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PEOPLE TO WATCH 2023

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Nominated by the Pulse Magazine Staff
Written by Irena Kaçi

Worcester, like all cities, is a veritable hub of talent and ambition. I had the chance to chat with some of them to talk about where they have been and where they are going. Here is a list of those who are crackling and popping around town and are looking to take this next year by storm. 

Giuliano D’Orazio, Musician.

Worcester’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, D’Orazio moved to Worcester in 1999 and went through the public school system. He graduated Burncoat High in 2010, and feels well rooted in our fair city. D’Orazio attended Berklee College of Music and then moved promptly back to his adopted hometown. 

D’Orazio is a proud multi-hyphenate, writing, performing, recording and producing his own music. He is passionate not just about his creative process but also about how it aligns with his values and priorities. 

“As a gay artist, a major part of my mission is to present an example for young LGBTQ+ kids out there who may not see a wide variety of queer identities represented in mainstream media. When I was young, I was obsessed with classic rock and roll (and still am). I struggled to find role queer models like Bowie and Freddy Mercury in the here and now — especially locally. My identity takes center stage in my music because I wish I saw someone doing that in Worcester’s local music scene when I was starting out. I don’t think queer artistic expression should be expected to stay in our accepted “lanes”. We’re everywhere.”

Proud moment:

“I try to avoid pouring my energy into anything that lacks passion. I feel very grateful to say that, and I recognize the privilege, in that not everyone has the support or ability to build a career that is so passion-driven. Still, it’s a ton of work filled with plenty of thankless, unseen, unpaid hours of labor, not everyone has that kind of commitment.” 

Looking forward to in 2023:

“The funny thing about writing really personal music is that it shows you how un-personal a lot of it is, in that, no matter how lonely or unique your experience might seem, there are others who have experienced something similar and are willing to listen and unpack those problems together — whether its through deep conversations or simply a really fun, cathartic musical performance where both the people on stage and in the audience can get a lot of junk out of their systems. I think that’s my favorite part of my job, and I look forward to exploring that in new ways. 

Lukas Therien, Tattoo Artist

Therien was born and raised in Worcester and has town pride in spades. In fact, one of his side hustles includes making things for Worcester Wares. He prides himself in being able to help make the world and the people in it ‘more beautiful’. “Mostly, I just wanna make things that look cool. As a tattoo artist, you’re altering not only someone’s image, but also someone’s self esteem. If I can help someone look in the mirror and like what they see just a little bit more, I’ve done my job.” 

Proud moment:

Over the past year, Therien’s favorite event was a solo show at Electric Haze, set up by Chris Michelotti. “As someone who started out in the community as more of a traditional artist before making the transition to tattooing, it’s been a side goal of mine to merge these two scenes. I would love to see more tattooers getting involved in the local art scene and showcasing some of the incredible talent that’s in the local tattoo world right now.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

Because his interest in art and artistic expression is vast, Therien is interested in setting up more collaborative art events in the coming year. Collaborating with local creatives on both artwork and events. I’m not a great “planner” so just really taking any opportunities that come by me and continuing to cultivate relationships with local artists and seeing what comes out of it. 

Claudio Eshun, a.k.a Don Claude, Photographer

Eshun or Don Claude was born in Accra, Ghana but grew up in Vicenza, Italy until the age of 9.  In 2006, after only a couple of trial visits, Eshun and his small family moved to the United States. “The opportunity to travel to 3 continents, live in an under-resourced community, and endure traumatic immigration experiences as an African immigrant with a single mother all influenced my rigorous creative practice. My family history and its reclamation of a new home, positions me and them within a context where the construction and deconstruction of identities and tensions that occur as a result of adaptation, assimilation and our attempts to accustom ourselves with the notion of alienation has had a profound impact on my work.”  

Don Claude has the ability to incorporate the competing visual languages in his photographs, using them to reflect and reimagine scenes from his own personal history. “I see images from Ghana and Italy and more recently from America. I incorporate all these visual languages into the images I create. As a once-stateless person who had to learn how to navigate institutions, cultures and languages, my work merges my distinct identities as an African, black, hypervisible, and invisible man in America. Performance, gesture, and costume allow me to conjure the people and places of my life. The tableaux I create provide a stage to elicit emotional registers of individual experience and the specific concerns of black individuals from a multiplicity of backgrounds. In creating these images, I am in conversation with my family and friends – I listen closely to stories about their experiences and lives that both overlap with and differ from my own – I am asked to challenge yet be sensitive to, the stereotypes in Western, African and afro-descendant portraiture. By assembling photographs of family and friends — found, collected, and made — I explore my multiple pasts and possibilities for the future.” 

