” winner of the 2012
Pulitzer Prize for drama, and the Tony Award-winning
Broadway hit “In the Heights.” We were actually talking
before this program about our family. She lives in the Heights and I have an uncle
who was in the Heights. My nephew lives in the Heights, and so sharing tales of the neighborhood. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times described “In the Heights”
as “a panoramic portrait “of a New York neighborhood filled “with Spanish-speaking
Dreamers of American dreams, “nervously eying their
futures from a city block “on the cusp of change.” Ms. Hudes has adapted her
award-winning work for the screen, and it is in release this summer, right? At movie theaters all across the country. Her most recent musical,
“Miss You Like Hell,” ran off-Broadway at the Public Theater, and she has written a memoir which will be published next year by One World, Random House. She’s the co-founder
of Emancipated Stories, a platform for incarcerated
people to share their stories through writing and art, and we are so grateful that
you are here with us today. So grateful that you
share your story with us. Today, she will speak to us
about art and disruption, and I ask you to join me
in welcoming Quiara Hudes. (audience applauding) Thank you for doing this today. I appreciate it. (audience applauding) Take mine. – All right. Hello. – [Audience] Hello. – How y’all doing? – [Audience] Good. – Um. I’m tempted to start by going off-script and see who would be willing, let’s get a little physical for a second, so two parts to this because this is gonna
be like a bedtime story that I’m about to do, even though it’s before
everyone’s bedtime, but… So, it’s hard to give a
bedtime story that far back, so if anyone feels compelled to come a little bit closer to me so I can kind of like look you in the eye while telling this bedtime
story, I would welcome that. No pressure, if you’re
comfortable, stay where you are, but if you want to come up so
I can really connect with you, the closer the better. So, I’ll give you a moment to do that, but then I’m gonna ask everyone,
also, wherever you are, to get a little physical. Ooh, it means people are
sitting closer to each other. I like this. And I’m gonna be doing a Q&A
at the end of my remarks, so if anything, any thoughts come up, that you’re interested in discussing, I know there’s some students here who are interested in
incarceration topics, possibly. You know, just things that
come to mind, just flag it, because we’ll have time to open up the conversation at the end. Um, okay, so, I think before I start, I learned this from an
activist I met in Philadelphia. I’m gonna turn off my mic. Just to connect us in the room, I’m gonna ask everyone
to start by screaming, not so that you hurt your throat, not so that you hurt your neighbor, but just to give the room
our energy as a collective to just be energetic in the room together. I know it sounds a little strange. I’m gonna join you in this scream, so… I think seated is okay. I don’t want to ask y’all to do too much. But if you’ll take the leap of faith, it’s not gonna blow anyone’s ears out. It’s actually almost like a strange sort of like
prayer or something. Cool? You guys trust me enough to give it a try? So we’re just gonna scream
for a second, all right? (audience laughing) All right, ready? Here we go. One, two, three. (all screaming) Whew, thank you. (audience laughing) All right, let me turn my mic back on. (audience laughing) Okay, so here we go. Wait, am I, okay. Got a lot of mics. So, so this thing I’m about to do called “Art and Disruption” is based on years of conversations
with Corey Menafee here in New Haven over
the last four years, but mostly in 2016. I paraphrased just a tiny amount, and the only editing is
for clarity and continuity. Corey’s here and I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart. The rest of my presentation is
pulled right out of my life, so I took liberties with
that, but it’s all true. Also, shouting out Andrea Olivares who designed my PowerPoint slides. It’s mostly art from children’s
books that she messed with, that she broke or disrupted,
so, art and disruption. All right, so I thought I’d tell a tale, spin a yarn, kind of like
circle time, story hour, a night-night book about an ordinary guy and an ordinary girl who came
of age in the ’80s and ’90s listening to some of the tunes
you heard while walking in. He from the African American
Hill section of New Haven, she from West Philly and
North Philly, el barrio, Puerto Rico and Philadelphia. And a moment that they
crossed paths at Yale. I even went Aesop-style and wrote a moral at the end of the story. So, that was actually my prologue. (audience laughing) Let’s go. Okay. Once upon a time, a child named Corey
lived on Orchard Street but would hang on Kensington. Then he moved to Sheffield
Ave, then Lake Place, where his family had more room. Every three to five years, Corey
moved to a different house. On those New Haven streets, Corey would ride bikes, play basketball, get up with his buddies. Young, carefree, going with the flow. At four or five or six, he took to the New York Giants because blue was his favorite color or because he was watching
with his grandfather and older uncles who were all Giants fans. Either way, he loved all
teams that wore blue. Michigan football, The
Mets, Hillhouse High. He always rooted for Hillhouse over Cross. For winter holidays, his
family split into two sides. On one side, his mother’s
mother’s branch, was, how to put this? Middle class. You wore your good shirt and tie. You sat around the
table and said a prayer, and if there was music
