SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:
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MERAJI: I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.
GENE DEMBY, HOST:
I'm Gene Demby. And this is CODE SWITCH.
MERAJI: From NPR. Gene, 20 years ago, when I was much younger...
DEMBY: Mmm hmm (laughter).
MERAJI: ...I was living in Oakland, Calif., and I had started training capoeira, which became an obsession in my life.
DEMBY: Capoeira - that's the Afro Brazilian martial art.
MERAJI: It is. And it's where I met someone who would eventually become a really good friend of mine. Her name is Jessica de Lima. She's Brazilian. We spent a ton of time together playing capoeira. We were together all the time because she was also very obsessed with capoeira. We got really good at it. We were performing. And we were teaching. And yeah, we were just putting a lot of our energy into this.
DEMBY: I saw you on the IG doing all these wild roundhouse kicks...
DEMBY: ...On IG stories. Do you still practice? Do you still play capoeira?
MERAJI: So that was me thinking, oh, I'm going to get back to this now that I'm in quarantine.
MERAJI: This is how I'm going to keep in shape. I'm going to, like, start playing capoeira again after 10 years. And yeah, two kicks and I had pulled something in my leg.
MERAJI: So the answer to your question is no, I do not still practice. I stopped because I really couldn't find a balance between being a journalist and being a capoeirista. But Jessica, my friend Jessica, she dedicated her life to capoeira. She met her husband, Sean Moran, through capoeira. And now Jessica de Lima is Jessica de Lima-Moran. They're better known in the capoeira world as Pavao and Chegado.
DEMBY: OK, so I guess you could say they kicked game to each other.
DEMBY: Kick - you see?
MERAJI: They literally kicked game at each other...
DEMBY: Yeah. OK...
MERAJI: ...At each other's heads.
DEMBY: So Pavao and Chegado - what those?
MERAJI: We all get nicknamed in capoeira, and our nicknames often reflect our personalities, how we play in the roda, which is the circle that we play in. Pavao means peacock in Portuguese. And that nickname - you don't know her, but that nickname is perfect for her.
MERAJI: She stands out in a lot of ways. She's extra. She stands out as a leader, too. When she talks, people listen. She has a very, very forceful personality. You do not mess with Pavao (laughter).
DEMBY: Y'all had a lot in common, then.
MERAJI: We're a lot alike.
DEMBY: Yes (laughter).
MERAJI: Yes, we are a lot alike. And then Chegado means arrived. And when he came on the capoeira scene, he just fit in instantly. He's this guy that everybody loves, everybody's drawn to because - I mean, he's a very handsome person.
DEMBY: (Laughter) I was going to say.
MERAJI: He's also...
DEMBY: He's very good looking, yeah.
MERAJI: He's also incredibly kind and creative, and he's a very impressive capoeirista. And these two make a great team, where capoeira is, really, the foundation for both their love and their careers.
DEMBY: Aww. That's so beautiful.
MERAJI: Yeah. So Pavao and Chegado, they've worked with a nonprofit for the past 15 years teaching primarily youth of color at different community centers around Los Angeles. They teach college students at universities, and they teach adults at a gym not far from where they live.
JESSICA DE LIMA-MORAN: We took over the gym that we've been working at for 15 years on March 1 - signed a five-year lease. Big step because business in Los Angeles is really expensive. So we signed this extraordinarily expensive five-year lease, and then 15 days later, the lockdown, stay-at-home initiative happened.
DEMBY: Wow. OK, so about two weeks after they signed this lease to finally open their own space to do capoeira, they finally got their own gym, and then they were told to close it?
MERAJI: Yeah. And to be clear, they were totally supportive of these stay-at-home measures.
MERAJI: But they also knew that they would be very bad for their brand-new business, which is part of why I asked them to start recording COVID dispatches from their cellphones to try and document some of what they've been going through.
DE LIMA-MORAN: It's Monday, April 6. Here we go. We're hoping we'll be able to receive some sort of assistance because this would mean, essentially, 15, 20 years down the tubes for the work that we've done. So that's what's on my mind today.
