We’re living in an era where optimism, inspiration and hope are as rare – and as luminescent - as multi-carat emeralds. The “sledgehammer effect” wrought by a historic number of overlapping crises -- from the pandemic to recession, partisan toxicity to the war in Ukraine -- has helped spawn a mental health epidemic marked by surging incidence of depression, suicide and addiction.
In a program designed to provide an antidote to that anxiety, Common Ground will profile those who have overcome adversity and trauma through grit, resilience and determination.
Our next panelist is Amy Bloom, the writer whose 2022 book, In Love, chronicles her journey to help her husband complete an unimaginable wish: to end his life on his own terms after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Described by NPR as “an unsettling profile in courage,” In Love tells the couple’s love story
from when they began going on walks together through their final days in Switzerland, where
they travelled to an assisted suicide center. With honesty and wrenching poignancy, In Love lays bare Bloom’s pain and struggle to help her partner exercise autonomy in this way.
The book, which is now on the 10 best book of the year lists from The New York Times, NPR,
Time, the Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews, was met with gratitude by readers struggling
with grief. Bloom’s insights prompted an outpour of grateful reviews and testimonies from readers saying they took comfort and guidance from Bloom’s experience.
Much of Bloom’s earlier works, such as Love Invents Us and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, as well as her decades long career as a social worker, have made her writing incisive explorations about love and the complexity of human relationships. Her 1993 collection of stories, Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist, explored romantic and familial love in ways more complicated than they had typically been expected to.
Bloom has written four novels, three collections of short stories, three works of nonfiction, and has had her work featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and several other titles.
Our next panelist is Broadway superstar Patti LuPone, a three-time Tony award-winner who has been candid about her enduring struggles with bullying.
“I’ve been bullied all my life,” LuPone said in a 2019 New York Times interview in which she revealed the hardships started in childhood when her father, the principal of her elementary school, would reject her affection in front of other students. The abuse, she says, continued even after she emerged as a Broadway star.
The harassment, which she has described in detail in interviews and in her bestselling book, Patti LuPone: A Memoir, has included a director screaming at her through a bullhorn in front of her castmates, colleagues accosting her with sexist and demeaning language, and even in one instance, an enraged director putting his hands around her throat due to her failure to enunciate properly.
Rather than let the mistreatment break her spirit, LuPone kept her head high and built one of the more successful careers in the entertainment industry. A graduate of Juilliard’s first-ever drama class, she originated myriad of theater’s most iconic roles, such as Fantine in Les Misérables and Eva Perón in Broadway’s first Evita. In addition to three Tonys, she has won two Olivier Awards and two Grammys.
Reflecting on her struggles in a New York Times interview, LuPone did not romanticize her tribulations but did offer a note of hope for others who might be suffering through similar experiences: “…it has made me stronger,” she said.
Our next panelist is the journalist, author, and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, an internationally acclaimed symbol of press freedom who uncovered the human rights abuses of the late Filipino dictator Rodrigo Duterte.
During her ten years as co-founder and CEO of Rappler, the Philippines’ top digital news site, Ressa has faced constant harassment and danger and has been charged with myriad crimes. In a trial that Reporters Without Border condemned as “Kafkaesque,” a Philippine court in 2020 convicted her of “cyber libel” and sentenced her to a cumulative 100 years in jail, igniting a global solidarity campaign to “#HoldTheLine.”
“Maria Ressa is 5-ft 2-in, but she stands taller than most in her pursuit of the truth,” the Human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney wrote in support of the campaign.
Ressa is an authority on the pernicious tangle of digital disinformation that has sowed division and enabled authoritarianism. Her new book, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight For Our Future, chronicles her confrontations with President Duterte and the global reach of online lies. An outspoken critic of social media companies, Ressa is a member of the dissident “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” a group of 25 activists who describe their work as “an emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms.”
Before founding Rappler, Ressa, who immigrated to the United States with her family at ten years old, also contributed pathbreaking investigative journalism to CNN, shining a light on political violence and the emergence of terrorist networks in Southeast Asia. In addition to the Nobel Prize, she is the recipient of myriad honors, including the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award and recognition as one of Time’s People of the Year in 2018.
Dr. Topeka K. Sam
Our next panelist is Topeka K. Sam, a celebrated criminal justice reform activist whose personal suffering while incarcerated drives her advocacy for women swept into the country’s prison system.
During her three and a half years in federal prison on drug trafficking charges, Sam endured sexual abuse from guards, was forced to ration feminine products and witnessed fellow inmates experiencing even worse mistreatment.
After her 2015 release, she became a Columbia University “Beyond the Bars Fellow” and “Justice-In-Education Scholar” and founded The Ladies of Hope Ministries (LOHM), which provides transitional housing, food assistance, reproductive health education and career training to women and girls entrapped by the criminal justice system.
“I fight for women specifically because we are not heard,” Sam said in a 2019 interview with The Grio.“I fight because people look at us and think there’s a certain look or a certain face that goes to a woman in prison.”
Through the #Cut50 initiative to halve the prison population, Sam worked with Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren to pass 2018 legislation improving federal prison conditions for women. Pardoned in 2020 by President Donald J. Trump, Sam has also teamed up with John Legend and Bank of America, has given a TEDx Talk on her experiences, was a 2017 Soros Justice Fellowship Recipient, and was the inaugural winner in 2020 of Google’s Social Impact Award.
Katy Tur, the anchor of MSNBC’s Katy Tur Reports, endured a troubled relationship with her iconic parents and years of sexism in the journalism industry and now uses her platform to shine a light on the issue.
An NBC reporter embedded in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, then widely considered little more than an imaginative publicity stunt, she became a household name and what the Washington Post called “the embodiment of Trump’s hostility towards the news media” when his underdog bid caught fire.
Trump regularly singled her out on social media, demeaned her as “Little Katy” and encouraged arenas packed with his most committed partisans to boo her. Trump’s personal animosity appeared to steam in large part because NBC assigned her the task of informing the campaign that the network had obtained the infamous Access Hollywood tape featuring his comments about how he frequently abused women.
Although many analysts deemed her reporting as evenhanded, she was the continuing target of waves of harassment, including frequent death threats, both on the campaign trail and online. She persevered, earning plaudits, promotions, and the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for her “courage under pressure” and “grit and perseverance.”
While Tur’s best-selling 2022 memoir, Rough Draft, focuses on her fraught relationship with her famous parents, pioneering journalists Zoey and Marika Tur, it includes myriad sections on the workplace sexism she faced as a local and national reporter and the double standards suffered by women in journalism, a bastion of male chauvinism long after many other industries had started redefining acceptable workplace behavior.