playing, it was violins. You ate Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at one or two in the afternoon. Then he would go to the
Menafee side, to Powpow’s, his father’s father was Powpow. That side was more urban. He’d put on his jeans and hoodie. There was gonna be loud music, dancing, playing spades, yelling and screaming over the moves. On July 4th, they would
get up before sunrise and go to Wharton Brook, both
sides of the family together. Corey would stay guarding the picnic table while the elders parked
and unpacked the food. There was always a deck of
cards for playing spades. Running back and forth to the beach, rolling down dirt hills, that’s how Corey passed the
time with the other kids, stuff that now he’s
like, man, that was dumb. His two grandmothers plus Aunt
Gladys cooking the day away. His mom was on macaroni-and-cheese duty, Powpow worked the grill, there would always be a pot of rice, cabbage or string beans, chicken or pork chops, a baked ham, sweet potatoes, cornbread, lasagna, the whole works. After his mom’s vision went, Corey became her eyes in the kitchen. That’s how he learned to cook. Elbows, extra sharp
cheddar, a stick of butter, two eggs, American cheese. But to this day, his mac and cheese never
comes out quite the same. The love she put into it. Caring and sympathetic. Nice, kindhearted, but she’d cuss your
ass out in a heartbeat. A strong, spirited woman. That was his mom’s personality. He became independent like her, not liking to depend
on nobody for nothing. History and social studies
were his best subjects because it’s a matter of memorization. You just cram the facts into your brain. The school laid out two possible paths. You could be like W.E.B.
DuBois who believed that black people should
take on professional roles like doctor, professor, lawyer. They should use their mind to give back, a mindset Corey would embrace
years later at college. Or you could be a Booker
T. Washington guy, cast your buckets down here. Learn a trade. Gain practical skills. After college in his twenties, he would become a Booker T. Guy. Corey, it was said, possessed
an ability Powpow had. He could walk with kings and bums alike, plus he got Powpow’s comedic intelligence. Being in a bad mood around Corey was hard. In second grade, the teacher
called his mom and said, “Corey does his work. “He’s a good student. “But he’s the class clown. “He likes to goof around.” Well, his mom came into school
and whooped him right there with all the kids laughing. She gave away his
lunchbox and his backpack. She and Corey lived
with Powpow at the time and he kicked her out for a minute. He was mad, but she had high
expectations of her son. When Corey was 10, his mom got pregnant. As a diabetic, she was
put on strict bedrest. It was on Corey to do things now. Push a cart full of clothes down the hill, learn how to operate a washing
machine at the laundromat, bring the list of groceries
and money to the store and do the shopping. When she went into labor, the doc said, “This baby’s gonna die, too.” See, Corey’s sister had been
premature and died at birth. His brother, William, also
premature, died at birth, but this time the docs were wrong. Corey became a big brother, the love his life. That’s what Mitchell became. Corey fed him, changed him, handed him off to a girl
to go play street ball. His mom would say, “I had
Mitchell just for you.” But if Corey was bad, she’d make threats. “You’re out of my will. “You’re not getting Mitch.” (audience laughing) Seventh grade. Girls began to develop. Corey fell in love with a
different one every day. A girl would randomly smile, say hello, and Corey would think,
oh my God, I love her. (audience laughing) He had no skills whatsoever
but high aspirations, and the girls that liked him,
he didn’t like them back, so he went to the eighth
grade dance alone. In high school, he was a brain. Biggie Smalls, Wu-Tang, that’s what he liked. His Hillside friends let him
hang but pushed him aside when it came to extremes. Drugs, beefing. The Trey guys, they’d always
be be beefing with Hillside. “Nah, this ain’t for
you,” his friends said. They could have seduced him into it, but they had that type of love for him. But once, walking home
at one in the morning, he ran into some guys he knew. A Trey guy was like, “Where you from?” Corey said, “The hill.” Guy had a gun on him. Said, “You should run.” But Corey, being young
and cocky, was like, I ain’t gonna run. Just walking away slowly. Shots started going off. One ricocheted off his shoe. This guy was shooting
everything but Corey, then was like, “Turn around, turn around,” and when Corey did, he put that gun right up on Corey’s chest. Click. He had run out of bullets. Later that night, Corey
was just thanking God, counting the bullet holes in his pants. The style was real baggy back then. It dawned on Corey, he
really tried to shoot me. Duh. That’s how he learned
don’t go ’round saying you’re from any neighborhood since he didn’t have something
on his hip to protect him. Instead of beefing, he
went to play practice, cast as Atticus Finch in
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” missing rehearsal only
for football practice, even though he stunk. To quote him, “I had a mixed skillset “that didn’t relate to
success on the field.” He could catch, but he wasn’t fast. He was a very undersized
offensive lineman. Anyone after two or three years of this, going to practice every day faithfully, not getting any play
time, would have quit. But Corey stuck with it. He loved football. Later in life, if he said