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DEMBY: For the past few weeks, as y'all know, we've been looking at the ways that neighborhoods and communities of color have been ravaged by the ongoing pandemic. And we're only now just starting to get a sense of just how vast the scope of the economic fallout will be from this moment.
MERAJI: And on this episode of CODE SWITCH, we're going to get into why small business owners like Jessica de Lima-Moran and her husband Sean Moran, who's black, will have to fight harder to survive the economic effects of COVID-19.
DE LIMA-MORAN: And if I have to, I'll write to every congressperson, every city councilperson, every single person I can think of, in order to help keep our dream alive.
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DEMBY: Stay with us.
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MERAJI: CODE SWITCH. COVID diaries.
DE LIMA-MORAN: April 10 - Friday, April 10. We have been on constant phone calls with our accountant.
SEAN MORAN: Teaching Zoom classes.
DE LIMA-MORAN: We are worried. I mean, what can we say? It's a little complicated because you are told about options and possibilities and funding and loans and Paycheck Protection Program and SBA loans, but then nobody responds. So, again, just waiting game. We're just completely in limbo. March 1, we opened the gym. March 15, we closed the gym. Been independent contractors for more than 15 years. And we're just kind of lost in the shuffle. Sean has a take on it.
MORAN: All right. You're not going to get to the top of the list unless you're a major corporation. So those that make the most money are going to - are in the front of that line.
DE LIMA-MORAN: That's what it feels like.
MERAJI: So Jessica and Sean have been trying to keep their capoeira classes going online. And when they're not teaching Zoom classes - which they're teaching, it feels like, all the time - they're following up on the loan applications they've put in for, money from the Small Business Administration.
As a part of the coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, the SBA - the Small Business Administration - got two big injections of cash totaling around $650 billion. And Jessica and Sean put in loan applications for two different types of loans from that money. One Jessica mentioned in that diary - the PPP loan. The other is an EIDL loan, an EIDL loan.
DEMBY: All right. So let's get into it. What is the difference between a PPP loan and an EIDL loan?
MERAJI: Of course you would ask that question.
MERAJI: And it's not easy to answer. And I wanted to get some clarity on that, so I called up NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. She's been looking into how the SBA has been distributing these COVID relief funds. This stuff is very wonky, so I needed her help.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Sure. So PPP - Paycheck Protection Program. That is the new loan program that was created by the CARES Act for the coronavirus economic crisis, specifically. And it is - like I just said, it's new. That's one of the things that sets it apart.
DEMBY: So that's the PPP loan. What is this EIDL thing?
KURTZLEBEN: That is EIDL - Economic Injury Disaster Loans. That is a program that existed before any of this coronavirus stuff. So yeah, that's been around for a while now.
DEMBY: All right, so just so I'm following, Sean and Jessica applied for the PPP loan, which is part of the big pandemic stimulus plan, right? And then they also applied for this EIDL loan, which is for disaster relief, and I guess, you know, a pandemic is a disaster.
MERAJI: And Danielle says there are other big things that set these two loans apart. First, you can get your PPP loan forgiven.
MERAJI: There are rules for that, and a big one is that you have to spend 75% of the PPP loan on payroll. It is the Payroll Protection Program, after all. So if Jessica and Sean got a PPP loan but they had to spend more than a quarter of it on rent, let's say, their loan would not be forgiven. They would have to pay that loan back with interest.
DEMBY: OK. That makes sense. But ouch.
MERAJI: Exactly. And then in that diary, I think you heard what Sean said about being behind the big companies lining up for these loans.
DEMBY: Right. He said the ones with the most money, they'll be at the front of the line.
MERAJI: Yeah. And Danielle told me when it comes to PPP, that's true. Big companies were in line ahead of small businesses like Jessica and Sean's.
KURTZLEBEN: There are two dates that you could apply for the first round of PPP. The PPP opened officially on April 3. So that's the day that a lot of businesses could go into their banks or whatever bank and apply. But there was also April 10.
DEMBY: April 10, which happens to be the day of the diary entry we just heard from Jessica and Sean, right?
