Wednesday, May 07, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls, A Timeline

April 14th: Mass Abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria. At the time the abductors were unknown, all that was known was that they took the girls from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria and that they took between 230 and 276 girls (different accounts have different figures). At the same time they also burned the school's food supplies, and razed the building. The girls are believed to be between 16 and 18 years old.

April 30th: Rumors begin circling that a local extremist group called Boko Haram has kidnapped the girls and sold them for $12 as "brides".

May 4th: After weeks of silence on the subject a Social Media outcry has begun, which leads to the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, vowing to rescue the girls. "Wherever these girls are, we'll get them out," Jonathan says.

May 5th: Although her husband claimed the day before that they would do anything possible to find the girls, the Nigerian First Lady orders the arrest of the protest leader that was calling for the return of the girls.

Also on May 5th: The Nigerian government has failed to at least determine who kidnapped the girls, and all the knowledge so far is based on rumors. However, on May 5th the leader of the terrorist and extremist group Boko Haram admits to the kidnapping. At the same time, he vows to kidnap more girls, and to sell them and force them to marry.

May 6th: Boko Haram makes good on its promise and kidnaps 8 to 11 more girls. The girls are reportedly between 12 and 15 years old. 

Boko Haram is an extremist group whose name means, literally, "Western Education is Sinful". The group is rumored to have ties to Al-Qaeda, and this act is only one of many in the last 5 years they've engaged in, in order to stop education in Nigeria. They've previously burned schools to the ground, raided them, killed teachers and students and staff on sight, and have previously also kidnapped teachers. They may be taken a page out of Joseph Kony's book, whose Lord Resistance army abducted 139 schoolgirls back in 1996. It took 10 years to rescue all of the girls who survived.

Also on May 6th: The White House announces that it's going to send a team to Nigeria to help the government in find the girls. The team will include military personnel, and intelligence and hostage negotiators.

As of today, May 7th, nothing else has happened. But it is clear that had it not been for the Social Media outcry that occurred, international attention to the issue would be non-existent. So what can you do? There is a Change.Org petition you can sign. Also, the Facebook page of Bring Back Our Girls posted this:

And long term? Support the education of girls world wide through organizations such as Developments in Literacy, and the Campaign for Female Education. Events like these abductions, or the Shooting of Malala, only occur because extremists oppose the education of girls, probably because the best way to stop extremism is through education itself.

Further Reading:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Mistake of Being a Black Mother

Being a person of color in the United States has proven to be a very unfortunate thing if you're facing the justice system. By now you've probably heard of Shanesha Taylor, the homeless (Black) mother in Arizona that left her children in the car while she went into a job interview, because she had nobody to leave her children with. The children were heard crying, Police was called, Taylor was arrested in suspicion of child abuse and the children were placed in the custody of Child Protective Services. 

The story is an unfortunate one. In the one hand Taylor shouldn't have left the children in the car, but in the other hand I understand that she probably felt she had no choice. She needed a job in order to feed her children, herself, and provide a home for them. 

In stark, sharp contrast is the story of (White) Catalina Clouser, also from Arizona. The 21 year old was upset that her boyfriend had been arrested with a DUI, went to a friend's house and got high. She then proceeded to leave, put her baby in the car seat on top of her car, and drive off with the baby still on top of the car. She "drove 12 miles home before realizing the baby wasn't inside the vehicle. The tiny tot was discovered by a passerby, still in a car seat and miraculously unharmed, in the middle of a highway." 

What was she sentenced with? Oh, nothing, just probation. 

One was going to a job interview to better her life, and that of her children. The other one just wanted to get high.  But that's just the nature of the beast, because if you're a Black mother, you have to make sure you make no mistakes. According to a national study by the US Department of Health and Human services "minority children, and in particular African American children, are more likely to be in foster care placement than receive in-home services, even when they have the same problems and characteristics as white children" [emphasis added].

A different study, "of Philadelphia hospital records discovered that African American and Latino toddlers hospitalized for fractures were more than five times more likely to be evaluated for child abuse, and more than three times more likely to be reported to child protective services, than white children with comparable injuries."
What's becoming increasing clear is that in this country, if you're going to do something wrong, you just have to make sure your skin color is white.

*If you'd like to a contribute to a petition to help Shanesha Taylor, you can do so here

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On The Policing of Female Sexuality

I live in a world that tries to police both my body and my sexuality. Different people, during different and unrelated conversations, feel the need to tell me how long I should wait to have sex with a new partner. My father thinks I should wait until I get married again. My friend and coworker thinks I should wait six months. My brother says 4 months, and the movie “Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady” says 90 days. And of course, most of the men I go on dates with try to get into my skirts as quickly as possible.