he played in high school, his uncle would correct him. “You were on the team.” (audience laughing) Senior prom, this time he had a date. Last dance of the night was Keith Sweat, “Make it Last Forever.” College tuition would be tight. His mother had been a home health aide, what they called private duty. She had worked 11 through
seven then at a factory, but she became disabled, the result of juvenile diabetes. She lost a toe, went blind, seeing only blurry shapes and light. With no money in his pocket, Corey headed down to
Virginia Union University, stole books from the bookstore, went homeless for an entire semester, meaning he was an off-campus student, meaning he couldn’t
eat in the dining hall, so he would steal from grocery stores, things he wasn’t proud of. But, the journalism major
taught him to write, to choose a subject, to qualify the story and
talk to both parties, tell it from both aspects. Graduation came in the early aughts, the same year his mom died. The night before her passing, she coughed and sneezed really hard. She went to the bathroom on herself. Okay, so not number two, just wet. He said, “I have to change you.” She resisted, wanted to rest. He said, “All right.” Next morning, she was unresponsive. Sugar level almost on a coma,
Corey called an ambulance, and while they came, he
changed his mother’s underwear. That’s a very hard thing for a man to do. No man wants to change
his mother’s underwear, but she couldn’t go to the
emergency room like that. Four years. That’s how long it took
Corey to read the Bible, cover to cover. He set a goal and accomplished it. Finished in June of 2015, admittedly, he skipped
around a little bit. His favorite verse was Philippians
Chapter Four, Verse 13. Anyone know that one? “I can do all things through Christ, “for it is he who strengthens me.” He told me you can read something and you can even comprehend
what it’s saying, but until it applies to
your life, you don’t know. For example, he was going
over to Whitney Avenue to bid on a Yale dining hall job. He had to be at work
at Davenport by 11:30, but by the time he
finished his bid paperwork, it was already 11:15. Mind you, he walks with a limp
from a long-ago car accident, and he was like, how am I gonna get there? So, he recited the verse
and started walking. “I can do all things through Christ, “for it is he who strengthens me.” “I can do all things through Christ, “for it is he who strengthens me.” He swiped in at 11:30 precisely. From the get-go, when his mother-in-law
introduced him to her manager, the Yale job felt like
family and the pay was good. Take out the trash, work in the dish room, keep the floors clean, compost, that is, separate the food
waste from the other trash. Sometimes doing the same tasks for weeks and weeks gets stale, so every once in a while, the
workers would switch it up. Often, they shared a family meal, sat down together and ate the
food that they had cooked. Healthy meals, vegan dishes, a salad bar, and Corey, being diabetic,
that worked for him. The backbone of Yale University. That’s how he described his coworkers. Without staff and those behind the scenes, the university couldn’t thrive. “There’d be chaos if
the students came to eat “and we weren’t there,” Corey said, and he loved the work. One simple, hi, how you doing? Could mean a big difference to a student. Seeing people every day, they opened up. He was invited to a
gospel choir performance at Battell Chapel. Tired at the end of his
shift, he wanted to go home. Instead, after a hard day of work, the gospel choir was refreshing. The girl who invited him was in tears, told him, “I view you as a father figure.” He knew some of these students
were thousands of miles away from everyone they knew and loved. He remembered being in their
shoes at Virginia Union that they might not have
anyone around to reassure them, so that being able to open up, say, yeah, it’s been a hard
week, might help them. “We have a lot of fun
at work,” Corey told me, “but our main concern is
to attend to students, “and I take that very seriously,” he said. Oh, and one more detail before
I end Part one of this story. When Corey was 16, Miss
Moñelo, his Spanish teacher, held him after class. She said, “Corey, you’re a straight kid. “You follow the rules. “One day, you’re gonna have
to learn how to break a rule.” His mother always instilled
do the right thing, and now an authority figure was like learn to break a rule. His mind was blown. Once upon a time, there
was a place called Yale. Beautiful buildings were
connected by stone paths, cast-iron gates, and border
walls of sturdy masonry. Each room was full of many curious hearts, souls hungry to learn. Yale owned so many gorgeous
buildings and artworks that one might say
beauty was its property. Sterling Library alone had
$2,000 unique stained glass or printed glass panels, fitting for an institution
whose Latin motto meant truth and light. Reunion weekend, 2016. A Sunday in May, 11:30 a.m. The Calhoun dining staff had
completed its work for the day, cleaning up after the reunions ended. Corey was thinking, should I
leave now and take half a day? Because the shift was
supposed to end at three. He thought, well, stay till
12 to make it an even number. That’s when the knock came at the door. No one wanted to open it. They had already finished up. But Corey relented. Standing there was an African American man alongside a girl of about 10. The stranger said, “Hi, I
used to be a student here. “Can I show my daughter
where I used to eat?” Corey let him in. There in the empty dining hall, the alumnus started telling his daughter about the removal of names, how in his undergrad years, African American students like himself wanted the name Calhoun