MERAJI: Exactly. Danielle told me that on April 10, independent contractors and freelancers were told that's when they could apply for PPP, self-employed people.
KURTZLEBEN: Those one-person businesses tend to be people of color and also women.
KURTZLEBEN: So you have a certain group of people who are only allowed to apply one week after everyone else, so they are very much in line behind these other businesses.
DEMBY: Wow. So Jessica and Sean, just like they thought, are at the back of the line with these loans. And as we know, the news broke in mid-April that the first round of that PPP money - it all ran out.
DEMBY: It ran out because big restaurant chains, like Ruth's Chris, Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, which I don't think a lot of us think of any of those businesses as small businesses...
DEMBY: ...They got a big chunk of that money that was supposed to be for small businesses.
MERAJI: Yeah, and that's an ongoing story. Some of those businesses have given that money back. And, look; you could argue that they employ a lot of people, many of whom are people of color, so maybe they should be eligible for this money, especially if they're using the PPP money to pay their employees, to pay their payroll.
Danielle told me the PPP loans are administered through banks, so that's another difference between these PPP and EIDL loans. The EIDL loans you get directly from the SBA, but to get a PPP loan, you have to go through a bank. So businesses with well-established ties to banks, like the ones we're talking about, they might have had another advantage, which is that banks didn't want to lose them as customers.
KURTZLEBEN: Listen; we want to maintain our good customer relationships. And if you're a longtime business customer, of course we're going to take your application first.
MERAJI: And Danielle adds that banks are making money off these PPP loans, so they're incentivized to give out bigger loans.
DEMBY: So they're going to be looking at bigger companies.
MERAJI: Yes. And this is what Jessica and Sean are up against.
MERAJI: They don't have long-standing business relationships with a bank. They are self-employed, sole proprietors - however you want to call it. They do have an accountant, which we heard about, that helps them fill out their taxes because they've been independent contractors for the last 15 years, they're juggling a lot of 1099s. But they don't have a lot of money to pay that accountant to stay on top of these loan applications that they've put in, so they've really been wading through this wonky mess mostly on their own for weeks.
DE LIMA-MORAN: April 14, 2020 - still waiting on anything, any stimulus money, any assistance, any help. Today, finally, we got an email from the Small Business Association (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you for holding.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Oops. I'm on hold, too, you can hear.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For information regarding the SBA's disaster loan program or to apply online...
DE LIMA-MORAN: There's a hundred and something people in front of me.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...The website is sba.gov/disaster. Please continue to hold for the next available agent.
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DE LIMA-MORAN: So anyway, I'm on the phone with the SBA. Called them after we received this kind of random email - not random, but the email is completely unhelpful. Basically, it's a recap of what the EIDL loan does and the Paycheck Protection Program does. I'm super frustrated.
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DE LIMA-MORAN: April 16 - where are we at? So yesterday...
MORAN: The sun came out.
DE LIMA-MORAN: (Laughter).
MORAN: I think that's the first thing that needs to be said. So that's a break from the dreary rain that was happening. Things drying out - that's nice.
DE LIMA-MORAN: The beautiful sunshine is bookended by (laughter) the news that the stimulus bill is going to run out of money for PPP and for the small-business emergency loans. I'm assuming we have to wait for another stimulus bill.
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MORAN: The gym is the last thing that's going to open up. We were, like, the first ones to close and we're going to be the last ones to open up. We're going to still be wearing face masks until 2021.
DE LIMA-MORAN: I'm sorry. I cannot believe that.
MORAN: I don't know how...
DE LIMA-MORAN: I can't believe that. I can't believe it.
MORAN: I don't know how gyms and large gatherings of people sweating - I don't know when they're going to let us connect again.
DE LIMA-MORAN: We're doing online classes with our students, but they're dropping off. And the situation is that with the money coming in that we have, we're not going to be able to pay two months of rent and utility and insurance when we reopen. That's over $13,000 of just rent. Commercial rent in Los Angeles is no joke, right? I'm not going to give up on the dream, though. That's our space. That's our gym. This has been 15 years in the making, and it's not going to get taken away from us. I don't know what we're going to do, but it is not going to get taken away from us. I feel very strongly about that.