But what doesn’t seem to count, what doesn’t seem to matter, is how long I want to wait (or not). My desires, or needs, and how and when I choose to express or explore my body and sexuality don’t matter in the face of how long I can hold on to the “cookie”. Because if I like the guy, and decide to have sex with him when the mood strikes me, I’m easy. Never mind the fact that he waited just as long to have sex with me. Yet he is never judged by these same standards.

My morals are judged by the length of my skirt, and how tight my clothes are. Because if I wear mini-skirts and form fitting clothes it has to be for the benefit and attention of men, rather than because I like my body, and I like how the clothes fit my body.

In the now infamous speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Beyonce sampled in “***Flawless”, Adichie says that “we teach girls that they can not be sexual beings, in the way that boys are”. Which is true, because the minute a woman dares to be as sexual as a man, she can expect instant criticism and judgement from both men and women.

Let’s use public figures as an example. Men have been singing sexual songs since… always. Since before I can remember there were sexually explicit songs like 112’s “Peaches and Cream” and Trey Songz’s… well, Trey Songz’s full albums. These male artists not only sing sexual songs, but also put on sexual shows where they have their shirt opens and such, in order to show off their bodies.

But let a woman try that, and let the aforementioned criticism begin. Back when Rihanna turned from “good” girl to “bad,” everybody judged her. She was too sexual, they said. But quite frankly, that’s when I truly started liking her. Here was a woman my age who expressed herself in a sexual manner without caring about what anyone else thought. It was liberating to see.

People criticized her, saying she was a bad role model, which is a criticism you don’t hear about male artists. I actually have a 10 year old little sister. She’s my princess. A smarter, prettier, sassier version of me at that age. She looks up to me, and I work my butt off to show her that as amazing as she is, she can achieve even more than her big sister is achieving.

And yes, I am glad that there is someone like Rihanna for her to possibly eventually look up to. Because years from now, when my little princess becomes a woman, I want her to know she can be as sexual (or not) as she wants to be, without being ashamed of it. I want her to know that as long as it is safe and consensual, she can explore her sexuality however she sees fit.

Some people say that sexual (female) artists such as Rihanna teach little girls that they need sex to get ahead in life. I don’t agree for numerous reasons, but one of them is that in the same breath people don’t criticize male artists who use half naked women in their videos for no other reason than the viewing pleasure of men. Yes, we have to teach little girls that they don’t have to use their bodies to get ahead, but it is hypocritical to expect young women to be that teaching tool, when we don’t expect the same of men. And at the end of the day, the lesson should be that women don’t have to be sexual, but can if they want to.

On the other side of the coin is Beyonce, and her latest album. Numerous people have mentioned that this album is different from her previous ones. I agree that it’s different. While I do believe that in the past she has used sex to sell (“Tonight, I’ll be your naughty girl”), in this album she seems to be singing more about her own personal sexuality. She has a full song about cunnilingus. She also sings about getting on her knees, and about sex is like for her. It’s about her personal enjoyment. About giving and receiving pleasure.

The biggest and most repetitive argument I’ve heard about this is “She’s a married woman and a mother. What is she doing acting like that?” Oh, so I guess after women get married and have children they are supposed to turn off their sexuality. Her husband and the father of her child can rap about whatever he wants, but she has to censor herself. Apparently wives and mothers are supposed to let the sexual and sensual part of them die. If that’s the case, then I almost prefer to stay single and barren. If men are allowed to conserve the different parts of their personality, but women have to chose between that or having a family, then I’ll always chose conserving who I am. I will always chose to live my life in my own terms. But I’d like to think that the opposite is true. That the day I find the man with whom I’ll build a family, the sexual aspects of my life will be even more fulfilling than they are now.

This paradigm, that women are supposed to be beacons of purity throughout the span of their lives, while “boys will be boys” is tiresome and outdated. Women are sexual beings too, and should be able to explore and enjoy their sexuality as much as they want to without being judged or chastised for it. It’s 2014. It’s about time we stop policing women’s bodies and what we chose to do with them. Because what happens between two consenting adults is nobody’s business, but that of the two adults.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not All Protesters Are Plump Lil Old Grandmas

DISCLAIMER: While I am a Planned Parenthood employee, the views of this post are my own.

Outside our health center. Photo by Javan Frinks.

When I attained a position with Planned Parenthood almost 2 years ago I was ecstatic. I would finally make a living doing something I truly believed in. As is normal, my first day was reserved for training. As is also normal, I received my name badge, but what wasn’t normal was the warning that followed: My supervisor explained to me that I should always take the name badge off when I left the building. I asked her why, and she explained that a different employee had worn her own name badge into a grocery store and a man had approached her. He proceeded to tell her that he was going to bomb her house because of where she worked at. She was a short woman, with two children, and a husband who was in the military. She decided working for Planned Parenthood was too much of a risk, and quit.