removed from the college. Explaining to his daughter
how John C. Calhoun grew up in the late 1700s
believing what his daddy told him, that slavery was a moral good, traveling from the
South up to attend Yale, how in the U.S. Senate
he opposed abolition and passionately led the
pro-slavery legislative agenda, views he took the White
House as Secretary of State, then Vice President. Father told daughter these things. In this empty dining hall,
Corey and the workers heard, and at times joined in. The stranger welcomes this. He explained how in his
undergraduate years, Yale had removed Calhoun’s
stained glass portrait. Not the whole thing, just the part where an African
American man in shackles knelt at Calhoun’s feet. Then, father led daughter to the small, stained glass windows. They went in sequence, he explained. First, a picture of a tree. Next, a house. Next, enslaved people picking cotton. Corey thought, no, they don’t show that. I’ve been working here a long time. I ain’t seen nothing like that. But, the father invited
Corey to check it out, this window beneath which he
had eaten his college meals. You see, the windows are
small and a little high up, and Corey’s vision is blurry, just like his mother before
him, also from diabetes. Corey needed glasses, still does. So, Corey leaned in close and
saw it for the first time. African Americans with
cotton bales on their head, one of them smiling, looking peaceful. Corey was like, oh, that can’t be here. That’s not right, no, no, no. Because it was deliberate that these were African American people, one with a smile on her face. After that when Corey came into
work, it was staring at him, eating away at his subconscious, like you think someone’s watching you, that feeling of eyes on your
back, eyes on your shoulders, eyes on your neck. A week later, Corey thought,
that thing has to come down. It was God’s work. Not planned or premeditated. All he wanted was to get a paycheck and take care of his family, but instead, he went
and found a broomstick, climbed up on a heater, and
smashed the window panel. 27 pieces of glass fell
into the moat outside, the grassy part separating
the wall from the sidewalk. Inside, an old lady said, “Ooh, ooh!” The production manager was like, dude, you just destroyed Yale’s property. Corey said, “It looks a lot better now.” (audience laughing) Then headed for the locker room. When he was scruffy,
people often disengaged, but when he was clean-shaven
and made eye contact, people would say hi first. So, he went and shaved as the authorities searched
the building for him. A coworker came into the locker room like, our general manager is looking for you. Corey said, “I bet she is.” The authorities questioned him. He was composed, honest. Corey told me, “I’m a standup person. “I really despise liars. “I don’t understand why
people lie all the time.” He didn’t try to cover anything. He accepted responsibility. The sergeant said, “Yo, son, I’m a have “to slap cuffs on you for this.” Corey put out his wrists, calm, and said, “Okay, here you go.” As the two arresting officers were joined by 15 more to investigate the
scene, Corey went to jail. Resign from the job. That was the union rep’s advice. Corey agreed to never pursue Yale for a hostile work environment. Yale agreed not to seek reparations for their destroyed property, and for emphasis, I, Quiara, will add an editorial repeat. Property. Property. Corey signed his letter
of resignation and said, “Okay, I’ll move on with my life.” He didn’t want a felony
hanging over his head for breaking a window. The rest is a matter of public record, court record, and Googleable. He lost his job, was
charged with a felony, given a promise to appear, released after three hours in custody. His family was all down on him. His baby brother Mitch was like, how could you be so stupid to let a picture on the wall
cause you to lose your job? Until Corey’s phones started ringing. Area codes from Texas, North Carolina. It’s such-and-such from
Fox News, from NBC, from Democracy Now! After the media frenzy, he went from being the
biggest dumb-ass in the family to maybe it was good that you did that. (audience laughing) Still, they wanted Corey to do two things. One, offer a letter of apology, two, cry his soul out
and beg for his job back. About the second, he told me, “No.” About the first, he wrote a
five-sentence letter of apology using these skills he’d let deteriorate throughout the years, expressing each sentence, line by line. The word choice, the
narrative description. He hadn’t written since college. There was a big picture
of what he wanted to say. I’m sorry for what I did. Now, he had five sentences
to paint the picture. Here’s two of them. Quote. “I want to express remorse
for my barbaric actions. “Yale College, I truly
do love all of you.” End quote. Off it went to Calhoun College, but then he wondered, barbaric action? Really? Yes and no. If you destroy something, that’s barbaric, and it was never a good
idea to destroy property, but if he was in that
situation a million times, he’d probably do the same thing. A cause, a movement, was already in place that had stagnated. The students had been
protesting for months, years, actually, in truth, decades, to change the name. If Yale didn’t listen to the student body, why were they gonna listen
to a blue-collar worker? “And I promise you,” Corey told me, “if I had just said something, “the image would still be there today.” Soon, Yale dropped the
term Master for a new one, Head of College. Soon, Yale renamed
Calhoun College to Hopper. Corey told me, “It makes you wonder why