Proud moment: 

“Starting a dromo, an annual zine publication, I started back in graduate school where I was focusing on first-generation immigrants and independent artists. As a Ghanaian who speaks GA, I try to stay rooted in where I come from. The word “dromo” means grace. We sold out the first edition and I am excited and proud to continue to work on the next 5 editions. The second one is 80% done. I share this because I share dromo with mom, who came up with the title. My aunts hares her opinions on what will resonate with her as GA raised child in Ghana. My friends and artists provide their ideas, making the work with me, purchasing a copy, and promoting it on social media, it’s a community project.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

“Since I am bringing more play into my work by experimenting and breaking away from traditional inkjet printing, I’d like to do more screen printing on various African fabrics and materials shipped from my family in Ghana, riso work, digital negatives thinking of translation, and 4×5 wet plates as a time-sensitive practice in relation to what is present and lost. All these lead to attempting to place vinyl prints around the city of Worcester to bring the art to the community rather than having my work solely in a museum or acquired by private collectors.” 

Christian Bachez, Digital Artist 

Bachez arrived in Worcester in 2019 when he started attending the College of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great time to start college. After being sent back to his home in New York City to continue school remotely, Bachez began taking an interest in the city he had left behind. Thanks to a mural tour organized by Worcester Walls, Bachez researched local artists and murals in Worcester. His research and communications with local artists led to the “Who Is Worcester?” project and the rest just, in classic Worcester fashion, snowballed. 

“During 2020, I became quite politically active and realized that there are many inequalities in our world that needed to be addressed. I saw a lot of wheatpastes going up in New York that revolved around these very issues that were important to me. I had recognized the power that art had to be an impactful political statement by itself. Although much of my work is not overtly political, it takes into account political issues that are important to me within the creation, composition, etc. When it comes to murals, I like to research the history of the location where I will paint and I think about the best way to reach the people who are going to see the mural every day. I also tend to work with groups and organizations that do good for the community in one way or another.”

Proud moment:

“One passion project that I’m super proud of is my mural at El Buen Samaritano. It was originally slated to be a part of a bigger project, but after things fell through about two weeks before it was supposed to be painted, I decided to just go for it. The design and location were super important to me for a number of personal reasons and there was a lot of passion that went into painting that. It was a really fun experience and I love seeing members of the community appreciate it, take pictures with it and send it to me on their social media pages!”

Looking forward to in 2023:

“I am looking forward to creating more art in general. I have been involved in six different research projects in six different departments. They include researching old Latin American films, pigeons in an Avian Lab, and the Nipmuc Nation and its presence at Pakachoag Hill. After graduating from Holy Cross, I plan on taking a gap year to focus on art which will include having a consistent studio practice where I can seek out more opportunities around the US and paint more murals!” 

Domenica Perrone Activist/Community Organizer

Perrone moved to Worcester when she enrolled at Clark Universe as a graduate student. While at Clark, she worked as a program evaluator for youth programming at the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State, and was affiliated with the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice. 

Proud moment:

She is most proud of her work in the Department of Health and Human Services, in particular of the youth led vaccination campaign #postVaxLife. “I got the opportunity to work with some of my favorite people: youth, creatives, and researchers (from UMass Chan Medical School’s Prevention Research Center) to create a public health campaign to inform young people in Worcester about the Covid-19 vaccine. I am proud of this work, in part because it was youth-led and centered, while also uplifting the creative work of our City’s incredibly talented artists (shout out to Worcester photographer George Annan and Worcester videographer Fernando Ponce). It demonstrated that collaboration between public and private sectors, government and universities, youth and adults can all come together to create something really awesome and exciting! (It also became a state-wide model for this kind of work!)” Perhaps less work-related, Perrone is also a proud paw-rent to her Australian Shepherd Elsa.