This image, the image of a man telling a woman that he would bomb her house, is in stark contrast with the image that McCullen v. Coakley is trying to paint. McCullen v. Coakley is the case that is now in front of the Supreme Court in hopes of striking down the buffer zone laws that create a safe space around abortion clinics in which patients and employees can not be approached by protesters. In McCullen, the plaintiff Eleanor McCullen describes herself as “plump”. She is short, at 5 feet 1 inch, and is 77 years old. They insist that she’s hardly a threat to anyone she may want to approach, in hopes of dissuading them of getting an abortion. They try to make it sound as if all protesters are and look like her.

But that’s not what we see and experience, week after week, in front of our health center. The best protesters are similar to how they’re portraying McCullen to be. Maybe not in age and physical appearance, but in the fact that all they do is pray and try to calmly talk to our patients. I may not agree with their views, but they do have a right to peacefully express themselves.
The problem is that a lot of protesters are not like that. A lot of other protesters are loud, obnoxious, and mean. The worst one was a bearded man who stood well over 6 feet tall, and looked like he weighed about 250 lbs. He’d yell at our patients, his booming voice insisting that the patients didn’t know what they were doing. That they didn’t know what went on inside our health center. That one day they would regret their decision. He no longer protests outside our health center but the other protesters, while they may not look as intimidating, yell the same type of things, or worse. They talk about race and how we’re supposedly targeting minorities. They even yell at the children of the patients. Furthermore they sometimes take pictures and video of anyone entering and leaving the clinic and of the cars in the parking lot. The police have had to be called numerous times.
Most of our patients simply come in for birth control or gynecological services. They walk in feeling harried, complaining about what they’ve just been told by the protesters.

We definitely don’t get the worst of it. The buffer zone that began McCullen v. Coakley was enacted in 1994 after a man went into a shooting rampage in front of a Boston clinic. In other clinics patients and staff get physically harassed, their cars blocked, physical altercations happen, bomb threats occur that are aimed directly at the clinic. It is an ongoing problem that cannot be ignored, and for which the buffer zones exist.

Statistics support these experiences, and showcases what it’s really like outside of abortion clinics. Since 1977 there have been 8 murders of abortion providers, and 17 attempted murders. That’s on top of the 426 death threats, 4 kidnappings, and 530 cases of stalking. There have also been 42 bombings and 181 arsons. And that’s on top of the other 99 attempted bombing/arsons in that same time, and 657 bomb threats. In a little over three decades there have been over 6,550 reported violent acts, and a total of 33,838 arrests. The buffer zone was created for a reason, and that reason hasn’t gone away.

Because of these statistics, because of what we see, and what we experience, and the fear that we sometimes have to live with, I see some of these protesters closer to terrorists, (which the FBI does as well) than to plump lil’ old grandmas. They claim to be pro-life, and yet have no regard for the life of the women who go into the health centers, or of the employees of said health centers, or their families. Because of these statistics, and because of what we see and experience and the fear we have to live with, I know buffer zones are absolutely necessary. It is not something that should be questioned, but something that should be embraced and enforced nationwide.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stop and Frisk has Been Found Unconstitutional

The clearly biased practice that is Stop and Frisk has been found unconstitutional by judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

NY Post

According to The New York Times:

"(...) the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.
These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.
To fix the constitutional violations, Judge Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she intended to designate an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution."

The practice of Stop and Frisk targeted minority youth (90% of those stopped were Black or Latino) and about 88% of all people stopped were innocent. According to the ACLU, only 0.2% of all stops led to finding a gun.

The decision by judge Scheindlin is extremely overdue, and you can read more about it here.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Jacksonville Based Program, Organized by Georgetown, in Need of Host Parents

About two years ago I worked at Florida State College for an amazing organization called SEED (Scholarship for Education and Economic Development). The SEED program was designed by Georgetown University, and sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It was designed to support economic and social development through Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The program works on bringing students from these countries on a two year scholarship, so they are able to attain a degree, and skills they can take back to their countries. Each of these students compete against 300-500 other students in order to attain a spot in the program. They come from countries in the Caribbean and Central America, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and 80% of them come from rural areas.Overall, the program has sponsored more than 5,000 students, and it has been part of FSCJ since 1989.