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DE LIMA-MORAN: April 19 - nothing yet, except for the fact that, you know, just in an effort to do everything possible, I applied for unemployment. And I received an unemployment letter in the mail, and it literally says I have zero benefits. I'm going to receive zero. So I don't even know what to do with that. But on the national news...
MORAN: The guy in front of us (laughter)...
DE LIMA-MORAN: ...In the same building...
MORAN: ...In the same building...
DE LIMA-MORAN: ...The gym that's in front of us (laughter).
MORAN: ...Is on CNN right now, and they got an SBA loan.
DE LIMA-MORAN: They got the PPP. They got the PPP.
MORAN: They got the PPP to help their employees. Does that push our application...
DE LIMA-MORAN: Up?
MORAN: ...Up or...
DE LIMA-MORAN: I mean, I don't know. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer (laughter). Yeah. That's it for today.
So it's April 21, and I'm currently emailing the Small Business Association (ph). I guess they're making some corrections on large corporations that somehow went through some loophole and got millions and millions of dollars of funding from this money. Sean probably saw some more of it than I did on the news. I wasn't able to see much.
MORAN: I just heard on business radio about how, this time, they are going to try to allocate some money for some different special groups, like minority businesses.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Yeah. I mean, obviously...
MORAN: So I perked up when I heard that. So maybe we can push to some kind of front of the line.
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DE LIMA-MORAN: Bon gia - 4/29. And I've meant to write - or not write (laughter). I don't know if you can hear. Chegado is making grinding coffee. So updates - let's see. The - nothing for sure. Nothing yet. No money. No money, honey. So no EDD. No stimulus money. No PPP. No SBA. No microloan from the city of Los Angeles.
April 30 - now we're just even more kind of panicked because it looks like Governor Newsom is - and we're supporters. Like, we support being safe and all those things. And public safety, public health is fundamental. All of those things are - of course, goes without saying. But Newsom, even though the numbers are looking good in California, I don't know where his - you know, what he's following, what science he's following. He's talking about...
MORAN: This week went back up.
DE LIMA-MORAN: But isn't that to be - anyway, I don't know. He's saying that gyms are in phase three. And it's not weeks away; phase three being months away. I mean, are you serious? Months? There's no way we're going to be able to stay open.
May 9 - haven't sent anything in a while.
MORAN: We are doing everything we can do to sustain the dream. But I am looking for other employment, as far as a job that is in a essential service. Talked to my brother about applying at UPS, where he works. There's a Home Depot down the street. I want to make sure that the dream stays burning but that the cash still gets earned.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Yeah (laughter). Yeah.
MORAN: Cash keep earning. I was trying to rhyme that, but it didn't work out like I wanted.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Bars. Bars (laughter).
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ANDRE PERRY: If I could reach out and hug and whisper in the ear of business owners and others who happen to be black, I would tell them that the struggles are not their fault.
MERAJI: That's Andre Perry. He's the author of "Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives And Property In America's Black Cities," and his research focuses on race and economic inclusion.
PERRY: The structures that hurt business owners are real. And if we don't name them, not only do we remove the opportunity from fixing those structures, we also deny what's hurting us. We deny it in a psychological way. We deny it in a material way in terms of the need for getting resources. I tell people all the time, this is not your fault, and you're going through what millions of black and brown families are going through.
MERAJI: And this is key. You can't talk about certain communities not getting relief without talking about the structures that put them at the back of the line. Andre told me that an overwhelming majority of black-owned businesses can't get these loans, can't get these PPP loans because of everything that has been working against them not just during this crisis but forever. You know, most small businesses start with the equity from their homes.
DEMBY: Oh, I got it. Hashtag - housing segregation and everything.
DEMBY: We've talked about this on the show before. But, obviously, it's harder for black people to purchase homes to begin with. And when they do, they have less equity in their homes. Their homes are worth less money. And that state of affairs goes all the way back to the 1930s.