something so easily resolved “becomes so complex. “It’s almost as though you want the name, “the negative buzz.” He told me it was an oppressive image that a lot of people
felt ill about seeing. On July 26th, 2016, I attended Corey’s
second criminal hearing. Out on the courthouse steps,
Black Lives Matter was present. Latino Unidos en Accion
was present, chanting, “Change the name, change the name.” Going through security, I saw one guard handing
out coffees to her crew. “What the hell are they
doing out there?” one asked. “Man, there’s a whole bunch of protesters “out there chanting,” she replied. “Hats off in the courtroom,”
the court officer called. On one bench, a bug-eyed dude rambled about his cigarette addiction. The stenographer complained
about the judge’s tardiness. “Sometimes he doesn’t come
out until after 11,” she said. “That’s why I should have
put my money in the meter.” (audience laughing) On another bench, Corey sat, unmoving, the gait of anticipation. The docket began. First, a second-degree burglary. Next, a violation of a protective order. Guilty pleas were logged. So noted. So ordered. And next, all criminal charges
against Corey were dropped. When Corey walked out, about half the courtroom
stood and left with him. Deans and students had
been there all morning in quiet support. Outside, people had posters and
banners with his name on it, posters that said “Menafee
equals Rosa Parks.” News cameras and reporters pounced. “Do you want your job back?” one asked, and a protester shouted,
“No, he doesn’t want a job “from that racist institution.” Corey went on record then and
there, “I want my job back.” Soon, Yale went on record, too. “If he wants his job back,
we’d love to have him.” That’s how his dining hall
position was reinstated, through the press. That summer, Corey attended the
Hillside reunion like usual. One friend said, “Hey,
man, come over here. “Yo, what you did, man, “we’re gonna give you a clap for that. “We’re gonna give you some recognition.” Walking the streets of New Haven, Corey got nods and thumbs-up from folks, even from police. Little kids, I want to thank you. You’re a hero. When he returned to Yale,
a stranger approached. “It’s good to have you back.” A dining hall manager, “I don’t agree with what you did, “but as a white man, I
respect what you did. “I understand why you did it.” A passerby, “Hey, you’re
the guy who broke the glass. “Oh, man, I appreciate what you did.” A young lady at Stiles
where he now worked, “You’re so awesome.” And to me, as we sat in a dark bar having the conversations
that led to this tale, he said, “Students had
been protesting for months, “years, about the Calhoun name. “Just break it. “You can’t live in fear of doing things.” Once upon a time, (speaks in Spanish), there was a girl named Quiara who grew up in Philly loving art. Museum art and fancy stuff, sure, but street art especially. She had an aunt who played
neoclassical punk at CBGB and would sneak her in to
gigs though she was only five. As her aunt put on thick,
bad-to-the-bone eyeliner, the girl was hypnotized by
the vandalized dressing room. There was a neighbor, Ade Mkumba, who made instruments out of garbage, performed street concerts by the tracks on 49th and Baltimore. No venue or cover price, just
a kalimba, a thumb piano, made out of an old, discarded Bustelo can. Two teenagers dropped a snare
on a West Philly street corner and started rapping. It was catchy, repeated on
loop in the girl’s head. ♪ It looks like another
one’s comin’ around. ♪ ♪ Pass the what? ♪ ♪ Pass the popcorn.” ♪ Years later, she heard it on Power 99 FM, a group called The Roots. (audience laughing) Rennie Harris would
produce Illadelph Legends, showing schoolkids Mr. Wiggles,
Crazy Legs, Don Campbell. They’d be popping, locking,
waacking, voguing, and breaking. The girl, like all her classmates, got how breaking was creation. Graffiti popped up everywhere, prettying up broken walls,
uglying up pretty walls. Street legends Karaz and Cornbread, but the girl didn’t know it then. She couldn’t make out all the letters, only that a whole lot of them
read R.I.P. clear as day. Keith Haring defacement became
pins on the girl’s backpack. She saw Kathy Change dance
on the art museum steps or over by the 38th Street Bridge, peace signs on her flags and face. Passersby laughed at the dancing fool. Cops arrested her for breaking the peace. When the dancing fool set herself aflame before the peace statue, when she self-immolated
as her final performance, the girl grieved. So many after-schools, the girl
walked to West Coast Video, and rented the same VHS
tape, “Do the Right Thing.” She screamed when Sal smashed Radio Raheem’s boombox to shards. So that this girl grew up thinking the purpose of art was
literally to break things now. Seeing art that often led to arrest, surrounded by art crimes, it was the ’80s and ’90s
when crack and AIDS decimated her abuela’s barrio. It was a savage time, an uncertain time. They were skeleton years. It was a mayhem epoch. Around the girl, bodies were breaking. Buildings and city blocks were breaking. T-cells were breaking. Runaway daddies left a
trail of the brokenhearted. Broken window was the name
of the police strategy. The art of the time did not
romanticize this girl’s world, but made something powerful
by reporting the chaos, by reflecting the era’s rupture. To this girl, art was transformation, not in the gooey kumbaya sense, but in the most igniting,
conflictual sense. Art was a hammer smashing
the material world, smashing the picket fence
fairy tales she saw on T.V. And the girl found solace in that smashing because there is
consolation in truthfulness, even through the discomfort, and in all that broken creation, she discovered deeply