For the first year of the program, the students live with a host family who help the students learn English, adapt to the culture, and stay focused on their studies, among other things. The students from this cycle arrive tomorrow, August 7, 2014 but the program is still in need of host parents. From the FSCJ website:

Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (SEED) is currently seeking host families for female students arriving on Aug. 7, 2013, as they begin their two-year course of study at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

These students will study under scholarships awarded to them by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. These are highly qualified young women from Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, who are economically disadvantaged and have no college background. Scholarship recipients train to become leaders and promoters of economic and social development in their home countries. The ultimate goal of the SEED program is for all students to return home as agents of change who will make a difference in the lives of their families, communities and countries.

Because these young people will be far away from home for the first time, they need a living environment where they can feel wanted and secure. This is why their first year in the United States is spent living with a host family. Host families play a significant role in the lives of these students by:
  • aiding students in learning English,
  • assisting students in the process of adapting to the local community and U.S. culture,
  • helping students keep focused on their studies and goals while in the U.S,
  • preparing students for independent living (in the second year of the SEED Program), and
  • supporting students' commitment to return to their home countries.
Arriving SEED scholars would love to become a part of and to be accepted as a member of your family! They are eager to learn about our culture and they are proud to share their culture with you.

Since timing is so important in developing the bonds of the "new family," early placement is crucial to the success of the SEED program. Our goal is to have students matched with host families by the beginning of July 2013.

For more information, please contact Gina Federico, SEED Program Coordinator, Downtown Campus, at (904) 633-5895.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Free And Equal" UN Finally Unveils a Gay Rights Campaign

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has finally decided to begin taking steps to assure the rights and lives of gay people are respected. Launched on July 26th, the campaign seems to be mostly an educational one: with the website it aims "to promote greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people everywhere."

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said that with articles, fact sheets, and the support of numerous famous people it aims to begin "difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start and inform millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

While I feel like this is too little, and not soon enough, having the backing of the UN behind the fight LGBT people have been waging globally will hopefully create more momentum towards achieving true equality.

Read more about it here.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Marissa Alexander Moved

Shortly after we protested in front of the jail Marissa Alexander is being held at, she was moved to a jail in Ocala. I can't help but wonder if this has something to do with the fact that her case was getting so much media attention, and people were actually paying attention.

From the Free Marissa Now Tumblr:

The world is demanding Marissa Alexander’s immediate release for her self-defense action of firing a warning shot to stop an attack by her abusive husband. How can she be kept in prison for 20 years when the killer of Trayvon Martin is walking free?

Let Marissa and the prison authorities know how much public support she has! Your message will keep Marissa’s spirits high. And the word will trickle up the chain from the censors to the prison authorities to Florida officials that we will not rest until she is free!

Here’s what to do:

1. Write your own letter, or download a pre-made notecard here:

2. Print the notecard in color or black-and-white. Fold in quarters and write your message on the blank panel. Mail to the address on the back panel (this is a new address as of July 22). Include a postage stamp and self-addressed envelope if you’d like to get a response.
If you’re writing your own letter, here’s Marissa Alexander’s most updated address:
Marissa Alexander
Lowell Annex
11120 NW Gainesville Rd
Ocala, FL34482

The Tumblr is a great resource if you want to read more about Marissa and how you can help. You can find it here.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kids and Racism

After seeing kids' responses to the Cheerios commercial, I felt good. Maybe there is hope left after all, I told myself. But after seeing this CNN video, I feel deflated once more. What are we doing to our children that no matter their race they seem to be biased?

The reason this video affects me more than the Cheerios' one, is that the Cheerios responses were questions asked directly. When someone asks you directly "Do you think interracial marriage is wrong" most people know (regardless of age) that there's a politically correct answer, and a not so kind one. But when presented with indirect scenarios, then kids might not be able to discern that what they are about to say is not so "politically correct".

What do you guys think?
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"Zimmerman got Away with Murder" - Juror B-29

When I first heard this, my first thoughts were "Well, duh." And "Then why DID you let him get away with it?" According to the interview she gave Robin Roberts of Good Morning America:

“You can’t put the man in jail even though in our hearts we felt he was guilty,” Maddy, who is a 36-year-old Puerto Rican, told Roberts. “But we had to grab our hearts and put it aside and look at the evidence.”
Later, Maddy added: “George Zimmerman got away with murder, but you can’t get away from God. And at the end of the day, he’s going to have a lot of questions and answers he has to deal with,” Maddy said. “[But] the law couldn’t prove it.”
 Maddy was the only woman of color in the 6-women jury. It pains me that she admits that she fought almost to the end, and was sure she would give them a hung jury. It pains me that she ultimately didn't believe that there was enough proof to convict him. She says
"That's where I felt confused, where if a person kills someone, then you get charged for it," Maddy said. "But as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can't say he's guilty."

 Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the gist of "manslaughter"? Also, I feel like she contradicts herself tremendously.

Read more about the interview here, and let me know what you think.

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