This week's staff picks

ASBMB Today Staff
By ASBMB Today Staff
June 6, 2020

Every week, the ASBMB staff shares what we’ve been reading, listening to, watching and doing. This week, our minds are very much on the national wave of protests against police killings of black civilians and racial injustice.

Lift Every Voice and Sing (Committed)

As a teen, I sang in my church’s choir. That was where I first encountered this song. At the time, I didn’t like it; I thought it was too gory and grim. I expressed that to the Black art teacher who led the soprano section, and I’ll always be grateful for the patience with which she explained that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was the Black National Anthem, and whether I liked it or not was completely beside the point.

Since then, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the song. This NPR story, from the American Anthems series, gives a terrific historical primer if you’re interested in learning where it comes from. Or, you can just give a listen to this very contemporary a cappella recording, read the lyrics, and reflect on why, 115 years after it was written, we still have so very far to go.

— Laurel Oldach, science communicator 

Not a Conduit But a Place: John Ashbery reads his poem for Siah Armajani’s bridge (Paul Schmelzer,

Jason Riedy
A portion of Siah Armajani's Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

There’s a pedestrian bridge in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, designed by Siah Armajani with a poem by John Ashbery written across it. I’m not sure I really know what what the poem means. It seems to fit the moment, though. I once called Minneapolis my home, and I'm achingly proud of my city for standing up to injustice.

Also, if you’re looking for ways you can help right now, visit the Minnesota Freedom Fund; they've made a list of organizations to which you can donate. I also found fundraisers to help rebuild restaurants, book stores and small businesses along Lake Street that were damaged or destroyed over the past week.

— Joanna Kotloski, marketing associate 

Purple Rain (Prince, from the film of the same name, YouTube)

We were discussing our perceptions of Minneapolis in an ASBMB Today staff meeting, and a mention of Prince sent me down this path.  "Purple Rain" is a longing for something you may never have. I hope that does not end up describing our current situation with all the sadness, the fear of authoritarian forces in our lives ... a pandemic and all that comes with that.

 I still hope that someday we will walk through all the pain and come out on the other side — a better world waiting there for all of us.

— Lisa Schnabel, senior designer

How to reform American police, according to experts (German Lopez/Vox)

Dysfunctional policing in America brought us to this moment. In 2016, German Lopez, a senior correspondent at Vox focusing on criminal justice, spoke with nine criminal justice experts to compile eight concrete, evidence-backed methods that could be used to reform police departments across the country — none has been implemented on a national level in the intervening years.

— John Arnst, science writer

Poems of protest, resistance and empowerment (Poetry Foundation)

The introduction to this captures how powerful these poems are. It reads: “The selection of poems below call out and talk back to the inhumane forces that threaten from above. They expose grim truths, raise consciousness, and build united fronts.”

— Ally Frick, multimedia and social media content manager

How white people can be better allies to the Black community  (Jackie Saffort, Wit & Delight)

With recent events, one of the best things to do is educate yourself. This article lists ways that you can support the Black community right now. If you choose to protest, please take precautions with COVID-19, but there are other ways to support your fellow Americans.

— Stephanie Paxson, diversity and undergraduate education coordinator

Burn (Miles Davis, YouTube)

I grew up in Europe in the 1970s and ’80s, and, from my impressions back then, I might have been forgiven for thinking that the United States was a country in which people of all creeds and colors largely live harmoniously together. Close to my neighborhood were barracks that housed GIs who looked a lot more diverse than the faces in my classroom did, and these American soldiers all seemed to get along with each other (and us) swimmingly. When my father took me to see jazz concerts by American artists, the stage was typically teeming with faces reflecting all cultural and ethnic origins imaginable and serving up music that powerfully reinforced this diversity and synergy.

One of these artists was the iconic trumpet player Miles Davis, who invented or innovated many musical styles over his long career. He also made it a point to recruit musicians of distinct origins and traditions according to the vision he had of the new musical style he was about to create. His only criterion for someone to join his band was that they had talent and brought something to the table.

I’m not a big fan of stadium music events, but this clip (from a concert in the mid-1980s) brings to life the energy and vibe that was present at these gigs. It’s also a good example of what Davis liked to do — play a few notes to get things going and then watch from the wings as the band was smashing it. Wonderful things can and do happen when we take inspiration from and play well with each other.

— Martin Spiering, technical editor for the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Journal of Lipid Research

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