that she was not alone. She wasn’t alone mourning
three family members felled by AIDS. She wasn’t alone missing
cousins who disappeared to addiction or prostitution or prison. She wasn’t alone thinking she
was a zero because Daddy left. She wasn’t alone being blinded with rage when her cuz was blinded by a bullet. The girl loved the
honesty of the breaking. It made new life where
there had been dereliction. Then she went to Yale. Then she graduated. Then her plays went to Broadway. She won prizes. And it was easy to mistake the prestige, a Yale degree, international
stages, awards, for moral soundness and spiritual success, to think that she had done her work. Some of her plays were honest. Some decent or even good,
though she was never sure. Some she knew, but didn’t
admit, were too well-behaved. By this time, she had
long since become a woman. When the girlhood had left and
the womanhood had dropped in, she couldn’t pinpoint, but during those womanhood-becoming years, one cousin’s HIV became undetectable. Another cousin thrived in
the long haul of recovery. The blind cousin learned
braille and got a PhD. Sure, prison had claimed a few of the rising young generation, but crack cocaine’s grip
on the barrio loosened. In fact, her Boriqua cousin in recovery now cooked free meals for opioid addicts who were pretty much all white beneath the same tracks
she used to go copping, walking their city tent, serving arroz con gandules
out of her car trunk, thinking, there but for
the grace of God go I. The woman’s family was,
perhaps, less broken now. The less-brokenness
brought tremendous relief. It brought true peace. But it was easy to conflate the less brokenness with moral soundness and spiritual success, to think they had all done their work. Then, one day, the woman read how Corey
Menafee shattered a window, decorative stained glass showing
slavery as a noble history, and the little girl within her awoke, the one who knew of broken things And the woman, for she
had become a woman now, wondered if she would be brave enough to commit that simple act, to break a small window at an institution that she benefited from. So, she took a train to New Haven to attend a criminal court hearing and asked Corey Menafee for permission, for the honor of hearing
more and telling it. And then I, nervously, wrote
these words to read to you, you room full of strangers
whom I see with love tonight, and I wrote these words to Corey, you, Corey, right there,
whom I see with love, and also the complication reserved for those I respect the most, this is my thank-you letter
slash Aesop’s fable for you. The moral of the story
is that in institutions that own beauty, that value pedigree and decorum, your truth, you, out there today, your truth may be a beautiful disruption. The moral of the story is that there is no guidebook or checklist. No great, wise leader will say, go, now is the time for breaking. You are the guidebook and the checklist. You are the leader. The time to disrupt is
a matter of your gut, your integrity, your grace. The moral of the story is as you exist in and beyond Yale and carry the fraught, vaunted name into true and false powers, remember to exist on your own terms, not on anyone else’s. The moral of the story is
what was the real stain on the stained glass window? And now that the window is broken, is the real stain removed? The moral of the story is Corey
created an empty rectangle where more light could flow. Truth through enlightenment,
(speaks Latin). By breaking Yale, he bettered Yale. The end. (audience applauding) Do you want to come up for a sec? (audience applauding) How you doing? – [Corey] Thank you. (audience applauding and cheering) – Thank you, Corey. You know, I was gonna do a Q&A and see if anyone had questions, and maybe, since Corey’s
willing and close by, would you feel comfortable
answering any questions? Questions for either myself or Corey could be about this topic or
about whatever’s on your mind. I think there were
supposed to be microphones, but I don’t see them, so. We have microphones. Okay, great. So, if anyone has an
questions, let’s chat. What’s on people’s minds? There’s one microphone over
there, oh, and one here. Sandy has one. Don’t be shy. We all screamed together, remember? (audience laughs) – [Salovey] Corey, what
are you doing right now? – What am I doing right now? Oh, I’m a head GSC at Ezra
Stiles and Morse College. In Yale Dining. (audience laughing) – Yeah, you had a question? – [Student At Right] This is a question for mostly you, Quiara. So, about a week ago, I attended
a talk with Angela Davis and she talked about how
art, specifically music, can be a way of healing, especially in times of like burning out and just like in disrupting, like the emotional toll
that can have on students, how do you see art as a way of, like, in your terms, of like breaking it? And sort of like breaking
things that we’re accustomed to as a sort of like healing? – So, the question was about, here, Corey, you want to come
hang at the podium with me? So, the question was
about music in particular having healing qualities and what’s the relationship
between those healing qualities and the disruptive qualities of art, and you know, I’ve thought a lot about that, and I actually was going to put in here something about the healing
legacy that I come from, but I didn’t because I thought it went a little bit off-topic. But I’ll say this, I also come from an agricultural
and a gardening legacy, and what I have learned from
the elder women in my family, some of whom are no longer with us, that they learned from their elders was about the tool that