PERRY: Redlining - that was implemented by the How Owners' Loan Corporation backed by the federal government that determined some areas more risky than others when determining who should get low-interest refinancing loans. And it was determined that black areas should not receive those funds, but white communities and white people did. And back then, it allowed - enabled white folks to establish wealth that they could then pass on to their children. So black families and their children were not able to develop the kind of wealth that would enable them to start businesses. Inequalities of the past show up in the present.
MERAJI: And what that looks like is white small business owners, in general, have deeper pockets. They have more ability to weather tough times and a much easier path to getting the financial aid they need during tough times like the one we're in because they have stronger ties to banks.
PERRY: It doesn't make sense to run these programs through banks. The government should actually have bank accounts that everyone can tap into during times like this. So it all starts with having a racial equity lens that pinpoints who's vulnerable and who's not.
MERAJI: I can hear people listening to this going, yeah, that's fine, but that sounds like it's going to take forever. Like, how do we change this right now because there's money that's being distributed now and it's not being distributed fairly? Like, what can we do to get these small business owners who are black and brown the money that they need now before they lose everything?
PERRY: Well, there's always an excuse when it comes to racism. It wasn't but a few weeks ago, maybe a few months ago, if you raised the question of how do you deal with the unemployment gap between black and brown people and white people, folks would say we don't have the money. We don't - we can't find the money to do that. But as soon as you saw more white people suffering from COVID, we found $2 trillion in a heartbeat. We paid our bad debt. We did what we had to do to find the money. Again, when white folks are suffering, the government responds. We just got to make sure that black and brown people's needs are met. And that's going to come with us making a demand.
MERAJI: What do you think is the best way to do that?
PERRY: Well, for me, I think we certainly have to stay socially distant, but we have to be connecting particularly around this voting season that we're in. Folks should take note. Candidates should take note. If you do not pass some type of comprehensive legislation that makes sure the money and the attention goes to black and brown businesses, then you won't be in office for long. And so I'm expecting candidates, and rightfully so, to use this moment as evidence to the voting public to say who really cares for you, who does not.
MERAJI: Andre, based on your research, what do you think - if things keep going as they're going, what do you think the economic fallout of this pandemic is going to look like in black communities and other communities of color in this country?
PERRY: We'll have a second-class citizenry that's reified by policy. You know, this is not the only time where this has happened. You know, I lived in New Orleans for 14 years, and after Hurricane Katrina, if you told someone that we would, over a course of 10 years, put in the equivalent of what is two state budgets into a region and that black people would be poor, you would be completely and utterly surprised if you didn't understand how racism works. But that's what happened. But it wasn't just Hurricane Katrina. It was the housing bubble. It was the tech bubble before that. After every major event in our history, there was an opportunity to restore and correct from the past mistakes. This is yet another opportunity. If we do not, we're going to get more of the same.
People are talking about unemployment today, but historically, the black unemployment rate has been double that of whites. So while whites were enjoying...
PERRY: ...A state of full employment, blacks were in a recession in many cities, and no one batted an eye. But again, when whites are suffering, you see a federal response. And so we must use the technology we're afforded. We must see this election as an opportunity to elect people who will recognize the humanity in a democracy and also recognize when we're not delivering a democracy to people.
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DEMBY: I hear Andre, obviously. But the election is months away still. And there's no guarantee that elections will bring any sort of change. I mean, people - the people we're talking about vote all the time. They show up, you know, when they're not being disenfranchised. And voting hasn't stopped people from being even further left behind after each one of these big crises that he was talking about, you know.
MERAJI: Yeah. That's a good point.
DEMBY: And in the meantime, you have so many small business owners like Jessica and Sean who're still waiting for their money. So do we have an update on what's going on with them?
MERAJI: I do.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Wednesday, May 13, and we have good news.
MORAN: Our loan documents came in. All right.
DE LIMA-MORAN: The email came in this morning and we just e-signed.
MORAN: So hopefully this can give us some cushion.
DE LIMA-MORAN: Right. And we got the stimulus check today so...
MORAN: Double whammy - double header today - we've got the stimulus check in the bank also.