Looking forward to in 2023:

Deeply connected to the city as an Ecuadorian immigrant and an activist, Perrone is running for Worcester City Councilor At Large in order to continue her mission in public service. “I love how Worcester is full of community organizers, grassroots leaders, and mobilized groups that are invested in a culturally diverse, equitable, vibrant City. I have spent a lifetime in public service advocating and working hard to ensure all of our City’s families, youth and children have equitable access to the resources they need to have a happy and healthy life.”

Mark Borenstein, Attorney

Born and raised right here in Worcester, Borenstein is a 3rd generation Worcesterite and a very proud one. He studied his undergrad in UMASS Amherst, and went to law school in Springfield. Being away from home helped Borenstein see his hometown in a whole new light, and appreciate Worcester’s journey from a gateway city into a destination city. “I moved back to Worcester in 2014 and that was really the beginning of Worcester’s renaissance. It was a really exciting time to begin a law career.” Borenstein’s focus is real estate law and he’s been instrumental to the aforementioned renaissance. “I constantly think about how my work can help improve Worcester. I help developers bring new opportunities –commercial or private –into the city. I bring the home grown vibe; I understand the city and the neighborhood. I appreciate the tension between the communities that are deeply rooted in the city and the new development so I work hard to be hypersensitive to that and proceed with the understanding that Worcester’s greatest asset are its people.”

Proud moment:

“I’m really proud of helping with (formerly) POW WOW Worcester, now Worcester Walls. I joined that committee in the second year and we really helped that grassroots organization expand its reach. There was a lot of legal work that needed to be done in order to take it to the next level. I helped draw up contracts with artists, and getting permits for equipment. It was a great opportunity to do something community focused, and I am very proud of having helped with it. I was in what they called the #nofuncommittee but it was fun for me.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

“I would love to continue doing more of the same and continuing to expand Worcester to reach its potential.”

Ulysses Youngblood, Mogul

Youngblood moved to Worcester from Bridgeport, CT in 2006, as a first year college student at Assumption. “During that time I got in trouble at Assumption for something marijuana related, and then got into a dispute with the local police. I was a victim of police brutality and moved back home instead to finish college.” Youngblood got his undergraduate degree, and then went for his MBA at Northeastern in Boston. During his graduate degree, he began living in Worcester again. “Worcester has been my home for over 8 years now. I think going back to that incident, it was a lot of learning about who I was. I did not want to let something like that define my life. I figured it was, instead, a lesson that I could learn.” Youngblood started his own company and his business Major Bloom, a truly local dispensary, in 2016, and teaches part time at Clark University.

Proud moment: 

“I am a dad to two boys, and I’m really proud that I am able to have open and honest conversations with them about what I do. We talk about it in age appropriate ways of course, and they’re not allowed in the store, but it’s important to me to have that open dialogue with them about marijuana. Regarding my business, I’m proud that we have home delivery. We deliver people their orders for free. It’s a nice service.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

I am looking forward to learning more about the product and continuing to make it accessible for everyone. We just got our community host agreement, so I’m looking forward to putting it to good use.” 

Christopher Ly, Business Owner

Christopher Ly moved to Worcester 10 years ago and developed an interest in the old mill buildings, for which Worcester is rather famous. “I stayed and started to build Wooden Noodles, among other various projects. Work weaves pretty intimately with my values. The culture we have set at Wooden Bar is carefully cultivated and curated. We’ve always cared for what we were putting out into the world and how it would affect things.  We tried to take feedback and make adjustments every time. How we treat each other and our workers is a constant practice of communication and we try to adapt to the dynamic problems that come our way. We try to have fun learning, and when it’s not fun, we push through and learn from that too.”