we call a hoe, right? So, a hoe is, it’s on like a mop handle and it’s got a blade at the end of it, and you literally break the earth, right? And you breath the earth in order to create troughs, narrow troughs, where what goes in the troughs? Seeds. And so I think this relationship between breaking and healing isn’t necessarily dichotomous. I think it’s symbiotic and circular, and so I think the same
music that can be disruptive can also be healing, and I know music has
healed me my entire life, and one of the reasons that I asked Corey about what music he was
listening to as a kid because I knew it would be a way for me to just understand, get into his life, get into his mind, you know? And I wrote about some of the music that I was listening to, too. Does that make sense? – [Woman In Center] Corey, did you know what the story was today, or was that the first
time you’re hearing it, or how do you feel about
hearing your story? – Well, I was a little emotional. I got a little teary-eyed. I kind of covered it up. (audience laughing) She’s talking about events that actually happened in my life, and not so much the whole thing with the glass-breaking
thing, but prior to. You know, as you live life
and you grow and develop, you tend to forget certain things and how you felt at that
time about certain things that happened in your life, and just hearing her
mention Fourth of July, my family getting
together at Wharton Brook, both sides of my family,
everybody in harmony, nobody arguing, nobody pointing finger, everybody just having a good time. You know, that’s back to
my childhood, and being 41, you tend to forget what it
was like when you were seven because you get caught
up in your daily grind of this and that and that, and it was just humbling to hear her speak about my childhood and different things that I went through growing up. So, no I didn’t know exactly
what she was gonna say, but it was good to hear. It was definitely good. – [Woman At Right] Can
you talk a little bit about the process that you went through in terms of generating this fable and just sort of like how you went about asking questions and that work of it, and then also just how this relates to your work as a playwright
and how that intersects with this story? – Sure, so, well one point that Corey and I spoke about last week was how the students who are
freshmen during this event are now going to graduate this year, and so next year will be a
completely new group of students. We were just wondering, you know, what does the story
mean when it’s a totally new group of students? Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent, but basically, as I
mentioned in the story, it really blew up in the media. Corey, his lawyer Patricia is here today, and I think she like
set him up with a phone so that he could field all
these interviews at the time, and so that’s how I heard about it. I heard about it in the press. Actually, it wasn’t me who heard about it. It was my husband, and he called me from work, and he’s a public defender, so he’s like interested in
matters of the criminal court. So, he called me he was like, this happened, this is
gonna be your next play. This is what you have to write about. And so I was like, oh, okay. So, let me check it out. (audience laughing) And so I checked it out, and he was like, the hearing is like in two days. You have to go up, you have to go up. And so I went up, and I was
like, am I allowed to go in? So, he was like, yeah, you can go. You know, Corey gave this interview
on Democracy Now! It’s a really interesting interview, and that’s how I started to learn, his action became a gateway
for me to learn more about the history of slavery with the American college system and with Ivy League schools There was a scholar on there
talking about the history who was very knowledgeable on the history, so I went and read his book, and I saw that interview, and
to me, Corey was magnetic. I was just like, I like him. I want to meet him. I want to look him in the eye. I just want to see how
this proceeding goes. So, I went up, and I’ve taken a little
break from playwriting now, but I was like in the thick of it then, so I was like, I was nervous. One of the first things I
talked about with Corey was I’m a light-skinned Latina. You’re a black man. We’re connected by this institution. How do we feel about me interviewing you and writing the story? And we had those sort of conversations. Corey seemed less nervous about
that component than I was. So, we plan to write a play, and four years later, you know, this is what came of those conversations. I came up to New Haven a few times. We had some meals. I was really just interested
in like what his life was like, just conversations. The thing I love about play writing is… I always write like this, but I’ve never done it
outside of my family. This is the first time I’ve
written outside of my family in terms of I’m just
sitting down Titi Jenny or Tío George and being like, so, tell me about how you
got interested in gardening, and then a whole history
of someone’s life opens up in a way that would never
have in casual conversation if you didn’t sit someone down and say, I just want to listen
to you for a few hours. Are you cool with that? So, this was and still
feels new for me, you know? And then I guess Corey and I can like chat on the phone tomorrow
and see what we thought and where we might want
to take it from here. I have a commission from
Lincoln Center Theater, and so I thought it would be
a kind of wild topic to bring. That’s a very, very, it’s like one of the
wealthiest theater audiences in New York, and I’ve been really nervous