DE LIMA-MORAN: It's a great way to wake up in the morning.
MORAN: Yeah, that's jamming.
DE LIMA-MORAN: So...
MORAN: That works.
DE LIMA-MORAN: There was six weeks of waiting, heartbreak, phone calls, speaking to, like - I think we spoke to probably 12 different people at the SBA.
MORAN: That's hours and hours and hours on the phone.
DE LIMA-MORAN: And this amount of money - it's not huge. It will help us for two months, the two months that passed, maybe a little bit more into the future. But we only can make it work if we can negotiate with our landlord looking forward to the next steps.
MERAJI: Jessica de Lima-Moran and Sean Moran closed the doors of their gym on March 15 and signed for their EIDL loan, their EIDL loan, on May 13. And those are the loans that are given out directly from the Small Business Administration. They got $24,500. They're going to have to pay that back at 3.7%. They still have applications in with two different online banks for a PPP loan. But they still haven't heard anything about those applications. And right now, they're just trying to make a plan for how they're going to reopen the gym, how they're going to sustain interest in their co-op wider program because they've had to cancel two really big annual events, their youth and adult graduation ceremonies.
So yeah. They still have a lot to figure out, Gene. But, you know, this was a shot in the arm for them. And they're not giving up hope.
DEMBY: Yeah. But not to pour cold water on this happy ending...
MERAJI: But you love to do that. And you're going to do it. Yeah.
DEMBY: ...I'm going to do it, unfortunately. There's a recent survey from the Global Strategy Group on behalf of Color of Change and UnidosUS - those are two civil rights organizations. And their survey shows that only 12% of black and Latino small-business owners have received the relief loans that they applied for. Twenty-six of those respondents said they only got a small amount of what they asked for like what happened with Jessica and Sean. And about half of those owners surveyed said they might have to close their businesses for good. And it's wild because all of the things that made Sean and Jessica less able to get help were all, you know, ostensibly on the face, race-blind, you know, race-neutral. They didn't have the right kind of business or the right relationships with banks. But the reasons those things are true for Jessica and Sean is so tied to race. And as Andre were saying, any fix to those things cannot be race-blind. But the SBA doesn't even collect demographic data on who gets these relief loans.
MERAJI: That's true. In fact, the inspector general of the SBA recommended that the agency start requiring lenders to collect optional demographic data for the loans and to ask for optional demographic data on loan forgiveness forms. The inspector general also recommended that the SBA issue guidance to banks to help them prioritize lending to women and lending to people of color.
And when we reached out to the SBA's press office to ask them more about these recommendations, they offered to put us in touch with three small-business owners who are African American and had gotten a loan. And as of Tuesday, May 19, the SBA had no information on if or when the inspector general's recommendations would be implemented.
And that's our show. Gene, you know that we play capoeira to music. We sing. We play instruments. We play the berimbau. And I thought it would make sense for the song giving us life to be the "Zum Zum Zum" (ph) capoeira song. Jessica and Sean adjusted their business model during the COVID crisis. And they're teaching a bunch of Zoom classes. And whenever Jessica promotes...
DEMBY: I get it.
MERAJI: ...Them on social media - exactly - she uses the hashtag #zoomzoomzoom. It's a very inside capoeira joke. And I always smile when I see that hashtag.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ZUM ZUM ZUM")
JIBRIL SERAPIS BEY: (Singing in Portuguese).
DE LIMA-MORAN: (Singing in Portuguese).
DEMBY: This episode was edited by Leah Donnella, who helped it make sense, and produced by Leah and Shereen, who made it sound good.
MERAJI: Why thank you. Shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Karen Grigsby Bates, Kumari Devarajan, Jess Kung, Natalie Escobar, LA Johnson and Steve Drummond. Our interns are Isabella Rosario and Dianne Lugo.
DEMBY: I'm Gene Demby.
MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.
DEMBY: Oh, wait. What's your capoeira name, though?
MERAJI: (Speaking Portuguese).
DEMBY: Which means?
MERAJI: Little Witch - take that information, do what you must with it.
DEMBY: Be easy, y'all. Stay safe.
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