Proud moment:

“Wooden Bar is the obvious passion project that has had the most traction so far.  But we are only where we are because our friends and community trusted us to do so.  Although we are trying to provide a space that adds our particular flavor of carpentry and cuisine to Worcester, we are heavily influenced and straight up carried along by the people around us.  I’m proud of our choices and we hope that our compass for business and commerce stays true through the years.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

We look forward to doing more carpentry.. which will in part tie into Wooden Bar.  We plan to do more timber framing (how we met and bonded).  We also have built a few wooden saunas, steam baths, and hot tubs throughout the years.  Although I am focusing on food and drink right now, I hope to also shift my attention towards bath culture and the very idea of quality leisure if the future permits. Worcester works hard, it deserves a way to deal with the aches and pains of the day too.  A healthy idea of leisure lets us work harder and fuller, all the while not becoming so one dimensionally focused on production and numbers

Spencer Mewherter, Business Owner

Mewherter moved to Worcester about a decade ago, as many have, in pursuit of a college degree, but he stayed for the interesting community projects. Inspired by projects like Woodaddy Waffles and Duck Yao, Mewherter and his friend Chirstopher Ly, joined forces to create Wooden Bar. “Those places showed us the possibility of creating fun and exciting food in the city.”

Proud Moment:

“Wooden Bar is a pretty active and exciting project, it’s been great being able to work with our excellent team.”

Looking forward to in 2021:

“As our business hopefully grows and expands I’m looking forward to collaborating more and adding more special events. We’ve already hosted popups with the amazing chefs at damgeuda and it’s been a pleasure to be a small part of bringing their food to Worcester.”

Xaulanda Thorpe, Poet

Thorpe moved from bustling Dorchester, to a quiet Worcester suburb when she was 13 years old, and even though it was a bit of an adjustment, she took to it and now feels that Worcester is very much her home. Her love for the written word took root here and it continues to grow. “At the heart of all the things I do, is a love of sharing. I strive to put out into the world the things that are important to me, that spark conversation and bring people together.”

Proud Moment:

“I am always so excited to talk about the Worcester Black History Project and all the work that we do. I’ve been a member for two years, and the WBHP connected me to Worcester in ways I didn’t know possible. The individuals I met, and the things wouldn’t have happened without the WBHP.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

“I am looking forward to more poetry shows. I hope to do more shows in Worcester, of course, but also branch out and work with artists in different cities or even different states.”

Rebekah Etique, Paralegal, Aspiring Documentarian

Rebekah was raised in Waterbury, CT and moved to Worcester, MA in 2017, after she was accepted at Clark University. She studied Community, Youth Education Studies as well as Political Science American Government. I graduated cum laude and with a published praxis thesis. During her secondary schooling, Etique experienced a variety of educational approaches, which led to her interest in law and public policy, with a focus on education. 

Proud Moment:

“Being campaign manager of James Amorello’s State Senate campaign in the new Worcester and Hampshire District was an invaluable experience; it allowed

me to analyze the policies inherently effective to our people. Amorello received a 46% share of the votes, representing an excellent showing for a first-time candidate against a 20-year incumbent, and that is something of which I am very proud.”

Looking Forward to in 2023:

“My praxis thesis, published online in 2021, focuses on an element of inequality in our education system. The two years I spent between researching and interviewing various communities on the matter gave inspiration to my current project. I am now in the developmental stages of launching research for a documentary which will focus on the present education policies damaging

student’s learning process. It’s something that I have been wanting to invest myself in for about five years now and I’m thrilled to finally have the resources and full capability to dive in.”

Sha-Asia Medina, Organizer at The Village 

Medina grew up in Worcester’s Bell Hill neighborhood and was a ‘Village Baby”. “I had many extended aunts, uncles, and community members who all contributed in big and small ways to my understanding of who I am and what my role in the world is.” After graduating from Worcester Tech, Medina studied at Bucknell University as a Posse scholar, but even while away, she knew she wanted to come back home and reinvest in her hometown. “My upbringing instilled in me the importance of knowing my history and culture, advancing

racial and social justice, and striving to come from a place of love when interacting with others. The work that I do with OurStory Edutainment and The Village Worcester strives to teach folks about true Black history and culture, create a safe space for those who descend from enslaved people in this country to be acknowledged and affirmed, ensure that folks have the tools they need to be firm and confident advocates for racial equity and social justice, and lastly, bringing healing and positive vibrations and intentions to any space we step in.”

Proud Moment:

“I am incredibly proud that myself and a team of folks were able to reclaim, rehabilitate,and reimagine a purpose for 4 King Street. We worked hard for 7 months to re-establish relationships with neighbors and community members, repair damages to the building, and finally open our doors to the community. Since opening, we have created magic in the space and are proud to support 11 different grassroots & non-profit organizations on a daily basis. I have been most proud of our Afrocentric Saturday School program that taught children ages 7 to 13 Black history starting in precolonial Afrika and ending with contemporary events like the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury and too many other Black folks at the hands of the police/racial hatred.”