to write a play for them because, I don’t know. In theater, it can be very weird to have like a super wealthy audience watching some of the topics I deal with. It feels like there’s a dissonance and that can be very disturbing to me, but then I was like, maybe
this is an opportunity to really, actually
engage that dissonance, and be speaking directly to that audience. Anyway, those are some
of the ramblings of it. (audience laughing) Do you have anything to add? – No, not really. It’s just fascinating to me
how people are interconnected, you know. Yale University is our common link, but if you read more into it, we both have a lot of
similarities in our upbringing and the lives we live, you know? It’s interesting to see
how people actually connect with each other. Like people you would never sit down and try to have a conversation with, but you got a lot in common. You just don’t realize it. – I’m starting to understand
now the more I write about it what the ’80s and ’90s meant. I didn’t understand it at the time. We were young. I’m 42. We really did come of
age at the same time. Different cities, different neighborhoods, but part of telling the story, especially my part of the story, was thinking about what
were the historic influences and trends that were affecting my life and I didn’t even know it. I just thought, oh my God, why
is everything so messed up? And this isn’t fair,
and that sort of thing. That’s how it felt at the time. – First I want to thank you both for an extraordinary presentation. This question is for you, Corey, and I hope I can pull
together these thoughts. One of the things, one of the privileges, that being here as a student at Yale, which, believe it or not, I
am as well an undergraduate, confers on us is that we are
given this stamp of approval. We are given a sense that
our words are going to matter and will be paid attention to, and your story, your extraordinary story, will now be heard as it absolutely should. I want to ask you, if Quiara had not found you, tracked you down, sat you down. I mean, others did, Democracy
Now! and many other places, but those are very fleeting. The news today over tomorrow. How would your story have been preserved and did you recognize within
yourself that you’re a hero? We’ve been trained to sort of know, oh, there’s the story. I’m gonna write a play. I’m gonna make a painting. I’m gonna do a mural. I’m going to write a book. I find myself thinking today that the world is celebrating,
marking, mourning, the death of a 41-year-old man who is acknowledged as a
heroic African American figure, and in certain ways,
that’s obviously true, but to me, you’re the
41-year-old African American hero whose contribution is enduring
in this most powerful way. Would you have simply gone
back to the dining hall and never felt that your story
had to go out into the world? – Well, I’m a journalism major. – [Student At Front] Okay. – So, I have writing ability. I’m also a huge procrastinator. (audience laughing) So, the story is already written
in my heart and into my mind. It’s just a matter of sitting down, writing the story, and presenting it to the masses. – [Student At Front] But you were gonna make sure that happened, right? – Yeah, one day. (audience laughing) – He’s been saying that from
the first time we talked. He was like, I want to write a book. I forgot to ask you last time we spoke, but you had been talking about
potentially writing a play. – I didn’t write anything. – You know, being a procrastinator
is another qualification for being a writer, so. (audience laughing) I think one more question
and then we have a reception. There’s gonna be a reception afterward, so we can keep the conversation going. – [Older Man In Audience]
I’d like to thank you both very much. It’s a very moving presentation. My question is, the instant
that you broke the window, what was going through your mind? I project on you that
it was very complicated. Or was it sort of a blind,
rash, impulsive time? – It was, I’m sorry to cut you off. It was very impulsive. You know, the reunion alum who pointed it out to me, that happened like a Sunday, and I came back to work Monday, and I did it on Tuesday, so it was… That sounds fast, but
it was a couple of days where it was like… I don’t know. I don’t want to sound like I’m crazy, but in your mind, you go through
the should I, should I not, and in my mind, I always convince myself,
no, don’t be stupid. Why would you, no. Just no. But, in that moment, something just overcame. We had a 10-minute
break from nine to 9:10, and it was in that time,
I just was like, you know, yeah, that thing needs to come down. (audience laughing) And I just did it impulsively. I obviously didn’t think about my children or my own wellbeing, because if I had, I probably
would not have done that. But, I have a lot of knowledge, but I don’t always go off
of the, what’s the word, the intelligence of a situation. Sometimes I go off the heart feeling. How does it make me feel? What do I really need
to do in this situation? You know, sometimes
situations call for you not to do the most logical thing in order to accomplish things. That was one instance, and it just happened to work out for me. It could have been disastrous. I could be on the street
begging for money right now. You never know. But, God had my back, and he made sure everything
worked out for me, and to him, I’m most grateful. – I think that’s a beautiful
place, actually, to end, and keep the conversation
going out in the reception. So, thank you all. Thank you, Corey. (audience applauding) (bright electronic music)

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