Looking forward to in 2023:

“I would love to provide opportunities for community members to both see the

beauty in their own city and explore the work being done in surrounding areas to preserve the history and culture of Black people. In addition, I am looking forward to creating more opportunities for folks to engage with cultural history and racial/social justice at the intersection of art, music, dance, poetry etc.”

Laura Martinez, Consultant

An immigrant from the DR, Martinez learned firsthand the importance of community and helping the most vulnerable in our society. “I went to public school while learning English as a second language (ELL), and speaking Spanish in the early 1990s was not well received. I had some very difficult challenges navigating systems, but I also knew that the local neighborhood around me and the Worcester community as a whole always provided me with resources, safety, and a sense of belonging. Because of my lived experiences, my values and priorities live within me. My values as a human have led me to confidently express concerns and voice inequities within my community. So I left my 10-year career in the auto industry to pursue health equity work. In 2019, I launched my own company, Mart Consulting LLC. The organization is a public health consulting firm that works with health, government, and human services agencies to make transformative strategies and models that lead to systemic change.”

Proud Moment:

“The Training Institute is the project I’m most proud of from all the ones I’ve been able to work on. These workshops against racism are part of an ongoing project that brings together well-known people from Worcester. As a facilitator, this project gives me the chance to help people learn more about how to get rid of racism at its roots by pushing them to the edge of what they know.”

Looking Forward to in 2023:

“I will be graduating from Georgetown University the week before I turn 40 in May ‘23. Mart Consulting’s goals are organizational development, financial justice, building coalitions, making policy strategies, diversity, equity, and inclusion. My hope for the future is to someday bring these services on a federal and international level.”

Emmanuel Qlynton Carboo, Artist, Fashion Designer

Born and raised in Accra, Ghana, Carboo immigrated to the US by way of NYC, where he lived for almost three years. “t was a hustling lifestyle where having a regular job wasn’t enough to fulfill my goals and future dreams. Therefore, I started trading shoes, buying sneakers off cheap sellers, repurpose them or customize them in my own way. This experience taught me to always look good for trust and understanding the current era we live in, because people go by looks first then listen to what you have to say.” Carboo moved to Worcester in 2015 and worked as a cashier at Lowe’s. “I used to draw cars, outfits, shoes, etc. on receipts customers would leave behind. One of the customers saw my art and he invited me to one of Worcester’s Fashion Shows where it inspired me to do totally the opposite and that’s when everything started, in 2016 I established my brand “Wavvznewage”

Proud moment:

“Create your own Vibe was one of the projects I was proud of because that really unified a lot of the youth with fashion, modeling , music and art . Before and after the pandemic, we held a Model casting with the help of Jaribel Carela who is my fiancé. stART on the street was a wonderful experience where Jaribel and I with the collaboration of the creative hub Worcester were able to set up a start-up for sewing workshops and teaching kids and adults how to make tote bags .”

Looking Forward to in 2023:

“While uplifting the next generation with my events and projects, I would love to have a Worcester fashion week just to bring more attention to Worcester to enlighten the fact that there are more talented and hardworking artists in the city. After being in multiple fashion shows and weeks, I believe we can hold our fashion shows with the help of the city.”

Joe Haddad

“I’ve always heard if you’re good at something, focus on it,” Joe Haddad, owner of Haddad Enterprises tells me. Haddad started out five years ago with a pickup truck, mowing lawns on his own. “It transpired into sending crews out to mow the lawns, then we got into the construction aspect of things with walkways and walls.” Haddad added commercial plowing as well as commercial and residential dumpsters to the company too. A savvy business owner who rolls up his sleeves and gets the job done, Haddad is definitely on his way to to the top. 

Proud Moment:

Some of my  proudest moments from this year have to be supporting the community. After five years in business it’s great to be on the other end and be able to help others whenever we can. Getting involved and giving back is part of our core values. 

Looking forward to:

The transformation the city has experienced in recent years is astonishing and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. We love, live and want to grow with Worcester. 

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